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Karen's Blogs

Blogs are brief, to-the-point, conversational and packed with information, strategies, and tips to turn troubled eaters into “normal” eaters and to help you enjoy a happier, healthier life.Sign up by clicking "Subscribe" below and they’ll arrive in your inbox. 

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Surprising Factors Affecting Eating and Weight Gain

For those of you who are down on yourselves because you can’t lose weight, please realize the complexity of the issue. Forget will power and self-discipline, calories in and energy out. The truth is, many factors affect our eating and size. Out of body experiences by Julie Deardorff (Sarasota Herald Tribune, Health and Fitness, 10/30/12) provides the lowdown on how our weight is affected by environment. I guarantee that on your own you’d never have imagined that some of these factors would impact your weight, so three cheers for scientific studies. Pregnant women who breathe high levels of diesel fuels/hydrocarbons are morelikely to have obese children than those who don’t. These chemicals can be found outdoors, but are also in “cigarette smoke, candles, incense, and home heating fuels.”The intake of antibiotics in infancy may upset the balance of gut bacteria which in turn affect “hormones related to metabolism.”Sleep deprivation “may decrease...
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No More New Year’s Resolutions, Please

If you wish to reach your goals (who doesn’t?), don’t get seduced into making New Year’s resolutions. Why? Because research says resolutions don’t work. Paradoxically, by not making them, you may be more likely to achieve and maintain your goals. According to The New Year’s Resolutions That Won’t Fail You by Oliver Burkeman (NEWSWEEK, 12/24/12), “psychological research increasingly suggests that ‘repeating affirmations’ makes people with low self-esteem feel worse; that visualizing your ambitions can make you less motivated to achieve them, [and] that goal setting can backfire.” Positive messages deliver only a “short-lived boost, and when that fades, the most obvious way to revive it is to go back for more.” Kinda like dieting, huh? Burkeman goes on to talk about why change is difficult, giving a similar explanation to the advice in my book, THE RULES OF “NORMAL” EATING. Even making one change, say, around food, is hard because it...
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Weight-loss Expectations

When I blog about topics related to weight or weight loss, I’m not trying to get you to focus on losing weight. However, sometimes weight is necessary to talk about, such as when disregulated eaters become frustrated that they’re eating more “normally” yet aren’t losing weight. The answer, as you might expect, is complicated. We’ve been told repeatedly that there are 3,500 calories in a pound, so we think that if we cut back by that many, we should lose a pound, right? An article, “Still not getting it?” (Nutrition Action Healthletter, 6/12), explains why we’re wrong. When we decrease calorie consumption, our resting metabolism slows down to conserve and burn fewer calories. It’s vital to take this information into account if you’re concerned with weight loss. Of course, it’s smarter to not to think about it and work solely on eating “normally.” Most of us have heard this metabolic explanation...
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International No Diet Day

Did you know that May 6 was International No Diet Day? This day, dedicated to promoting a healthy lifestyle and raising awareness about the mental and emotional destructiveness of diets, marks an annual celebration of body acceptance and body shape diversity. If you didn’t get a chance to celebrate this year, start getting yourself ready for when it rolls around in 2013. International No Diet Day (INDD) was created by feminist Mary Evans Young, director of the British “Diet Breakers” in 1992. No, it’s not a rock band, but a group formed to combat the craziness of dieting and disregulated eating and encourage a sane approach to food consumption. The goals of INDD are simple: Doubt the idea of one "right" body shape; Raise awareness of weight discrimination, size bias and fat phobia; Declare a day free from diets and obsessions about body weight; Present the facts about the diet industry,...
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Hormones as Diet Wreckers

You know how it is after you’ve been dieting and even have lost some weight. You’re feeling so good about yourself—til you’re feeling bad because you’re back into abusing food. It’s time to stop blaming yourself and to recognize that biology may be at work stoking your hunger. That’s why eating disorder experts keep insisting that diets don’t work long-term. So, if you must assign blame, try your hormones. “Blame hormones for wrecked diets?,” an article by Malcolm Ritter (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 10/27/11) explains what’s going on. It says that the findings of a recent study “suggest that dieters who have regained weight are not just slipping back into old habits, but are struggling against a persistent biological urge.” Joseph Prioietto of the University of Melbourne in Australia, one author in this New England Journal of Medicine study, offers some excellent advice: “People who regain weight should not be harsh on themselves,...
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Part of the Problem or the Solution

I’m giving you fair warning that I’m on a bit of a rant here about body image. How is it that so many of you bright, capable, clever, terrific folks won’t stop obsessing about your weight and keep choosing to make it the arbiter of your worth and lovability? If you must focus on weight, studies show that folks who shed pounds that stay shed do so through having fitness and health, not weight, as their goals. I spend much of my professional life trying to convince clients, mostly women, not to devalue their bodies because of their weight/shape/size. I confess that I get frustrated; worse is how sad it makes me that so many of you insist on joining the mob mentality that you’ll have more fun, approval, romance, love, etc. if you only lose weight. Yes, weight discrimination in professional and social circles is alive and well and living...
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Research Explains Why Diets Fail

I rarely blog on weight loss because obsession with a number on the scale or clothing size is unhealthy, and a goal of shedding pounds is not as effective in changing eating habits as a focus on fitness and health. However, many of you still struggle with whether or not to diet and may need a bit more convincing that diets really don’t work long term. Toward that end, I was delighted to read Jane Brody’s, “Why Even the Most Resolute Dieters Fail” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/27/11) which explains what goes wrong with diets and how to shed pounds that stay shed. Here’s her summary of research on the highly complex subject of weight loss as published in The Lancet. She observes that "…lasting weight loss takes a long time to achieve“ and “gradual weight loss is nearly always more effective because it allows the new eating and exercise habits to become...
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Bariatric Surge and Relationships

An interesting article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (“Marriages can suffer after bariatric procedures,” 9/6/11) tells us that, contrary to what we might think about weight loss strengthening marriage or a romantic partnership, it actually can cause marital tension and discord instead. Here’s the scoop. The article observes that what happens in a relationship post-surgery depends on how healthy and stable it was pre-surgery. According to David Sarwer, associate professor of psychology, University of Pennsylvania: “In general, we know, after bariatric surgery, that people tend to feel much better about themselves…we see less depressive symptoms. We see improvement in self-esteem and increase in quality of life and body image.” His statement makes one think that significant weight loss would only improve a relationship, but that’s not always the case. Anne Eshelman, a clinical health psychologist who runs a support group for bariatric patients, counters this assumption: “When [both] people are morbidly obese...
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Gut Bacteria and Weight

As someone who suffers from occasional, mild irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and takes the probiotic Align to keep me virtually symptom free, I was surprised to learn that imbalanced gut bacteria may also affect how much you weigh. Here’s what Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen, MDs, have to say on the subject (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Health and Fitness, 8/9/11). Answering a question about gut bacteria generating weight gain and if medication prescribed for it can produce weight loss, the docs maintain that there’s “some lab evidence” that gut bacteria can impact the number on the scale, citing research that “mice who lack a certain protein are about 15% heavier than other mice and have more of an intestinal bug that causes calories to be stored as fat.” They add that “the mice also have higher body-wide inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Worse, they have metabolic syndrome, which...
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Weight and Menopause

An article on weight gain during and after menopause in Environmental Nutrition (April 2011, vol. 34, no. 4) caught my attention because it contains important—and surprising—information for all women, whether they’ve reached menopause or not. The article states that “The transition through menopause is typically burdened with significant weight gain—about 1.5 pounds per year during the middle years, regardless of initial age, initial body size, or ethnicity, according to data from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), a multi-ethnic, community-based, longitudinal study of more than 3,000 women. However, there is broad debate among scientists over why and how this weight gain occurs.” According to one researcher, fat cells are protective because they produce estrogen. As it declines in a woman’s body, fat cells take over the process of helping her get through what may be a difficult transition. Another researcher challenges this conclusion by saying that the estrogen...
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Dissatisfaction About Weight

A few months ago, a client and I had a discussion about her changing feelings about the largeness of her body. For years, her reflection in the mirror didn’t even register; then one day she realized that she couldn’t stand to look at herself. She’d gone from one extreme to the other: from denial about her growing size to being disgusted by it. Many people view their larger-than-they-wish bodies either by exclusively denying or exclusively hating themselves for their size, or yo-yoing between denial and contempt. Makes sense, as disregulated eaters often possess an all-or-nothing mentality about food and weight—and most things in life. If they’re not thin, they must be fat; if they’re not dieting, they have no use for rules about eating. If they’re not perfect, they’re horrid. Moreover, our culture reinforces engaging in both sets of unhealthy attitudes and lifestyles, as well as obsessing about thinness and living...
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Trends in Animal Obesity

Science writer Sharon Begley is one of my favorite columnists. In Fat canaries in a coal mine (Newsweek, 12/20/10), she tackles the fascinating topic of rising obesity in animals, offering some surprising research on the cause of their weight gain. Begley starts by critiquing societal lifestyle changes as the accepted cause of Americans’ escalating weights: a decrease in physical activity due to less walking to places such as work/stores/school coupled with an increase in caloric intake due to irresponsible food industry packaging and preparation. Then she goes on to seek answers in the research of scientists working with animals. She cites the conclusion of University of Alabama at Birmingham obesity researcher David Allison who has studied marmosets for 15 years: without changes in any other variables, their weight has soared. She cites the conclusion of his collaboration with colleagues who, after reviewing the weights of other animals, including alley rats, mice,...
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New Research on Weight Gain

The December 2010 Nutrition Action Healthletter provides some new and enlightening scientific evidence that establishing a healthy weight is even more complicated than previously thought. Forget what so-called experts say about calorie consumption and energy expenditure being the sole or major determinant of weight. Here’s the real deal. These research conclusions are from Eric Ravussin, head of the Division of Health and Performance Enhancement at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana:“When people lose weight, their leptin (the hormone produced by fat cells which lets the brain know when your body has stocked up enough fat) goes way down, and the body interprets that as a state of starvation. When the survival of an organism is at stake, the body has redundant systems to avoid starving.”“When people lose 10-20% of their body weight, their metabolic rate drops and becomes thrifty. So they need fewer calories to stay at their...
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Weight Perceptions

Research says that thin people don’t see themselves as slimmer than most and average size folks often see themselves as fat. What about those of you who are overweight or obese? Read on and when you’re done reading, think about how accurately you assess your weight and why you think the way you do. No self-judgments, please! The following article is reprinted from the EDReferral.com Newsletter, October 2010. Overweight? Obese? Or Normal Weight? Americans Have Hard Time Gauging Their Weight. New poll finds 30% of those overweight think they are normal size. For many Americans fat is the new "norm." More and more people are unable to accurately describe themselves using their height-to-weight ratio—known as body mass index—the scale that determines levels of overweight and obesity, a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll found. The poll revealed that 30% of overweight people think they're actually normal size, 70% of obese people feel they are...
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Weight Loss and Vulnerability

If you’re like some of my clients who feel vulnerable at a smaller size, you might be confusing “physical” with “emotional” vulnerability and find it difficult to shed pounds or remain at a healthy weight because of it. Do vulnerability and thinness necessarily go together? Do all thin individuals feel emotionally at risk? Does being overweight ensure that someone won’t feel vulnerable? People who’ve been physically abused, molested, raped, or who otherwise have been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances, often feel threatened bodily when they’re thinner. This pairing makes sense because they may not have had the might and muscle to fend off a perpetrator in the past. They might even have been chosen as prey because of their physical vulnerability. Additionally, when people are thinner, they really may receive more unwanted sexual attention, and more weight can keep them from having to handle it. They also may...
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Weight Discrimination

I don’t know if you’ll find it good news or bad that weight discrimination is not all in your head. To be sure, many overweight people are needlessly self-conscious about their size, and many thin or normal weight folks fear facing prejudice if they grow fat. Whatever people imagine, the truth is that experts tell us that weight discrimination is alive and well and living—no, make that thriving—in our culture. An article entitled “Battle Workplace Weight Bias” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 6/13/10) reports on research from Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity that says “Weight discrimination increased 66% from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s” and is “now more prevalent than bias based on ethnicity, sexual orientation and physical disability.” The article goes on to say that, “In an era when nearly every imaginable form of prejudice is no longer socially tolerated, the rise of anti-fat sentiment is a curious—and, confounding—phenomenon,”...
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Why It Can Be Hard to Lose Weight

A major disappointment and frustration for many overweight clients is working hard to eat “normally” without pounds slipping off quickly or at all while watching others lose weight more easily. Fortunately, science is beginning to give us answers to why some people lose weight more effortlessly than others. A report in Duke Medicine HealthNews, May 2010 details the discovery of a molecular mechanism that “controls energy expenditure in muscles and helps determine body weight.” Researchers from the Mayo Clinic, the universities of Iowa and Connecticut, and New York University found out that, “The mechanism is controlled by adenosine triphosphate (ATP)-sensitive potassium channels (KATP). ATP is the ‘energy currency’ used by cells in the body; the channels can sense ATP stockpiles and regulate heart and skeletal muscle performance accordingly. Animals which lack this mechanism burn more stored energy by dissipating more heat when at rest or when normally active. Excess energy from...
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Diet-think versus Health-think

One of the reasons clients have difficulty eating nutritious food is that it feels as if they’re dieting. Instead of thinking, “Hey, this is a yummy, healthful food for me to nourish my body,” they grumble inside about being stuck eating something low-cal or low-fat—again. You can see how this mindset would prevent you from making wise choices. Of course, you can’t change the eating until you change the beliefs behind it.   Take a minute to consider whether nutritious food equals diet food for you. What foods fit into this category: salad, anything low-fat or low-cal, vegetables, fruits? Ask yourself what would make an item a diet food or, well, a regular food? Is there really a distinction or is it something artificial that keeps you in a diet mentality? What are your beliefs about diet foods versus healthy ones? Here are some possibilities: Salad is diet food and I’m...
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Weight-loss Surgery

I don’t think I’ve blogged about weight-loss surgery before, or at least not in a long while, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I don’t have extensive medical knowledge about it. What I do have is experience with clients who have had bariatric surgery, but who still sought me out to resolve post-surgery eating problems. Although I’m not totally against it, I believe it should be an intervention of final resort. Here’s why. The post-surgery clients I’ve treated continued to have disregulated eating problems decades later. Some remained morbidly obese while others were some 20-50 pounds overweight. As one client said, “My stomach is still big enough to eat a Snickers bar, and ice cream slides down real easy.” Each was an emotional eater with a history of food problems dating back to childhood, and although they had been on many diets, none had ever really explored why they ate...
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Exercise and Weight Gain Prevention

I don’t focus much on weight in therapy sessions because I believe that learning how to eat “normally” is more crucial than any number on the scale. In fact, I shy away from weight discussions with clients except when the subject comes up naturally, and hesitate to write much on weight because zeroing in on it, per se, doesn’t generally pay off but does get people anxious and upset. However, recognizing that folks who don’t want to put back the pounds need insights, information, and incentives, I (sigh) write this blog. According to the American Journal of Physiology (7/8/09), there’s more than one way that exercise helps prevent people from regaining weight they’ve lost or maintaining their “defended weight” (what a person weighs naturally). Of course, we could talk for eons about what an individual’s natural or defended weight should be—the weight you generally carry, the number on the scale when...
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This website is owned and operated by Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW. It contains material intended for informational and educational purposes only, and reasonable effort is made to keep its contents updated. Any material contained herein is not to be construed as the practice of clinical social work or of psychotherapy, although adherence to applicable Florida States, Rules, and Code of Ethics is observed. Material on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment for mental health issues or eating disorder problems, which should be done only through individualized therapeutic consultation. Karen R. Koenig, LCSW disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of any information contained on this website. This website contains links to other sites. The inclusion of such links does not necessarily constitute endorsement by Karen R. Koenig, LCSW who disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of any information contained in this website. Further, Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, does not and cannot guarantee the accuracy or current usefulness of the material contained in the linked sites. Users of any website must be aware of the limitation to confidentiality and privacy, and website usage does not carry any guarantee or privacy of any information contained therein.  Privacy Policy