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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. 

One More Time—Forget Self-control and Will Power to Change Eating Habits

If I could wave my fairy godmother wand to abolish certain thoughts, I’d eradicate those having to do with self-control and will power. Science is telling us repeatedly these days that they don’t work long-term to change eating or exercise habits. Please let this concept go so that you can learn what does help to establish better ongoing self-care. One research-based article is “Why willpower is overrated” by Brian Resnick (Vox, 4/25/18, https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-willpower-is-overrated-2029766008 ,   accessed 11/28/18). It describes a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that says, paradoxically, that participants “who most readily agreed to survey statements like ‘I am good at resisting temptations’ reported fewer temptations throughout the study period. To put it more simply: The people who said they excelled at self-control were hardly using it at all.” A study of students in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science concluded that, “It...
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Making New Meanings of Full and Satisfied with Food

At dinner celebrating a friend’s birthday, I was full and satisfied by dessert time, while she’d eaten a small dinner just to save room for dessert. She ordered key lime pie which came with a slab of dark chocolate melted on top of it and the waiter brought over a dish of chocolate chip ice cream as well because I’d mentioned that it was her big day. I managed to down a few spoonsful of ice cream, which she insisted I share, then watched her polish off the pie. When she was done, she asked if I wished to take home the remaining ice cream and slab of chocolate and I joyfully took it off her hands. I don’t care for dessert after a meal when I’m usually full. From my diet-binge days, I hate feeling uncomfortably full or too hungry. My habit is to eat seven or eight mini-meals daily,...
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Sleep, Circadian Rhythms, Eating and Weight

It’s ironic that clients often don’t want to discuss their sleep habits but focus obsessively on their eating habits. In truth, sleep may be a substantial determinant of what and how much we eat, and disruption of our circadian rhythms may have a significant effect on what we weigh. Here’s what science has to say on these subjects. According to “Sleep Longer, Eat Less, Maintain a Healthier Weight” by Mugdha Thakur, MD (Duke Medicine Newsletter, 5/2008, p. 7), “Sleep is a modifiable risk factor in the link between obesity and cardiometabolic diseases…” and “Reduced sleep affects the regulation of appetite hormones such as ghrelin, which increase appetite, and leptin, which decreases appetite.” It is also thought to increase cortisol (a stress hormone) release, which increases eating behavior. Consider the paradigm above: By sleeping less, you’re putting yourself at risk of generating increased stress and appetite. This combination is the perfect storm...
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Does It Really Matter When We Eat?

Whether or not we take good care of our bodies, most of us have a schedule we eat on. Taking topnotch care, we may ensure that we eat early in the day to replenish our bodies nutrient-wise after a long night’s sleep and keep ourselves fortified during the day to sustain our energy. If we don’t take such great care, we may grab food on the go, refrain from eating during the day, and do our heaviest eating at night. Does it matter when we eat? Scientists think so. Here are some highlights from “When we eat or don’t eat, may be critical to our health” by Anahad O’Connor (7/24/18, accessed 9/15/18, https://www.nytimes.com/.../when-we-eat-or-dont-eat-may-be-critical-for-health.html ). “Studies show that chronically disrupting [our circadian rhythm]—by eating late meals or nibbling on midnight snacks, for example—could be a recipe for weight gain and metabolic trouble.” Satchin Panda, a professor at the Salk Institute and circadian...
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The Real Reasons You’re Not Becoming a “Normal” Eater

I’ve blogged on this subject before, which warrants a frequent revisit. Many of you are not reaching your “normal” eating or health goals because you’re not consistently following the guidelines for changing your thinking and behaving around food. You then become disappointed because you’re not making strides as quickly as you’d like to and feel like giving up. I don’t say this punitively, believe me, but facts are facts: The more you practice a behavior, the more it will stick as a habit. Doing a behavior inconsistently—one day, then not the next, or one week on and one week off, will get you exactly nowhere but frustrated. So, here are my suggestions: Eat without distraction. I stopped telling clients to do this at every meal because they insisted that doing so was impossible, so I dropped down to suggesting that they do it at least once a day. I found that...
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How to Use Therapy to Move Toward “Normal” Eating

Having been a therapist for more than 30 years, I have some ideas on how to get the most out of the process. As an eating disorders therapist, I also have advice on how to use therapy to help you move toward “normal” eating. Of course, if you’re not in therapy, you can still focus on the areas I highlight to promote psychological healing. Have an agenda. Clients often wait for me to bring up a topic to talk about, which may be hit or miss on my part. If a client doesn’t raise a subject, I generally ask, “How can I help you today?” This doesn’t mean that you always need to come in with a problem. It’s important for clients to share pride in their accomplishments or progress. Often my validating clients’ concerns or ideas is helpful. It’s fine to occasionally not come prepared with questions, but it doesn’t...
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Science Explains the Truth about Addiction

A debate about which behaviors are addictive and which aren’t has raged on for decades. Can food be addictive? Here’s the latest on what science thinks about addiction. (“Science Says: What makes something truly addictive?” by Lindsey Tanner, Sarasota Herald Tribune , 6/22/18, page A3, retrieved 6/23/18) Tanner says that “The strict definition of addiction refers to a disease resulting from changes in brain chemistry caused by compulsive use of drugs or alcohol. The definition includes excessive use that damages health, relationships, jobs and other parts of normal life.” According to UCLA psychiatrist, Dr. Walter Ling, it is ‘a disease of extreme behavior. Any behavior carried to an extreme that consumes you and keeps you from doing what you should be doing becomes an addiction as far as life is concerned.” Dr. Andrew Saxon, chairman of the American Psychiatric Association’s addiction psychiatry council, deems drugs addictive because they over-activate “the brain’s...
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Myths and Facts on How to Eat Less and Still Feel Nourished

Many people ask me how to eat just the right amount to feel nourished without experiencing over-fullness. There’s a good deal of information out there on the subject, all the way from flat out wrong to inconclusive to tentative but needing more research. “How to Eat Less: What Works, What Doesn’t” by Caitlin Dow (Nutrition Action Healthetter, Jul/Aug 2018, pp.6-8) provides some evidence-based answers. Are smaller plates the answer?: According to Barbara Rolls, a nutrition professor at Penn State University, “Focusing on plate size is a diversion” because studies tells us that people often don’t eat less when using smaller plates. They eat about the same quantity of food they’d eat on larger ones. However, if you mindfully choose to use a smaller plate as a reminder to eat less, they can be helpful. The goal is not to heap your plate with foods you love in order to feel as...
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Different Types of Dysregulated Eaters

While talking to a client about her dysregulated eating, it struck me how many ways we can get into trouble with food. Here are three categories I came up with. Of course, you may not engage with just one but two or all three. Not to worry, each has solutions. Emotional Eating: This type of eating may be intentional or unconscious. You may have a fight with your boss/friend/child/partner/parent/neighbor/colleague and be so irate that you feel justified in food-seeking because you tell yourself you can’t stand how you feel or think you’re entitled to a treat because you’ve been wronged. Alternately, you may not realize how much someone or a situation upset you and think you’re fine, but still be food-seeking to avoid or lessen your distress. Two ways to avoid emotional eating are to stay connected to your feelings and to find effective ways to comfort and cope. Mindless Eating:...
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Lessons from a Slice of Cake

I was at a dinner meeting at a restaurant when the focal point of discussion became the cake slices set out on the table. The meal had not been served, but there, diagonally to the side of every plate, sat a slice of cake. It was a real attention-grabber. Aside from wondering why it was out so early when we hadn’t even ordered drinks, we all seemed compelled to give voice to its appeal or lack thereof. It wasn’t even a particularly attractive slice of cake—kind of yellowish, double-layered with common white frosting on its sides and top, sitting in a pool of mustard-colored sauce drizzled around it. Nothing to write home about in my book (I was hoping for tiramisu or something equally exotic), but not everyone agreed. Here’s what was said about the cake as best as I recall and, at dessert time, how speech turned into action. •...
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Four Essentials for Becoming a “Normal” Eater

Four proficiencies are essential for becoming a “normal” eater. In one way or another, I’ve blogged and written about them all before, but here they are together so that you can see which of them you might be missing. These proficiencies are skills in coping with stress, practicing self-comfort, finding purpose and enjoying pleasure. None of us was raised to excel in all these areas, yet they are crucial for having a positive relationship with food and living your best life. Coping with stress: We all have stress in our lives, but it need not overwhelm us nor drive us to eat mindlessly. First off, we need to accept that no matter what we do, there will be times when life is not in our control and this can cause us to feel crummy. By accepting this truth, we go a long way toward reducing stress. Stress management skills include ending...
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How Cognitive Overload Hampers “Normal” Eating and Rational Decision Making

On one of my favorite TV shows about politics, I heard an enlightening explanation of the term cognitive overload when a panelist described how constantly being lied to affects our brains. She said that ideas “land” on us and that we need time to process them to decide to believe if they are rational or not. However, when lies fly at us at too rapid a pace, one after another, we don’t have the focused ability to analyze their veracity, and so they remain “landed,” that is, we simply accept them. Politics aside, this analysis seemed applicable to two client situations. Says Lucy Jo Palladino, Ph.D.: “Information or cognitive overload can lead to indecisiveness, bad decisions and stress. Indecisiveness or analysis paralysis occurs when you’re overwhelmed by too many choices, your brain mildly freezes and by default, [and] you passively wait and see. Or you make a hasty decision because vital...
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So What If It Tastes Sooooo Good

Every week, at least one of my clients tells me that she overate or ate mindlessly. When I ask why, she inevitably sounds like she thinks I’m awfully dumb for an eating disorders therapist and says something like, “Because it tasted so good, I just couldn’t stop myself.” And I think to myself, “No, no, no. That’s not the reason. Sure, it might have tasted delicious, but you didn’t eat it because of that. You ate it because...”   First, because you don’t have enough things in your life that make you swoon, that cause your heart to sing, that trip your dopamine switch and keep that magical chemical swirling around your brain until you’re ready to make a smooth landing back on earth. You go crazy with food because you have such a paucity of daily pleasure in your life—or you have it but don’t know it’s there—that food has...
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Why We Seek Food at Night

Most dysregulated eaters don’t do a lot of mindless eating in the morning or mid-day. Some find themselves food-seeking in the late afternoon (they’re probably fatigued due to insufficient nourishment earlier in the day), but the biggest problem time for troubled eating is in the evening. Although it may be caused by a need to relieve stress or because people eat when they’re bored and lonely, hormones may be the culprit.   “Hunger strikes harder after the sun goes down” by Roni Caryn Rabin (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, E14, 2/27/18) describes a small Johns Hopkins University study which “suggests that satiety hormones may be lower during the evening hours, while hunger hormones rise toward nightfall and may be stoked even higher by stressful situations. It’s not clear whether these hormonal patterns cause the binge eating behaviors or are conditioned by an individual’s eating habits. But, either way, you can get stuck in the...
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Do You Have Binge-eating Disorder

Half a lifetime ago, I only knew two other people, one in college and one in my mid-20s who binged on food the way I did. We all thought that there was something seriously wrong with us and never dreamed that this behavior had a clinical name. The good news is that we are all fully recovered. The bad news is that the number of people with Binge-eating Disorder is rising.   In 1959, Binge-eating Disorder (BED) was described by Dr. Albert J. Stunkard. It was included in earlier versions of the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but didn’t become an official eating disorder diagnosis until 2013 as part of the DSM-5. According to “How Common Is Binge Eating Disorder in the US?” (EatingDisordersReview.com, vol. 28/No. 1, http://edr.karunaconsulting.com/common-binge-eating-disorder-us/ , accessed 2/26/18), its recorded prevalence grew when its criteria were increased at that time.   Criteria include bingeing at least...
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The Realities I’ve Learned About Eating at 71

Having turned 71 in April, I’ve been a “normal” eater for more than half my life. I also know a lot about what causes dysregulated eating and what turns it around. My knowledge is scattered in the writings of my books and blogs. Here are seven simple (but not always easy) success principles:   Stop focusing on weight-loss. There is simply no other way to become a “normal” eater. Said another way, it will not happen if you continue focusing on losing weight. You can wish to lose it, but it can’t be “the” goal or something you often dwell on. Wanting good health is great. Couple it with a desire to be a “normal” eater and you’ve got the two most powerful forces to improve your relationship with food.   Don’t ever give up. You can give up for a few hours or days, but don’t let surrender drag into...
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Stop Making Food Your Enemy

More and more it has occurred to me that people, and not just dysregulated eaters, view food as their enemy. They use words like battle, struggle, war, and fight when talking about eating and their bodies. No wonder they’re having difficulty taking pleasure in eating. They’re generating so much negative energy toward food, eating, and their appetite that any efforts they’re making toward “normal” eating are being cancelled out.   If you’re one of these people, it’s time to change your attitude toward food and your body in order to become a “normal” eater. You can do this by examining and reframing your beliefs. Here are some of the irrational, unhelpful thoughts you may currently have. Do they sound like the foundation for a positive belief system for “normal” eating?   Food is the enemy. I need to fight my urges to eat junk food. If I struggle against my cravings,...
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Easy Exercises for Practicing Normal Eating

There’s no way to achieve “normal” eating without practice. Here are a few simple exercises toward that end. Although I note how often to do them, practice at least as often as I recommend, but feel free to do them more often to repattern your brain. To improve at identifying fullness and satisfaction, set a practice of taking three bites of food, then stopping and putting down whatever you’re eating and noting your hunger and satisfaction levels in numbers (0-10) or words (not hungry, a bit hungry, fairly hungry, very hungry). Do this exercise at least once a day. To get better at not finishing all the food on your plate, leave a tiny bit of it every time you eat—a slice, some crumbs, a spoonful, a bite. Do this exercise at least once a day. To assess how fast you eat, when dining with others, notice how quickly or slowly they eat and...
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What to Focus on While You’re Eating

I recently did an eating workshop for a local organization which included us eating lunch together. As I usually do, we spent half an hour having lunch. The first 15 minutes was an exercise of eating in silence and the second 15 minutes was a discussion about what participants observed during their silent meal. The discussion was pretty much the same one I’ve had with other groups doing this exercise.   I truly wished that I could have videoed those first 15 minutes and maybe someday I will, with the groups permission. What I’d really like to do (but won’t), because it would be far more beneficial for them, is to make a video without their knowing it to capture their natural style of eating. Granted that it’s likely that most participants were a bit self-conscious about eating with others and having me observe them, but I think that self-consciousness disappeared...
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Chew More, Eat Less

I often say that sometimes how and what you eat is like a train’s locomotive and what you weigh is like its caboose. Not that we can always control weight by diet, as 50-70% of what we weigh may be due to genetics. However, according to new research, we may have an impact on how much (or less) food we eat just by chewing more.   Here’s some of the science behind this theory from “Why slow eaters may burn more calories” by Markham Heid (Time.com Health, Diet/Nutrition, 4/12/17, accessed 9/9/17, http://time.com/4736062/slow-eater-chew-your-food/ ). “Some preliminary research has found that chewing until “no lumps remain” increases the number of calories the body burns during digestion: about 10 extra calories for a 300-calorie meal. Eating fast, on the other hand, barely burns any calories.” (“The number of chews and meal duration affect diet-induced thermogenesis and splanchnic circulation” by Hamada, Kashima, and Hayashi, 5/1/14,...
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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