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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. 

[No unsolicited guest blogs accepted, thank you]

The Causes of Mindless Eating

The-Causes-of-Mindless-Eating
What prevents you from being a mindful eater? Mind you (pun intended), I’m not encouraging you to be a perfect eater but, rather, one who generally puts enough attention on what you’re eating to enjoy it and stay attuned to appetite signals. Here’s my take on what gets in your way: You’re mentally distracted by “all you have to do” and therefore don’t believe you have or deserve time to relish food and feed yourself in such a way that you know when you’ve had enough and are comfortable stopping. Your body may be sitting at the table—or more likely standing at the stove, plopped on the couch in front of the TV, or hunched over your computer—but your mind is miles away obsessed with all the things you feel you “should” be doing. Your focus is on everything but eating. People looking at you might see a person having dinner,...
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Teach Your Kids to Eat Better Than You Do

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Over the years, I’ve watched clients with troubled childhoods intentionally parent their children the opposite of how they were raised, eating and otherwise. Sadly, this strategy doesn’t fare any better than mindlessly following the parental modeling they received. Of course, there’s an obvious difference between blindly doing what your parents did to you and considering their approach and finding it lacking. The problem is that too many parents don’t make decisions rationally and, instead, do so in reaction to how they felt being raised a certain way. While retreating from a parental style may avoid one set of problems, going to the opposite extreme creates another. Here's an example. One of my clients was forced to diet and eat the food her mother was into on her various fad diets. Her mother was very strict and, not surprisingly, my client developed an eating problem, including sneak eating and overeating due to...
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You Can Hate to Cook and Still Eat Healthfully

You-Can-Hate-to-Cook-and-Still-Eat-Healthfully
I make no bones about my disinterest in cooking and not being a foodie, often commiserating with clients who don’t enjoy meal preparation. Where we differ is that I value eating nutritiously. If you don’t like cooking—and therefore don’t do it—it’s important to recognize why and make sure that, in spite of your dislike, you eat in a way that serves your body. When I can get clients past saying, “Well, I just don’t like it” or “I hate it,” their reasons for not wishing to put forth effort in the kitchen usually fall into the following categories:  I don’t know what to eat. This generally means they’ve been dieting for so long that they have no idea what foods to choose or which they enjoy, that is, they’ve been brainwashed about foods being “good” or “bad” and truly don’t know what they like.I don’t have time to cook. I might (but...
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Setting Up Rules for Family “Normal” Eating

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I’ve been talking with a client about moving herself and her family away from unhealthy eating to a more “normal”, healthy lifestyle. As I told her, it’s quite simple but not quick and easy. What I mean is that there are concrete actions to take, but that doesn’t mean that everyone will be on board right away. Here are my suggestions for making the transition from a way of eating that doesn’t serve your family to one that does. Be clear on your goals: If you’re generating the transition, think long and hard about your goals and how you got to the place you’re in with food. Notice that I’m not using the word “switch” which implies going from here to there quickly. It’s better to think in terms of transition over time. Write down five goals for your family, for example: Eat together as a family X number of times/week,...
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How Not to Stop Emotional Eating

How-Not-to-Stop-Emotional-Eating
Have you ever heard of “Mindful Emotional Eating”? I hadn’t until a few years ago when books and articles started popping up on the subject. I even wrote a blurb for a colleagues’ book about it based on the belief that if someone is going to regularly engage in emotional eating, why not make it more mindful. But the more I read about it, the more the concept simply doesn’t make sense to me.  Assuming that someone is trying to end a pattern (key word here) of emotional eating, let’s definitely encourage them to have compassion for themselves when they seek food to deal with the blues or the blahs. Let’s help them understand that there should be no guilt, shame or judgment involved because they are not doing a bad thing; they’re actually trying to make themselves feel better! They’re doing what they know and what most of us do...
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Eating by the Light of the TV—Not

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I’m not sure when TV watching plus eating became de rigueur, but perhaps this entwinement is based on movie viewing in theatres while snacking on popcorn. It’s not an unhealthy habit per se—except if you’re trying to be mindful about eating and consume less food. The way to learn new habits is by focusing on them with 100% concentration which is the antithesis of what happens when glued to your set.  Most of us watch TV to become absorbed in what we’re seeing and turn off our minds. Whether we’re into programs about the news, travel, or history, movies or our favorite binge-worthy shows, the idea is to escape consciousness and relax. There’s not a thing wrong with doing that. We need to turn off our busy brains and give them a rest and watching TV is a fine way to do that.  But while our thinking mind is resting as...
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Two Practices to Stop to Become a “Normal” Eater

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Dysregulated eaters have some unhealthy habits, and I don’t mean just with food. I’m talking about how you habitually speak to your selves. Two particular no-no’s stand out above the rest: finger-pointing and finger-wagging. Finger-pointing, aka blaming, is when you constantly accuse yourself of doing wrong, making mistakes, failing. It’s different than being accountable and taking responsibility for your eating or other actions. Finger-pointing is mean-spirited. It assumes that nothing bad can simply randomly occur in life. It doesn’t allow that people can lose track, slip up or even do their best and still fail. Its aim is to make someone at fault and assign blame for whatever is happening. An example is something a client we’ll call Fred does all the time. In his job as a manager, he’s always looking for who did what wrong. He ferrets out mistakes, then goes up and down the food chain to see...
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Princess Diana and Bulimia

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I hadn’t intended to watch Diana: In Her Own Words and then an eating disorders colleague asked me my opinion about it. After viewing it, I thought how profoundly classic her personality traits and ED symptoms were and wondered if seeing it might help some of you in your recovery. I realize that not all of you have access to Netflix, so here are some take-aways from the documentary, my views of what stood out to me. Diana never felt she fit in and worried about it. How often do I hear that from clients? She had several sisters but didn’t sound as if she was particularly close with them in a sharing of feelings kind of way. By her report, her father was physically abusive to her mother. She says he hit her mother in front of the family. I’m going to take a not very big leap here to...
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The Difference Among Food Allergy, Sensitivity and Intolerance

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Although most of us use words such as food allergy, sensitivity and intolerance interchangeably, they are not the same. I learned this on my journey to find out which foods are causing me intestinal problems, in this case via a blood test. Fortunately, my handy dandy Lifestyle Eating and Performance (LEAP) MRT® Report (copyright Oxford Biomedical Technologies, Inc., version 8.17.20) provides a comprehensive, understandable tutorial on the subject which I thought I’d share with you in case you have any confusion about these terms.  The short distinction is thus: “The general consensus is that food allergy can be defined as any adverse reaction to food that involves our immune system”: food allergy and food sensitivity. “Food intolerance does not involve the immune system.” In a food allergy, the immunological triggering mechanism is called IgE and the most common food allergies are “peanuts, other nuts, shellfish, or foods containing sulfites. Food allergy...
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One Story of Recovery

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Being in Recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder A guest blog by Dustin LindenSmith   I’m a 47-year-old married man with three kids living in Atlantic Canada and I self-diagnosed with Binge-Eating Disorder about five years ago. I first discovered how to use food for emotional comfort as a young child, but an alcoholic and abusive step-parent pushed me to turn towards heavy binge-eating in my early teens. I would consume vast quantities of food in secret—I could never seem to get “enough”—and then I’d go on a diet to lose the weight I had gained. In this way, I “dieted my way up” to over 300 pounds in college, and I repeated that cycle several more times in my life. I estimate that I’ve gained and lost over 850 pounds since the age of 10. Binge-Eating Disorder is often described as a chronic and compulsive binge-diet cycle, but to me, it felt...
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Is It Okay to Engage in Emotional Eating During the Pandemic?

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While I strongly agree that no one should shame themselves or others for emotional eating during the pandemic (or any time), I disagree with some eating disorders clinicians who seem to be saying that under lockdown, it’s okay to eat emotionally on a regular basis. (“Don’t Be Ashamed of Those Extra Pounds” by Courtney Robin, 8/8/20, accessed 8/9/20). I think the problem in the article is that these two ideas have been lumped together when they are entirely separate. On the whole, turning to food for comfort is a behavior that eating disorders therapists discourage. If food were true emotional comfort with no downside, we would likely be out of business. But it isn’t. It’s only comforting while we’re thinking about what we’re going to eat and when we’re chewing. After swallowing, it’s all downhill. Aside from consequent guilt, shame and remorse which are a useless waste of energy, there are...
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Keeping Favorite Foods in the House without Overeating

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Why would anyone buy a whole bunch of their favorite foods and then eat them all at once? The answer is not that they were famished or afraid the food would go bad. It’s because they either feared that the food wouldn’t be available when they did want it or figured that they’d eventually eat it all anyway, so why not do it in one fell swoop. I truly hope that none of these reasons sound rational to you because they’re not. Dysregulated eaters are faced with a conundrum. On the one hand, intuitive eating therapists encourage them to keep favorite foods in the house to learn how to manage their urge to eat them simply because they’re there. On the other hand, every fiber of their bodies is screaming, “No, no, you have no idea what having them all within reach will do to me. Don’t you understand I’ll eat...
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Moving from the Diet Mentality to Attuned Eating

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So many dysregulated eaters have dieted and obsessed about food for so long that it’s hard for them to imagine how they need to think, feel and act to have a healthy and sane relationship with food. Thanks to Judith Matz, LCSW (http://www.judithmatz.com) for laying out the path in this terrific chart which shows where you’ve been and where you’re going on the journey to become a “normal” eater. (“Body and Mind” by Alison Laurio, Social Work Advocates, Apr-May 2020, p. 24). DIET MENTALITY ATTUNED EATING External rules →→→→→→Internal cues Rigid→→→→→→→→→→Flexible Deprived →→→→→→→→Satisfied Guilt →→→→→→→→→→Pleasure Fear →→→→→→→→→→Trust Preoccupied→→→→→→→Empowered Weight loss →→→→→→→Nourishment Shame →→→→→→→→→Compassion Judgment→→→→→→→→Acceptance Oppressed  →→→→→→→Freedom In Control →→→→→→→→In charge Look over the chart and consider how much you want the qualities listed in the Attuned Eating column. How much do you wish to feel free, that you trust yourself, that you’re empowered and in charge? Are you willing to give...
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Measure Progress by How and What You Eat

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No matter how hard I try to shift clients away from a weight focus, they often come back to it as a way to measure progress. Although I’ve blogged on other ways to assess forward movement (https://www.karenrkoenig.com/blog/measuring-progress-in-recovery) and (https://www.karenrkoenig.com/blog/ways-to-measure-progress-without-weighing-yourself), clients are so used to the ultimate culturally-approved standard, that they keep drifting back to it. The goal is to evaluate what and how you’re doing, from thoughts and urges for food when you’re not hungry to how compassionate you are with yourself when you overeat. Rather than write down or chart what you weigh or eat, instead, each day answer these questions about your eating and related issues. Urges: How often did I… feel the urge to eat when I wasn’t hungry? _____refrain from eating when I wasn’t hungry? _____eat when I wasn’t hungry? _____ Hunger: When I was hungry, how often did I . . . wait until I was...
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Make Mealtime Family Time

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For those of you who are raising children, what messages are you giving them about mealtimes which include when, what, where and how much to eat? “7 tips to make every family meal count” by Cara Rosenbloom (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 12/2/19, E24) has some basic ideas for cohering and educating your family. I’m blogging on this subject because I fear that some dysregulated eaters don’t know the value of sharing structured meals and what they can teach children about our relationship with food.  Clients tell me that because they are stressed out, they feel overly taxed by food shopping and preparing. So they order take out, go out to dinner, or let their children grab whatever is in the refrigerator. All of the above is acceptable once in a while, but what does it teach your children if it’s a regular pattern? It says that food is incidental or even irrelevant to...
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Fears That Prevent "Normal" Eating

Fears That Prevent "Normal" Eating
If you live in terror of food cravings and weight gain, you won’t learn to become a “normal” eater. It’s simply not possible. Something has to give: the fear or the desire. This is a major conflict for people who ping pong between restrictive eating (restraint via self-control) and going hog wild with food. I often see this process played out in therapy. Here's what happens. A client comes in saying she (it’s usually but not always a she) is sick and tired of dieting and wants to learn how to eat “normally.” She provides her diet history and explains why and when she binges and how she is physically and mentally so done with this cycle. She recognizes that neither behavior serves her and comes to me to help her find the alternative, saner approach to eating. All is well and good so far. At some point, after talking at...
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The Joys of Intuitive Eating

The Joys of Intuitive Eating
“Intuitive Eating: The anti-diet, or how pleasure from food is the answer, says its creators,” a CNN Health article, makes it sound as if intuitive eating (IE) is making a comeback, when it’s never gone away. Back in the 80s IE taught me how to eat intuitively after decades of dieting and binge-eating and the movement has only grown stronger nationally and internationally. (Sandee Lamotte, 1/31/20, accessed 1/31/20, https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/31/health/intuitive-eating-no-diet-wellness/index.html). Since then there have been hundreds of books written about appetite-attuned eating. Here’s some how-to advice straight from the mouths of its creators and the authors of Intuitive Eating: An Anti-Diet Revolutionary Approach, Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, both well respected registered dieticians. “The scientific mechanism behind intuitive eating is called ‘interoceptive awareness,’ or the ability to perceive physical sensations that arise within the body. Intuitive eating is really instinct, emotion and thought," Resch said. "It's the instinct, hunger, fullness. What we...
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Eating and Mental Health Disorders

Eating and Mental Health Disorders
Certainly not all, but many people with dysregulated eating suffer with underlying Depressive and Anxiety Disorders. Even if they don’t have full-blown disorders, they experience sub-clinical distress that is enough to contribute to eating problems. It’s not uncommon for me to hear about panic attacks, excessive worrying, isolation due to social angst, low energy, apathy toward beneficial activities, low self-esteem, a shame-based mindset, and over-focusing on controlling life.  What is of interest here is how clients are much more likely to be aware of and wish to talk about their eating problems than the emotional distress which drives them. I am not saying that depressive or anxiety disorders (or any other mental health problems) cause dysregulated eating. All three are biopsychosocial conditions concurrent with eating disorders. But focusing solely on eating better, without attending to underlying issues of anxiety and depression, will derail even the best therapeutic efforts. Here’s why this...
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COVID-19 Isolation Need Not Lead to Overeating

COVID-19 Isolation Need Not Lead to Overeating
If you’ve felt an uptick in urges to munch and crunch your way through the day since COVID19 has revamped our lives, you’re not alone. It’s hard enough not to fall prey to emotional and mindless eating in the best of times. Enduring sky-rocketing stress while hunkered down, we need compassion for what we’re experiencing and a redoubling of attunement to emotions and appetite regulation in order to stay sane and healthy.    How can we not feel overwhelmed when seemingly overnight our usual host of worries has been transformed into inconceivable horrors: ourselves or loved ones succumbing to COVID19, losing our jobs and financial assets, and wondering when this nightmare will end? As our stress ramps up and routine pleasurable, relaxing activities are cut off one by one, it’s natural to experience feelings of extreme loss of control so that the mere act of eating seems like a magical antidote to...
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Why We Eat the Way We Do

Why We Eat the Way We Do
Check out “Why We Eat The Way We Do” on NPR’s Hidden Brain which runs just shy of half an hour (https://www.npr.org/2019/11/11/778266536/hungry-hungry-hippocampus-the-psychology-of-how-we-eat, accessed 11/23/19). Here’s what I learned from this entertaining and enlightening podcast.  Psychologist Paul Rozin was being interviewed by Shankar Vedantam, host of Hidden Brain. Rozin, who has spent decades studying “the interplay between food, identity, and culture,” maintains that "Food is not just nutrition that goes in your mouth or even pleasant sensations that go with it. It connects to your whole life, and it's really a very important part of performing your culture and experiencing your culture." This is why we enjoy certain ritualized foods—from birthday cake to Christmas pudding, Hebrew Sabbath challah, and Muslim couscous—and why we have strong associations to traditional or simply familiar foods from childhood. Two discussion points got me thinking. One was the difference between French and American eaters: Americans are focused...
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