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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. 

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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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,...
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Why You Have to Keep Moving Toward Normal Eating

Many of my clients are making terrific progress toward “normal” eating. However, some don’t think they’re moving forward at all and lament how slow and hard the process is. Although I never would have believed at the time that the decades I engaged in mindless, emotional, and overeating (and the couple of years I had bulimia) could possibly have any value in my life, I now know that my eating disorder recovery is one of the most useful tools I have in my therapeutic toolbox.   When clients rail against how ridiculous they feel when they know exactly how to eat and do the opposite, I can sympathize with them. When they complain that they’re not changing fast enough, I can tell them how well I understand their impatience. When they feel torn about continuing on the path to “normal” eating, returning to dieting or giving up on eating better,...
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Replace Cheating with Permission to Eat

It drives me crazy how weight loss marketers keep promoting the idea of “cheat” eating. Is that how you really want to feel about enjoying food you love? The whole concept is rife with dysfunction, although I’m guessing that the intent of “cheating” with eating was meant to be benign. It’s time to stop using the word and this dangerous concept.   The Oxford Living Dictionary ( https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/cheat , accessed 8/10/17), defines cheat as follows: “Act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage” or “An act of fraud or deception.” So, when we’re told it’s okay to have a cheat day of eating or to cheat eat occasionally, we’re basically being encouraged to act fraudulently and to engage in deception, to be dishonest and take advantage. Who or what are we taking advantage of? Who is being deceived?   I totally understand what the intent of cheating is...
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Psychological Shifts Toward Normal Eating and Better Mental Health

Two clients recently mentioned “feeling different about food” recently. When I asked if they could describe what the difference was, they couldn’t explain it, but were adamant that something had changed within them. That’s what we call a psychological shift and, when it happens, you may not understand what caused it, but you darn well know that it happened.   I had such a shift recently while thinking about someone I knew and was fond of decades ago. I was thinking about how much fun he was and the good times we shared, when suddenly I saw him in a completely different light, as not really an honorable man. His deceitfulness suddenly completely overshadowed his fun-loving qualities, and he was no longer a man I felt fondness for, but someone who, at heart, I knew was not a very trustworthy person. And since that day, I’ve never been able to...
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Good and Bad Don’t Apply to Eating

Sometimes we can’t help overhearing conversations, especially when someone is talking really loudly on their cell phone, as if they’re alone in the room. That happened to me recently, and I was dumbstruck over what I was hearing. A man was telling someone about an upcoming doctor’s appointment and this is what I heard: “My doctor is going to be really mad at me because I’ve been really bad. I’m eating all the wrong things when I promised him I’d be good. Man, have I been bad.”   If I hadn’t seen that this speaker was a middle-age guy, I would have sworn I was listening to a child between 6 and 12. That’s the age when we’re often preoccupied with wishing to be good and fearing being bad. That’s the age when we don’t have a huge vocabulary and use words like “good” and “bad” because we don’t have...
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How Do You Know If You Have Food Sensitivities?

It seems as if almost everyone these days has food sensitivities—or thinks they have them. Then, again, I bet there are lots of folks who never thought about the possibility who actually suffer from them. Whichever the case, most of us lump together allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities and don’t really understand the difference among them.   “Getting to the bottom of food sensitivities” (Environmental Nutrition, 10/16. p.7) provides a comprehensive explanation that will help you recognize if you’re on the sensitivity continuum. “Allergies can cause an immediate measurable immune response and intolerances are delayed, reproducible symptoms often caused by the lack of an enzyme or other factor necessary to digest a food.” For example, people who lack the lactase enzyme have difficulty digesting dairy products. Others become symptomatic when they ingest chemicals like caffeine, salicylates or histamine which are naturally found in foods. Allergies and intolerances are at one end...
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Let’s Stop Calling Food Junk

I’ve heard the term “junk food” so often that I’ve never thought much about it, except to feel antipathy toward its pejorative slant. Therefore, I was interested to read an article in ConscienHealth entitled “Junk Food, Junk Diets, and Junk Policy for Obesity” ( http://conscienhealth.org/2017/01/junk-food-junk-diets-junk-policy-obesity/ ) based on some reviews in the International Journal of Obesity about the term.   The Journal article (as described in ConscienHealth) asks, ”Is smoked salmon junk food? Its fat and salt content might meet the WHO [World Health Organization] definition. Is a rich meal at an expensive restaurant junk food? Or are we more comfortable calling a cheap meal at McDonald’s junk food?”   Gregorio Milani, author of the Journal article, says: “Each food can be just a player in the field of unhealthy nutrition. No single category of food can be identified as the main guilty factor. Consequently, in addressing obesity and obesity-related diseases, we...
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Are You a Picky Eater?

May 1 Picky Eater blog
Image by Debbie Digioia   If you’re a picky eater and would like not to be, there is hope for you! According to “Picky eating is in our genes” by Casey Seidenberg (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Health + Fitness, 12/20/16, p. E18), our taste buds may be more adaptable than we think, which was a surprise to me and good news for people who want to expand their palates.   David Katz, a Yale nutritionist, told U.S. News and World Report that “when taste buds can’t be with the foods they love, they learn to love the foods they’re with.” This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, because, as Seidenberg writes, “The original job of taste buds was to help us stay alive. Familiar foods were usually recognized as delicious because they were safe; our subconscious logic told us that if they didn’t kill us the last time we ate them, they...
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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