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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]

Food Planning

I had a good laugh with a client, a perfectly capable, highly competent woman, over her telling me she just couldn’t plan meals ahead. This happens often when clients insist this task is far too tough for them. Ha! I don’t believe it for a minute. When a client says, “But I just don’t know what I’ll want for lunch” or “I’m so tired after work, I simply don’t care what I eat” or “It’s too much trouble to plan food ahead,” I know that something else is amiss. My usual rejoinder is, “Your career is challenging” or “Having a job like yours and taking care of three kids is a lot of work. But, hard? Being President of the United States or living on the streets is hard, but, food planning? C’mon.” Such contrasts helps clients see how ludicrous their protests are. Fact is, meal planning is not all that...
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Misinterpretations That Drive Unwanted Eating

Too many disregulated eaters have low regard for themselves and, therefore, don’t take care of themselves as if they’re deserving of high-quality self care. For those of you who think you’re defective and aren’t worth eating healthfully, here’s another take on the subject and how you might have mistakenly come to think about things incorrectly. Take this scenario. As a young child, let’s say your mother or father or both frequently criticized you, raged at you out of the blue over petty concerns, and treated you as if your needs were wrong or didn’t matter. In your child’s limited brain, you assumed they were treating you poorly because there was something wrong with you. The equation goes like this: they treat me as if there’s something bad about me, so there must be. Now, let’s move away from you personally and take a look at three situations, all anecdotes from my...
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What Not to Say When You Have a Non-Hunger Eating Urge

The brain is an amazing organ, but it’s not as clever or evolved as we think it is. For instance, we may think we’re telling it to do one thing, while it hears our instruction as just the opposite. Not great when you’re trying to avoid unwanted eating. Here’s a common mistake—and its fix—for handing unwelcome food urges. I bet that when you want to deter yourself from heading for the drive-through on the way home from work or getting up from working at the computer to check out what’s in your kitchen cabinets (for the umpteenth time), you’re probably telling yourself something like, “I can’t eat that now” or “I really don’t want to eat that.” It’s a common enough tactic that we’ve been encouraged to take: tell yourself what want to do, not what you don’t want to do, right? Except that these words actually may be driving you...
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Labeling Your Eating Problem Correctly

A client recently had a eureka moment when she realized that she didn’t have an eating problem per se, but a psycho-emotional one that was driving her food abuse. She felt tremendous relief in identifying her actual, underlying problem which pointed the way toward more helpful solutions. Here are some possible problems you might have. Most disregulated eaters have high anxiety and use food to self-soothe. Eating is a symptom, not a root cause. Discussing their history, they recognize that family members also have anxiety issues which manifested in drinking, rigidity, a need to control, anger, perfectionism, worry, and people-pleasing. They can see how their anxious parents modeled and generated anxiety in them. The solution is to change anxiety-promoting beliefs, lower stress, and practice self-soothing and stress-reduction techniques. Troubled eaters often are depressed and use food to generate pleasure and lift their mood. Usually they can find a thread of depression...
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Does Comfort Food Really Provide Comfort?

If “comfort” food didn’t really bring you comfort, would you be as likely to eat it or eat as much of it? We’ve come to believe that foods which are high in fat and sugar boost our mood by activating the brain’s reward system. But what if that’s not actually the case? According to recent research cited in “Comfort food may fall short on the comfort” by Jan Hoffman (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 1/6/15, p. 26E), Kelly D. Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke, concludes that “…the assignment of the word ‘comfort’ to [high-calorie foods] implies there is a relationship between ‘comfort’ and ‘food’ that may not exist.” The article describes comfort food as giving substantial pleasure and elevating a blue or blah mood. It says that women most often choose sweets and that men generally select “heartier, more savory items.” The article highlights a Minnesota study funded...
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Changing Eating Habits

Ah, the power of habit. We cherish our “good” ones and loathe our “bad” ones. Nowhere is this truer than in the eating and lifestyle arenas. The truth is, we understand very little about the purpose of habits and how to alter them. Learning more about the process of habit formation is the best way to succeed at changing them. Charles Duhigg, author of THE POWER OF HABIT, offers some wisdom on the subject (“Strengthening New Year’s Resolutions,” Psychotherapy Networker, Jan/Feb 2013). He reports on the conclusions of a Duke University study: “40-45% of people’s daily actions are habits or unconscious decisions.” Whoa, we’re talking about almost half of what we do! He explains that habits are a kind of “functional autopilot mechanism,” that is, they free up the brain to focus on more important matters than, say, whether to brush your teeth before or after you wash your face. His...
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Memory, Appetite and Mindful Eating

If you do nothing else to improve your relationship with food, practice mindful eating. C’mon, now, it’s not that difficult to do. Trust me, it will speed your recovery faster than you’d ever believe. Think: more mindfulness, less food abuse. According to Appetite may be driven by your memory by Melissa Healy (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 12/25/12), “Too much distraction, too little attention, food presentation—such as large dishes that distort our assessment of portion size—can play havoc with our food memories. And eventually…with our waistlines.” This conclusion comes from a study on actual versus perceived portion size in the journal Public Library of Science One. In the study, unbeknownst to participants, the researchers manipulated the amount of food they received. When questioned about their hunger later, after eating, “subjects’ memories of the meal they saw—not the one they ate—seemed to be most influential.” Even a day later, participants’ memories of what they’d seen...
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Chaos, Meaning, and Eating Test

One feeling that drives disregulated eaters towards food is not being in control of a situation. That’s a difficult position for all of us to be in and our perspective informs our attitude toward how we handle it. The more rational your views on what you can and can’t control, the more likely you won’t eat when control is out of your hands. The world is a chaotic place—nature does its thing, world events impact us socially, culturally and financially, people push their own agenda’s, accidents befall us, and our bodies get sick and grow old. Inescapably, helplessness is at its worst when we’re very young or very old. Of course, the more we rail against it, the worse we feel. The world can be indifferent, unfair, and cruel. It is a peculiarly human notion, part of our egocentricity, however, that life throws things at us. It really doesn't. Life just...
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Learning to Connect with Appetite Takes Focus

Here’s a snippet of dialogue I have at least once a week with clients. They say, “It’s hard to eat without distraction. It’s weird and I don’t like it.” And I say, “Understanding how you’ve changed in other areas will help you form a new habit in this one.” I vividly recall one such conversation with a client who insisted that it felt intolerable not to watch TV/read/play computer games/answer emails while she was eating, but agreed that the discomfort was probably more habit than anything else. I explained that neurons that fire together wire together, and that her eating while doing other things for decades had fused the two together though they don’t rationally belong that way. Remember, any activities you repeatedly do concurrently will became habitual. What makes disregulated eaters expect that they can learn to eat “normally” while doing another activity? I asked one client, a yoga instructor,...
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More on Food as Addictive

The debate about whether or not sugar and fat are addictive has gone on for decades. When it began and for long after, the evidence, though inconclusive, leaned toward the negative. Now, according to Laura Beil in “The snack-food trap” (Newsweek, 11/5/12), consensus may be tipping toward the affirmative. Although there are strong, credible challenges to the concept of food as addictive, it seems that “especially in studies of rodents, the brain appears to uniquely draw us to high-calorie, low-nutrient foods…” Mark Gold, chairman of psychiatry at the University of Florida, has done studies which “point to the possibility that eating may satisfy the same brain cravings that drive a person to addictive tobacco, alcohol, and drug use.” The article underscores, however, that not everyone who is “overweight” may suffer from addiction, just as some people drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and experiment with drugs like cocaine and oxycodone, but do not...
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Different Takes on Binge-Eating

I was talking with a client a while ago who had done a great deal of binge-eating on vacation. Although I kept asking her about how she’d enjoyed her trip, she would not stop talking about her awful eating and how ashamed she was of ruining her vacation. Clearly, we were not experiencing her binge-eating in the same way. The problem was that repeatedly “eating herself into oblivion,” as she described it, had totally overshadowed the fact that she’d been touring a part of the country she’d never seen with her close friends, a trip she’d long anticipated. We discussed how excited she’d been about the vacation and her plan not to let anything get in the way of enjoying it. In fact, she reported having eaten fairly “normally” the first few days away, then overeating one night which continued nonstop. Every day she’d awakened vowing to eat mindfully, and every...
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Eating After the Holiday

Not on, but after Thanksgiving, members of my "Food and Feelings"  message board were struggling with having overeaten. Many ate fairly “normally” on the holiday itself, only to find themselves bingeing and engaged in unwanted eating later that night or the next day. If you engaged in this eating pattern, you can make sure it doesn’t happen again. Two thoughts. First is that holidays are often doubly stressful for troubled eaters. Not only are you faced with family, travel, unstructured or differently structured time, and perhaps less chance to exercise, but you have your eating problem to contend with, which includes being around varied and challenging foods and feeling thrown off your eating schedule. Many of you work very hard to eat healthfully and mindfully with family on a holiday—and do a great job of it. You come away from a holiday meal proud of your success, knowing it was no...
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How Destructive Is Binge-eating?

I often speak with clients after they’ve had a whopper of a binge. Even days or weeks afterward, they can usually recall every painful detail of what they consider to be a major act of self-destruction. But is bingeing really so harmful? Now, before I receive hate mail insisting that bingeing on fat and sugar can’t be anything but unhealthy, I’ll agree with you. A little fat and sugar, okay, but gobs aren’t good for our bodies. Then again, neither is overeating this same amount of calories spread over days or weeks. But many regular overeaters pay scant attention to consuming more food than their bodies need as a matter of habit and don’t get down on themselves. They think, “Oh, I just have a big appetite” or “So what if I ate past full?” My point is that if you generally eat “normally” or healthfully (which may or may not...
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Eating at Home versus Dining Out

I often hear clients and "Food and Feelings" message board members complain that they do fine eating at home, but that everything falls apart when they go out to eat. This is likely due to failing to manage what you can when dining out. So here are my ideas for being mindful and proactive when you’re eating outside your home. First off, give yourself credit for improving your eating at home. Too often, disregulated eaters forget that they do many things well because they’re too busy focusing on what they’re not doing as well as they’d like. So, stop and recognize the progress you’ve made. Next, consider that it makes sense that you’d do better where you perceive yourself in charge of all the elements in a situation—you’re the one doing the food planning, marketing, cooking, meal scheduling, and serving which makes it easier to make sure at each step along...
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Gender and Binge-eating Disorder

Most of my clients for binge-eating disorder are and have been women, but that doesn’t mean men don’t have similar problems. Women enter therapy more often and are more appearance conscious than men. But, take note, males can be binge-eaters too.After reading “Binge Eating Among Men Steps Out of the Shadows” by Abby Ellin (NY Times, 8/13/12), I wondered how many of you have male partners, colleagues, brothers, spouses, friends, or fathers who binge. As the article points out, men are expected to eat a lot and aren’t as self-conscious about it as women. In fact, chowing down may be seen as a manly thing to do. However, when you’re consuming many hundreds or even thousands of calories at one sitting and feel out of control around food, that’s nothing near normal eating. As therapist and former binge-eater Andrew Walen points out in the article, that’s about “numbness and self-loathing.” He...
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More on Buffet and Party Eating

At a party this summer, I ended up engaging in a hazard of my profession, observing people eat. There were a variety of party-goers at the event—mixed gender, from all classes and walks of life. An interesting crowd but, sadly, not a mindful eating one. My table was close by the buffet, so I was able to watch the party-goers shuttling back and forth seeking food. I was struck by the size of the portions taken. Plates were medium-sized and most folks heaped them so high and full that all I could see was food, no plate. There was variety on each one, a bit of everything—or, rather, more than a bit. Nearly all those at my table cleaned their plates when the food was only so-so--a self- confessed non- foodie, I know a tasty dish from a ho-hum one and most of these were passable at best. There were lots...
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More on Beliefs of Parents of Dysregulated Eaters

Too many disregulated eaters try to change their eating behavior before they’ve examined their beliefs and, therefore, fail to make progress. In fact, I bet most of your frustration with your recovery is due to not having a rational belief system. To create one, here are some irrational beliefs passed down from generation to generation. Where is it written that you must be busy and doing something meaningful every minute of the day or you’re not living up to your potential? Is this true? Where is the evidence? Why can’t you take a break and relax and feel good about it? It’s time to throw out that old belief your parents taught you about productivity and factor in some time to chill out. Why must you always succeed and do the best you can? Success is all well and good but, frankly, failure will teach you as much about life and...
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Different Takes on Binge Eating

I was talking with a client a while ago who had done a great deal of binge-eating on vacation. Although I kept asking her about the sights and people she’d seen, she would not stop talking about how awful her eating had been and how ashamed she was. Clearly, we were not experiencing her binge-eating the same way. It seems that her having spent a great deal of time “eating herself into oblivion,” as she described it, totally overshadowed the fact that she was touring a part of the country she’d never seen with dear friends. We discussed how excited she’d been about the vacation and her plan not to let anything get in the way of enjoying it. She said that she’d eaten fairly “normally” the first few days away, then overate one night, and hadn’t reregulated her eating after that. Every day she’d awakened vowing to eat mindfully, and...
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When Food Isn’t Satisfying

Dissatisfaction with food may happen for any number of reasons. Understanding the your feelings when this happens can lead you to choosing a healthy response.. You don’t have to be satisfied with food, but you can be satisfied with your actions around it. It’s not unusual for disregulated eaters to feel dissatisfied with a meal and later binge on food they enjoy. Or even binge on the food you’re not enjoying! This behavior sounds bizarre, but makes lots of sense when you realize that for many disregulated eaters eating is the way they deal with uncomfortable feelings. So, say, you’re out to dinner and order some dish you think you’ll like but it doesn’t hit the spot, or you are a dinner guest and have to eat what you’re served which is about the last thing you like to eat. How does that lead to a binge? What happens is that...
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Practice, Changing the Brain, and Better Eating

An article about changing the brain (The brain set free by Laura Sanders, SCIENCE NEWS, 8/11/12) offers more evidence for some of my most persistent advice: If you want to eat differently, you have to keep practicing new behaviors. You can’t just do something a few times and decide you’re a failure. Practice changes your brain. Before getting to how your brain changes with practice, here’s a description of how it begins laying down neural pathways in your earliest days. At first there is a rush of information into our newly formed brains. Slowly connections start to form and strengthen between nerve cells. “In time, these brain connections crystallize, forming indelible patterns” and “In a fully set brain, signals fly around effortlessly, making commonplace tasks short work” as the brain becomes “a master of efficiency” and what scientists called “petrified.” They talk about “The potential for this metamorphosis” as the brain...
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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