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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]

Taste and Your Other Senses

Eating problems can be exacerbated by a lack of sensory stimulation in general, that is, by using food as your primary outlet for sensual delight. Unwittingly, you may rely on taste, only one of your five senses, rather than using them all to increase intensity and joy in life. If so, by engaging all five senses, you may reduce unwanted eating.If you eat from boredom or to de-stress, you’re ignoring ways in which your other senses—smell, sight, hearing, and touch—could better help you amp up or chill out. One reason for this dependence is that you’ve fallen into a rut: food is cheap, accessible, and requires no thinking or creativity. With a little inventiveness and energy, however, you can learn to get all your senses working for you at maximum efficiency.Let’s start with smell. There may be no scientific evidence that aromatherapy promotes relaxation, but certain aromas seem to bring great...
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The Last Word

We all know that there’s a rational part of ourselves and another part that’s got its own silly, and sometimes harmful, ideas. These aspects of self often battle with each other over food and other decisions: rationality asserts one thing while irrationality says quite another. This is a natural and inevitable process that we go through in making choices. What determines health over lack of it is which thought we let win each skirmish.Clients often confess that they did think about stopping eating when full, going to the gym, saying no to an unreasonable demand, standing up for themselves when they’ve been hurt, etc., but then this “little voice” told them to finish what’s on their plate, let the gym slide for another day, cave to the demand, or remain silent to avoid an argument. If we think of the first voice as the rational one and the second as the...
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Your Brain’s Reward Center

The idea for this blog came from a syndicated column in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune by Amy Alkon, “Advice Goddess.” If you’re not acquainted with her, she offers a witty take on relationships and romance along with some darned good practical advice. In a March column, she shares her wisdom about obsession and the brain’s reward center.Her explanation for how we become entrenched in unwanted behavior is enlightening. Responding to a reader infatuated with an unattainable lover, Alkon writes, “Every time you moon over this woman, you’re giving your brain’s motivation and reward centers a hit of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine. In doing that, you’re repeatedly engaging your brain in reward-seeking without reward-satisfaction, and revving an attraction into an obsession.” She goes on to quote anthropologist Helen Fisher, author of Why We Love: “When a reward is delayed, dopamine-producing cells in the brain increase their work, pumping out more of this natural...
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How Food Makes You Feel

At a workshop I taught in Asheville, NC, a clinician raised an important question to ask yourself after eating: How does food make me feel? Here’s why.Because the experience of eating extends beyond laying down your fork or spoon, a fifth rule of “normal” eating might be to ask yourself, “How did what, how much, and when I ate make me feel?” To process your answer fully, you’ll have to ask this three-part question more than once—immediately after your meal, a few hours later, then many hours later, maybe even the next day. Your answers can then be used to determine whether you want to repeat the eating experience again as is or not.Part one of the question is about what you eat. How does your body respond to meat, vegetables, fruits, processed foods, fried foods, spicy dishes, sugar, fat, dairy or wheat products? Does it feel pleasant or unpleasant directly...
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Two Science-based Keys to Eating Success

In terms of proving why it’s important to eat mindfully and without distractions, this blog may be the most important one you’ll ever read. For years, experts have been telling you to eat with focused attention, which means, at least while you’re learning to become a “normal” eater, not doing anything else while you’re eating. Now we know why failing to do so hinders behavioral change and why following that advice generates success.In Grow your mind: the truth about how to boost your brain’s performance (NEWSWEEK, 1/10-1/17/11), science reporter Sharon Begley explains how the brain grows. She begins by stating that “…attention is almost magical in its ability to physically alter the brain and enlarge functional circuits,” then details the results of an experiment in which one set of monkeys focuses exclusively on learning a task and the other half learns the task while receiving other sensory input. No surprise—only the...
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Food and Addiction

I recently read something that stopped me in my tracks: “Of course, when there are problems, people love to blame the thing being used instead of the person doing the using. This thinking is fed by the damaging contention that addiction is a ‘disease.’ Multiple sclerosis is a disease. You can’t decide to not have multiple sclerosis. You can decide to stop engaging in some behaviors.” Wow, huh!Here are my musings on the subject. First is that we need to think of “addiction” as a medical condition rather than as a disease. As long as we’re choosing terms, let’s go for one that connotes empowerment. We can’t choose whether to have an addiction, but we can choose how we respond to it. Next, as an avid follower of the scientific debate over whether or not sugar is addictive, I’m convinced by current evidence that it definitely is not. Instead, blame dopamine,...
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Fullness and Feeling Fat

A couple months back, there was an intense discussion on my Food and Feelings message board ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) about the discomfort of feeling full. This is what the diet industry has done to us: twisted a positive into a negative by implying that the sensation of taking in adequate nourishment is bad. If you’re going to eat “normally,” it’s time to view fullness as a welcome occurrence.For most of human history—right up until the 20th century—filling your stomach with food was considered a positive act. More than that, it was the most effective one you could engage in to keep yourself alive and well. At the end of a meal, folks smiled with satisfaction, sighed with pleasure, and patted their tummies contentedly. That is what fullness should be about. Those smiles and pats signify that a basic human need has been pleasantly met and that it’s time to move on to...
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Eat Without Distractions

I get preachy about eating without distraction because doing so makes all the difference between mindful and mindless eating and, ultimately, unwanted eating. Because of my own transformation from troubled to “normal” eater, I know that attending exclusively to food speeds up change. Now, here’s proof from the scientific community.Jeffrey Brunstrom, a researcher in behavioral nutrition at the University of Bristol in England, is the senior author of a study on eating and distraction. For his research, he had 22 volunteers play solitaire while eating a meal and another 22 eat the same meal without any distractions. Subjects were not told the focus of the study which was to assess post-meal fullness, the quantity of food eaten 30 minutes after the meal, and participant success in remembering what they had eaten. Care to guess the outcome?The solitaire-playing eaters—no surprise!—did worse at recalling what they’d eaten and felt substantially less full just...
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Do You Really Love Food?

Clients say that the reason they overeat or eat when they’re not hungry is because they simply “love” food—but I don’t buy it. I know foodies who eat “normally” and folks who eat so quickly and inattentively that they couldn’t possibly enjoy it. Justifying unwanted eating by saying you love food will not help you overcome disregulated eating.A relevant anecdote. At a party over the holidays, I watched a woman shuttle back and forth to the dessert table, piling her plate high with as many sweets as it would hold. Then she’d sit down and chat with friends until the food was gone and do the same thing all over again, telling them, “I love food. I can’t help myself.” My heart went out to her because I used to eat exactly the same way. In the meantime, I’d found some Turkish sweets I hadn’t had in decades, took two small...
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Tips for Making Smart Food Choices

The #1 effort that makes the difference between staying stuck in disregulated eating and climbing—and staying—out of it is what you do in the moments when you have a choice to make about food. Shall I eat or not? Shall I eat this or that? Shall I continue eating or stop now? Here are a few tips to help you make smarter choices.First off, remember that you must struggle in the moment to change your habits. You must do the new, healthy behavior more than the old, unhealthy behavior to transform your overall eating patterns. It’s not enough to do the old behavior sometimes and the new behavior other times. Shifting back and forth will only keep you stuck. When you’re in the throws of making choices, whether we’re talking a lengthy debate with yourself or a split-second decision, you need simple techniques for making the wisest move.Make up a file...
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Variety in Eating

It’s important to know how much variety you want in your eating. Some people are perfectly happy eating the same few dishes over and over. Other people would be bored to tears having the same meal more than once in a week. Recognizing your need for variety or sameness can make the difference between enjoying food and engaging in unwanted eating because you feel dissatisfied.I have a friend who rotates three different lunches every week—tuna, turkey or chicken salad. That’s what she enjoys eating mid-day. And she pretty much eats the same thing for breakfast and her evening snack because she loves having a routine of healthy, satisfying foods. I know other people who live on chicken or chicken and fish and others who don’t care what they have for dinner as long as it’s some type of red meat. Many people, in fact, find pleasure in eating the same foods...
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Remembering "Normal" Eating

Most of us were born “normal” eaters and the process for responding to appetite is really more about relearning than starting from scratch. Let’s face it, we wouldn’t have gotten this far as a species if we didn’t automatically know how to feed ourselves well. What you remember about eating “normally” may help you return to it more quickly.Think back to when food wasn’t an issue for you, when you ate when you were hungry, knew exactly what you wanted to eat, and stopped when you were full or satisfied. When you didn’t seek comfort in food or obsess about calories and weight. Recall, if you can, the wonderful feeling of connection to yourself and your ease with food. What was it like for your body to be so naturally satisfied with food without you giving much thought to it? If you’re able to remember that experience, allow yourself to spend...
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Words to Combat Mindless Eating

Isn’t it amazing how faced with a food decision, all your finest motivation and most ardent desire to care for yourself often fly right out the window? To combat this problem, I recommend that you anticipate and write down what you want to say to yourself in potentially difficult eating situations so you won’t be at a loss for words and forget how abusing food is not what you really want to do. Here’s how.On one side of a file card, put the rules of “normal” eating. On the other side, develop a mantra or set of words or phrases that will reach you when you’re about to make decisions about eating or weight. Jot down some thoughts for the next time you think that weighing yourself would be a grand idea, even though you know that whatever the scale says will cause a negative ripple effect. Compose a few lines...
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Solo Eating

Dining alone—at home or in a restaurant—often triggers unwanted eating, but it need not be problematic if you can identify what’s bothering you and come up with effective solutions. Change your attitude and you may even learn to enjoy eating solo.If you’re uncomfortable eating alone, acknowledge this fact. Maybe you believe you should feel okay and therefore, try to deny your discomfort. Think about it: How do you feel about eating by yourself at home or in a restaurant? If you’re used to keeping busy, eating solo can be a jarring experience because you’re all alone with your thoughts—and your food. Although eating is often a social experience, in the end it’s an isolated me-with-me occasion because the socializing actually has nothing to do with the food (unless someone is feeding you!). First off, then, stop thinking that eating should be a social experience, because this is not necessarily true.If you...
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Books on Eating

There are many wonderful new books and websites to help disregulated eaters and the people who treat them. Although I haven’t read the titles listed below, I recommend them based on what I know about them and their authors. If you’ve read any of them, feel free to comment in the space below this blog and please encourage others to visit these websites and read these books. Look for them at http://www.bulimia.com/. When I was recovering, I tried to read as much as I could about how to move beyond my eating problems and what I needed to do to recover. An insight here, a new perspective there, it all adds up and moves you forward. And, remember, as each of us recovers, we’re reshaping cultural norms about eating and weight and working toward building a society that has a more natural, saner, comfortable relationship with food. JUST TELL HER TO STOP: FAMILIES...
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Feeling Okay about Food Choices

Often I speak with clients who are beginning to make food choices which feel right to them, except that they’re severely self-conscious and uncomfortable about them. If this happens to you, it’s important to learn how to stand up for your food decisions and not cave to external pressure, real or perceived. Remember, if you’re not eating foods you enjoy, you’re going to have a heap of trouble following the rules of “normal” eating.This problem plays out in three ways. The first is in the when of eating which might seem inappropriate to others. When I began trying to eat “normally,” I carried around food everywhere to assure myself that it would be available whenever I felt I needed it. I once ate an apple at intermission in the lobby of a Broadway show and a tuna fish sandwich in the bathroom of a bar in Vermont. Though I still travel...
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Blacks and Food Advertising

Of interest is a Sarasota Herald-Tribune article (9/16/08) about black Americans being targeted by advertisers to eat less healthy foods than white Americans. Unfortunately, the article was intended for my “Blog” folder, but ended up somewhere else until I recently discovered it. Hence, my blogging about it two years late! My apologies.The article is a real eye opener, stating that overweight and obesity rates are higher among blacks than among whites—68.9% to 59.5%—and that one of the culprits is food marketers. These statistics come from research reported by the Kaiser Family Foundation. “In a review of 22 studies published in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health, researchers found that advertisers specifically target blacks with unhealthy food messages.” The kinds of food that are advertised—sweets and treats, of course.Obviously, these foods are aggressively marketed to all Americans. However, “TV shows that are popular among black audiences run a...
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Make “Normal” Eating Your Project

One of the biggest problems in becoming a “normal” eater is working at it for a while, then giving up and going back to mindless eating or dieting. If you stop and start, no wonder you feel as if you aren’t getting very far. No innate defect is preventing your success, however. Rather, you’re underestimating what you need to do to change.You’ve been to school and know that gaining proficiency in a subject takes focused attention for months or years, but generally this isn’t the mindset you use for learning to eat “normally.” Instead, you dabble at acquiring skills, become overwhelmed at what you don’t know and can’t do, feel disappointed, believe the process won’t work for you, and give up. Better to tell yourself, It will take time to become highly skilled, so I guess I’ll have to hunker down, put “normal” eating in the forefront and make it my...
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Weekday and Weekend Eating

Recently I was chatting with a friend who complained that she was looking to lose weight, but was frustrated that she couldn’t shake off any more pounds. She reported cutting portions and making healthier food choices and paying more attention to her appetite. For a moment, there seemed like little she could do to improve her habits—until she mentioned being careful during the week, but eating junk food with her boyfriend which he brought over on the weekend.It’s easy to fall prey to this pattern. On work days, you may forced into a regular feeding schedule with limited food choices, whereas, on weekends, you have more free time at home and are surrounded by food. Or making your own food choices as a stay-home-alone parent on weekdays, you may be faced with a partner’s preferences on weekends. Even without kids, weekends generally include eating activities—dinners out, get-togethers, and parties—which may make...
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Women, Food and God—and Oprah!

Oprah says she’s seen the light—that diets don’t work, that punishing herself for being fat and overeating is exactly the wrong thing to do, that instead of hating her food problems, she needs to value them as a tool to teach her how to live her best life. Let’s hope that Geneen Roth’s May 12 appearance on Oprah helped switch on the light for Oprah’s entire viewing audience. And that it also gets Geneen Roth’s newest book, WOMEN, FOOD AND GOD, read and reread by disregulated eaters everywhere.Roth’s books were a turning point in my battles with food. How long had I been struggling, you ask. Since always. As a skinny kid, my mother had to trick me into eating by convincing me that my mouth was a tunnel and the food-on-a-spoon a choo choo train. However, not long after, there she was buying me clothes in the chubby department (Did...
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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