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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. 

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Societal Impact on Eating and Weight

If you’ve struggled to improve your eating and health to little avail, you may feel as if you’ve failed at the process. What you may not realize is that you’ve not been making this attempt in a vacuum. Yes, there may be internal factors that make it difficult for you to eat “normally,” but there are also external ones that may be undermining success. Health writer Jane Brody, describes these factors in Why, Oh Why, Are We So Fat? (Sarasota Herald-Tribune 9/20/11). Aside from wishing the article’s title said “Unhealthy” rather than “Fat,” I find Brody’s assessment of cultural changes affecting eating and activity level right on. It’s important to recognize how society has shaped us—as well as to understand how we’ve shaped ourselves—because there are substantial overt and covert external factors impacting our attitudes about and behavior around food. Brody asserts that Americans began to gain weight steadily in the...
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Habituating to Challenging Foods

Here’s an interesting headline—“Food habituation may help weight loss”—from a nutrition newsletter summarizing results of a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (8/11). The results support what intuitive eating professionals have been advising for decades: habituating to a food can help you avoid overeating it. The summary in Environmental Nutrition (10/11) says: “The effects of food habituation—a form of learning in which repeated exposure leads to decreased response—was investigated in a study of 16 obese and 16 non-obese women, who were randomly assigned to receive a macaroni and cheese meal five times, either daily for one week or once a week for five weeks. In both obese and non-obese women, daily presentation of the food resulted in faster habituation and less calorie intake than did once-weekly presentation of the food. This study supports the theory that the habitual presentation of a small variety—compared with a wide variety—of calorie-dense...
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The Day After

The day following a holiday feast or any major food event deserves a blog promoting reflection. Print this one out and save it to read after every occasion when you’re eating outside your routine. It will help you reflect on your progress with “normal” eating skills. Better yet, it will remind you of the nonjudgmental mindset needed to continue recovery. First, identify the part of you that is interested in your behavior but has no intention of judging it. That might take a minute or two, but keep at it until you’re there. If that mindset seems elusive, relax your body, take a few deep breaths, and return to seeking that calm, compassionate place in you that is curious about your eating and wants the best for you, but is without criticism. When you’ve found that sweet spot, stop and smile. Be happy that there’s a part of yourself that is...
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Halloween Eating Doesn’t Need to Be Scary

I remember when I used to fear Halloween—not because of spooky ghosts and goblins, but because of what I thought of as the terrifying temptation of candy. This fear began in adolescence and continued until I was well into my journey to “normal” eating. Here are some new findings on eating candy, which may help you be less afraid this Halloween. A PSYCHOLOGY TODAY article entitled, The science of willpower: secrets for self-control without suffering, by Kelly McGonigal has some interesting thoughts on eating sweets although I don’t subscribe to the concept of willpower. “People who regularly eat candy live longer than those who don't. A multi-decade study from the Harvard School of Public Health showed that modest candy consumption is associated with the greatest benefit, but even those with a daily habit lived longer than those who never indulged. This benefit could not be explained by other factors such as...
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Planning Ahead with Food

Here’s a lament I hear repeatedly from clients: I was out and got really hungry and since I didn’t have any food with me, I ended up eating food I really didn’t want and now I feel crummy and mad at myself. Sound familiar? If so, why not start planning ahead? When they’re going out with children, parents (and other adults) know the kids will get hungry and, therefore, plan ahead. In fact, who’d ever think of taking out the brood without packing a snack? Knowing they’ll need nourishment, this task becomes part of the going-out routine. The question is why more adults don’t think ahead this same way knowing that they’ll get hungry if they don’t eat for several hours. Why indeed? In part, this omission is about poor self-care. Planning for nutrient needs is part of doing what’s healthy and self-valuing, a way of saying, “Nourishing myself is vitally...
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Eating and Neural Pathways

I’m fascinated by brain chemistry and behavioral change, especially knowing that we can learn to think/act/feel in new ways. In fact, more and more scientific evidence points to the brain’s amazing neuro-plasticity. That means that it’s time to stop saying you think/feel/behave a certain way regarding food or weight and, therefore, must continue—and start thinking and talking about doing things differently. You’ve probably heard that “neurons that fire together wire together,” meaning that paired activities, or activities and thoughts or feelings, bond on a biochemical level the more they occur at the same time. Such as habituating to snacking as soon as you walk in the door after work, mindlessly having a dish of ice cream every night while watching the news, or thinking about being fat as shameful and disgusting. Repeated pairing of these activities reinforces neural pathways that will stay paired. Whether or not you’re aware of this cause...
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Eyes on Your Own Plate

Remember how teachers cautioned you to keep your eyes on your own paper during a test? They did so because they wanted you to develop skills and knowledge on your own. If you don’t do so already, it’s time to apply the same approach to eating. Everybody seems to have an opinion these days on what you should or shouldn’t eat—your neighbor, doctor, mother, father, brother, friend, cousin, the supermarket check-out clerk, your third-grader, and everyone you have more than a five-minute chat with. Some days you may feel so bombarded with advice that you want to lock yourself inside the refrigerator just to have a quiet moment to think. Forget such drastic measures. All you need to do is develop a “my own plate” mentality and resist peeking at what others are eating. Instead, ask yourself what you feel like having. How much food is enough for you? How does...
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Glycemic Index Findings

It seems as if every few years or so a new approach to losing weight pops up and markets its way into mainstream culture. The glycemic index (GI), focusing on blood sugar levels and carbohydrates, has been in vogue for some time. Now, however, studies tell us that using the GI is not a one-size-fits-all tool for eating, working for some people but not others. An article in the June 2011 TUFTS UNIVERSITY & NUTRITION HEALTH LETTER, Findings cast doubt on glycemic-index appetite effects, explains how the glycemic index may not impact appetite as its promoters would have us think. A Netherlands’ Unilever Research and Development study led by Harry Peters, PhD, “tested the theory that low-glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates that digest more slowly and have more gradual effects on insulin and glucose levels might combat hunger better than high-GI foods.” Peters team found previous studies of GI and appetite inconclusive....
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External Cues and Overeating

Although my primary focus is to help disregulated eaters connect to internal appetite cues, that’s hard to do without recognizing how external cues impact food consumption. Some tips from a NUTRITION ACTION HEALTHLETTER (5/11) article entitled “Under the influence: how external cues make us overeat” by Brian Winsink, Ph.D. Before detailing Winsink’s advice, please note that the word “make” in the title of the article is nonsense. Nothing makes us overeat; rather cues act as triggers and food seducers. So, don’t give up your free will. Nothing makes you overeat but you! Moreover, some of Winsink’s advice is the antithesis of what I teach about eating “normally,” so you’ll have to figure out how to—or even whether to—follow his suggestions. If they aid “normal” eating, use them. If not, ignore them. Rather than keep food within reach (say, on your desk at work or next to you while you’re watching TV)...
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Learn to Eat Like the French do

A number of years ago, the book FRENCH WOMEN DON’T GET FAT by Mireille Guiliano was all the rage. Although I read some time after its publication that, in fact, French women were getting fatter, the book has merit, laying out how French women view and consume food in a way that contrasts sharply with the attitudes and behaviors of American women. Recently I ran across a more analytical take on the subject. In a Newsweek article entitled “Divided We Eat” (11/20/10), Lisa Miller examines American attitudes about food and eating. She cites the views of Claude Fischler, a French sociologist, who maintains that Americans can fight weight gain and food insecurity by thinking more like the French do about food: “Americans take an approach to food and eating that is unlike any other people in history, regarding food primarily as (good or bad) nutrition. When asked, ‘What is eating well?’...
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Marketing and Cooking

Over the years I’ve encountered a number of disregulated eaters who blame their poor eating habits on hating to food shop, plan meals, and cook. Unlike foodies, they enjoy eating, but abhor the activities that get the food on the table. If that describes you, you’ll have to change your thinking on the subject if you want to overcome your food problems and eat healthfully. I understand. Although I enjoy creating a fine feast for occasional dinner guests, I’m not a huge fan of fussing over food for myself. Luckily, due to divergent eating schedules and food preferences, my husband (Mr. Macrobiotic) and I usually fend for ourselves in the kitchen. Between clients, writing, and other commitments, I eat plain, small, real-food “meals” (sometimes too small to actually be called a meal) that are usually broiled, microwaved, or made in a rice cooker. Tasty and satisfying but no muss, no fuss....
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Purity and Purging

In my work, I’ve met many women who are relentlessly driven toward purity. To be sure, there are men out there as well who yearn to be flawless or perfect, but the need seems to come with the cultural territory of being female. It’s a compulsion that can take over your life, ruin your chance for happiness, and make being a “normal” eater impossible. Purity isn’t quite the same as perfection. Without heading for the dictionary, let’s say that purity makes us want to be sparkly clean inside. We never want to have an untoward thought or an unkind feeling. We want to be holy and better than, to rise above it all—whatever “it” is—and be a flesh-and-blood ideal of humanity, a contradiction if there ever was one. As you read this description, does it seem natural and healthy to you? Moreover, does it seem doable? If so, at what cost...
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The Basics of Leptin

Some of you may have heard of leptin and some of you may be hearing the word for the first time. Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells that signals your brain that you’ve had enough food. If you’re serious about understanding appetite and weight-related body chemistry, here’s the quick-and-dirty on leptin. According to an ENVIRONMENTAL NUTRITION (February 2011) article, Lessons About Leptin, Weight and Your Eating Environment, when you eat more calories than your body needs, they are stored in fat cells as fat. As fat is socked away, your leptin levels elevate and are released into your bloodstream, alerting your brain that you’ve consumed enough nutrients. Conversely, by losing weight through reducing fat stores, your leptin levels plummet, signaling your brain to believe that your body is in starvation mode which increases food-seeking behavior. Throughout history, this balance of stored calories evolved to help us take in the...
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When Is It Going to Click

When is it all going to click? I hear this question a lot. Clients and message board members want to know when they’re going to consistently and automatically engage in “normal” eating behaviors—stop eating when satisfied, prevent a binge, feel full but not purge, keep going to the gym even when they’re busy, or not regain weight they struggled hard to lose. The answer to this question may not be what you want to hear. It’s natural to want the effort you put into “normal” eating and growing mentally healthy around food and the scale to pay off. But, in my experience, troubled eaters can get so hyper-focused on when things are going to get easier and “click,” that they become distracted from the hard work that leads to this eventual transformation. The fact is that the click comes at the end of a long, nose-to-the grindstone process. It doesn’t happen...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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