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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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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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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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....
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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