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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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Healthy versus “Normal” Eating

When a message board member questioned the difference between “normal” and healthy eating, I browsed through my blogs and was surprised I hadn’t blogged on the subject. What an important one it is. “Normal” and healthy eating are not the same, but each has tremendous value.“Normal” eating means being guided by appetite: eating when hungry, making satisfying choices, eating with awareness and enjoyment, and stopping when full or satisfied. The focus is internal, on responding to body signals. When you eat “normally,” you use instinct and judgment together to reach a goal of having a satisfying food experience. On the other hand, healthy eating, or what I’d call eating for nutritional value, has a goal of consuming foods that are beneficial for your body in terms of disease prevention, optimal health, and longevity. Nutritional eating is externally focused, ie, reading labels, considering fat, sugar and salt content, forgoing processed foods, eating...
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Fighting Food Compulsions

On my Food and Feelings message board, members have been talking about what it takes to struggle in the moment to resist unwanted eating (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings). There’s no easy formula that will make it happen, but understanding why you fail to struggle, struggle harder, or struggle until your rational self beats out disordered thinking will help you make wiser decisions.Along with learning essential life skills and reframing irrational beliefs, there’s nothing more valuable in overcoming disregulated eating than struggling in the moment with food decisions. What do I mean by “struggling”? I mean using your best self—the cognitive part of your brain that knows what is healthy, the memory of all your unhappy experiences with unwanted eating, the incentives of your personal goals for fitness and well-being, the wise self-mother who wants to nurture you, your commonsense that knows you’re hurting yourself—to battle disordered thinking that so seductively and manipulatively tries to...
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Slow Down Eating

Need one more reason to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n y-o-u-r e-a-t-i-n-g? According to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, eating fast reduces the release of hormones which help regulate appetite. Makes sense. Eating quickly is a learned behavior. The natural way to eat is to chew thoroughly and taste food so that your body can respond to what and how much you’re eating.Eating quickly is nothing more than a bad habit. In fact, compared to sitting with intense emotions and changing irrational beliefs about food, eating, and weight, it’s, well, a piece of cake. What I’m saying is that it is one of the easier behaviors to change. So what prevents you from slowing down and eating at a more leisurely pace? The fact that most speed eating is unconscious and automatic. You’re so used to gobbling up food and paying so little attention to your actions, that you don’t even realize...
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Eating Confusion

I’ve had many conversations with clients (with friends and acquaintances too) who aren’t really sure what behaviors are appropriate around food. Small wonder. Fearing it smacks of dieting, they don’t know if any restriction of food is kosher or wonder if overeating due to stress means they’re abusing food. Even in the realm of exercise, they’re unsure of how much is enough. Although there are no hard and fast answers to these questions, there are ways to think these issues through effectively.Let’s take the question of whether it’s ever okay to consciously rein in your eating. Of course it is. If you’ve been overeating on vacation, dining out, hosting house guests, or over the holidays, it’s fine/normal/natural/healthy to be aware of it and cut back for a while. What you want to avoid is extremes, feeling deprived, and making a negative judgment about yourself or your eating. So you might avoid...
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Overeating versus Loss of Control Eating

A while back, I read about a research project studying loss of control (LOC) eating and got to thinking about the study’s need to distinguish it from garden variety overeating. The subject can be confusing. For example, the concept of loss of control eating may be helpful for overeaters, but it is problematic for highly restrictive eaters who are too in control when they eat and need to cut themselves some slack around food. So for strict undereaters LOC eating might actually be a good thing. To be clear then, today’s blog is for overeaters who lose control around food to their detriment.The way I see it is that all overeating isn’t LOC eating, and all LOC eating isn’t overeating. Overeating is continuing to consume food past fullness or satisfaction. Of course, sometimes we consciously take a few more bites than we really need, but it doesn’t make a huge difference...
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Dieting versus Healthy Eating

My message board members have once again raised an interesting issue, and I thank them for keeping my head well stocked with bloggable subjects. The topic this time is the difference between dieting and healthy or nutritious eating. How can you distinguish them? How can you make healthy food choices most of the time and not feel as if you’re on a restrictive diet?As one board member points out, we’re all on some sort of diet. The problem is that diet has two meanings: the way we eat and a way to eat to lose weight. Stop and think about that. When you use the word, which definition do you mean? Can’t you follow a way of eating without being on a diet? I believe you can. It’s all in your perspective. You can follow formal or informal food guidelines—eat whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, eat small meals often throughout the...
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A Guide to “Normal” Eating

Starting out on the path to “normal” eating, you may be uncertain about what the journey entails. You expect you’ll be changing attitudes about and behavior around food, and may think that’s all you’ll be doing. The truth is that going from disregulated to regulated eating is a long, complex, process that requires a shift in numerous aspects of your life, and no one achieves complete recovery without undergoing an enormous, positive transformation. Conversely, without such an overhaul, you will never reach your eating goals. Here are some changes which lie ahead.You will have to acknowledge that moving from chronic dieting and/or overeating to “normal” eating is a lengthy process. It will not happen overnight. Plan on many months to a few years. It will not be an easy process. For many, it will be the hardest thing you ever do in your life. Changes are not only behavioral, but demand...
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Yet More on Legalizing Food

If you’re still struggling with food legalization, I hope you’ve read my blogs on the subject. This one builds on the previous two. Frankly, I’ve found that the concept works for some people but not for others, and it’s difficult to know in which category you fall. Finding the best path for you is yet another facet of healing from eating problems.A reminder that legalization is a concept: food is neither good nor bad and there is no imperative that one food is morally better than another. Nutritiously better, yes; morally, no. That perspective frees you up to make choices based on food preference (enjoyment) and health. However, and it’s a big caveat, you need a healthy belief system to use the concept of food legalization effectively. You have to believe 100% that there are no good or bad foods—no uncertainties allowed! Most people who jump into legalizing food still hold...
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More on Legalizing Food

As a first step in healing eating problems, legalizing food is a tricky and complicated business, based as much on biology as psychology. Many disregulated eaters get stuck in the effort to widen food horizons and don’t move beyond it. This blog and future ones can’t tell you exactly how to manage legalization, but will help you sort out the issues.When the concept of legalizing foods surfaced in the late 1970s/early 1980s, it was positively revolutionary. I know, I was one of those eaters who was revolutionized by it. Eat whatever you want whenever you want in whatever quantities you want—what an astounding idea! It worked for a lot of us. Merely thinking that we could eat the foods we’d forbidden ourselves enabled us not to. It took many months and years of practice to convince ourselves that all foods were fair game. I used to think, I can eat the...
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Legalizing Food

When the idea of "legalizing" food was introduced some three decades ago, I was just starting to work through my own dieting/binge-eating struggles. By the time I began to treat and write about disregulated eating, I was pretty much a “normal” eater and no longer thought about food as good or bad, legal or illegal. Now, I’m concerned with how much trouble disregulated eaters have with the term legalization. For too many of you, it seems to provide license to go hog wild with food which, of course, creates more problems than solutions. My ideas on legalizing food may differ from other experts, and hopefully will help those of you who are trying to expand food options constructively.Here's what legalization means (and has always meant) to me: I have the right to and, therefore, can eat anything I want any time in any quantity. For me, legalization is a belief or...
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Undereating and Food Obsession

A blog reader recently asked me to write more about undereating and the fear of becoming overweight. There are many similarities between undereaters and overeaters—using food as an emotional distraction or crutch, allowing weight to determine self-worth, dependence on inadequate life skills, and disconnection from appetite signals. However, there are also differences.Many undereaters believe they need to be in perfect control around food 24/7and obsess about it and their weight. I know, I used to be one myself. These thoughts fill up your head and dictate your life. You can’t go here or there because there might be edible temptation, food is the hollow center of your life, and the accursed enemy which must be battled daily. Societal reinforcement keeps behavior in place. Unless you’re walking skin and bones, everyone thinks it’s mahvelous how much control over food you have. After all, you are the American ideal, having vanquished your urges...
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Behaviors of Slim People

Keeping in mind that some 50-70% of our weight may be genetically predetermined (Rethinking Thin—The New Science of Weight Loss and the Myths and Realities of Dieting, Kolata, 2007), survey studies identify that a number of behaviors slim people do that keep them that way. Although I could quibble with one or two findings, the point is that biology is not destiny and that there are folks with some of the most challenging weight-related DNA on the planet who manage to stabilize weight at a comfortable level and still enjoy eating and life.Dr. John Foreyt, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, maintains that people who remain thin “are eternally vigilant with daily or weekly weighing, they monitor calorie intake and they’re highly active exercising at least 60 minutes a day.” Hmm, so what of the many “normal” eaters I’ve met, whether they’ve ever had an eating/weight...
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Cravings and Addictions

A message board (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) member asked me to blog about cravings, compulsions, and addictions. Here’s my take. Over recent decades, scientific research has concluded that brain chemistry dictates far more of our behavior than we had previously thought. Alternately, it also stresses that we still retain free will and, fortunately, that changing behavior can modify brain chemistry.When you hear the seductive voice of leftover birthday cake calling to you from the refrigerator two rooms away, can’t stop obsessing about a watch you found on E-bay that you don’t need and in no way can afford, or feel the repeated stab of yearning for your old flame who was bad through and through, what’s going on? When you crave a food, biology is often at work—your body is triggered by low blood sugar or surging hormones or has a neurotransmitter imbalance and you seek food to alter your mood.What of that gotta-have-it...
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When You Eat

Safe to say that most of us have a typical eating schedule whether we realize it or not. Hopefully, it’s an intentional, mindful pattern, but it may also develop without much thought—when the ice cream truck rings its bell or when you stroll by Starbucks. Do you set your own schedule with an eye toward hunger, health, and satisfaction, or have you simply fallen into eating at certain times, well, just because? The answer to this question may help determine your weight.According to Prevention Magazine (March 2009), not only what or why you eat, but when you eat has a strong impact on healthy weight maintenance. Want to guess which kinds of people do better at keeping the number on the scale steady? Through a study of 3,607 women and men, the Karolinska Institute in Sweden determined that people who eat consistently at the same time every day without missing meals...
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Eating Frequency

I’m often asked, “How often should I eat?” and this is a subject that frequently crops up on my message board (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings). It’s an important question lacking a one-size-fits-all answer. When people ask me how often they should eat, I know immediately that they are looking for an answer in the wrong place—outside themselves—rather than reflecting internally on what is right for them because the only person I can answer for is me!How often you want to (not should) eat depends on your lifestyle, hunger and activity level, interest in food, and its availability. Some people love having three meals and three snacks a day. Other folks (like me) don’t like to be hungry or full and have multiple food encounters during the day without counting. As a writer and therapist with a home office, I can take frequent breaks and have foods I love readily available. My husband generally eats...
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Pre-eating Meditation

If you want to put yourself in the right frame of mind for eating, try a meditation beforehand. Don’t let the word scare you. A meditation can be anything you focus your physical and mental attention on. By saying aloud the message you want to program into yourself right before eating, you increase your potential for responding to it while you’re eating, thereby heightening your awareness to better connect to appetite signals.Here are a few ideas but, please, feel free to create what suits you, because your own words will speak most passionately to your heart.“I am relaxed and peaceful and anticipate enjoying a glorious meal. I will choose foods to enjoy, then savor them. I will honor my body by giving it as much nourishment as it needs and as much pleasure as I want. I will listen to my appetite and trust it to tell me when I am...
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Eating Fast and Overweight

For 30 years I’ve been teaching people to slow down while they’re eating. It seems like common sense. After all, what’s the big rush? How often are we really (really, really) so harried and hurried that we can’t take time to enjoy food? Fast eating used to be just a bad habit. Now science is ringing the alarm bell and warning us that eating quickly and past full puts us at risk for becoming overweight.According to a study published October 21, 2008 in the British Medical Journal, folks who both eat quickly and until full have a three-fold risk of becoming overweight compared to people who eat more slowly and stop before fullness. The study included 3,000 Japanese adults, males and females ages 30-69. It focused on the speed with which they ate and whether they stopped before or after fullness, then correlated these activities with their BMI (Body Mass Index)....
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Satisfying Food Choices

One night as I was heading for the kitchen cabinet containing the fat-free chocolate chip meringues I usually enjoy while watching the 11:00 news, I realized they weren’t what I was in the mood for. Usually they hit the spot and I was surprised that my body was saying, “Sweets, yuck. Go get yourself some protein.” So I had a yummy chunk of cheddar cheese and boy did it ever hit the spot. Those moments reminded me that we can become so stuck in food routines that we tune out what our bodies really want.Although we don’t know exactly what factors go into producing a strong craving for a particular food or food group, we have a pretty good idea of the influences: hunger level, hormones, foods eaten earlier in the day, activity level, mood, blood sugar, and what’s available, to name several. It’s natural to slip into food routines—a bagel...
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Fat Cells and Hunger

More proof that appetite, metabolism and weight loss don’t function the same way for all of us. I make this point as often as I can to drive home your uniqueness and to encourage you to quit comparing your process and progress to other people’s. Comparison is one of the worst aspects of dieting—you know, that “What do you eat and how much did you lose?” discussion—and the reason that “normal” eating works because it respects your individual appetite. So, on to the scientific evidence.Studying appetite, Terry Maratos-Flier, M.D., an obesity researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and her team have reached this conclusion: ”Fat cells produce leptin, a hormone that at low levels suppresses appetite. But excess and full fat cells make so much leptin that the ‘I’m full’ signal doesn’t work well any more.” This is one explanation for overweight people who say they honestly don’t...
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How to Stop Rebellious Eating

The last time I blogged about a rebellious food attitude, a reader said she appreciated my insights into the underlying problem, but wanted to know what to do about it. Good point. Although I can’t give you a step-by-step outline to follow, I can give you a general game plan. You will need to change your beliefs about your rights as an adult, alter your reaction of anger toward “shoulds” by separating the concept of control from caring, and do whatever you can in the moment to make mature and rational decisions about food.First, examine whether the shoe fits. Do you eat (or refuse to eat) from anger, habitually challenge healthy guidelines about food in order to prove something or to hurt or defy someone? Do you feel entitled to food or can’t stand for anyone (even yourself) to tell you what to eat? Understand why your upbringing makes you so...
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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