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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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Different Types of Unwanted Eating

It’s essential to understand exactly which of your eating behaviors is off the mark. Okay, I hear some of you saying, All of them. Yet many of you do fine in one kind of eating situation and are plagued by dysfunction in others. Because you can’t fix a problem until you identify it, it’s time to target which specific eating behaviors get you into trouble.You may engage in binge-eating or consuming large quantities of food regardless of hunger and satisfaction, whether you start out hungry or not. In either case, you eat with little consciousness and total abandon and keep going until the food is gone or an outside event intervenes. A binge usually generates shame and remorse—and often a stomach ache. During binges you consume thousands of calories.Then there’s garden variety overeating in which you ignore satiation signals and regularly chow down way past full. Maybe the food tastes fabulous...
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Different Kinds of Food Problems

Linda Moran, moderator of the Diet Survivors message board at HYPERLINK "http://www.groups.yahoo.com/group/dietsurvivors" http://www.groups.yahoo.com/group/dietsurvivors, often reminds members that some folks can diet and lose weight more or less permanently—the 5% of dieters who are successful and make everyone else feel like failures. They have simpler food-related issues than the multitude who have complications. In fact, some folks have eating problems, others have weight problems, and others have eating and weight problems.People who have simple eating problems are pretty well set when they attend more to nutrition, discipline themselves better around food, and trim down portions. They find dieting relatively easy without feeling especially deprived, don’t have all-or-nothing thinking about food, and do fine with a style of eating that helps them shed pounds and feel healthier. They don’t have to white knuckle it to stick to a food plan, aren’t emotional binge-eaters, and find that healthier eating makes them feel better all...
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Eating in the Dark

Everyone is telling us how to eat. If they’re not pushing advice about which foods or ingredients will ensure or compromise health or lengthen or shorten longevity, they’re giving guidance on portion size or misleadingly advising us how to feel full by tucking in a salad before a meal or drinking lots of water during one. And now we’re being told not to eat in the dark. Yup, I read it in Parade magazine. Do not, they insist, eat in the dark if you’re trying to lose weight or keep it off.Which got me thinking, because a few nights before reading this information I happen to have awakened at 3:30 in the morning because I was hungry. It’s something that occurs a few times a year, but when I toss and turn and can’t sleep because my stomach is growling, the only thing to do is get up and eat. However,...
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What’s in Food?

On the road to “normal” eating, how much should you think about nutrition and how can that focus feed (excuse the pun) into your eating problems? Does trying to eat healthily most of the time make you feel as if you’re on a diet and push your restriction button? How much attention should you pay to possibly toxic ingredients in food? How can you balance how food affects your health and not fall into obsessing about its purity?To eat “normally,” you need to assume that all food is fair game except for those that cause allergies and sensitivities. No food is forbidden or bad. No food is good or better than any other. The philosophy of “normal” eating says that all foods are created equal. This is a difficult concept to grasp when every other news bulletin is about nutrition and healthcare providers are stuck on our weight. The approach is...
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The Meaning of Food Cravings

What is the meaning of a food craving? Science has disproven the idea that craving always means nutrient deficiency—a lack of potassium drawing you to a banana or an iron deficiency driving you to order a sirloin. It can be confusing when you feel an urge to eat—whether you crave something specific like Betty Crocker brownies or have a yen for pasta—to know how to react. To follow the urge or not, that is the question.Some cravings are biologically based, such as when you haven’t eaten protein all day and go for turkey, eggs, yogurt or cheese. But how to explain what I hear all the time from clients: “If I could, I’d eat chocolate or ice cream or candy or macaroni and cheese all the time.” Would they really? Because they actually crave those foods or because they’ve been forbidden for so long they’re driven by deprivation? What should you...
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Ignoring Hunger

One of the worst things you can do that ensures you won’t become a “normal” eater is to regularly ignore hunger signals. People who skip meals when they’re hungry only cause and reinforce appetite dysregulation. Frequently avoiding food when your tummy is empty is like refusing to put gas into your car and continuing to drive—eventually you’re going to run into trouble. There are several unhealthy reasons dysregulated eaters use for not eating when they’re hungry.First is that they have no time to eat. C’mon, how long does it take to toast a slice of whole grain bread for breakfast and slather it with yogurt/jam/peanut butter? To microwave veggies, a sweet potato, or eggs for lunch (and pack ‘em to go if needed)? To grab an apple, banana, or piece of cheese in the afternoon. Folks less often skip dinner, the meal they allow themselves and make time for. A second...
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Tips for Stopping Eating

Of all the rules of “normal” eating, the one that gives overeaters the most trouble is stopping when they’re full or satisfied. When food tastes delicious, it can feel like agony to lay down your fork. “Normal” eaters, as well, sometimes continue eating although they’ve had enough food or just because it tastes so darned good. However, they also know how to quit while they’re ahead. Here are some tips to learn and practice.When overeaters consume too much food, it may be because they only consider the negative consequences of overeating after they’ve done it—how yucky they feel physically and the weight they’ll gain. They’re scared, but the fear of consequence comes too late to change behavior. The time to get in touch with anxiety about being stuffed or gaining weight is before eating. If you only connect to fear after eating, you’re putting the cart before the horse and won’t...
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Hormones and Appetite

The subject of eating and hormone deficiencies is on my mind. I read about it in a Wall Street Journal article last month which concluded that appetite—no surprise—may be more about biology and biochemistry than previously thought. Days later a nutritionist colleague referred me to a website promoting a replacement for an appetite-regulating hormone some overeaters may lack. Interesting, but scary stuff, reminiscent of the nature-nurture debate—that is, how much power do we really have over our bodies?The WSJ article explains that a lack of leptin, a hormone secreted by fat cells, is one of the reasons that people regain lost weight. Leptin plays a key role in fat metabolism because its levels decrease when we lose weight, generating a host of physiological changes which promote pounds creeping back on. In studies, it doesn’t matter if people were lean or obese before losing weight. Whatever their body mass, after losing weight,...
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Foodies

I’m intrigued by “foodies.” As I understand the word, it refers to people who are enamored with food. They love the thought of it, its wondrous variety, how it looks and smells and tastes and feels going down. They have an appreciation for fine food, including its exemplary preparation and high quality. Does their relationship with food increase or decrease eating problems among them? An interesting question.Not being a foodie (and coming from a non-foodie lineage), I can’t speak on the subject from personal experience. My expectation for food is what some have called low. It need be (not necessarily in this order): nutritious most but not all of the time, accessible, palatable, and have sticking power. If it makes my taste buds sing, all well and good. When I talk with foodies, however, I know they have an utterly different experience. They notice subtleties of flavor, texture, and presentation which...
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Sugar and Cravings

An article in Environmental Nutrition (July 2008, vol. 31, No. 7) confirms that although sugar and sugary foods taste good and it can be hard to stop eating them, “you cannot get physiologically addicted to sweet foods.” Their studies conclude that “a craving for sweets…is the result of conditioning based on cultural, social, and individual cues.” More evidence that food is not physiologically addictive. That doesn’t mean you don’t feel as if you’re addicted. What you suffer from, however, is not an addiction, but a dependence.There have been controversies for decades about whether or not sugar is addictive. A study described in the article explains its negative conclusions this way: When people are addicted to a substance, getting that substance eliminates or reduces the craving (think heroin addicts getting high on a fix or alcoholics who feel great from a drink). However, when people craving chocolate were given a pill containing...
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Educating About “Normal” Eating

Because I’m petite and people know me as a specialist in eating disorders, when I dine with others, they often eye and comment upon my food consumption. After decades of eating under a microscope, I’m used to it, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy being scrutinized or having my food habits be the talk of the table. When you’re just starting down the road toward ”normal” eating and don’t yet have the self-trust or confidence—or the words—to respond effectively, the situation can be even harder.Recently, I was at a party and passed on having what looked like a piece of very uninspiring, unexceptional birthday cake. Immediately, people misinterpreted my decision as self-denial, assuming that I was rejecting something deliciously fattening in order to stay slim. I took the opportunity to explain that I love sweets and generally eat small amounts daily, but that this particular cake had zero appeal to me....
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Eating Habits

An article in the May/June 2008 issue of AARP’s magazine called “Eat Smart” provides interesting information about ways to change your eating if you’re looking to lose weight. My purpose in blogging about these ideas is not to emphasis a weight focus, but to help you pay more attention to your eating habits and dining environment.One area mentioned in the article is the amount and kind of noise around when you’re eating. According to studies in Northern Ireland and Canada, people eat more when there’s background noise, and loud, fast music increases consumption. It makes sense that eating would accelerate to keep pace with the music. Alternately, these studies conclude that slow, soft music isn’t optimum for eating either because it encourages us to eat slower than what we need for healthy digestion. Unconsciously, our eating either slows down or speeds up to the beat. Slow music also keeps people hanging...
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Intuitive Eating Works

Sometimes when I hear about someone going on yet another diet or notice a “revolutionary” new weight-loss book topping the best-seller list, frankly, I feel a little blue. I’ve been teaching the “normal” eating model for 30 years and it often seems as if very little has changed in our culture in all that time regarding sensible eating (in spite of Weight Watchers new no-diet spin). I wonder and wonder when people are going to wake up and smell the coffee.Then I have an experience like one I had recently with a teletherapy client I’ve worked with for nearly a year. After decades of dieting and bingeing, he’s finally turned the corner and started to “get” what he needs to do to become a “normal” eater. He always thought weight loss was just about food and that he was a failure because he fell off the OA wagon repeatedly over 20...
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Eating with Others

Most of us can’t avoid eating with others and may harbor beliefs and feelings which negatively affect the experience. Whether we’re sharing a meal with family or friends, our history of and reaction to social eating can produce an enjoyable time or complete dysregulation of appetite. Understanding our responses to people-and-food situations can help adjust our perspective and make social eating occasions more comfortable.How do you feel when you know you’re going to be eating with people? Do you immediately feel excited about catching up with old chums or family members or are you filled with anxiety about food? If you don’t eat out much, do you find that scheduling dinner dates is difficult because you’re torn between enjoying social contact and fearing eating too much or “the wrong thing? No matter what your anxieties, you can address your distress beforehand by reframing irrational beliefs and practicing self-soothing behaviors. For example,...
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Friends and Food

Sometimes when I’m around food with others, I sit back and listen to what they have to say. Occasionally they’ll feel self-conscious in my presence, as if they should censor their comments because I’m an “eating expert,” but, honestly, most of the time they just go about their business. It’s the nature of being a therapist that I’m almost always processing and interpreting behavior (my own and everyone else’s!) and, like a photographer who sees all life as if through the lens of a camera, I can’t help but observe how people act around food.The “good/bad” issue usually rears its ugly head. No matter how many times I insist that food has nutritional—but not moral—value, friends still think in polarized terms and talk about how good or bad food is and they are for eating it. I try to let remarks slide by, but feel sorry friends who are stuck in...
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Eating Disorder Diagnoses

What’s up with this country’s fascination with eating disorders? Last month, I blogged about a new kid on the block called orthorexia nervosa, an obsession with nutritious eating whose goal is to be pure and internally clean—ie, no fats or preservatives, next to no calories, and needing to know everything nutritional and source-wise about foods.A New York Times article by Sarah Kershaw presents two more eating disorder diagnoses. First, there’s drunkorexia, described as “self-imposed starvation or bingeing and purging, combined with alcohol abuse.” A person with drunkorexia has an addiction to food (or an obsession with not eating), purging, and drinking. The article goes on to say that the typical drunkorexic is a college-age binge drinker, usually female, who cuts way back on food calories in order to drink them up in alcohol beverages. Or it can refer to an individual who binges, then purges in order to make room for...
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Orthorexia

I recently learned a term to describe symptoms I’ve occasionally run across: orthorexia nervosa. The term was coined by Steven Bratman, MD and literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” According to his website (www.orthorexia.com), which he no longer manages, the condition is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder which focuses on eating healthily to the extreme. Unlike anorexia, its goal is not thinness, but internal purity. However, like other obsessive conditions, orthorexia becomes such a focal point in life that it impairs general functioning—negatively affecting relationships, curtailing activities, and becoming physically dangerous.When I first heard about orthorexia, I recognized its traits in people I’ve known and counseled and understood instantly how such a disorder could easily come about in our culture which is not only obsessed with thinness but with eating right. From countless books on nutrition, magazine and newspaper articles on healthy foods, and TV segments on how to shop and...
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Not So Sweet

Proving once again that what seems too good to be true probably is, a recent LA Times article sheds new light on the use of saccharin for weight loss. A study in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience found that saccharin appeared to drive rats to overeat by “breaking the physiological connection between sweet tastes and calories.” In experiments funded by the National Institute of Health and Purdue University, rats received yogurt sweetened with either saccharin or glucose, which is pretty close chemically to good old table sugar. Because body temperature typically rises after digesting food in the production of energy, the researchers evaluated rat temperature after eating. Interestingly, the rats fed the sugar substitute had a smaller increase in temperature than the ones fed glucose. Moreover, the rats consuming yogurt and saccharin gained more body fat than those eating yogurt and glucose. In short, the sugar substitute not only failed to help...
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Abuse or Disease

What’s in a name? A recent letter to the editor in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune made the case that people should think twice about using the term substance abuse because alcohol and chemical dependence qualify as diseases. Of course, my thoughts immediately jumped to people who have an unhealthy relationship with food, so I spent a while thinking about the terms we use to describe them—anorexic, bulimic, binge-eater, food abuser, and disordered, dysfunctional, restrictive, over- or undereater.How often when we use these terms do we view people has having a disease? Perhaps using the terms anorexia and bulimia, but hardly likely when we’re talking about restrictive or binge-eaters. If you’re a disordered eater, it sounds as if you simply need some straightening out, as if once you get things in order, you’ll be fine. Dysfunctional also has the ring of behavior capable of being turned around. After all, if something isn’t functioning,...
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Stop Focusing on Food

You know the old question: Do you live to eat or eat to live? Well, no surprise which attitude is held by “normal” eaters. If you’re highly food centered—even as a restrictive eater, controlling your intake while obsessing about it—it’s difficult to develop a positive relationship with food. The goal is to enjoy it, without food itself or thoughts of it becoming the focus of your life.Naturally, most people have favorite foods and restaurants—the Chicken Kiev at the new place in town, the crusty, whole wheat bread at the café down the street, the caramel fudge at the candy store at the mall, or the super creamy cheesecake at the bakery. We all have different cravings and special foods that satisfy them. Enjoying delicious food can be a real treat and enormously satisfying and memorable. Although food originally tasted good so that we’d eat it to survive, over the millennia, taste...
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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