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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10 Ways to Change Your Eating

Although there are a host of things you can do to work toward “normal” eating, here are 10 ideas that are tried and true. Some will be easier than others, but all are necessary if you want food to stop being a hassle and to have a positive place in your life.1. Take a step back and reflect on the way you relate to food and how you could improve the relationship. Reflecting is a good way to break denial. Stay relaxed and don’t pressure yourself to change. Just identify a few changes you could make.2. Consider whether your eating patterns are simply bad habits or whether you have major underlying issues to work through—ie, are you used to munching while watching TV (habit) versus using food to avoid emotional pain (underlying issue).3. Develop compassion for yourself. Replace harsh judgments with being forgiving when you do something you perceive as wrong,...
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Holiday Eating

Many people have wildly conflicted feelings about the holiday season. My guess is that if folks felt more comfortable with eating, the holidays might be a more pleasurable and relaxing time. However, food aside, the period from Thanksgiving through New Year’s can be highly stressful—buying gifts, seeing family, get togethers with friends, or feeling very alone and apart from all the joy and celebrations. There’s pressure to be cheery and social, which is especially difficult for those who by nature (or nurture) are neither.Here are some tips for getting through the holidays. Notice that I didn’t say enjoying them. For some people, merely surviving them is enough.1. Make sure you have time for yourself. Don’t give up self time--playing with the cat or dog, reading, watching your favorite TV shows, and going to the gym. One of the hardest things about the holidays is that it feels as if there’s not...
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Eating When and What You Want

When you begin to work on eating “normally,” especially giving up the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” of when and what is appropriate, you may find yourself eating food in times and places that surprise you. And you’ll begin to notice that this society has arbitrary rules about food which unconsciously govern eating. Most people go along with those rules without thinking, but you may need to break them for a while—or forever—to improve your relationship with food. For example, in this culture we’re told that there are breakfast, lunch and dinner foods. Advertisements and restaurant menus reinforce this message—cereal in the morning, a sandwich at lunch, and some kind of meat and vegetable for dinner (hurray for breakfast-all-day eateries). Soup comes before the meal and dessert after. Candy and sweets are snacks. Perhaps there was some sense to how these ideas originated and why they have lasted, but it’s important to question...
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Nuances of Fullness

Eating a quantity of food that is just right is as much art as science. Using a number scale can teach over- and undereaters the nuances of hunger and fullness by making you aware of body sensations and allowing you to notice the subtle gradations of satiation.Think of 0 as hungry, 1 as no longer hungry, 2 as full, and 3 as beyond full. Zero means you have hunger pains and sensations that signal an empty stomach—growling belly, spaciness, lightheadedness, irritability, fatigue, or headache, to name several. An empty stomach is screaming for fuel. Because it takes about 20 minutes for food to move through your digestive system and register in your brain, you may feel hungry for a while as you eat. Eating slowly is a must so that you can notice when hunger goes away, but you don’t want to eat so slowly that you fail to get to...
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Eating—In the News

A recent Tufts University Health and Nutrition Newsletter (10/07) had a few illuminating stories that relate to eating and weight. The first maintained that because food cravings are natural, we should stop feeling guilty about them. The study on cravings was part of the Comprehensive Assessment of Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy trial conducted at the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts’ Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center (boy, was that a mouthful). It said that when we restrict calories, our cravings may increase for the foods we avoid, so that when we think we are yearning for carbohydrates, we’re really craving calorie-density. Makes sense. Another story highlighted a “nutritional” supplement called CLA that is supposed to help people lose weight. The report said that CLA or conjugated linoleic acid—called a miracle pill that helps shed pounds and build muscle—may aid weight loss but also has serious side effects,...
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Helpful Food Rituals

Many of you might have food rituals which do not serve your recovery—logging calories for every morsel that goes into your mouth, always eating items in a particular order, weighing yourself after eating, or finishing whatever you started eating just because. These rituals are unhealthy because they are rigid, often occur outside your awareness, and their purpose is to reduce anxiety. They hurt you because they feed your obsessions about food and weight. There are other rituals which actually can improve your relationship with food, ones that will remind you about and guide you toward following the rules of “normal” eating. Performing these rites repeatedly will help you acquire new habits—just as you learned the unhealthy rituals mentioned above—so that you automatically respond in a healthier way to food. For example, every time you think about eating, ask yourself, “How hungry am I?” If the answer is that you’re hungry enough...
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Food and Socializing

I recently spent a few days with a group of dear, old friends and could not help but notice the role that food played in our time together. As we sat around reminiscing about good times and catching each other up on our lives, we were surrounded by food. Yes, there was plenty of fresh fruit, but there were also candies and baked goods. The hostess is a superb care-taker (physically and emotionally) and made sure we wanted for nothing. Additionally, one of my friends brought some fudge that was to die for. Maybe because we did mostly hanging out, as opposed to going out, food was our constant companion. We ate a formal breakfast and dinner—that is, we gathered at the table for a period of time—but otherwise we sat around in the kitchen or on the back porch off the kitchen. Nothing about this circumstance would have been the...
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Ambivalence About Intuitive Eating

Although I occasionally meet disordered eaters who have been using intuitive eating consistently for years, more often I run into folks who try it, give up, resume dieting, re-discover that diets don’t work, and come back to attempting to eat “normally.” If you feel like a failure because you’re not where you want to be with food and don’t know what else to do, you may be frustrated because neither dieting nor intuitive eating is working for you. Part of the problem is ambivalence about sticking with the process which leads you to a vicious cycle of restriction or mindless eating, interspersed with buckling down and practicing “normal” eating. If you were a car, you’d be shooting off in one direction, slamming on the brakes, doing a one-eighty, and zooming off in the opposite direction—over and over and over again. What would that do to an automobile? What does it do...
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How Culture Affects Eating and Weight

Although growing up in a family that contributes to or reinforces unhealthy attitudes toward eating and weight is enough to set you on the path of destructive eating, cultural factors also play a part in shaping you. Understanding these values is part of the process of changing how you think and feel about food and your body. By culture, I mean not only American society, but also the specific ethnic culture in which you were raised.We live in a highly competitive society in which the norm is to look around and compare yourself to everyone else. If you fall into the trap of constantly evaluating your body according to others, it seems natural to buy into society’s judgment that you’re bad for being fat and good for being thin. Americans also prize individualism, pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, toughing it alone, and succeeding on your own. Adhering to that kind...
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Sweet Silence

Many posts on the message boards I advise on (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dietsurvivors) lament situations in which family members insist they are being caring and supportive, but instead are unsympathetic, critical, and even unkind to the person with an eating or weight problem. You can recognize when people are being hurtful by paying attention to your emotional reaction to their words, not to their stated intentions. In such instances, it’s all too easy to get into an argument or abuse food. The truth is that sometimes the only way to stay sane is to keep silent, a difficult task. When we are silent, inner turmoil builds, others up the ante to provoke us into responding, and we feel an intense desire to defend ourselves. The choice seems to be engaging in unhealthy dialogue or swallowing our misery and taking it on the chin. There is another kind of reaction that you might...
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What is “Normal” Eating?

When I talk to “normal” eaters, I find it fascinating to hear them tell me about the times they over- or undereat and how comfortable they are around food. I can tell you that they don’t always make the best decisions. One major difference between them and someone with eating problems is that they don’t put much attention on what they’ve done “wrong.” In fact, they often pay no attention to it whatsoever. Using the analogy of making a mistake while writing, I’d say that disordered eaters try to erase a food mistake, wildly scribble across it, trying to make it disappear, or toss out the paper they’re using and start again. A “normal” eater just keeps on writing. They have little interest in what they’ve done and it may not even register on their radar screen. They don’t have strong feelings about food decisions one way or the other—that they’ve...
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Food and Fear

A question came up recently on the Food and Feelings message board (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) about eating out of fear that you’ll be hungry later and won’t have food available. This automatic deprivational response is an excellent example of emotion based on irrational belief leading to dysfunctional behavior. (For further reading on fear and food, see my Food and Feelings Workbook.) By the time we become adults, our fears are generally so long-standing that we don’t even recognize them as adaptive responses we learned in childhood. If you want to overcome an eating disorder, you not only have to notice how your fears drive your eating behaviors, but also understand how they came about. Fears of not being able to soothe, feed, or take care of yourself arise in two ways. We learn what is “right” for us by having our caretakers do things to and for us and internalizing this behavior. If...
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Depowering Food

It’s amazing the false power we give to food, how we offer ourselves up as its hostage and let it dominate our lives. We fork over our power, then spend the rest of our lives trying to grab it back. When this happens, it’s time to think of Dorothy and her friends in The Wizard of Oz—we need the courage to unmask food and see it for what it really is so that we can get it working for, not against, us.Food is nothing more than molecules, some natural, some artificial that contain the nutrients we need to live. Any specialness we perceive is conferred on it by us. Although one food may taste better than another, likes and dislikes are a matter of preference. Food may have mood-altering and anesthetizing properties, but unlike alcohol and drugs, it does not have the chemical make up to actually remove us from reality...
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Overeating and Alcohol

You don’t have to be an alcoholic to abuse alcohol in a way that exacerbates eating problems. All you have to do is drink enough to lower your inhibitions, and your desire to eat when you’re not hungry or overeat past full will take over by itself. There’s no question that alcohol is a relaxant that smoothes out your rough edges after a hard day at the office or with the kids. There’s also absolutely nothing wrong with taking a drink now and then to chill out and unwind. However, if you have difficulty relaxing without an external substance and begin to rely on alcohol and food in tandem to do the job, you’re headed for trouble. Let’s say you come home from work on a Friday night after the week from hell. You’re tired, grumpy, wound up, and looking for instant comfort. What’s easier than pouring yourself a tall one...
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3 Skills for Eating Satisfaction

One of the chief complaints I hear from clients and patients is how utterly impossible it seems to say no to food on a regular basis when they’re not hungry or to stop eating when they’re satisfied. They speak about going unconscious, falling into a trance, blocking out consequences, and being reduced to overwhelming won’t-take-no-for-an-answer desire. In clinical terms, they cannot refrain from acting on impulse. Three related skills are necessary to inhibit impulses, slightly different takes on saying no to yourself around food (or anything else). The first is the capacity for frustration tolerance, which means being able to endure frustration in order to achieve goals. If you have a doctor’s appointment but return home because you can’t easily find a parking space or if you give up on doing your taxes because they’re complicated and a brain drain, you have a low threshold for frustration. Frustration is unpleasant but...
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Introducing a Forbidden Food

One of the scariest tasks in becoming a “normal” eater is starting to eat foods that you’ve forbidden yourself. However, if you move forward with mindfulness, planning and structure, you’ll be less fearful and more successful. Every time you aim to “legalize” a new food, follow (all of) these steps. All you need is a paper, pen, food, and courage! Step 1: Pick a food that challenges you which you don’t regularly keep in the house, one that exerts a moderate irrational pull, but not the most difficult food for you to resist. Step 2: After making a choice, without judgment, record your feelings about re-introducing this food into your diet—anxious, fearful, angry, hopeless, yearning, excited, mixed. Breathe deeply. Calm your anxiety by soothing self-talk.Step 3: Make a list of at least half a dozen beliefs you have about this food: I can’t eat this “normally”; I’ll gobble this right up;...
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Explaining “Normal” Eating

In a thin-obsessed culture, it can be difficult to explain why you would choose not to diet—especially if you’re overweight, more so if you are obese—because we have few culturally accepted methods for weight loss. In the past, diets and fasting were the way to go and now, of course, we have surgery, as well. All are easily understood concepts. However, if you choose the route of “normal” eating, you’re talking about an animal that is not easily described. Yes, you can enumerate its four rules and give examples. You can explain that learning to eat “normally” is a process that goes beyond changing behavior and targets beliefs and emotions. In my experience, what gets in the way of understanding the concept is not you giving a poor or incomplete explanation, but your listener’s limited ability to “get it” or to understand what the big deal is. Their limits fall into...
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Food Variety versus Sameness

When you break out from dieting and restriction and start trying to eat “normally,” you might be somewhat self-conscious about whether you’re eating right. By that I mean, if you’re eating as other “normal” eaters do. You may wonder if it’s okay to eat the same foods repeatedly or if you’re supposed to crave variety. You may be unsure if eating at set times is acceptable or if you should eat only when you’re hungry. You may believe that you either have to fall in love with food or have a nonchalant attitude about it.You'll find your answers day by day, food by food, meal by meal. In part, your answers will be based on how you feel about eating in general. Some people simply put little attention on appetite. They eat to live and are easily satisfied with the basics and an occasional food frill. Others adore grocery shopping and...
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Chart Your Hunger

Although it goes against my non-diet sensibilities to keep a journal in which you write down everything you eat (unless it’s for a specific purpose and time-limited), maintaining a hunger log can help you recognize patterns of food focus and eating in relation to hunger. In this log, you write down every time you’re hungry or think you are—when food is on your mind—by charting the day/time your thoughts turn to food, your hunger level (0=not hungry…10=famished), the setting, and the activity you’re doing. Your log might go something like this: 6:15 a.m., hunger at a 9, at home, getting ready for work10:30 a.m., hunger at a 2, at work, in a boring meeting10:52 a.m., hunger at a 2, at work, still in a boring meeting1:36 p.m., hunger at a 7, at work, time for lunch at desk3:26 p.m., hunger at a 1, in my office, about to start employee evaluations4:12...
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What Does Fullness Mean to You?

Among people who struggle with under- and overeating, there’s quite a bit of confusion about the word “full.” Is it that blissful instant of eating just enough or does it connote going beyond comfort? More important than the definition is knowing when you are still in an eating pleasure zone and when you’ve moved on to physical discomfort. Rather than pinpoint one exact moment when you’re full, think of the process on a continuum, going from empty to enough food. Sometimes one more bite (if it’s large and the food is dense and high fat) will put you over the edge; more likely, one bite more or less won’t make much of a difference. Knowing when you’ve eaten to sufficiency is a judgment call, a combination of being tuned in to appetite signals, using body memory of previous eating experiences to recognize about how much food to enjoy in a sitting,...
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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.