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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. 

[No unsolicited guest blogs accepted, thank you]

What Is Eating in Moderation?

When you think of “eating in moderation,” what does the term mean to you—just enough to satisfy, until you’re full, only one portion, or leaving food on your plate? According to “‘Everything in moderation’ advice is unlikely to be effective: Study” by Niamh Michail (Appetite Journal, Dellen, Isherwood and Delose, appet.2016.03.10), the term is too vague to be meaningful or helpful for judging what’s enough food for you.Researchers from the University of Georgia ran a series of experiments concluding that “people tend to define the concept [of moderation] to justify how much they actually eat, or want to eat.” This result is not surprising considering that the term has never been defined as a certain amount of food. Moderation for one person is too much or too little for the next. In fact, “The researchers found that around two-thirds of the [study’s] participants believed a moderate amount of cookies was more...
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What Is Food to You?

To resolve your eating problems, it helps to understand what food means to you, that is, what you really use it for. If you’re looking for it to have magical powers to do something other than nourish your body and give you occasional pleasure, it will fail every time. And you’ll miss an important opportunity for appropriate self-care.What does food mean to you? If you respond with words such as nourishment, fuel, pleasure, survival, or nutrients, you will need to dig deeper because you’ve also been using it to address other needs or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Here are some needs that dysregulated eaters mistakenly use food for which it will never meet.Comfort: Food is not comfort except in the moment. In fact, when used for comfort, food brings you its opposite, distress, and it actually becomes a substantial source of it. You know the discomfort from eating emotionally...
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Putting Food Into Perspective

For people who’ve spent a long time engaged in dysregulated eating and are trying to become “normal” eaters, it takes a while to put food into a comfortable perspective. These questions must be asked and answered: Do you see food as a source of pleasure or only nourishment? How much focus and what kind of focus will you put on eating to be physically and mentally healthy? What place do you want food to have in your life?Of course, the answer to all of these questions can be given only by you. How other dysregulated eaters respond will be what they think will work for them. Eating is, indeed, a very idiosyncratic activity. I was reminded of this process of figuring out how food fits into one’s life while talking with a client recently. She is a mostly “normal” eater at home or eating out by herself and is joyfully re-discovering...
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Using Successive Approximation to Become a “Normal” Eater

After a client used the term “successive approximation,” I asked her what it meant. She explained it, and I thought how well it could be applied to becoming a “normal” eater.According to blogger Darcie Nolan in “Successive Approximation: Steps Toward Behavioral Change (5/22/14, https://blog.udemy.com/successive-approximation/), “successive approximation is a series of rewards that provide positive reinforcement for behavior changes that are successive steps towards the final desired behavior. In successive approximation” which we’ll call SA, “each successive step towards the desired behavior is identified and rewarded. The series of rewards for different steps of the behavior increases the likelihood that the steps will be taken again and that they will lead to the desired end result being fulfilled.”Here’s an example from Nolan’s blog using SA to train a puppy to play fetch. “The first step would be reinforcing the positive behavior of the normally uninterested puppy of turning towards the ball or...
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How Social Factors Influence Eating

If you think that who you eat with and what they eat may affect your choice of food and the quantity you consume, you’d be spot on. Or so says the upcoming article, “Social influences on eating” in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences (vol. 9, 6/16, pp. 1-6) by Suzanne Higgs and Jason Thomas.The authors say that “Our dietary choices…tend to converge with those of our close social connections. One reason for this is that conforming to the behaviour of others is adaptive and we find it rewarding.” If we eat with someone who is downing a large amount of food, then we are likely to follow what they eat and consume more than we would eat if we were dining alone. We’re also likely to eat a large amount if we eat in a group rather than by ourselves. Such ‘social-facilitation’ of eating has been well documented with evidence from...
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If You’re Looking to Eat Smaller Portions...

Assuming you generally overeat, becoming a “normal” eater will be easier if you reduce portion sizes. After eating smaller portions for a while, they will seem like just the right amount of food for you. Over time, less will become the new normal.According to “Portion size key in tackling obesity, says study” by James Gallagher (BBC News, 9/1515), a “review of 61 studies provides ‘the most conclusive evidence to date’ that portion size affects how much we unwittingly eat.” The study makes the point that portion size has risen over the decades, be it bagels or chicken pot pies. One way to reduce consumption is to use smaller plates and glasses and to buy smaller packets of our favorite foods. The article says—in a lovely British understated way, I might add— that “People seem to be reluctant to leave or waste food and so consume what they are served or find...
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How to Replace Mindless Eating with New Habits

While reading an article on research about anorexia nervosa being rooted in habit—not extreme self-discipline—I ran across the comment that for treatment to be successful, “Habits have to be replaced with another behavior.” It was made by Dr. Timothy Walsh, psychiatry professor at the psychiatric institute at Columbia University (“Anorexia may be habit, not willpower, study finds” by Erica Goode, NY Times, 10/12/15)How true. Too often therapists ask dysregulated eaters to give up mindless, compulsive, or emotional eating and that is the end of the story. We don’t advise them on how to do that and what to do instead of eating. Unless you have a substitute, you're going to have a harder job not acting on impulse when a craving comes along.Why haven’t you given up impulsive eating even when you feel determined to do so? It makes sense that you won’t stop it unless and until you find a...
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Make Yourself an Eating Awareness Recording

Brainstorming with a client about how to have a better eating experience, we first talked about apps for troubled eaters—including APPetite, my free Facebook app. Then we discussed how she could put signs on the table she eats on (folded file cards work well) to remind herself to relax and think about hunger, taste, chewing and satiation. She said she’d tried them, but they only helped her sometimes. Ditto listening to music. Finally we hit upon the idea of devising her own recording to encourage her to attune to eating.Listening to how to eat more mindfully is beneficial in two ways. First, it blocks out other thoughts—ruminations about the past, distractions in the present, and worries about the future. If you’re listening to your own soothing voice and instructive words about eating, there’s less chance you’ll be thinking about other things. Second, it provides the exact thoughts you want to be...
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To Eat Mindfully, Sit Down and Eat

Worried about overeating? Eat while sitting down. If you’re putting effort into becoming a “normal” eater, what could be more important than taking your seat and paying attention to the food in front of you? Science says that’s how to eat less.A small study conducted at the University of Surrey and published in the Journal of Health Psychology tested women’s eating habits (“If you want to lose weight, eat sitting down” by Leigh Weingus, Huffington Post, 8/24/15). The study involved both participants who were focused on weight loss and those who weren’t. It divided the women, who were each given a granola bar to eat, into three groups: one watched a short clip of the TV show “Friends,” a second was told to eat while walking down a hallway, and a third was instructed to sit and eat while having a conversation with another person. All participants then filled out a...
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How to Reduce Food Cravings

Most people who engage in mindless eating would love to have more ways to reduce food cravings. In “A role for mental imagery in the experience and reduction of food cravings,” Eva Kemps and Marika Tiggemann tell us how our visualizations can help (frontiers in PSYCHIATRY, 10/30/14, http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/124542/full).They define food cravings as “an intense desire or urge to eat a specific food” and state that “It is this specificity that distinguishes a craving from ordinary food choices and hunger.” What they’re saying is that when you’re sufficiently hungry and know you’re seeking nourishment, that is a different internal state than simply desiring a particular food and no other for no discernible reason. The article goes on to explain that when people crave food, “they have vivid images of the desired food, including how delicious it looks and how good it tastes and smells” and that “craving-related food images are predominantly visual,...
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How a Client Became a “Normal” Eater

 Every once in a while, I give over my blog space to a client who has something important to say that I just have to pass on to you—some bits of wisdom on recovery or even a letter written to a parent but never sent. Here’s an account I received from a client I worked with for several years. I hope it helps you in your recovery.I want to share how the work I did with Karen has set me free. I’m happy, healthy, active and enjoying my life every day, yup, even on the crummy days. You’ll be wanting the basics on what brought me to seek out coaching: decades of chaotic eating from too little and then too much, multiple types of abuse and neglect growing up, a mother with narcissistic personality disorder, an emotionally absent father and an abusive brother, not to mention over 200 pounds of excess...
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Yes, Men Have Eating Disorders Too

When I write, I confess I usually have a “she” in mind as a reader, but I, of course, recognize that many men have eating disorders because I have known them personally and treated them as clients. Read on and learn about how these disorders affect males.Leigh Cohn, MAT, CEDS and Stuart Murray, DCLINPSYCH, PhD write about men with eating problems in the October 2014 newsletter (Gurze-Salucore Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue). First they give the facts, challenging the assumption that males make up a miniscule portion of troubled eaters—5 to 10%--when the actual number is about five times that many. According to the a Harvard University household study of over 9000 people, “25% of individuals with anorexia nervosa and bulimia and 36% with binge eating disorder were male.” They go on to say, “The gap is even closer when it comes to subclinical eating disordered behaviors, according to a review of...
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Retrain Your Brain to Eat Healthfully

Are you afraid that you will never be able to train your brain to want healthier foods? Well, take heart. The evidence of a new study says you most certainly can. “Training Your Brain to Prefer Healthy Foods (TuftsNow, 11/6/14, http://now.tufts.edu/news-releases/training-your-brain-prefer-healthy-foods) describes the study’s conclusions, but is focused, unfortunately, on weight loss rather than on participants getting healthy. However, that doesn’t change its heartening conclusions.The study explored whether it is “possible to train the brain to prefer healthy low-calorie foods over unhealthy higher-calorie foods.” Brain scans “suggest that it is possible to reverse the addictive power of unhealthy food while also increasing preference for healthy food.” Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted to happen? Note that I’m not making a case here to always eat nutritious food and never eat non-nutritious food. That’s not “normal” eating. The point is that your brain can be retrained to move in a new, more...
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Food as An Experience

In an article I was reading about Starbucks, mention was made of how eating has morphed from being a survival activity to a knock-my-socks-off event. “Buy the latte . . . and be sure to be happy about it,” by Anya Kamenetz (Sarasota Herald Tribune, 10/11/14, 1D) explains how the “latte factor” influences us—the enjoyment we derive from pleasurable routines. Okay, I’ll drink to that. I love my morning java while reading the paper, my daily swim if the water is warm enough, and watching the news (horrific as it too often is) before heading off to bed.Kamanetz describes research that says we “get more satisfaction out of experiences than objects,” including a recent study showing that “especially as we get older, ordinary, every day experiences offer a big boost.” She explains that “A cup of coffee is technically an object, but if you build a ritual around it – window...
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Best Advice for Holiday Eating

I don’t usually blog about weight, but here’s some great advice for holiday eating and sanity from an article entitled, “Can you enjoy the season without weight gain?” by Gabriella Boston (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 12/16/15, 13E). No preaching, I promise!“It’s better to eat normally during the day [of a cocktail party] and not go to the party starving,” says Anne Mauney, RD, “adding that it’s hard to “slow down and eat mindfully when you’re starving.” Instead, she recommends eating a big salad with lots of protein during the day because cocktail party fare is usually carbs and sugars.“Mindful eating includes noticing the smells, flavors, textures and colors of the food as well as eating more slowly. Along with more enjoyment, mindful eating has been associated with a better ability to self-regulate,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, RD. Scritchfield suggests alternating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and showing up hungry for a sit-down dinner or...
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More Bad News about Multitasking and Eating

Are you a habitual multitasker? More to the point regarding your food problems, how does it affect your ability to eat mindfully? I am now able to eat, and by that I mean eat “normally,” while doing any activity because for many years I practiced eating without distraction until eating mindfully became ingrained. However, you will never get to this point unless you eat with a sole focus on this one activity for quite a long while.In his book, The Organized Mind, Daniel Levitin, a McGill University professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience, tells us why doing several activities at one time does not work: “We now know that the brain doesn’t multitask. Rather, the brain shifts rapidly from one thing to the next. That causes us to not be able to focus attention on any one thing, and this dividing of our attention makes us less efficient. The reason we...
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More on the Do or Don’t Breakfast Debate

My October 20 blog, Do You Need to Eat Breakfast?, gave one (surprising) evidence-based answer to this question about our morning meal: eating breakfast is not essential for good health. Now come more studies saying, not so fast, that breakfast is, after all, an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Rather than get angry or frustrated that there is no “right” answer, appreciate the beauty of science testing hypotheses and coming to new conclusions due to new evidence. Let your critical thinking skills (my new book, Outsmarting Overeating, due out January 13, has an entire chapter devoted to improving critical thinking skills as a way to eat “normally”) analyze what you read and come to your own conclusion—which may be that the jury is still out on the question.Heather Leidy, assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at Missouri University, reports that “’research showed that people experience a dramatic decline in...
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Solitude and Mindless Eating

Many of you do fine with food when you’re busy with activities or socializing with people, but as soon as you’re alone, you get all squirrely and head for the fridge. Well, it turns out that humans seem to have a bias against solitude, according to “People find solitude distressing” (Science News, 8/9/14, p. 12). Perhaps better understanding how humans—and how you—feel about solitude will help you avoid mindless eating.Says Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, “The human mind wants to engage with the world.” He and his colleagues maintain that thoughts are difficult to control, as is trying to make sure they’re pleasant. It helps to hear that this is true so that we don’t think we’re the only ones trying—and failing—to keep a clear and positive mindset. Wilson goes on to say that “Mammalian minds evolved to track external dangers and opportunities. Only humans acquired an...
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Slow Down Your Eating

Slowing down your eating is one of the most effective ways to enjoy food more and, if it is your goal, to eat less. Need proof? Here’s a summary of a brief article, “Not so fast” (Nutrition Action Healthletter, 5/14, p. 8, source: J. Acad. Nutr. Diet: 114: 393, 2014).“Eating slowly may help you eat less. Scientists offered 35 normal-weight and 35 overweight or obese men and women a huge portion of the same lunch (pasta with tomatoes, olive oil, parmesan cheese, garlic, herbs, and spices) on two separate occasions. On the ‘fast’ eating day, the participants were told to eat their lunches as quickly as possible without feeling uncomfortable, to take large bites and chew quickly, and to not pause or put down their utensils between bites. They typically finished eating in 9 minutes. On the ‘slow’ eating day, they were told not to rush, to take small bites and...
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Real Hunger

Several months ago I had intestinal testing which involved 24 hours of fasting, including some hours with liquids but mostly without. Being forced to abstain from food reminded me of what appetite, especially true hunger, is all about.Knowing I’d be hungry and permitted to eat a “light” breakfast and lunch, I tried to bulk up in preparation for a day without nourishment. I usually eat small amounts every few hours or so because that’s how my body likes to take in food. I don’t care to be full because it reminds me of my binge-eating days and I don’t like to feel starving because it reminds me of my dieting days. So frequent, small meals suit me perfectly.Before I talk about my hunger, let me back up a bit and describe what it was like to eat prophylactically and be stuffed with food. Suddenly I was super conscious of my belly...
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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