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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]

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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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,...
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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 –...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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Duh and Re-duh on Eating

It’s very common as you’re learning new behaviors to make the same “errors” around food repeatedly. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It simply takes a good deal of practice for the brain to rewire. Not being hard on yourself in the process will help you learn faster. I call this repetition of learning experiences duh and re-duh, meaning that you realize you’ve made a choice not in your best interest yet do it again—and again. Maybe it’s swinging by Dairy Queen after work, bringing the bottle of wine and bag of chips along with you as you watch evening TV, or skipping breakfast and ending up so famished at before lunch that you mindlessly grab a donut or two when you pass by the break room. Each time this happens, post-eating you realize that the outcome is the same—the triumvirate of regret, guilt and shame. Yet, each time before the event,...
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Eating at the Homes of Others

I had an experience dining at the house of a friend that was echoed by an eating problem a client brought in to discuss. It’s a frequent occurrence: you’re invited to a party, dinner, or brunch at someone’s home and wonder how to handle eating. There is no one way, but it’s worthwhile to explore several approaches to this common situation. First off, if you know people well, you can ask what food will be served and the approximate time of the meal. At the least, you can inquire about the what if not the when. In my case, I was invited to a late lunch and I’m used to eating my mid-day meal around noon. Knowing I had to adjust my schedule or I’d be starving by the time we ate, I had a late breakfast. So, think about timing and how that will work with your usual eating hours....
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There May Be an On-off Switch for Eating

Many disregulated eaters say they feel as if they have an on-off switch with eating. Now, it seems that researchers may have found evidence to back up this belief. At least in mice, there seems to be an open-shut valve when it comes to food. Through experiments which compelled full mice to keep eating and hungry mice to avoid food, researchers have identified the cells that control our appetite switch. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill scientists used a laser on the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (or BNST) in the brains of mice to either excite or quiet them (Science News, 11/2/13, “On-off switch for eating discovered”). “When a laser activated these BNST neurons, the mice became ravenous…As soon as you turn it on, they start eating and they don’t stop until you turn it off,” says Garret Stuber, one of the study leaders. The laser also was...
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When You Eat Makes a Difference

There’s been a debate raging for decades about whether it matters for weight loss what time you eat. Some experts say yes and some no. Not that I’m pushing weight loss here, because I’m not, but if you’re trying to shed pounds, it pays to know what will help and hinder that process. A new study says that when you eat does make a difference. “A study in the International Journal of Obesity lends supports to the idea that eating earlier in the day is better, at least if you are trying to lose weight.” (University of CA, Berkeley Wellness Letter, 11/13, page 4). In fact, according to researchers, “the timing of the main meal by itself seems to be the most determinant factor in weight-loss effectiveness, and therefore eating at the right time may be a relevant factor to consider in weight-loss therapies.” I don’t do weight-loss therapy or coaching,...
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Feeding Kids to Be “Normal” Eaters

If you’re a parent, you’re probably concerned about teaching your kids to be “normal” eaters. Of course, you wonder how you could possibly raise a child without food problems when you have them yourself and have been confused about eating for most of your life. Here are some tips to guide you. First, off realize that it’s a myth that kids don’t like and won’t eat vegetables and that they crave only sugary, fat-laden treats. Please, it’s been in our DNA for hundreds of thousands of years to consume a plant-based diet. That’s most of what was available way back when and we’ve evolved fairly well eating fruits and vegetables. So, understand from the get go that most kids find nothing inherently wrong with them.    According to “Getting your children to eat their veggies” (Sarasota Herald Tribune, 8/13/13), research supports the following rules: “Grown ups and kids eat the same...
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Appetite and the Brain

I hesitate writing about some of the biology related to eating and weight because I don’t want readers to feel that their biology is fixed and a done deal. There are genetic and metabolic factors which strongly influence appetite and body size, but lifestyle still plays a large role in both. I blog about biology because I want readers to be well informed. The article “Gut brain link tied to overeating” by Cristy Gelling (Science News, 10/5/13) describes how overeating can be, in part, caused by faulty communication between the gut and brain. Experiments on mice may lead to a strategy of repairing that faulty communication in compulsive eaters. Here’s the gist of the study done with mice based on the supposition that “the more food a person consumes, the less responsive the brain becomes to the pleasure of eating.” In these experiments, it turns out that “by restoring normal communication...
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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