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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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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, you...
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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. My...
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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 able...
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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, but most...
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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 foods, sit-down...
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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 between...
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Rules for “Normal” Holiday Eating

Here are my rules for “normal” holiday eating. Study them now and review every day through the holidays. Say them aloud. Carry them with you. Make them your bible.Think of food as delicious and nutritious, nothing more. It has no value beyond these two attributes. It will neither solve your problems nor lift your mood. Don’t restrict what you eat over the holidays. “Putting foods on a do-not-eat list only makes you crave them more, according to a Canadian study, and Israeli scientists found that having a little bit of sweets every day helped dieters shed 15 pounds more on average than those who didn’t indulge in desserts.” (TIME, 12/9/13, p. 18)Eat slowly and mindfully and savor every bite. Make sure you’re enjoying what you’re eating. Unless you’re starving, if it’s not fabulous, stop eating it. Visualize yourself feeling and acting relaxed around all foods no matter what your dining situation....
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The Idea of Food

Clients keep teaching me more and more about dysfunctional eating. For instance, that it’s not really food that compulsive or emotional eaters want but the idea of what they wish/hope/perceive food will bring them. This is a crucial distinction.Disregulated eaters turn to food to relax, unwind, kick back, let loose, de-stress, whatever you want to call it. This is what you’re seeking, what you erroneously perceive as the end result of eating or of eating particular kinds of foods. When we’re hungry, our bodies signal wanting food through rumbling bellies, hollowness in the chest, headaches, and light-headedness. When hungry, our bodies aren’t satisfied by watching TV or taking a walk. Alternately, stress signals that our bodies need to relax.When we dive head first into a box of past-the-pull date, tasteless dry cereal, we can’t possibly be into “the food.” Or when we snarf down the leftover crackers we’re putting away after...
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The Food Industry and Your Bliss Point

I don’t know about you, but I get really, really angry when I read about how the food industry steers us toward eating high fat/sugar/salt food. The truth is that what seems like a conspiracy to tempt you with sweets and treats is actually a conspiracy. The best way to defend against being manipulated is to know the truth about the industry’s goals and methods—and to use your critical thinking skills to avoid being manipulated.According to a review of SALT SUGAR FAT: HOW THE FOOD GIANTS HOOKED US by Michael Moss (Psychotherapy Networker, “The taste bud conspiracy” by Diane Cole, 7-8/2013), “The food industry has meticulously researched and orchestrated our cravings for food.” Uh huh. And here you thought it was simply your lack of “will power” or “self-discipline” that’s driven your compulsive eating. Of course, you want to be accountable for your behavior, but be careful not to blame yourself...
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Eat-i-o-syncracies

Let’s face it, we all have our own eat-i-o-syncracies, our unique eating habits that are not only particular to us but sometimes downright peculiar. That’s okay. They’re nothing to be ashamed of and even may make eating more pleasurable. They sure do for me.This subject came up when I was talking with a client who’s trying her darndest to eat vegan. I know how difficult that can be, as my husband enjoys following a mostly vegetarian regimen. First off, that means he often eats foods that others don’t (tempeh anyone?) and doesn’t eat foods that they do (such as turkey at Thanksgiving). Second, he’s very concerned about how food is prepared (the amount of salt, type of oil used for cooking, etc.). Third, people think of him as a very fussy (albeit extremely healthy) eater.My client had a similar approach to food, but felt uneasy burdening food preparers and servers. She...
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No Need to Trust Your Appetite

So many disregulated eaters want desperately to trust their appetite. However, focusing on trusting it per se is nothing but a red herring. Rather than trust it, you need only to follow it because it knows what it’s doing whether you trust it or not.Say, you’re driving and get a flat, so you open your trunk to get out a tire iron. To fix your flat, do you need to trust the tire iron or use it to loosen the lug nuts? I’d say, those nuts aren’t budging unless you put that iron into action. Maybe you think the tire iron is old and rusted and won’t work. Doubt makes no difference. Trusting or believing isn’t going to get you back on the road. If you want to fix the flat, you’ll have to use the iron to the best of your ability to loosen those lug nuts.Similarly, you don’t have...
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Body Posture and Cravings

Disregulated eaters often find that tips and techniques in managing cravings are as useful as understanding what drives unwanted eating. We know that our mental attitude affects how we feel in our bodies and vice versa, but what about our posture? Could that affect our emotions and actions around food? Turns out that it might.In “The right stance can be reassuring” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 6/11/13, Health and Fitness, p. 7E), Kate Murphy reports that “expansive postures release a flood of hormones that make you feel more positive and at ease. Striking a commanding pose can change how you perceive yourself….” She says that recent studies suggest that “posture may precipitate, rather than just reflect emotions. How you carry yourself can actually change your mood, which greatly affects how you approach situations and solve problems…” This makes sense. Think of what actors do to get into playing a part: they walk or stand...
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Food and Eating Myths

I love good fiction, but when it comes to eating and food, give me the unvarnished truth every time. Here are some surprising facts on the subject from the Nutrition Action Newsletter (June, 2013). At least they’re considered true for now, but who knows what will be when the next batch of scientific studies come along.Do emotional eaters only overeat when they’re unhappy? According to the results of a Dutch study, they overeat when they’re happy too. Study participants were shown upbeat and downbeat film clips, offered sugary/salty/fatty foods and filled out pre-and post-questionnaires about their moods. Those who indicated they were emotional eaters and watched the upbeat clips ate more than those who watched the downbeat clips. Non-emotional eaters ate the same number of calories whichever clip they watched. So stay aware of the potential for emotional eating when you’re happy.Does skipping breakfast put weight on you? Although some surveys...
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Being Guided by Your Appetite Wherever You Go

Many disregulated eaters are wildly influenced by how folks around them eat. If people eat healthfully, they do too. If folks eat carelessly, they struggle with how to eat or give up and go with the mindless flow. Fact is, we carry our appetite with us wherever we go to always guide our eating.I was reminded of this truth when we had friends staying with us who were about to visit other friends and remarked on the difference in eating experiences in both places. My husband and I generally eat healthfully by choosing foods which nourish our bodies and we focus on satisfying food experiences. In contrast, my friends’ other friends ate a lot of “junk” food and ignored the rules of “normal” eating. At our home, our friends enjoyed having nutritious food choices available and doing pleasurable activities with us besides eating, but were anxious about how they would eat...
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Food Planning

I had a good laugh with a client, a perfectly capable, highly competent woman, over her telling me she just couldn’t plan meals ahead. This happens often when clients insist this task is far too tough for them. Ha! I don’t believe it for a minute.When a client says, “But I just don’t know what I’ll want for lunch” or “I’m so tired after work, I simply don’t care what I eat” or “It’s too much trouble to plan food ahead,” I know that something else is amiss. My usual rejoinder is, “Your career is challenging” or “Having a job like yours and taking care of three kids is a lot of work. But, hard? Being President of the United States or living on the streets is hard, but, food planning? C’mon.” Such contrasts helps clients see how ludicrous their protests are. Fact is, meal planning is not all that difficult,...
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Misinterpretations That Drive Unwanted Eating

Too many disregulated eaters have low regard for themselves and, therefore, don’t take care of themselves as if they’re deserving of high-quality self care. For those of you who think you’re defective and aren’t worth eating healthfully, here’s another take on the subject and how you might have mistakenly come to think about things incorrectly.Take this scenario. As a young child, let’s say your mother or father or both frequently criticized you, raged at you out of the blue over petty concerns, and treated you as if your needs were wrong or didn’t matter. In your child’s limited brain, you assumed they were treating you poorly because there was something wrong with you. The equation goes like this: they treat me as if there’s something bad about me, so there must be.Now, let’s move away from you personally and take a look at three situations, all anecdotes from my life. After...
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What Not to Say When You Have a Non-Hunger Eating Urge

The brain is an amazing organ, but it’s not as clever or evolved as we think it is. For instance, we may think we’re telling it to do one thing, while it hears our instruction as just the opposite. Not great when you’re trying to avoid unwanted eating. Here’s a common mistake—and its fix—for handing unwelcome food urges.I bet that when you want to deter yourself from heading for the drive-through on the way home from work or getting up from working at the computer to check out what’s in your kitchen cabinets (for the umpteenth time), you’re probably telling yourself something like, “I can’t eat that now” or “I really don’t want to eat that.” It’s a common enough tactic that we’ve been encouraged to take: tell yourself what want to do, not what you don’t want to do, right? Except that these words actually may be driving you to...
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Labeling Your Eating Problem Correctly

A client recently had a eureka moment when she realized that she didn’t have an eating problem per se, but a psycho-emotional one that was driving her food abuse. She felt tremendous relief in identifying her actual, underlying problem which pointed the way toward more helpful solutions. Here are some possible problems you might have.Most disregulated eaters have high anxiety and use food to self-soothe. Eating is a symptom, not a root cause. Discussing their history, they recognize that family members also have anxiety issues which manifested in drinking, rigidity, a need to control, anger, perfectionism, worry, and people-pleasing. They can see how their anxious parents modeled and generated anxiety in them. The solution is to change anxiety-promoting beliefs, lower stress, and practice self-soothing and stress-reduction techniques. Troubled eaters often are depressed and use food to generate pleasure and lift their mood. Usually they can find a thread of depression in...
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Does Comfort Food Really Provide Comfort?

If “comfort” food didn’t really bring you comfort, would you be as likely to eat it or eat as much of it? We’ve come to believe that foods which are high in fat and sugar boost our mood by activating the brain’s reward system. But what if that’s not actually the case?According to recent research cited in “Comfort food may fall short on the comfort” by Jan Hoffman (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 1/6/15, p. 26E), Kelly D. Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke, concludes that “…the assignment of the word ‘comfort’ to [high-calorie foods] implies there is a relationship between ‘comfort’ and ‘food’ that may not exist.” The article describes comfort food as giving substantial pleasure and elevating a blue or blah mood. It says that women most often choose sweets and that men generally select “heartier, more savory items.”The article highlights a Minnesota study funded by NASA...
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Changing Eating Habits

Ah, the power of habit. We cherish our “good” ones and loathe our “bad” ones. Nowhere is this truer than in the eating and lifestyle arenas. The truth is, we understand very little about the purpose of habits and how to alter them. Learning more about the process of habit formation is the best way to succeed at changing them.Charles Duhigg, author of THE POWER OF HABIT, offers some wisdom on the subject (“Strengthening New Year’s Resolutions,” Psychotherapy Networker, Jan/Feb 2013). He reports on the conclusions of a Duke University study: “40-45% of people’s daily actions are habits or unconscious decisions.” Whoa, we’re talking about almost half of what we do! He explains that habits are a kind of “functional autopilot mechanism,” that is, they free up the brain to focus on more important matters than, say, whether to brush your teeth before or after you wash your face. His point...
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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