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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Positive Possibilities

If you’re convinced you won’t amount to anything, will never finish what you start, and are doomed to have the same crummy struggles throughout your life, you may be programmed for failure. Believing you’ll never become a “normal” eater is a sure fire way not to. Whether you’re battling under- or overeating (or a yo-yo combo), you have to think you can succeed in order to beat your demons. Stop and answer these questions: Do you whole-heartedly believe you can become a “normal” eater? Is your belief only half-hearted? Or are you certain you’ll never reach this goal? Belief doesn’t mean not having moments of frustration and doubt. It’s natural to wonder if major change is possible and occasionally to feel hopeless. The problem arises when you distrust yourself due the core belief that you’re basically a failure, will never accomplish much in life, and that there’s something defective or wrong...
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Choice or Disease

Whether you view eating problems as a disease or not may determine your ability to recover. When we think of diseases, we often believe we have to wait until they’ve run their course or that we need to find an external cure. Couple this attitude with the standard model used to heal from addictions--that once you have severe drug, sex, alcohol, or gambling problems, you’ll have them for life--and a condition can feel like destiny. Excesses used to be viewed as moral failures: if you couldn’t get better you were weak, and lacked self-control, self-discipline, and motivation. Now we understand the substantial part that biology plays in addictions and recovery. Moreover, we recognize that depression and anxiety often underlie chemical addiction and that there may be a biological component with food abuse as well. Additionally, there’s an inherited component to dependence/abuse problems that predisposes us toward them. We do not all...
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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...
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Unnatural Foods

Recent research once more confirms that dieting as a lifestyle is fruitless (no pun intended!) and that “normal” eating is the way to go. A study in Behavioral Neuroscience reports that low-calorie sweeteners can actually promote weight gain. The study focuses on one sweetener in particular, saccharin, and supports research on how “diet” foods (low/no sugar/fat) may actually be making us fatter. I’m no scientist, but these conclusions make sense to me. These days we’re messing around with everything: the environment, our bodies, our minds. Yet it seems that the more we do, the worse things get. We’ve been polluting our air and water and through artificial food, our appetite. Without going on a rant, this shift away from what’s natural makes me wonder who benefits, especially related to food. Certainly not my clients or the people who read my blogs. Or the folks out there buying into the “chemicals are...
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Try reframing for changing your attitude toward almost anything. Reframing is like putting a new frame around a picture—it can entirely change the look of something. Changing a belief goes like this: making, “I can’t bear feeling uncomfortable,” “I can manage discomfort without abusing food,” or “I have to exercise more if I overeat,” “I can exercise my regular amount even if I overeat.” By now, those of you who’ve read my books probably know a lot about reframing beliefs. You can reframe emotions and view them in a new, healthier light. Instead of considering feeling frightened of new people as childish, think of it as a way of protecting yourself from getting hurt. Rather than look at feeling helpless when someone yells at you as being oversensitive or weak, take the attitude that you’re trying to avoid pain. When you get angry at yourself for letting guilt maneuver you into...
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Book Review: The Food and Feelings Workbook

I’m going to use blog space today to encourage you to read my second book, The Food and Feelings Workbook—A Full Course Meal on Emotional Health. My purpose isn’t to sell more copies (though that’s always nice!), but to share with you a powerful vehicle for learning about your emotional relationship with food. If you already know about the workbook, have read or are reading it, well, then you don’t need to continue on and have a few extra few minutes today to do something else. The workbook came about from my experience treating people who worked hard on becoming “normal” eaters but couldn’t get there because of how they used food to prevent or lessen uncomfortable feelings. It didn’t matter whether they were over- or undereaters or yo-yoed back and forth. The issue was how they turned to food to avoid and modulate emotional distress. The workbook explains the purpose...
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Taking Care of Your Health

I’ve noticed over decades of treating compulsive, emotional, and restrictive eaters that many of you do not take care of your bodies very well. Dysregulated eating is only one symptom of poor self-care which includes many ways you don’t keep your body healthy and in good working order. Effective self-care means doing whatever you need to do to improve the quality of your life in the long run. Much of it falls under the realm of prevention in terms of life style choices. Preventive self-care involves everything from wearing warm enough clothing when you are out in the cold and using an umbrella in the rain to getting regular dental and medical check-ups. One way to work on staying healthy is by reading about what is good for your health and what is not. You can do this online or through books. Websites of the American Heart Association (http://www.americanheart.org/) and cancer...
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Perceptions of Stress

An article on emotional eating (What’s Your Relationship with Food? by Karen Collins, RD, American Institute for Cancer Research, at MSN.com/Health and Fitness) focuses on the possible causes of emotional eating. Collins describes one school of thought which maintains that it’s caused by dieting and deprivation, ie, the rebound effect. She also explains that people who head for the Häagen-Dazs when they’re upset may have faulty perceptions of stress, meaning they work themselves into a tizzy when they don’t really need to. While it’s old news to most of you that chronic dieting and food restriction lead to overfocusing on food and overeating, you may not have considered that how you perceive stress and your ability to cope with it is a major cause of emotional eating. As a cognitive-behavioral therapist, I’ve known, written, and talked about this link for decades. Irrational thinking leads to irrational behavior; rational thinking leads to...
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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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Restitutive versus Substitutive Reprogramming

At a lecture on aging last month, two approaches for rehabilitating stroke victims—restitutive versus substitutive—were mentioned. Restitutive therapy was described as strengthening the limb/s which are paralyzed, while substitutive therapy helps build up the limb/s that have not been affected. The more I thought about them, the more I realized that these approaches also could be used by people recovering from eating problems. Distracting yourself when you have the urge to eat when you’re not hungry or when you can’t wait to rush off to the gym or purge after you’ve eaten is a substitutive behavior. It compensates for or takes you away from impulsive behavior. Sitting with feelings and not acting on harmful eating behaviors is restitutive behavior because these actions make you stronger emotionally. Some people will lean more toward one kind of technique than the other, but both are necessary to change destructive eating patterns. Stop and assess...
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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.