Tag Archive | weight

Tips for “Normal” Eating

The following information is the best I’ve seen, as a basic model for trying to normalize disordered eating. It is especially geared for those individuals who have been chronic dieters. 

No matter how many years or decades you have overeaten or how many diets have failed you, you still can learn how to become a “normal” eater—eating when you are hungry, choosing satisfying foods, remaining aware while eating and enjoying food, and stopping when you are full or satisfied.


Note: You did not fail on these diets. These diets failed you.

To succeed at eating “normally”, you will need to:

  • Focus like a laser on eating “normally”
  • Stay persistent like a dog digging for a bone
  • Not expect overnight success
  • Switch your attention from the scale to your appetite
  • Learn effective life skills to manage stress and internal distress

Disregulated eaters can learn how to eat “normally.” Here are some tips to speed you on your way.

Using self-talk

Learn “normal” eating skills: Look in the mirror daily and tell yourself you can learn the skills of “normal” eating.

Think of foods as nutritional and non-nutritional: Instead of thinking of foods as “good” or “bad,” consider them as nutritional or non-nutritional. “Good” and “bad” are moral terms that are best avoided in the food arena.

Give yourself praise: Do not put yourself down for the mistakes you make with food. Instead, lavishly praise yourself for your successes, even the tiniest ones.

Try a different approach: If experience tells you that diets do not keep your weight off, do not try to convince yourself that you should diet. Instead, give yourself points for trying a different approach.

Become your own cheerleader: Never say anything to yourself that you would not say to a young child you love, including calling yourself stupid, hopeless, bad, a failure, or worthless. Become your own cheerleader by generating positive thoughts about yourself and your progress.

Avoid all-or-nothing thinking: Do not use words like “never” and “always.” Remind yourself that most of life is not black and white, but gray. Think incrementally.

Do not dwell on untrue comments: Detoxify negative things people say about or to you that are untrue, rather than repeating them to yourself. Remember that what people say belongs to them, not to you, even if your name is attached to their words.

Connect to your emotions: Ask yourself often how you are feeling, so you can connect more easily to your emotions, but explore only with curiosity, not condemnation.

Stop judging yourself harshly: Develop self-compassion. Treat yourself lovingly. Practice speaking to yourself with extreme esteem.

Keep a positive attitude: Do not keep telling yourself that learning to become a “normal” eater is hard, because saying so only programs you to find the work more difficult. Instead, substitute words like challenging or doable.


Recognizing hunger

Rate your hunger: Check in with yourself often to see how hungry you are by using descriptions such as “not hungry,” “moderate,” “very,” and “famished” or a 1-10 scale.

Evaluate if you are hungry: Every time you think about food, ask yourself if you really are hungry enough to eat or if you actually need something else.

Consider having smaller meals: Experiment with eating smaller meals more frequently.

Think about hunger as a signal: It means that you need fuel, not that you have to go out and seek the most fantastic eating experience of your life.

Know what hunger means: Practice believing that hunger is for fuel and pleasure, not for meeting emotional needs.


Choosing satisfying foods

Choose for yourself: Do not get hung up on what other people are eating. Instead, ask yourself what you would like to eat.

Forget about good and bad: Remind yourself that foods fall on a nutritional continuum (high value/low value), not on a moral continuum (good/bad).

Make a satisfying choice: Never eat without first stopping to consider what you want. Spend time making your decision by tuning into your appetite.

Stay clear of guilt or shame: Refrain from allowing guilt or shame to contaminate your eating decisions. Avoid secret eating.

Choose foods that you like: Do not eat foods that you do not find satisfying or enjoyable. Eating them will make you think that you are on a diet.


Eating with awareness and enjoyment

Look before you eat: Before you eat, look at your food, its portion size, and presentation. Breathe deeply. Look again before taking a mouthful.

Chew every mouthful thoroughly: Chewing a lot helps to thoroughly release the flavor of foods.

Let food sit on your tongue: This allows your taste buds to absorb the flavor and transmit messages about your appetite to your brain.

Talk or eat: When you are talking, stop eating. When you are eating, stop talking.

Stay connected: Pay attention to your body’s appetite signals while you are eating.

Forget about guilt and shame: Push away guilt and shame while you are eating. Focus only on sensory pleasure.

Pause while you are eating: Think about how you are feeling about your food in terms of quality and quantity.

Know when to stop eating: Stop eating when flavor intensity declines, as it is bound to do. Do not try to polish off all of the food in front of you. Instead, aim for the moment when flavor peaks and you feel an internal “ah” of satisfaction—then stop.

Evaluate how full you are: Keep asking yourself while you are eating, “Am I still hungry?” and “Am I satisfied?”


Stopping when you are full or satisfied

Know the definitions: Think of “full” as having enough food (fuel) in your stomach and “satisfied” as reaching thehigh point of pleasure.

Quantify fullness and satisfaction: Use words, such as “nearly full,” “too full,” or “just right,” or a 1-10 scale to rate fullness and satisfaction.

Tell your body: When you feel full or satisfied, focus on that sensation, and broadcast it to your whole body.

Disconnect from food: When you are done eating, put down your utensils, push away your plate, and get up, if possible. At least mentally move on. Do whatever you need to do to disconnect yourself from the food.

Decide when enough is enough: Make sure you do not focus on food that is left in front of you. Recognize that you do not have to finish it or clean your plate.

Changing your beliefs:


From: To:
“I need to diet to lose weight.” “Diets do not work long term.”
“This is too hard.” “I can learn to do this over time.”
“This will take too long.” “If I do not change now, I will only end up back in this same place again, so I might as well get going on it.”
“Losing weight is the most important thing.” “I will lose weight if I honor my appetite and learn to eat ‘normally.’”
“I am bad/worthless/ugly if I am overweight.” “I accept my body as it is and still will try to improve it.”


Stopping emotional eating

Consider your feelings: If you have the urge to eat when you are not hungry, identify the emotion you are feeling.

Think of a different response: Remind yourself that feelings need an appropriate response—not food.

Know the emotions that trigger unwanted eating: Boredom, loneliness, anxiety, shame, guilt, disappointment, confusion, and helplessness can trigger unwanted eating. Look for more effective ways of dealing with these feelings.

Keep a feelings log: This will help you keep track of what is going on inside of yourself all day long.

Reduce stress: This will lessen frustration, helplessness, and the overwhelmed feeling you sometimes have that may drive you to eat.

Take care of yourself: Make sure you are taking care of yourself (with rest, sleep, hobbies, and fun) at least as well as you take care of others.

Learn from your behavior: If you find yourself eating when you are upset, do not take it out on yourself. Treat yourself with compassion and curiosity. Think about your behavior as a learning experience.

Find help: If you have a history of trauma or abuse, get help through therapy. A strong correlation exists between such a history and emotional eating and weight gain.

Take responsibility for yourself: Do not blame others for your emotional eating. Take accountability for your actions.

Build emotional muscle: Tell yourself that you can bear any emotion and practice doing so. You will find that the emotional muscle you build is amazingly strong and enduring.


References and recommended readings

Koenig KR. Nice Girls Finish Fat: Put Yourself First and Change Your Eating Forever.New York,NY: Fireside/Simon and Schuster; 2009.

Koenig KR. The Food and Feelings Workbook: A Full Course Meal on Emotional Health.Carlsbad,CA: Gürze Books; 2007.

Koenig KR. The Rules of “Normal” Eating: A Commonsense Approach for Dieters, Overeaters, Undereaters, Emotional Eaters, and Everyone in Between!Carlsbad,CA: Gürze Books; 2005.

Koenig KR. What Every Therapist Needs to Know About Treating Eating and Weight Issues.New York,NY: WW Norton and Co; 2008.

Contributed by Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, MEd





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Is It Possible to Lose Weight ?

Many of my clients ask this question, whether their body has
changed as a result of their eating disorder or as a result of the recovery
process itself. Weight, size and body image are such sensitive subjects. They
are intricately woven into the complexities of eating disorders and must be
dealt with very carefully.

After gaining some weight, many of my clients want to revert
back to some type of restrictive eating in order to change their weight/lose
weight. This type of restrictive eating may be as simple as eating foods they
“know” are low-calorie foods but that the individual hates or reminds them of
their disordered/dieting days. Restriction can also crop up in subtle ways,
like the following:

  • Convincing yourself you like a food because it is healthy when you really don’t like it and have never liked it.
  • Trying to eat a smaller portion size than youknow will fill you because you’ve gained weight and think a smaller portion“should” fill you.
  • Trying to eat a volume of low-calorie foods to fill you up, hoping it will prevent you from eating what you really want.
  • Setting any unrealistic goal that you know deep inside goes against what your “inner eater” wants.


The following vignette is an example of this
phenomenon…inevitably slowing down recovery, giving power to the eating disorder,
and causing the exact behaviors one is trying to alter:

A client came in for a session last week. She has been on
both ends of the eating pendulum. During her restrictive days, she would limit
herself to very few foods as a means to an end (weight loss). Then she went
through a period of rebound bingeing that lasted for an extended period of time
causing some subsequent weight gain. She currently doesn’t want to restrict or
binge but she feels confused about what to do. She feels she is in a body that
is not her “normal” one but knows she can’t restrict to get back to normal. She
is repulsed by the foods she ate while restricting but desires to eat them
again because they are “healthy”. The thought of eating these foods again also
causes her to “rebel” and binge.

She’s trying to eat whatever she is in the mood to eat, but
gets frustrated because her choices are often “unhealthy” and are not leading
to weight loss. It seems though, whenever she tries to negate her intuitive
appetite, she eats more than she initially wanted to, she feels more out of
control, her weight goes up, and she wants to give up.

Not only are there psychological dynamics going on in this
situation, but physiological ones as well. When the body is deprived of food,
there are many complex physical/hormonal/brain side effects that occur as a
result that will ultimately create a temporary heightened hunger and appetite.
These chemical changes cannot be “willed away”. They need to be attended to and
understood. There is no specific time frame for these effects.

I also want to mention, as we all know, an eating disorder
and recovery from an eating disorder are not about the food itself. Recovery is
about achieving other healthy coping mechanisms so that food isn’t the ONLY one
used. Continually placing all the emphasis in treatment on the eating patterns
and the food choices themselves, will take the individual further away from the
ultimate goal…trying to understand what the food is being “used” for, and
reducing the need for food (in any way, shape or form) as the only coping
mechanism. Ultimately, when someone who has an eating disorder is using a
multitude of other coping mechanisms, effective communication skills, and
healthy forms of self-care, as well as experiencing and tolerating all of their
feelings, food can begin to be “just food”.

The following was written by Karin Kratina, a pioneer in the
field of eating disorders. It truly exemplifies this process.

Sometimes recovery from eating issues involves weight loss.
Sometimes it does not. Regardless, any focus on weight is a potential danger
zone since a focus on weight loss can cause a return to the eating behaviors
you are trying to change. If you are above your body’s set point weight range,
it is possible that with intuitive eating, your weight will slowly shift until
you are back at your set point range. But you need to first be doing the
following to heal eating issues (it does not work to try to lose weight then
heal eating issues).


Place a check mark next to the thoughts/behaviors that you practice on a consistent basis:

□   I know how to keep a food journal recording food, feelings and hunger/satiety.

□   I usually keep a food journal when I’m having a hard time with my food/weight.

□   I am in tune with my hunger and am comfortable beginning most of my meals hungry.

□   I am able to stop eating when physically satisfied, usually with no problem.

□  I am able to eat almost any food without beating myself up or feeling guilty.

□  I almost always take action to handle feelings and situations that trigger me to eat by:

□  making a choice between feeling uncomfortable or addressing the issue

□  making effective changes on my own when possible

□  reaching out for appropriate support from family and friends

□  engaging in counseling if I see my reaction to triggers not changing

□   My attitude towards my body is “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the
one you’re with.”

□   I practice numerous nurturing behaviors to fill myself so that I don’t need to turn to

□   I usually know what my needs are and how to get them met by setting limits and
communicating directly.

□   I usually assert myself and rarely have to resort to yelling, arguing or withdrawing when
feeling frustrated with others around me.

□   I like my body most of the time.

□   I realize when I feel fat, an issue other than weight needs to be addressed.

□   I know that if I lose weight to feel better, that ‘feeling better’ is almost
always transient since it is not the weight loss that makes me feel better, but
what I think about the weight loss. I can feel better right now by changing the
way I think.

□   I have changed the way I think and feel content with myself most of the time.


If you are consistently practicing the behaviors above, some
weight loss may be possible. Make note of any thoughts/behaviors that you are
not able to do consistently and make them a priority. You may want to enlist
the help of a professional. Remember, never diet, it is the quickest
prescription to weight gain.

© Copyright 1999 Karin Kratina, MA, RD

Adapted from the unpublished work of Peggy DeMars, MS, RD

Download at www.NutritionTherapy.org Also visit www.NourishingConnections.com


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Smash That Scale!

I know I have posted before on the topic of “scale popping”, but it’s worth a reminder to everyone who suffers from an eating disorder that the scale is NOT something that you want to embrace as a motivator, a measure of your success at recovery or your self-worth. Yes, the scale is sometimes useful for your “treatment team” to utilize as an objective criteria for level of care, sort of like blood pressure, blood work, and heart rate. It is NOT a tool for someone who is in recovery to use to measure their recovery. Yikes!!!! When you weigh yourself to “see” how you are doing, you are instantly giving your eating disorder power over you…plain and simple.

Weight will fluctuate, depending on many things that your treatment team will help you in understanding. When you are in your bathroom (or wherever your scale is placed), the only people you have to “process” the weight with, are you and your eating disorder. Hmmm….not a good idea. Your eating disorder knows how to twist facts to make you feel bad about whatever the number is. It is an expert on undermining your self-esteem, making you feel guilty, and making you question everything.

So, my recommendation to you is to leave the weighing up to your trusted professionals…your nutritionist, doctors, or therapist (unless you have discussed other options with them). Your eating disorder cannot be trusted to “help” you with this very delicate issue.

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Kids and “Weight Management”

I will precede my comments in this post by saying that in my practice I see the individuals who are the “casualties” of confrontational combative discussions and treatment of weight issues. I am unquestionably biased about the issue as a result of seeing the emotional pain and scars that result from the mishandling of this issue, especially with children.

In my opinion, there are “right” ways and “wrong” ways to deal with a child who is “overweight”. First of all, when a child is young, especially during the growth and development years, their bodies are supposed to get wider before they get taller. If weight is made in to a big issue at this life stage, and a child is restricted to too few calories and essential nutrients, there could potentially be a stunting of his/her growth and development.

It’s not only the physical complications associated with restricting a child’s intake or putting a child on a diet that are bad enough, but also the psychological ramifications that can leave a child with lifelong emotional scars and weight and disordered eating issues.

I want to share with you a few stories that I have encountered during my years as a nutrition therapist. I am only one person and if I’ve seen a number of cases like the ones I will describe, imagine how many others there are.

Several years ago, a family of four came in as clients. There was a mom, a dad, and twin 9 year old girls. One of the girls was “skinny” and the other one was ‘fat”, according to the parents. The parents wanted to bring all of them in to discuss making changes in their eating but actually the visit was an attempt to make the “fat” daughter lose weight without her feeling singled it. On the first visit, the father called me aside and said he was concerned that his overweight daughter was going to be bullied in school, was going to grow up having no friends and lead a life of misery and loneliness like he did because he was a “fat kid”. So, after hearing his plea for me to “fix” his daughter, I met the four of them and discussed life in their household with the food. The daughters were quiet and the dad did most of the talking. I asked if I could meet with the daughters separately and we agreed. When I got the “fat” daughter alone in the room for a short session, she said “I don’t think my father loves me as much as my sister. He always lets her have anything she wants and he yells at me for my eating. At Easter, she got a big chocolate bunny and I got a small one. It doesn’t seem fair.”

Another little girl was brought in to see me because her father wanted her to lose weight. He was a very intelligent thoracic surgeon. He was so anxious to get her to lose weight, he demanded she go on the treadmill for 45 minutes each day. She was 7 years old. He said it was because he wanted her to be healthy and prevent all types of diseases like heart disease but also so that she looked good and was able to like herself better. She never complained to me that her weight was causing her to dislike herself. She actually seemed pretty secure in her skin.

A mom brought her 13 year old daughter in because she had just come from a pediatrician visit where the doctor berated the mother (in front of the daughter) for “allowing” her daughter to gain 20 pounds in a year. The mother cried when she told me the story. She said she felt like such a terrible mother and said she felt like she should lock her daughter in a closet and starve her until she lost the weight. Obviously this brutal tactic didn’t take place.

A beautiful 12 year old girl came to me to “learn” how to like healthy foods. When I asked her what types of food she liked and didn’t like, and why she was so interested in “learning” how to eat healthy foods, she told me that she liked pop tarts, sugared cereal, cookies and pasta but she wanted her father to stop forcing food (literally) into her mouth. She told me that her father would stuff peas into her mouth and hold her mouth shut until she would chew and swallow them to teach her how to like vegetables. She HATED vegetables as a result.

I could list story after story like these, representative of the “wrong” ways to parent children with food.  I wish I could tell you that stories like this are uncommon. But they are not. In fact, even the most well intentioned parents are apt to make significant mistakes in the treatment of food and weight issues.  Much of the parenting of children in the food arena comes from the parents’ own weight and food issues. Sometimes it comes from a genuine concern about health but that concern is significantly overshadowed by “fat phobia”. When “fat phobia” begins to rear its ugly head, food rules change and parents tend to become more emotional about food and much more controlling and rigid with food.

Children that experience food withholding or restriction or overt dieting at a very young age often become very “resourceful” in getting their food needs met. Restriction is scary because hunger is scary if it cannot be satiated. They will beg for food, whine, and cry, throw tantrums and yell at their parents that they are hungry. If that doesn’t work, they will go to greater lengths to not feel deprived. They will ask peers at school for food and sneak food at home. When they are at friends’ houses they will eat more than their friends because they know they won’t get the food at home. At parties, they will take advantage of the opportunity to drink large amounts of soda and eat excessive sweets and other foods they aren’t allowed at home. They will go to great lengths to not feel deprived.

So, how do early childhood eating/withholding patterns, parental control and overt dissatisfaction affect a child’s eating patterns, their instinctive ability to self-regulate and their overall love for a variety of food? How does it affect their body image and self-image? I think it is easy to see that all these factors can affect a child very negatively in the short-term and in the long term. It can set the child up for a disordered view of food and themselves. It may create aversions for certain foods as well as strong cravings for others. It also can cause weight gain, the very thing that is being focused on so strongly.

Most of the “overweight” children that I have treated have not been overweight because of a thyroid or other medical issue. They have been overweight because of excessive control being exerted over their food by parents, excessive focus placed on the size and shape of their body by others, the unhealthy role modeling of food by their parents, underactivity, because they are using food to cope with their stress, or a combination of these factors.

So what is the answer to the question “how do I parent my ‘overweight’ child with food? “For great detailed solutions, you can read Ellyn Satter’s book called How to Get Your Child to Eat…But Not Too Much. But, the premise of her work is to practice a division of responsibility. The parent is responsible for what is served, when it is served and where it is served. The child is ultimately responsible for how much they eat.

Also, if a child is given access to more variety of foods, with no emotion attached, they will be more apt to choose a wider array of choices. This is by no means a quick process but the more abundant the food choices and the less pressure experienced around food, the more natural the food relationship can become. Keeping the house free of “fun” foods will only cause the child to seek them out elsewhere.

Positive healthy parental role modeling with food and body image is also an essential component in the fostering of a child’s good relationship with food. “Do as I say, not as I do” will not work! Children will imitate their parents. If there is excessive negative talk about food, dieting, or anyone’s body in the house, no matter how innocent it may seem, it can exacerbate negative feelings and unhealthy food behaviors. Using derogatory words as a motivator for healthy eating NEVER works. The focus must always be kept positive.

Fun movement can help a child feel better about him/herself because movement brings pleasure. Movement cannot be tied into weight though because it won’t feel pleasurable or natural and will be short-lived. Getting on a treadmill is not pleasurable for many people, especially not for a child. Ice skating, sledding, and building a snowman are fun winter activities. Other times of the year they can walk, play ball, kayak, swim, hike, dance, jump rope, climb, skip, throw the Frisbee, walk the dog, climb trees, go to the batting cages, go bowling, biking, or skateboarding.

And, lastly, if the child is using food to cope with their feelings because they aren’t able to comfortably express them, or if the household is chaotic or stressful and the child is impacted by the stress, the issues and the child’s feelings need to be directly, openly and honestly addressed and supported. If a child uses food to cope, beginning at an early age, they are more apt to continue to use it rather than look for other healthier coping mechanisms (especially if they are not taught them by their parents).

So, as you can see, the food and weight issues of a child cannot be managed through withholding of food, dieting, negative body talk and “do as I say” tactics. They are complex and need to be treated seriously, compassionately, creatively and ultimately in a positive supportive way. When a child is able to learn how to self-regulate their food, their body will, in turn, become the body that is the healthiest for them, NO MATTER WHAT SIZE IT IS.

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Scale Popping

Does your bathroom scale boss you around?

Does your day feel “good” or “bad” based on what the scale says (or what you think it would say if you had one)? If the number goes down, you might feel “good, powerful, relieved” for a few fleeting minutes or perhaps a few hours, but it doesn’t last. The next time you do the exact same scale popping ritual, your entire well-being is hanging in the balance. What will it say today? There’s a 33.3% chance it will be down again and you will feel that same power, relief, surge of self-worth. Then your eating disorder will say “Great!  Keep it going! You definitely better not eat any more because you have to keep seeing those numbers go down.” Then, there’s a 33.3% chance your weight will be the same and your eating disorder will say, “At least it didn’t go up , but you better try harder tomorrow to get that number down or you will suffer the consequences.” And lastly, there’s a 33.3% chance the number will go up and all hell will break loose. Your eating disorder will RUN with that information and make you feel like you are a worthless human being, not fit to leave your house, not capable of seeing any people and certainly not worth being loved or cared for. Your eating disorder will tell you that you are a loser! It surely will make you want to do all sorts of disordered things to make sure the next time you step on the scale that number is less.

If you are a victim of your scale, if you let a number that you see on a hunk of metal dictate your value or self-worth, you are allowing yourself to be bullied! It is a “lose-lose” proposition because in any of the three scenarios, your eating disorder controls you. You cannot win…ever!

Do the other people who matter to you, judge you by the ounces or pounds you gain or lose in any given day? Do you have a neon sign that lights up on your forehead that says, “I suck today because I gained x amount of weight”? Or a sign that says “I’m worth your time and attention today because I lost x pounds”?

If you are a scale popper and a victim of this inanimate bully, why don’t you try an experiment? For a certain amount of time that you can handle, don’t get on the scale. Give it to someone you trust. You will definitely feel anxious because you may have no other way to determine who you are. For those days that you give it up, focus on non-weight traits that you have. Maybe you are a good student, wife, mother, friend or employee. Maybe people think you are generous, kind, funny, or warm-spirited. You must try to access the things about yourself that really matter because your weight isn’t and will never be one of them. No one who focuses on their body as their sole source of self-worth or happiness EVER achieves true happiness. It is like traveling west when your destination is east. You’ll never ever get there. After these few days or weeks, maybe you can try it for a few more days or another week. If you can’t stand it anymore and you get your scale back and pop back on it, see how long any “good” feeling lasts. I bet you’ll notice that you just sink back into the same trap of being bullied by that hunk of metal again.

You could really take charge and throw that scale in the garbage or smash it with a hammer and tell it who is truly the boss!

Please, remember that you cannot weigh your self-esteem on a scale or with a measuring tape or clothing size. It is what is inside that really counts in life. What do you want people to know you for? No one cares how much you weigh or what size your jeans are. Spend the time that you obsess over your weight and size on things that really matter like treating yourself and others with kindness and love.

That’s something worth obsessing over!

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