Want to eat healthy after 40? Try this.

Dr. Jenn stands smiling outside wearing a denim jacket
It's time to undiet your life and find freedom and joy with food

Episode 36: If you've spent decades following a variety of diet plans or wellness programs, you know how confusing healthy eating can be.

In the 80s and 90s, we weren't eating fat. In 2000 we stopped eating carbs and by 2015 we were back to eating fat and only fat...that's if you're eating at all with intermittent fasting.

Add to this confusion, fluctuating hormones, trying to feed other people in your household, maintaining your career, caring for aging parents, and trying to digest all the health recommendations from the media and medical providers and you're in what Dr. Jenn Salib Huber RD ND calls the messy middle - confused and overwhelmed with how to feed yourself in a health-promoting way.

Listen to this Savor Food and Body Podcast interview with undiet dietitian and naturopathic doctor Jenn Salib Huber as she cuts through all the healthy eating overwhelm by sharing how to practice gentle nutrition and attuned eating.

In this episode, you'll hear:

  • Why gentle nutrition is at the intersection between knowing what your body needs for nourishment and evidence-based nutrition knowledge.

  • How Jenn describes her 4 pillars of Intuitive Nutrition for midlife and what it means to eat intuitively with intention

  • Finally, Jenn shares her gentle nutrition framework for how to build a balanced plate or bowl anytime you have a meal or snack.


Here's a sneak-peak of our conversation.

Amanda: Jen, thank you so much for taking the time and coming back to the podcast. I'm looking forward to our conversation today and it's great to spend a morning with you.

Jenn: Thank you so much for having me. I'm really looking forward to it.

Amanda: In our previous episode, we talked about perimenopause and what symptoms women can be on the lookout for, especially if it seems like they're too young to be feeling those symptoms.

Today. I'd love for us to focus more on what healthy eating means in midlife through gentle nutrition. You use the term undiet often in your work. What does it mean to undiet our lives?

Jenn: Yeah, so, the word really resonated with me at some point over the last few years, as I was working with women in this space because it felt like an unraveling. For people who have been in diet culture or diet restricting, controlling, whatever that looked like, it often extends to more than just food. It can feel like dieting takes over their life. It influences every decision that they make.

So, to undiet means to really examine your relationship with food in relation to every aspect of your life and unlearn all of those associations or even just call them into question.

You know, one of the things that I love doing as part of this process is helping a client examine their beliefs about health, food, and nutrition. I might ask, "are the beliefs serving you in the way that you want them to and if they are great, but if they're not, then let's explore and unlearn why you believe that."

Maybe the belief came from childhood. Maybe it was something that someone told them along the way as a part of their lived experience. Undieting is a process of calling into question your beliefs and practices about food and health and giving them a once-over. Deciding if it's still something that you want to have in your life. It's an unraveling and letting the unraveling happen but then building yourself back up with intention.

Amanda: I love that idea of unraveling because it sums up the work we do with women in midlife beautifully. So, how do you define gentle nutrition?

Jenn: You know, when I first started learning intuitive eating one of the things that really cemented my interest in it was this idea of gentle nutrition because I think that for a lot of people who come into intuitive eating, either personally or professionally, they're drawn to the anti-diet component of it.

They're done with dieting. They're done with prescribing diets. They're done with working in that framework of diet culture. Intuitive eating suggests that food still matters and nutrition still matters even if you’re not following food rules anymore. So, gentle nutrition is a beautiful way to bring those two things together.

You can choose it intentionally and intuitively. You can put thought into it, you can invest time and effort and, you know, commitment, but you're not doing it with the all-or-nothing thinking. Intuitive eating also means you're stepping outside of diet culture by choosing not to follow food rules, but also wanting to honor health and nutrition without the pursuit of intentional weight loss as the goal.

Amanda: I love how intuitive eating includes all of those pieces. As you mentioned why you started working with intuitive eating professionally, it brought to my mind why intuitive eating resonated with me professionally as well - because I didn't want to be giving people diets anymore. Diets that didn't work long term. I didn't want to be giving people eating disorders anymore if I'm being honest, because that's what being a conventional dietitian felt like. At the same time, as professionals, we can get stuck because our clients expect us to tell them what to eat.

It's taken me a while to figure out how to communicate that it's okay for food to still matter. It's okay for health to matter if that's what the client's concern is. And how can I help them balance these things and not have them slide down the diet culture rabbit hole? Intuitive eating can feel like a nuanced dance at times.

Jenn: Yeah, and I call it the messy middle because it describes how most people personally come to intuitive eating. They're done with diet culture and it's so tempting to throw the baby out with the bathwater and just be done with all of it.

And I think that's an important part of the process, but it can also leave someone feeling like well, now what? Where do I go from here? How do I start thinking about food again from a place of nutrition and intention - it's a messy place. I have lots of conversations with other providers about being ok with talking about salad because they're afraid that it will be seen as diet food. Right? And so, how do we circle back to talking about salad and other foods in a way that isn't diet culture-centric?

Amanda: Love the phrase messy middle! Let's talk about how to move forward from the messy middle. Can you describe how there's overlap between what our bodies need for nourishment and what we hear in popular nutrition information? How is gentle nutrition an overlap of both of those?

A rough wood table set with wine and cheese board
It's ok to feel like you're in the messy middle!

Jenn: I love this question and I love that visual of a Venn diagram of these overlapping circles because I think it does kind of put to paper or visually this concept that we need to listen to what our body wants and we can also be interested in nutrition.

I think that any health professional who went into nutrition - it's probably because we think it's pretty neat and I love reading about studies that have found associations with certain nutrients or, any kind of nutrition-related research. However, what I've found is that there's rarely going to be a single recommendation that should ever be overarching when it comes to making food choices every day. That's all-or-nothing thinking and doesn't allow for flexibility.

For example, I should never want to have kale over, not wanting to have a salad. Instead thinking, okay, this might support my health, but it also has to be something that I want and will find satisfying.

I often teach and talk about, asking yourself first, what do you want? And if you don't know what you want, then you'll get stuck in the thinking, I should have this or I shouldn't have that and then you're really getting far away from the gentle nutrition principle, which is honoring your health, but not at the expense of your relationship with food.

Amanda: Yes, and the expense of your mental health? So, how can we eat more intuitively and with intention? What does that mean?

Jenn: Eating intuitively with intention means that you're still honoring your body's need for nutrition and nourishment by choosing foods sometimes because they're healthy, but also because through the process of attunement, and listening to your body, you've learned that these are foods help you feel good.

They help you have energy to do the things that you want to do. They help you to keep your iron up so that you're not anemic (for women in midlife experiencing heavy periods). They help to keep your digestive system working in a way that feels good. But sometimes those foods are also going to be things that diet culture calls treat foods, or fun foods, or cheat foods. Sometimes those foods, also help us feel good.

So, the process of eating intuitively with intention is making sure that your intention isn't about weight loss. I think that the intention needs to be, how does this food make you feel. And sometimes your feelings, especially your emotional feelings around a particular food, also need to be honored.

Fresh baked nut bread on a cooling wrack
You don't have to earn the cookie or nut bread!

Amanda: I think that's well said, and it blends the ideas that we can want to eat healthily, we can want to feel well in our bodies, but also recognize that we may feel well by having a cookie instead of a salad.

Jenn: And it's not believing that you have to earn food with another food. So you don't earn having a cookie because you ate a salad. Or you don't have to have a salad to make up for having a cookie.

This is something that I'd love to see talked about more because we talk about food, morality and how to remove good and bad labels from food, but when we're talking about foods that we enjoy, foods that taste good, foods that are accessible and meet our needs, we have to think more in terms of food neutrality. We don't want to have cookies on a different plane than broccoli.

Amanda: When I'm working with clients and going through everything that we're talking about, the question that always comes up is, "okay, so how do I feed myself? How do I know what to eat when I've been used to following food rules and plans?"

Tells us about your 4 pillars of gentle nutrition for women in midlife and walk us through how to apply those to everyday eating.

Hear Jenn's 4 pillars of gentle nutrition and the rest of our interview on the Savor Food and Body Podcast.

Dr. Jenn Salib Huber is a Canadian Registered Dietitian, Naturopathic Doctor, and Intuitive Eating Coach and she's on a mission to help women thrive in midlife.

She helps women navigate the physical and emotional changes that happen in perimenopause and menopause, including their search for food freedom and body confidence. Working from a health at every size approach, she teaches women to become intuitive eaters and build body confidence at any stage of midlife.

She's the host of 'The Midlife Feast' a podcast for women who are hungry for more and offers support to help women feel like themselves again. Her group program, Beyond The Scale, helps women "undiet" their lives after 40 so they can nourish a relationship with food that helps them discover the magic of midlife!

You can listen to Jenn's first interview on the Savor Food and Body Podcast here

You can learn more about Jenn's work by following her on Instagram @menopause.nutritionist

Like what you hear? Don't forget to rate, review, and share! This kindness helps other women in midlife find the show too!

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