Un-dieting and intuitive eating can feel like exploring another planet, so in this episode, I'll walk you through the 3 stages of un-dieting, including the "messy middle" where so many people get stuck, and what it feels like when you "arrive" on the other side.
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Jenn Huber 0:02
Hi, and welcome to the midlife feast the podcast for women who are hungry for more in this season of life. I'm your host, Dr. Jenn Celine Huber. Come to my table. Listen and learn from me. Trusted guests, experts in women's health and interviews with women just like you. Each episode brings to the table juicy conversations designed to help you feast on midlife. Welcome to this week's episode of the midlife feast. And this is a solo episode just with me. So I've wanted to kind of talk about this topic for a while now, which is what happens when you stop dieting or stop following a diet or a plan? Because it's a question that I get a lot and I thought that maybe walking you through some of the process might be helpful. But first, just a quick note that if you're listening to this episode in November or December, that beyond the scale, which is my underwriting group, group program is going to be starting up again in January. And registration will be opening up in early December. So understandably, in January, this is a very popular time for this program. And spots tend to fill up very quickly. So if you are at all interested and want to learn more, click the link in the show notes and to get on the waiting list. And you'll be the first to hear about it later this month. So but first. So let's go back a little bit further. Before we talk about what happens when we stopped following a diet and start with why do we start a diet in the first place. So if you're not familiar with the diet cycle, I definitely recommend that you go back and listen to episode 28, which is part of my on dieting series. But the short version is that whenever something happens, a thought or a feeling or a circumstance that prompts us to feel bad about our bodies or feel like we need to lose weight. Our default programming tells us that we need to start a diet or we need to lose weight, because that's the only way we know how to deal with or manage those feelings. And initially, that feels really good. Because we're doing something we've taken that not so great feeling about ourselves or our bodies, and we're doing something about it. And our brain really likes that. But after you've done this 10s, maybe even 100 times or more, just the thought of counting, tracking, measuring, weighing, worrying, always thinking about food, just feels like something we can't do anymore. That was definitely how I felt. And that's how so many of the people describe it to me when they reach out or when I'm talking to them. So many of them will say I can't even tell you how many will say, I just don't know what to do anymore. But I know that I can't go back to dieting, again, I can't track my food, some people will put the app back on their phone but can't even bring themselves to open it can't even get to that place where they're, you know, even looking forward to it anymore. But also, the thought of not dieting or not starting another diet is terrifying, because it feels like they're not doing anything. Or it feels like all of the bad things that they're worried about are destined to happen. Now if they don't go back to dieting, so they're really kind of stuck in this, you know, between a rock and a hard place. So what I want to describe are just kind of some of the situations and some of the things that come up in the various stages of and dieting and learning to eat intuitively, that I see when women decide that they are ready to try something new or that they at least know that they can't go back to another diet. Now, obviously, keep in mind that all of us will have our own unique experiences and that our own histories really will play a pretty big part in how we move through these different stages. But it'll give you an idea. So like all good stories, most undying stories will have a beginning, a middle and an end. So in the beginning, there's often relief. So like I've just described that, you know, so many people will feel that I just can't go back to dieting, there's relief at finding out that there's something else that they can do. And often a bit of excitement at doing something that is so totally different. And it's funny because the analogy that I often use for this is that if all you've ever done is a low fat diet the first time you do keto it feels like so exciting and it feels like it's going to be so easy. Kind of the same thing here that it Feels so exciting and new and different. But and that's a good thing. And we definitely want to build on that. But it's also really, really common and I think totally normal to feel skeptical about the whole thing. Especially if all you've ever known is dieting and food rules, how could you not be skeptical that winging it, essentially, is okay, and that you can feel good and that you can, you know, still be pursuing health and health goals, if you're not following a plan. So skepticism totally welcome. Totally normal. Because, you know, I can I can remember thinking, will I ever want to eat vegetables again? Will I only ever choose fun foods? You know, and I think that those are really normal and common phases and questions that people have. But the number one question that I get, and I'm sure you can guess it, because you probably have it too is what is going to happen with my weight. The short answer, and I promise that I'm not sitting on the fence here is that we don't actually know. Because the reality is that some people do gain weight. Some people lose weight, and some people stay the same. weight regulation is complex. And it is not just about calories in calories out. We know that our body size and shape is heavily influenced by genetics upwards of 60 70%. hormones can play a role obviously, at menopause, we all go through that, you know, change that's pre programmed into our DNA that makes it easier for our bodies to become softer and rounder stress, sleep environment, many things that we can't control. But especially if your size and shape that you have been trying to achieve can only be achieved and maintained with restriction and dieting. It probably will change. So I try and reassure people that the goal isn't to not gain weight, or the goal isn't to lose weight, or there isn't an outcome based goal. So I say this all the time, people who have worked with me will recognize that we're committed to the process, we're not committed to the outcome. Because what we're trying to do as intuitive eaters, is learn how to listen and respond to what our bodies want, and need, instead of telling it what it should want, instead of saying, you should be able to be okay with 1200 calories, or you should be able to still have enough energy to go about your day, even if you're only getting 25 grams of carbohydrates. Because not everybody has the same needs. And the goal of intuitive eating is to learn to listen to what your body is telling you. And to be able to respond with kindness and respect and kind of those principles of intuitive eating around hunger and fullness that we learn. So well, the goal, I think can be getting to a relatively stable size shape. Some people might call that set range or setpoint, or best weight. Really, what I say is that we want to get you to a place where you don't feel like you need to micromanage every bite of food for any reason. That to me is kind of that first I've arrived place when I can really feel like I've trusting I'm trusting in the process, I'm trusting my body, my body trusts me, and it feels like we're in a good relationship with each other. So that's the beginning, a little bit of excitement, a little bit of novelty, a little bit of fear, lots of questions, all totally normal. The second phase is kind of the middle phase. So this is actually the stage where I most often will come into people's Intuitive Eating journeys. And it's often because of what I call the messy middle, which is you know, where you're happily going along as an intuitive eater or living your best non dirty life, and you hit a speed bump. So if we bring it back to menopause, again, this might be that you've been to see your doctor or your health care practitioner for your annual physical, and now your cholesterol is up or your blood pressure. And even if it isn't explicitly said to you, you come away from that appointment thinking, well, I need to you know, eat better, I need to go back on that diet, I need to try and lose weight again. And even though you might have another thought two seconds later, thinking Oh, but I don't want to do that. You get caught in that messy middle of but I don't know what else to do. Or maybe it's that your best friend or your partner's both spouse has started a new diet and you're starting to wonder if maybe maybe I could do a little bit of that too.
Jenn Huber 10:00
Maybe I can, you know, do some of what they're doing. Because you've been maybe away from that diet mentality long enough that it doesn't sound as unappealing as it did. But as soon as you start to dip your toes into counting, measuring tracking, you realize that oh, no, I don't want to go back there either. Or some people will find themselves treating intuitive eating like a diet. They've started overanalyzing everything. So they're trying to do it perfectly. Am I comfortably hungry? Am I comfortably full? Did I have enough, you know, satisfaction. And so they start to treat those principles as rules. And they start to maybe find themselves in that. Okay, I'm just going to start over again on Monday, that's definitely a big cue that maybe you're applying some of that diet mentality to intuitive eating. But it's also a lot less specific than that. And it's often more of a. So now what, which is often a bit of a sign, I think that you're ready for some of the gentle nutrition discussions around food. But you don't know how to do that. So if you're in midlife and thinking about protein, how do you intentionally try and get 25 grams of protein at your meals? without counting? Or how much is enough? How do you know how often you need to do that, or maybe you want to add in more fiber for that higher cholesterol level. But again, they're starting to find yourself choosing those higher fiber foods only because they're high in fiber, even if you don't enjoy them. And it's funny because this concept of gentle nutrition, I think, is actually what brings so many people to intuitive eating, it resonates with so many of them. They love this concept of it. But it's actually a little bit hard to implement sometimes because as soon as we start to talk about specific foods or nutrition goals, it sometimes gives off really big diety vibes, and it leaves us in that that messy middle. So the messy middle is really, really common. It's often where people I think, reach out, not just to me, but to other people, because maybe, maybe they've read the book and or they've listened to some podcasts, they follow some people on social media, they've gotten lots of great tips, they feel actually pretty, pretty well on their way on their journey. But now they've hit the speed bump, or they kind of just don't know how to start thinking about food again, or talking about food in that gentle nutrition way. So after we get through that, you know, kind of they've worked through that they get to the end. And of course, it's never really an end because I just said that we commit to the process, not the outcome. But there is a point I think in most people's journeys where they feel like they've arrived at this next phase, and they know that there's no turning back. So that often looks like they've really learned to trust themselves to listen and respond to hunger and fullness on a regular basis. They now know that if they wait too long to eat, and if they don't prioritize having balanced meals at most meals, that they're going to be hungry later on, or they're going to be tired or cranky, or they're not going to feel satisfied. Being able to prioritize and protect satisfaction is definitely something that experienced intuitive eaters get and know that is so important to them. But like I said, it's not a destination so much as you can check it off, it's more of a feeling. But they've also often worked through some of those messy middle moments that I was just talking about and feel like they really have the tools to manage those situations in the future. So one that comes to mind because it comes up a lot in midlife is around, you know insulin resistance and blood sugar. And being able to see any health situation through the intuitive eating lens, instead of jumping right back into the diet mentality is a big win, obviously, but also a sign that you're you're kind of your mind has shifted the way it responds. And it's having that resilient and flexible response to those situations that I think is more defining of when you've come through the messy middle, you know that no matter what comes up, going back to a really restrictive diet is never going to be the option that you default to anymore. But they've also experienced just how much more joyful and easy it is to eat as an intuitive eater and they know that dieting is this life thief and that they never want to go back. So that's again, kind of a sign that you've you've been through some of the tough situations that you maybe new would come up or weren't so sure how to handle but have been able to come through the other side and see that yeah, intuitive eating can really apply to any and all situations in my life and that there really isn't a situation where I'm going to I have to be really measured and controlled with my food anymore. And just knowing that that reality is no longer something that has to exist in your world is so freeing and so joyful. And I often joke that, you know, when you get to the place where you realize that you can lower the bar and still be okay, that's also a great sign that you've really shifted your mentality around food, because food doesn't have to be perfect. I often say we have to make decisions about food every single day of our life, multiple times a day, and it can never be perfect. And so once you realize that and have that flexible mindset around food, it just feels so much easier. And many of them do see their health improve, which I think is is a nice, tangible outcome, especially if you're managing something like blood sugar, or cholesterol, or even, you know, IBS or intolerances. And just seeing that, hey, you know what, I don't have to follow a really strict set of rules with food to improve my health. And in fact, they often will see their stress go down, so their mental health improves. And just in general, they feel like this relationship with food is based on trust, and not restriction. And that can only do good things. So, so like I said, I wanted to kind of try and give everyone just a little bit of a short overview of what these different stages of the journey go through. And the next question that people often ask is, Well, how long does it take? And of course, there isn't an easy answer to that. But I do think that giving yourself a year, mentally, it may be less than that, or more than that, but just kind of keeping in mind that going through a year. With all the seasons, with all of the situations that come up in the different seasons, being able to work through some of those messy middles, I think is a really good framework to start with. And that there are people along the way to help you if you're just getting started. Or if you've kind of reached the end of the messy middle and are now really excited to start thinking about food and nutrition. Again, maybe with a little bit more of a health focus. That is still anti diet. So thanks for tuning in. I hope that you've enjoyed it. If you're wondering what stage you're in, there's a link to a little quiz in the show notes that will give you an undying score. And if you're interested, you can sign up for some more personalized recommendations that I will send to your inbox that are kind of based on the stage that you're in. So last last thing, I love sharing people's undying stories, I think that they're so inspirational. And these are what we call the story sessions on the podcast. And so I'm looking for story sessions, I'm looking for people who want to share their story, regardless of the stage you're in, so that we can really start to talk about this and kind of help each other as we're on these midlife Intuitive Eating journeys. So if you have a story that you'd like to tell, please reach out, send me an email and and I'd love to connect with you. So have a great day and I'll see you soon. Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of the midlife feast. If you're looking for a little help on dieting your beliefs about food, health and nutrition in midlife. Check out my group program beyond the scale which runs January May and September every year. Click the link in the show notes to learn how you can find food freedom and body confidence without feeling like you've given up on yourself