The Midlife Feast

#94 - How to Trade Wellness Culture for Well-being in Midlife with Christy Harrison, RD

January 08, 2024 Jenn Salib Huber RD ND Season 4 Episode 94
#94 - How to Trade Wellness Culture for Well-being in Midlife with Christy Harrison, RD
The Midlife Feast
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The Midlife Feast
#94 - How to Trade Wellness Culture for Well-being in Midlife with Christy Harrison, RD
Jan 08, 2024 Season 4 Episode 94
Jenn Salib Huber RD ND

What did you think of this episode? Send me a text message and let me know!

If the pressure from wellness culture leaves you feeling fearful and anxious because of its unattainable standards, it's probably safe to say that it's not truly promoting well-being. And if you've invested time, money, or energy in the myths and promises of wellness culture, you probably haven't seen much ROI on those either. 

In this episode, I’m kicking off 2024 with a guest who needs little introduction-Registered Dietitian and author of The Wellness Trap, Christy Harrison. We are taking a deep dive into why clean eating became so trendy (and dangerous), why we are drawn to the fear-based messaging of wellness culture, as well as why it’s so irrelevant to such a large population of the world.

If you’ve been craving an approach to food and body image that is more gentle, nuanced and includes priorities like mental health, community, and the understanding of socioeconomic influences on health disparities, you won’t want to miss this episode!

To learn more about Christy, check out her website at https://christyharrison.com/ or follow her on Instagram @chr1styharrison or join her free membership: https://rethinkingwellness.substack.com/

Looking for a place to learn more about midlife, menopause nutrition, and intuitive eating? Click here to grab one of my free resources and learn what I've got "on the menu" including my 1:1 and group programs. https://www.menopausenutritionist.ca/links

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

What did you think of this episode? Send me a text message and let me know!

If the pressure from wellness culture leaves you feeling fearful and anxious because of its unattainable standards, it's probably safe to say that it's not truly promoting well-being. And if you've invested time, money, or energy in the myths and promises of wellness culture, you probably haven't seen much ROI on those either. 

In this episode, I’m kicking off 2024 with a guest who needs little introduction-Registered Dietitian and author of The Wellness Trap, Christy Harrison. We are taking a deep dive into why clean eating became so trendy (and dangerous), why we are drawn to the fear-based messaging of wellness culture, as well as why it’s so irrelevant to such a large population of the world.

If you’ve been craving an approach to food and body image that is more gentle, nuanced and includes priorities like mental health, community, and the understanding of socioeconomic influences on health disparities, you won’t want to miss this episode!

To learn more about Christy, check out her website at https://christyharrison.com/ or follow her on Instagram @chr1styharrison or join her free membership: https://rethinkingwellness.substack.com/

Looking for a place to learn more about midlife, menopause nutrition, and intuitive eating? Click here to grab one of my free resources and learn what I've got "on the menu" including my 1:1 and group programs. https://www.menopausenutritionist.ca/links

Jenn Salib Huber:

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 Salib Huber. I'm an intuitive eating dietitian and naturopathic doctor and I help women manage menopause without dieting and food rules. Come to my table, listen and learn from me trusted guest 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. And if you're looking for more information about menopause, nutrition and intuitive eating, check out the Midlife Feast community, my monthly membership that combines my no-nonsense approach that you all love to nutrition with community, so that you can learn from me and others who can relate to the cheers and challenges of midlife.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Hi everyone, welcome to this week's episode of the Midlife Feast. My guest today is Christy Harrison, who almost doesn't need an introduction because I think that most people who listen to my podcast will be familiar with Christy's work. Christy was one of my first mentors, I guess, in this online or anti-diet space around intuitive eating and especially as a dietitian. I found her first podcast, foods like Fascinating, and Her Books Anti-Diet and the Wellness Trap, and now followed by her other podcast, we Thinking Wellness have just continued these critical thinking conversations about not just food and nutrition but around morality of food and dieting and diet culture and the problems with wellness culture and the systemic problems with food culture and how we need to really just move beyond this idea of food as the be all and end all and trying to look at it more holistically and, as we talk about, towards the end, kind of moving from wellness to well-being. So have a listen to this podcast. It was a really wonderful conversation and I think that you will enjoy not just kind of the details of what we're talking about, but the bigger picture conversation that we were having about what really needs to change in order to help us be well.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Hi, christy, welcome to the Midlife Feast. Hi, jen, thanks so much for having me. So we're both dietitians and you were one of the probably the first professional kind of person that I connected with when I was learning to become an intuitive eater and then studying to become an intuitive eating counselor, and I know that for lots of people you're kind of the first point of contact, either through your books or your podcasts. But I'd love to hear a little bit more about how you went from dietitian to non-dietitian and when maybe you first started to realize that there was a problem with diet culture.

Christy Harrison:

Such a good question.

Christy Harrison:

My path to becoming a dietitian in the first place was pretty winding.

Christy Harrison:

My first career and sort of still you know second career or primary career, whatever as a journalist and I had my own eating disorder and disordered eating when I was starting out as a journalist, which attracted me to writing about food, nutrition and health and, like it was, just you know, obsessed with those topics and wanting to master them and also not eating enough.

Christy Harrison:

So I was obsessed with food and interested in writing about that and so when I went back to school to become a dietitian, it was with this idea of, you know, deepening the knowledge that I already had from reporting on food and nutrition and becoming kind of my own expert so that I could write books or I could, you know, write columns and things like that from a point of expertise, rather than always having to just call dietitians and get them to weigh in and I was at the time really in the sort of Michael Pollan camp and you know, mary Nessle, erich Schloss are this whole idea of like it's sort of like a proto clean eating, early wellness, you know, not early iteration, but one iteration of wellness culture, this idea of like farm to table and sustainability and eat food not too much, mostly plants you know that whole credo.

Christy Harrison:

So it was very, you know, unbeknownst to me at the time, was struggling with orthorexia and was obsessed with you know, quote unquote clean food or sustainable food or whatever from that place. And so I was really in it and I believed that going back to school to become a dietitian, I also got a master's in public health, nutrition, like I was going to try to, you know, save the world from the scourge of fatness. You know that's really what I, what I believed at the time. I obviously now see how stigmatizing that is, but there was such a huge movement at the time too this was like early 2000s, you know this this movement at the time to like you know the quote unquote war on obesity was really raging at that moment. So that's kind of where I was coming from when I went back to school to become a dietitian and through my work I always worked part time or full time through school. You know was doing like freelance journalism on the side. But then I also worked in city facilities, the city department of health. I had a number of different jobs there and the first job I had there was first I did an internship but then I did a summer job that was nutrition education at farmers markets. And yet at that job I started to see like the people who are coming back again and again and my like kind of star students you know, the people who really connected with what I was teaching and doing would start telling me things like oh yeah, I did such and such and I, you know, didn't eat this and I ate a lot of that and I walked X miles and blah, blah, blah.

Christy Harrison:

And I started to feel a little bit uneasy because at the time I was personally in sort of early recovery from disordered eating. I was working with a therapist, had been working with the therapist for a long time but finally started addressing my eating issues and read the book intuitive eating and started putting that into practice in my own life. So I was starting to let go of a lot of the rigidity and starting to see how rigid I had been previously and, you know, had a few experiences in school as well my dietetics training seeing like, okay, the weight that I was before. You know, there's no way to attain that weight without disordered means and I'm not going to do that anymore and so, like you know, starting to come to a sense of recovery for myself. So when I saw these people at the farmers markets who were like, yeah, I'm doing this, this and this, I was like, oh, that sounds a little bit like what I was doing in my most rigid moments, you know, and I wasn't sure what to do with that. But I think that was the genesis of this transition to non-diet and anti-diet dietitian.

Christy Harrison:

And from there I started. I then started other jobs at the city and was doing a lot of nutrient analysis and working in spreadsheets and literature reviews and a lot of very sciencey, very numbersy things, which is definitely a part of me that I love. But I was missing. I'm a creative person at heart, I'm a writer. It's always what I wanted to do. So I had this missing creative itch, this creative urge that wasn't being filled. So I started Food Psych, my podcast, to try to fill that void, basically, and started talking to people about their relationships with food.

Christy Harrison:

And at the time was at the internship part of my dietetics training when I was getting experience in different facilities and spaces and stuff, and I decided to get some training in eating disorders and I did a rotation and eating disorder facility pretty quickly fell in love with the discipline and with that area of study and that field of nutrition and started going to conferences and just doing trainings and all the things and doing everything I could to learn everything I could about eating disorders.

Christy Harrison:

And when it came time to start my private practice I was decided that I wanted to focus primarily on disordered eating and from there I still wasn't fully anti-diet and health at every size, but I was starting to get those messages from my trainings and starting to see that those were considered best practices.

Christy Harrison:

And I got certified as an intuitive eating counselor and I was still sometimes seeing clients in larger bodies who wanted to lose weight and that dissonance of like okay, well, I do this over here with my eating disorder clients, but here's this person who wants to lose weight and my dietetics training says that I should help them do that.

Christy Harrison:

But my eating disorder. Training really is in conflict with that. That again, cognitive dissonance sort of drove me to do more research and understand, kind of come to a philosophy of my own where I decided you know what, I'm not gonna offer weight management or weight loss for anyone, because I think it's a huge risk for disordered eating and these people in larger bodies who are coming to see me who want to lose weight many of them have disordered eating too. Maybe it's subclinical, it's not meeting the criteria for an eating disorder, but it's nonetheless disruptive to their lives and if I put them on a diet I think it's just gonna make them more obsessed with food. So you know that I think was really the pivotal time for me of becoming fully anti-diet and weight inclusive.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Wow, I didn't realize we were just talking before we hit record that we're not that far off an age. I'm later 40s. I think you said you're early 40s.

Jenn Salib Huber:

I didn't realize that there were so many parallels which I think really reflect the experience of anybody who goes through a dietetics program. You know it's very reductionistic in so many ways and I think in some ways it needs to be like. You need to learn those foundations and those basics, but there's not a lot of nuance in how we're taught to look at food. It's very discreet, and I so relate to everything you're saying about Michael Pollan. I remember somebody gave me one of his first books and I can't remember which one it was, but it felt holistic at first, like it felt less restrictive, but it was so moralistic that when I look back on it now I almost feel more uncomfortable about aligning with that than I do. Diet culture, because at least diet culture isn't pretending to try and be something that it's not Like. It's very clear about what it is.

Christy Harrison:

Yeah, well, I think the waters are getting muddy now.

Christy Harrison:

There's so much cross-pollination of diet and wellness culture and those things getting so entangled. But yes, the above board sort of like lose weight for your health or lose weight and look great Like I feel like that is easier to recognize in a lot of ways, and the Michael Pollan stuff and then sort of what's come out of that too, like the clean eating and the now like gut health and all of these different iterations of kind of the same thing. It's like so much sneakier and so much harder to understand that what it is is really still rooted in diet culture.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Yeah, absolutely. I remember I can't remember exactly what year it was, I think it was 2017 that I officially closed my practice to weight loss and when people would ask me why, I would say because I don't feel like it's ethical anymore. I don't feel like I can give people the tools and information. That is about pursuing intentional weight loss as a proxy for health. That doesn't feel moral or ethical anymore and that's, I think, a really hard thing for people to understand. Many people appreciate it and do, but I think that that separation between weight and health is the hardest.

Jenn Salib Huber:

A lot of people can see the problems with diet culture. They can see the problems with wellness culture, which we'll talk about in a minute but I think it's a lot harder for them to see that weight as a proxy for health is really the root of the problem, whatever way you get to it. So I wanna talk about clean eating, because I love talking about clean eating and what it is and what it isn't. I think that for a lot of people, clean eating has felt like a safer place to land, a more welcoming place to land, because it doesn't necessarily prescribe what to eat or what not to eat, as long as it's meets all of these other criteria. Why do you think clean eating became so popular? What is it that people identified with that made it feel like a good choice?

Christy Harrison:

I think it's a couple of things. I think at that time this was like probably early 2010s, I think that clean eating really took off. It was we were kind of like post-diet culture being so above board. I think around 2000-ish it started to morph and shape, shift into this other thing. It started to like cloak itself in the language of wellness and this notion of the quote unquote obesity epidemic made it feel like much higher stakes and that weight loss was for your health. It wasn't just an aesthetic pursuit. So there was a lot of moralization built into that. So I think it's sort of like clean eating tapped into a lot of that, the sort of like shift in marketing of diet culture and the fact that people were now like orienting around oh yeah, I wanna be healthy, I wanna do this for my health, I need to lose weight, not to like just look good and fit into whatever, but actually to like take care of my health. And they were getting that message from doctors and from family members and people around them and from Michelle Obama and the White House and all of that stuff, right. So I think that was a piece of it and I think too, like the, we can't underestimate the influence of the farm to table movement on the culture of Michael Pollan and all the sort of chefs who followed in his footsteps. I mean, I worked at Gourmet Magazine from 2007 to 2009 and, like everybody was doing farm to table, all the chefs were, like you know, interested in that, whether it was even chefs who weren't sort of like known for that, it was just like all about like sourcing and farmers markets and you know the quality of ingredients and stuff like that.

Christy Harrison:

So that kind of thinking, I think, really permeated the culture and made people wanna avoid processed foods and think processed foods were bad, and it started to really have this kind of moralizing impact and I think the idea of like choosing sustainable foods and knowing your farmer and all of this stuff was like also kind of a class thing. Right it was. It's obviously something that is much more attainable to people who have disposable income and time on their hands to think about such things. It's not something that is a concern for working class folks or folks who are struggling economically, who are trying to make ends meet working multiple jobs, like I think it's. It became sort of like a way of middle and upper middle class and upper class classes to kind of distinguish themselves in a way. This, these concerns about food I mean, scholars have written about this more eloquently than I'm saying it but that it became like it's not quite conspicuous consumption anymore, because conspicuous consumption is not really a a good signifier of class anymore for various reasons, but now it's like inconspicuous consumption it's called and forget who coined that term. But you know this idea of like just the small choices you make, the small everyday choices to do the organic thing or the sustainable thing or whatever, and make food from scratch instead of getting processed food and all of that. So I think clean eating like really tapped into all of that too.

Christy Harrison:

And then the other thing is like diet culture has always had a moral, moralizing element to it and wellness culture sort of built built on top of that foundation. So like the core principles or sort of structures of diet culture I I define, as you know, worshiping thinness and equating it to moral health and moral virtue, promoting weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, demonizing certain foods while lionizing other foods and oppressing people who don't match its supposed picture of health and wellbeing. And so you know that piece of like demonizing some foods and elevating others. That's the part I think that clean eating also really tapped into, and you know that was a preexisting thing in diet culture.

Christy Harrison:

We've always, kind of, you know, for generations, thought of food as good and bad. The cultural message has always been there's certain foods that are healthy, certain foods that are unhealthy, certain foods that are fattening, certain foods that are slimming, like whatever language of the time was being used, there's always been this dichotomy between foods, and so I think clean eating just sort of tapped right into that impulse in diet culture, in American culture, in Western culture, where it's like, you know, this notion of categorizing foods into good and bad. So now it was clean versus you know, no one really said this but dirty, right, it was like that's the implication, and I think that just made a lot of sense to people who, especially who were steeped in the farm to table movement and stuff being like, yeah, ew, processed foods gross, like get that away from me.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Yeah, and I remember I think you're right it being 2010. So my oldest daughter was born in 2007 and my youngest two were born in 2010.

Jenn Salib Huber:

And at the time, you know, clean eating, the movement, the morality, all of it was very much alive and well. And if you had young children especially, there was so much pressure on parents to provide not just like clean and organic but like the perfect food and baby lead weaning which I think is great and very in line with intuitive eating in many ways, but had become a bit of a moral high ground too that if you were, you know, clean eating and organic and crunchy and granola enough, you also did baby lead weaning and that was like everything that you needed to do to be a good parent. And what I started to see over time was that there was this like presentation of orthorexia amongst parents that it wasn't so much concern about their own food choices, it was this concern over the choices they were making for their children. Yeah, and would see, you know, I remember one family in particular that would not sometimes be able to even decide what to eat if they weren't able to source it locally, organically, grass-fed, like they would not eat meat if they could not find it under those circumstances and it was really based on trying to make like the cleanest choice for their kids.

Jenn Salib Huber:

And I don't know that there's an easy way out of that, because when I work with adults, as I'm sure you do, there's often still this like guilt of like, well, shouldn't I choose the clean choice? Isn't that still the better one, even if we're not calling it clean? And to get parents to see that for their kids? I think it was one of the reasons why I feel like clean eating is like a Gen X thing. I know it's not just a Gen X thing, but I feel like Generation X was really subjected to that as a moral compass for eating, and it affected not just us but how we raised our kids.

Christy Harrison:

Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I had kids later in life, so I have an almost two-year-old now and I still see that moralization and that sort of lionization of baby-led weaning. Some of the major Instagram accounts for baby-led weaning are huge and have such influence and I won't name any names but I think have done a lot of good in some ways in terms of spreading messages of intuitive eating and division of responsibility. But sometimes the way that they're doing that is very orthorexic and very sort of lionizing of these quote unquote clean foods, right, and sort of making parents feel ashamed for not sending their kids to school with these bento boxes full of different kinds of produce and that's just not the reality for so many of us. I mean, I sent my kid with a bento box full of whatever she'll eat and yeah, it's, I think, incredibly shaming and sort of makes parents feel like they're doing bad and make some feel guilty if they're not eating in that particular way.

Christy Harrison:

And I think there are ways of doing intuitive eating, of turning it into a diet. There are ways of doing Ellen Satter's Division of Responsibility, where you turn it into a diet, where it's like I only choose the most sustainable, organic whole foods for my child unprocessed, no sugar, blah, blah, blah, and then they can eat everything they want of that. But if I'm giving them quote unquote bad processed foods, then that negates the whole thing and that's like they're not going to be able to be a tune-eaters or something. So I think it still very much is a pressure on parents. And, yeah, it's not necessarily called clean eating anymore. I think a lot of the people who kind of led that clean eating movement have now renounced the term, but many of them, and of course, many others, are still doing this thing of demonizing processed foods and lionizing quote unquote whole plant-based, sugar-free stuff and it's the same thing, yeah.

Jenn Salib Huber:

And it felt like such a bait and switch. In so many ways we wouldn't buy the regular Cheerios but we would buy the overpriced organic Cheerios that were really just the same thing but in a different box, without realizing that we were sacrificing satisfaction. We were devoting time, money and resources to things that didn't really have that return on the investment. It wasn't going to do what we thought it was going to do.

Jenn Salib Huber:

I've shared before on this podcast about my oldest daughter, when she was in grade one, was doing this activity in school and one of the other parents that was a friend of mine was volunteering and she sent me a message and she said oh, my goodness, it's so funny, we're doing this counting thing with fruit loops and Maeve, as my daughter's name, was laughing hysterically because she just kept eating them.

Jenn Salib Huber:

I was so excited to eat these fruit loops because she'd never had them and it was like that moment I still tear up when I think and talk about it. But that moment was like, oh, these rules that I'm putting in place are not doing what I want them to do, because I think everybody goes into it thinking it's going to make things easier for my kids if I set them up with this great foundation of good, healthy, organic food, not realizing that if we don't just give them access and choice, it's not going to make it easy for them, it's going to make it harder Totally. So yeah, I think the clean eating movement really did a number on many people, but especially those of us who are in our 40s now. I think it was a hard one for us to climb out of.

Christy Harrison:

Yeah, yeah, and I think it's continued to just morph and shape shift. It's like it may not be called cleaning anymore, but now people are obsessed with gut health and feeding the microbiome. The quote unquote right foods and stuff like that, which are, of course, whole, minimally processed, no sugar, whatever. It's the same types of foods that are being lauded, it's just under a different label. Now.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Yeah, so let's move on to wellness culture. So one of the quotes from your book that I loved, by the way Wellness Trap was that wellness culture's views on foods are a gateway into a belief system where every product is a potential threat, every lifestyle choice, a matter of life and death. Why do you think that we're so attracted to these fear-based messages? Why do you think that that's something that we feel like is going to motivate us?

Christy Harrison:

I think there's some really real reasons why people fall into this. I think there's a lot of fear and fear mongering about what's in our food and what's in our food. The chemicals quote unquote chemicals lurking in everyday products. I think in reality, we're all made up of 100% chemicals. Everything in the world is chemicals, but there's this chemophobia, this fear of chemicals that I think has been instilled by a lot of people who stand to profit from that fear. It's like don't buy these conventional products, buy my special natural products and you'll be safe. I think that's what we're doing. So trumping up fear about conventional stuff is a way to sell alternative things. There is a real industry around that. There's a real industry around not just alternative medicine, but alternative products.

Christy Harrison:

Sustainable food, I think, is great in a lot of ways, but I think there is a certain type of marketing of sustainable food that's like do you really know what's in your food? This other store I've literally seen grocery stores advertising with this kind of messaging where it's like this other store might say their food is organic, but how do you really know? At our store, it's like it just preys on people's fears. I think we don't have time in this hyper capitalist world that we live in. Everybody is so busy and nobody has time to really understand who's protecting us and looking out for us and the agencies that are in charge of that, and understand what's in your products. Even if you can't pronounce it, it doesn't mean it's necessarily bad.

Christy Harrison:

I think there's a lot of people just really don't know a lot of that stuff.

Christy Harrison:

So when someone comes along who's charismatic and who taps into this sense of like, oh yeah, I don't really know what's in this stuff, oh my God, this could be harming and this could be toxic and this could be really bad for the environment, I think it's natural for people to think, okay, well, I should just get away from anything that's like industrial and manufactured and processed and move toward things that are supposedly more natural and more gentle and stuff.

Christy Harrison:

The reality is that, especially when it comes to like foods and supplements and medicine and things like that, what is quote unquote natural? There really is no regulation on that term, first of all. So like people can just slap the word natural on anything it doesn't have the same regulations and standards as something like organic, but then also it can be used to sell things that aren't necessarily any different or any better than the conventional products, but at a premium that it can sort of be used to justify paying more for something because you're supposedly getting peace of mind, even though you don't always really know that something that's labeled natural really is. What does that even mean?

Jenn Salib Huber:

Yeah, there's a perception that it's value added, when that is not objectively always true.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Yeah, I think that the you mentioned about like something is going to be toxic and sugar came to mind, about how, like sugar went from being something that was just quote, like not good for you to being toxic and it's going to kill you and it's going to cause all these things.

Jenn Salib Huber:

That's a question we've always been at and can give directions of how something is 12 ゴs. You know, when I'm working with people and trying to get them to like, dip their toes into this reality where everybody of food isn't going to either kill or cure them, it's messages like that that are the hardest to let go of, or for them to see that, like, no one food is going to, you know, cause all of these awful things or save you from all these awful things, and that, to me, is like one of the. You know, it's been 20, oh, my God, almost 30 years since I started studying nutrition and that really has been the shift. Is this belief that it's one of the shifts that I've noticed anyway, is that this belief that, like, there is a way of eating that can save you from everything and there's a way of eating that is going to like knock you dead, you know, in a matter of minutes, and there's so much fear around that that it's so hard for people to just see food as food, totally and not so loaded Totally.

Christy Harrison:

Yeah, and I think this idea of like sugar as uniquely toxic is really interesting, and other types of foods too, as quote unquote toxic is really interesting because when you look at the actual science, first of all, nutrition science is mostly based on observational studies. You know we don't do a lot of randomized, controlled trials of like put someone on this particular diet for five years and compare it to someone who's put on this other diet for five years, or control group who doesn't change or whatever. You know that kind of research is extremely expensive and hard to do and you know people make their own choices and so you really can't do a lot of that research well without spending a bajillion dollars. So I get why there's not a lot of it. But also I think it's really problematic that we then rely on these observational studies where you know they try to confine control for confounding variables in some cases, but not in all, and actually I see a lot of nutrition research that doesn't even control for basic things like socioeconomic status, education, you know, geographic location, stuff like that, which those things can absolutely influence how people eat and their health outcomes, independent of the food. You know it's like if you're living in poverty and you might be eating a lot of processed food because you're just that's what you can afford. And then you also have a bunch of health implications. You know health impacts happening that are because of, you know, not because of the food you're eating, but because of living in poverty and not having access to health care. And you know, living in a place with, you know, more air pollution and not clean water and things like that, like you know, the social determinants of health are such a bigger factor in population level health outcomes than things like how we eat and how we move our bodies. And so I don't think the general public understands that.

Christy Harrison:

I don't think a lot of journalists who report on this stuff understand that, and so they look at these studies that aren't controlling for confounding variables and that are saying you know, people who eat more of ex food, you know people who eat more sugar have higher rates of heart disease or whatever. Therefore sugar causes heart disease. And it's like, well, we can't control, we can't infer causation from these. You know correlational studies and even looking at the data and those correlational studies, there's so much nuance to it. It's like the people who you know the study really might show. Okay, eating more sugar is associated with higher levels of heart disease. You know, as you go higher in the sort of quintiles of consumption, you might have higher levels of heart disease.

Christy Harrison:

But you know, if you look at the people in the lowest quintile of consumption for sugar, they're not eating no sugar, they're actually eating like sugar consistently throughout the day, or, you know, dessert every day and things like that. They're not these sort of like sugar-free warriors that you know were sort of made to think we have to be. And the people who are in the highest quintiles of consumption are people who are eating massive, massive amounts of sugar or consuming massive amounts of sugar in various forms. That you know might be associated with things like poverty, things like not having access to food, also things like binge eating disorder or other eating disorders, where we don't actually have data that controls for the presence of eating disorders, and so that's a huge confounding factor because a lot of people struggle with that and, you know, eat large amounts of sugar or whatever else because they're restricting and then binging.

Christy Harrison:

Well, that in and of itself, that you know that restrict, binge cycling and binge eating can in and of itself have health, you know can cause health problems independent of what a person's actually eating. So I think when we actually dig into the nuances of the science, it becomes a lot less clear that, like, sugar causes cancer or sugar is toxic or whatever the headline you know wants you to believe it's actually. Well, we have some data that show it association, but it doesn't control for these things. That might be explaining the association. There's probably some other reasons why we see higher levels of disease in people who eat more sugar or more of whatever nutrient is being demonized.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Absolutely so well said and such an important point about the research too, that so much of the research that we have in nutrition for any outcome is observational, just because of the nature of how complicated it is.

Jenn Salib Huber:

It's not like a drug trial where you can control the drug and the placebo. It has to be applicable to real-world conditions and if you're providing all the food for people and cooking it for them and giving it to them, that's not a real-world condition either. So even if you control those conditions, you can't always generalize it to the real world. Yeah, yeah, it's interesting, isn't it, that we want these headlines like. We want these like rules that we can cling on to to make it easier, like we're all just trying to make decisions and we want to make them easily. But that information I don't think makes it easier for most people. We've been talking about in my community about sugar and carbohydrates and undiating beliefs about them this month, and it surprised so many people to learn that the glucose we get from fruit and the glucose that we get from candy end up in the same place and that when your body is using that glucose it doesn't know where it came from.

Christy Harrison:

Yeah.

Jenn Salib Huber:

You know, and so because there's so much fear and misinformation around, like added sugars are so bad for you Well, is it the added sugars or is it the fact that maybe some of those foods aren't as nutrient dense, like maybe they're lacking fiber and protein, and that we need to focus on adding those in instead of like cutting out all the things? So, yeah, there's so much misinformation out there. I really appreciate your perspective on that. So let's shift gears into kind of what you call wellness to well-being, which I loved, by the way, and you know so much.

Jenn Salib Huber:

One of the unique factors of being a non-diet dietitian who works primarily with people in midlife is that it's not just about not dieting. When we get to this stage of life, we are often starting to notice changes in our health, might be starting to have conversations around not just what our body looks like, but also what it feels you know how we feel in our bodies and just health in general around like heart health and things might start showing up, and it can be really challenging for people to prioritize their health in a non-diet way, and so I love that you kind of had this framework of like wellness to well-being. So what do we need to do to define that or redefine that.

Christy Harrison:

Yeah, so I define well-being as just, you know, a truly holistic measure of you know it's basically what wellness wants to be right.

Christy Harrison:

It's like wellness positions itself as this holistic thing that takes into account all aspects of a person's life, but in practice wellness has become just about food and nutrition and exercise and supplements. You know it's all about the physical. It's not about, it's not really about mental health, because it's not accounting for how these sort of prescriptions affect people's mental health and their relationship with food and their bodies and all that stuff. So it's not truly holistic in that sense. It also doesn't take into account social determinants of health and you know all the population level reasons why people might suffer and have, you know, poor health outcomes that don't have anything to do with their individual choices. And so I think well-being I have this, you know, notion of well-being as something that can encompass all of those things that wellness leaves out and that can sort of look at, you know, population level health and individual, like mental health as part of the equation, and I think we would do well to. You know it's not just about individual choices. I think as a society we really need to start attending more to the social determinants of health and the reasons why so many people struggle and have poor health outcomes that have nothing to do with their individual choices, and genetics is a huge component as well. You know people. Some people do everything they possibly can, to the point of orthorexia and extreme dieting, and you know really detrimental behaviors for their mental well-being and really their overall health too, and still end up with, you know, health outcomes that they were trying to avoid diabetes, cancer, heart disease, whatever, through no fault of their own, just because that was genetically you know, something that they were going to have anyway, and so I think it's. We really need to stop blaming people and making people feel responsible, solely responsible, for everything that happens to them health-wise, and start talking about you know, the cultural and social conditions, the socioeconomic conditions that create health disparities for so many people, and you know giving people access to quality, compassionate, evidence-based care that everyone deserves, you know, and to not have that be a barrier to well-being.

Christy Harrison:

I think you know at the individual level, we can start to let go of diet culture beliefs and wellness culture beliefs that make us feel like we have to, you know, worry about everything that goes into our mouth and obsess about food and obsess about weight. You know, heal our relationships with food and our bodies so that we can start to focus on the truly holistic stuff. You know mental well-being right, thinking about coping mechanisms in ways that we can sort of achieve emotional well-being and, you know, not be so obsessed and driven and perfectionistic all the time because that has certainly negative health outcomes. You know, thinking about the quality of community and connection between people. You know loneliness and social isolation and disconnection are two huge risk factors for poor health and can be, you know, in the literature have been shown to be bigger risk factors than body size and then what you eat. And so I think you know that is a really important piece is creating social connections, finding a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging. You know, developing community ties that are not so weak that you know they can be broken by distance, or, you know, internet drama or things like that. But actually giving people, you know, helping people develop the kinds of, you know, important social structures that they need to support them.

Christy Harrison:

All of that is really complicated and difficult work and you know is not something that can be achieved in a like 15-minute doctor visit or whatever. I think it's something that needs a reimagining of the healthcare system to prioritize, that, you know. But I think we would all be a lot better off if we stopped being made to feel responsible for our own health and health outcomes and, you know, made to feel it. I mean, because this idea of wellness, too, is always about like optimizing. There's always more you could be doing. There's always more you know stuff and protocols and diets and supplements that you could be taking or trying and you never feel like you've fully arrived. You know, and I think that sense of like there's always something more I need to do creates a lot of guilt and a lot of shame when you fall short of that, you know, unrealistic ideal, and so I think we need to just stop thinking about wellness in those terms and start thinking in a much more self-compassionate way about well-being.

Jenn Salib Huber:

I love all of that, and everything that you described is what we're, what we have the capacity to do when we're able to step out of diet culture and wellness culture. We have the capacity to make the connections to move because it's enjoyable and in ways that we enjoy, without feeling like it's an obligation or that we have a moral obligation to do it, like there's just so much space that's created when you can just let go of the rules that aren't serving you. That's right, so thank you for all of that. So I'll end by saying that this has been an incredible conversation and thank you so much for taking the time, and we'll have all of the resources for both of your books and anything else that you have to share with listeners. But I'd love to ask you the question that I ask everyone, which is what do you think the missing ingredient in midlife is?

Christy Harrison:

Yeah, thank you so much for having me for all the great questions. You know this is interesting because, as we were talking about I'm like, an early midlife. So I'm, you know, my early 40s. I haven't had a lot of midlife experience yet, but for me right now, I think the missing ingredient is balance, not in a sense of like everything has to be perfectly balanced all the time, because that's not realistic, but a sense of like, you know, having the support that I need to have my work life and home life be manageable both, you know and to have everything sort of functioning in a way that doesn't feel so chaotic.

Christy Harrison:

And I think part of that is, you know, systemic, right, it's like we don't have, like, childcare built into our system. You know we don't, parents don't have that kind of support. You know in other countries, like in France, for example, they have, you know, childcare from the time a child is very, very young. You know there's paid parental leave and then there's free childcare through the government, and then, you know, into public school, and so you don't have this sort of gap of like. Oh my God, what are we going to do and how are we going to afford it? And, you know, does someone need to stay home or go back to work? Or you know, like all of these questions that we have to ask ourselves here because there is no, there is no help, there is no assistance with childcare for many you know most people really. So I think there need to be systemic changes to that effect and you know, I'm just trying to figure out personally, in the absence of that, like what I can do to create more balance for myself in my life.

Christy Harrison:

I'm probably a unique case and that are not unique, but you know, not the most common case, although I know many people are having children later in life. You know a lot of people a lot of people at my age are probably have older kids, but there are many of us who also are trying to deal with, you know, having young children at this stage of life and career and dealing with, you know, body changes and aging and all of that stuff and then aging parents, like you know, the sandwich generation sort of effect. It's a lot, it's a lot. And so, yeah, I just I feel like for me and for maybe many people who are in a similar boat, I think something we could really use more of is just like really. I mean I said balance, but I think really it's like help. I need help. You know managing it all and finding, and you know getting back into a sense of balance.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Absolutely. I wish you all the support and help and balance in the world. Thank you, it's a tricky stage. You're not alone. I can definitely tell you that. I've met a lot of people who, you know, had kids later in life and do find it maybe a little bit trickier than those of us who started a little earlier, just for different reasons. But it often is that the challenge in finding the balance. So thank you once again, christy. I appreciate your time and it's been lovely to chat with you. Thank you.

Christy Harrison:

Jen, you too.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of the Midlife Feast. For more non-diet, health, hormone and general midlife support, click the link in the show notes to learn how you can work and learn from me. And if you enjoyed this episode and found it helpful, please consider leaving a review or subscribing, because it helps other women just like you find us and feel supported in midlife.

Overcoming Diet Culture in Midlife
Diet Culture and Clean Eating Interplay
Fear-Based Marketing in the Food Industry
Prioritizing Well-Being in Midlife