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Dear Diet Culture Diary: What the 80s Taught Us About Food

diet culture intuitive eating menopause midlife nutritional myths perimenopause un-dieting women's health

Have you ever been absolutely convinced you are the only one who is suffering in this way or that you’ve missed a critical piece of information or part of the conversation? If so, this episode is for you. 


In this solo episode, I’m tackling an idea that’s been brewing for quite some time. It boils down to the reality that if you were born in 1984 or before, chances are you were fed a very limited narrative of what “health” means as it relates to food, nutrition, and our bodies. Without the internet, our feed was quite curated and included names like Richard Simmons, Oprah, and brands like SlimFast and WeightWatchers. Do any of these beliefs ring true for you?

Belief #1: If you eat the “right” things you can prevent or treat every possible health outcome and consequence.

We were taught that everything could be fixed and it could all be fixed quickly with food. While personal responsibility is an important part of the equation, the pendulum swung so far that it’s given us a lot of shame and guilt when we receive a diagnosis like diabetes, for example. Having diabetes is not your fault, but it also can’t be managed well with two bowls of Special K cereal and a “sensible’ meal. 

Belief #2: Weight is a proxy for health. 

Another gift of the late 80s and 90s was BMI. If you could work hard enough to fall into a certain range, you were doing the “right thing”.. You were “healthy”. But this formula has many limitations and has never accounted for genetics, access to healthcare or other resources, not to mention personal goals.

Belief #3 Weight is a behavior. 

There are so many choices you can make in the name of your health. For example, you can choose what you eat, how much you move, when you go to bed. But that’s not the case when you step on the scale. Taking a weight-neutral approach simply means that our health goals are not driven by weight loss. 

If you identify with any or all of these beliefs, there are three questions you can ask yourself:

  1. If you had to divide your attention to health into a pie graph of food, sleep, movement, self-care, and social connection, how much of that graph would be dedicated to food thoughts and behaviors? 
  2. Is your current relationship with food sustainable? 
  3. Will I want to keep doing this regardless of what will happen on the scale? 

If the answers to these questions inspire you to explore what a peaceful and sustainable relationship with food would look like, I would love to hear from you!


Jenn Salib Huber: 0:00
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 with oat 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. Hi everyone, welcome to this week's episode of the Midlife Feast.

Jenn Salib Huber: 0:55
It has been a while since I have recorded a solo episode, so let's hope that I remember how. I'm just kidding, of course, but I just love having conversations with people, so I haven't had the opportunity to kind of schedule myself into my own podcast. So here we are, though, and this has actually been one that has been on my to-do list for a while, and it might become a regular series. You guys will have to tell me what you think about it, but I wanted to start this kind of Dear Diet Culture Diary series. So I think we all remember Dear Diary from our teenage years, and one of my missions with this podcast has been to create community, to share stories, to make sure that anybody who is going through any stage of midlife especially if they feel like that relationship with food or their bodies or their self-esteem is on a shaky ground, anybody who's going through any of that I want you to know that you're not alone.

So that's been one of my missions is to create community virtually with this podcast, and so I talk to a lot of people on a regular basis, whether that's in the community or on social media, through email, one-on-one practice, whatever it is, and there are some themes that are very regular. There are some topics that come up time and time again that I think will be helpful for everyone to know about, because almost everyone that I talk to will say I feel like there's something wrong with me, because and I'm going to share kind of what everyone says in a second and almost every time the first thing I say is I can't tell you how common that is and I want you to know that you're not alone.

You Are Not The Only One

So, in the theme or in the spirit of this dear diet culture diary, let's talk a little bit about what some of those really common recurring themes are. So, like I mentioned almost every discussion I have, we'll start with I don't understand what's wrong. I've tried everything, done everything multiple times over. There must be something that I'm missing and I just need someone to tell me what to do. I can already hear your heads nodding in agreement, so I think it's important to recognize that. Anybody who is I'm gonna put a line in the sand and say over 40. So this would be born in 1984 or before Anybody who is around that age.

The Impact of Mainstream Media Pre-Internet

Jenn Salib Huber: 3:39
We were exposed to some very common themes around food, around health, around our bodies. We were all educated about health and nutrition in a very similar way and of course, this was pre-Google, pre-internet. What we were taught about food and nutrition came from school, so textbooks came from our families, so what we were exposed to around the dinner table, the conversations that we overheard our parents having about themselves, to themselves, with their friends and family, and some very key media exposures.

And I think anybody who grew up in the 80s, even if you had cable and all the bells and whistles we were still talking about really a handful of channels. Everything was network TV. So I think there was a lot more shared experiences around what we were seeing and I've shared experiences before around remembering watching Oprah and observing her own journey with her body, things like slim fast commercials and Richard Simmons, and we had a lot of shared experiences that I think we don't have anymore. We haven't had cable in over 10 years. Lots of people don't.

Jenn Salib Huber: 5:10
I now live in Europe, I don't have the same media exposure, so there's a lot of things that I feel completely out of the loop with and I'm okay with that. But when I think about the conversations that I have with people kind of my age give or take 10 years we all have these things. I guess these events that we remember and they were really key in shaping our beliefs about ourselves, about our bodies, about health, nutrition. So I'm rambling a little bit, but I'm getting to this point that there are kind of three beliefs that I think are very ingrained in our generation and the first is that if you eat right, if you eat the right things, you can prevent or avoid or treat every possible health outcome and consequence, so we started using the term lifestyle diseases.

An Overemphasis on Personal Responsibility for Health

Jenn Salib Huber: 6:10
In the late 80s, early 90s, there started to be a lot more focus on personal responsibility with health, which ultimately isn't a bad thing, but what it translated into was a lot of shame when people felt like they were trying to do the great things but it wasn't working.

Belief #1 Eating the “Right” Things Can Prevent or Treat Every Possible Health Outcome 

So this belief and I see this come up now as I'm having these conversations with people in midlife and maybe their health is changing and their cholesterol might have gone up a little bit, or maybe they now have diabetes and they feel like they've done something wrong and because we also had this kind of exposure to like quick fixes so just have two shakes and a sensible meal or special K, have special K cereal twice a day Like there was this belief that we just had to find the right quick fix, and so I think that that's part of our generational programming around food.

That takes a bit of time. It really doesn't take as much time as you would think, but we need to examine your beliefs around food and so often when people will say, oh yeah, I completely relate to that, and we start to go through well, what are your beliefs about food? A lot of them. We've known not to be true for a while. So carbohydrates is the one that I bring up all the time, but I think anybody who was dieting in the 90s was really exposed to carb phobia and was really exposed to this trend around fat is good and carbs are bad, and so once we start to talk about carbohydrates in a more neutral landscape, with more neutral language, they just become a food choice. They're not a loaded gun, but so that's just an example of one of the ways that if you think, oh yeah, I definitely relate to that, I feel like it's my fault or I've done something wrong. Just try and think about where did that programming come from, where did those beliefs come from, and is there anything that we can do to update those beliefs?

Belief #2: Weight is a Proxy for Health

Jenn Salib Huber: 8:07
The second really common shared belief is that weight. Well, the belief is that weight is a proxy for health, and what I try and teach people is that it's not, and I think that because we were almost the first BMI generation, I mean BMI really didn't take hold until the 90s, as I recall, probably a little bit before that, but certainly it was front and center in every discussion around weight and health from 1990 onward and, as a result, everyone really kind of internalized this idea well, if I can just get into a healthy BMI range, or if I can just get into that BMI range for my height, then that is going to mean that I'm healthy and I'm not going to get into all of the problems with BMI.

But I will just say that it is an oversimplification to think that we can just take height and weight, plug them into a formula and get a meaningful number and meaningful information from that, because there are going to be many variations of healthy bodies of health that will not fit into that. So not getting into that discussion Maybe that's another topic for another day but I think that many of us in this generation have this belief that weight is a proxy for health and if I'm in a healthy weight range, then at least that's healthier. And I do want you to challenge that, because health isn't actually something that we can define universally. Health is going to be individual.

Health is going to depend on things like access to healthcare. It's going to depend on your genetics, it's going to depend on what other resources and supports that you have, but it also depends on your goals, and I think that we forget that we're not just trying—we don't want people to get to a number. Obviously we want them to feel like what they're doing, which is almost giving you a hint of the third one. But what they're doing, what they're choosing to do more often, is helping them to live better in their bodies, not just look better, not just weigh less, not just fit into clothes in a way that they think matters, but to actually feel like they're living their best life in the body that they have.

Jenn Salib Huber: 10:45
And all too often I see people making food decisions and movement decisions and just decisions in general, using the filter of is this going to help me lose weight? Because weight is a proxy for health, and weight is a proxy for happiness, and weight is a proxy for all the things. So that's kind of number two.

Belief #3 Weight is a Behavior

And the third one which, when I've shared this one on Instagram before, it always blows up a little bit because I think people don't like it. I think that it challenges some people's beliefs, but ultimately I believe it to be true, and that is that weight is not a behavior.

Jenn Salib Huber: 11:28
So when I say that and it's not just me there are many other people who work in the health at every size and two debating space who say this we don't choose what the number on the scale says. We can choose what we eat or don't eat. We can choose how we move or don't move. We can choose what time we go to bed. We can choose how we manage stress. We can choose whether or not we consume alcohol. We can choose many, many things that will influence our health.

That are choices, but whether or not those choices translate into the number that we think that we want on the scale, that probably isn't the case. So when we say that weight is not a behavior, it's because weight regulation is complex and has so much more to do with the interplay of genetics, environment, access to healthcare, health medications. There's so many influences on the number on the scale that we can't assume that we can all just choose, because we can't. So when we talk about what is a weight neutral approach, what does that actually look like? What we're saying is let's not make the number the goal.

Jenn Salib Huber: 12:42
Intuitive eating isn't anti-weight loss. Intuitive eating doesn't take your autonomy away from choosing whether or not you pursue intentional weight loss, but we do want it to be an informed choice where there's discussion of the risks and the benefits, but also discussion of what are the chances that it's gonna work the way that you want it to Do. You wanna put 100% of your time and energy and resources and money into pursuing intentional weight loss that has a relatively small percentage chance of success in the conventionally defined way of success.

Or do we wanna put all of that time, money, energy, effort, emotional investment, financial investment into behaviors that you will want to continue, regardless of what happens to the scale? So those three beliefs I think are very common to our generation. You know Gen X, maybe a little older, maybe a little younger, but kind of anybody who was old enough to be consuming media in the 80s and early 90s.

Jenn Salib Huber: 13:50
I think that this is a really shared experience, and undiating your beliefs around food and undiating your beliefs around weight and health takes time. It doesn't take as much time as you think, but it does take time. It requires what I call like activation energy, like you do have to put energy into the process and you need to be committed to the process, not the outcome. But it doesn't take as long as you think it's gonna take, especially when you have some guidance. Doing it alone, of course it's possible. This isn't rocket science. This isn't something that requires a PhD, it's not brain surgery, but you can benefit from learning from people who have walked the path before you, or working with someone who can help you through that path in the most efficient, effective way.

Three Questions to Ask Yourself 

Jenn Salib Huber: 14:44
So what I wanna end with is kind of three questions that you can ask yourself to help you move to the next step. So if everything I've said, if you've just been nodding your head, thinking yep, yep, yep, that's me, I want you to think about these questions next. So first I want you to draw a circle so you can draw a circle, you can think about a circle, you can do this later. But if you have a pencil there, pen whatever, draw a circle Now. Try and answer this question what percentage of that circle is taken up by food, thoughts or decisions? And so the circle represents your health, health behaviors. And if 50% even of that circle is taken up by food, that is maybe over-representing it a little bit too much, because you're not allowing room for other things. So think about how important is sleep, how important is managing stress levels, how important is movement, how important is social connections, how important is self-care. Do you have room for all that if you're thinking and worrying about food all the time? Probably not.

Is Your Relationship with Food Sustainable? 

Jenn Salib Huber: 16:00
So this is one way to say is your current relationship with food sustainable, which is the second question so trying to think about. Okay, here's my percentage of my health, behaviors or thoughts about health that are taken up by food. Can I keep doing that forever? Can I keep giving 50, 60, 70, 100 percent of my thoughts and energy and time to food? Most people, I think, would say no, but let's just say that you think hey, you know what I actually.

Jenn Salib Huber: 16:36
I think that my relationship with food is actually pretty good right now. I like how I'm eating, I am enjoying food, whatever that means for you. I just don't like that I'm not losing weight, which is a very common thing that I hear from people. They'll say you know what? I've spent a lot of time learning how to cook or learning how to enjoy these foods, learning to like these foods, and I feel like everything I'm doing is great, except I'm not losing weight. Then I would actually like you to flip the script and say okay, if everything about my relationship with food and how I eat is actually working fairly well, then can I find a way to validate that and not give the scale so much power.

So that's kind of another way of trying to flip the script is saying, like, okay, if your relationship with food is serving you in so many other ways, let's say that you've added more fiber and your cholesterol has gone down. Or you've added more protein and you're building muscle and feeling stronger those also need a substantial piece of the pie and thinking about what you would like to do.

Jenn Salib Huber: 17:50
So, of course, in intuitive eating we always talk about adding in right. So nutrition by addition, not subtraction, and I think it's great to have goals. So in the in the Middle East community, every month we choose a theme and in that theme people are invited to either make a food goal, a movement goal or a mind goal, because I think that working on ourselves is self care. But we want it to be flexible and forgiving. We don't want it to be all or nothing. We don't want it to be tied to one be all end, all you know, come hell or high water outcome. We want it to be feel like it's fun, but also that we're doing something. So I have no problem with goals and I'm taking back the word challenge because I think that that can help us too. But we want to think about. What can we add in and when? You're thinking about that?

Letting Go of the Power of the Scale

Jenn Salib Huber: 18:36
So whether you are trying to eat more protein, because you've heard all the discussions about protein, whether you're trying to eat more calcium or, you know, get more magnesium, or maybe you're just trying to eat more regularly, maybe you're trying to avoid getting too hungry, whatever it is, ask yourself this will I want to keep doing this, regardless of what happens on the scale? And if the answer is no, if the answer is normally doing this because I think it's good for me or I think it's going to do what I wanted to do, then I invite you to challenge that.

Challenge the belief that if you think it's going to result in weight loss, that it's always a good thing, because if you don't like it, if you don't like the taste, if you don't enjoy making it, if it doesn't work for your family, if it is not adequate, then it is not going to add to your health, it is not going to add to your relationship with food. It's just going to take more time and space and energy in that circle. So I'm going to end there.

Jenn Salib Huber: 19:44
So that was the first installment in the Deer Diet Culture Diary series and I am going to hopefully try and make this a bit more of a regular one.

Jenn Salib Huber: 19:54
I am always open to suggestions, so if there is a topic that would fall under this umbrella that you would like me to tackle, let me know. I'm also going to include a link to a Google form where you can submit your questions and let's keep this conversation going, but always try and remember that food matters, but it doesn't matter in the way that we have been taught, and a big part of learning to eat intuitively and learning to trust yourself is learning to challenge the beliefs that you have about food, health and nutrition. Thanks for listening. Have a great day.

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.


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