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What's Really Feeding You in Midlife? with Sara Smeaton

gentle midlife health midlife women self-care self-compassion

March 14, 2022
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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 Salib 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 another episode of the midlife feast.

My guest this week is Sarah Smeaton, who is a midlife coach from Ontario, Canada, who helps people not just to figure out their purpose, but also their path. And I connected with Sarah last year, and we had a few conversations around creativity and midlife and how that can nurture us. And I knew that she was going to be the perfect person to talk about how we can feed ourselves in midlife emotionally. And what do we need to really feel like we're living a full life, and not just a life full of things. So please, listen and learn from Sarah as she has some amazing nuggets of wisdom to share with us. I Sarah Well, welcome to the midlife feast.

Sara Smeaton 1:15
Well, thanks for having me again.

Jenn Huber 1:17
I am so excited to have Sarah on the podcast. And Sarah and I met on Instagram, which is where I feel like I have met most of my guests and most of the people that I've connected with and like many of these new friendships, it has become a really meaningful one to me, and that I have learned so much from you just on what you share and in the conversations that we have. And we had a conversation a few months ago about creativity and midlife and how that can kind of add to our experience. And I wanted to bring you on so that we could chat a little bit more along that line, but more specifically about the kinds of things that we need to feed and nourish ourselves emotionally in midlife, which I think a lot of people who are listening to this will really kind of tune into or you know, really resonate with this idea of like there's something missing, but you can't quite put your finger on it.

So I'm gonna just chat a little bit about something that I learned about a while ago, which is the pleasure deficit of midlife, which I'm not sure exactly who coined that term. But I know that it came from this research around happiness, having this U shaped curve, that people at the beginning and the ends of their life are happiest. And that people in the messy middle of life, I guess is a good way to describe it often lack pleasure, happiness, satisfaction, you know, I think there's lots of different ways to describe it. And I think if you talk to people in this stage of life, which is where I am, and I think you're still around here, too, it's busy. There's a lot going on whether you have children or not, chances are you have people in your life who are asking a lot of you whether that's career related, family related, life related, and I think it often leaves us feeling like something is missing. So what are your thoughts on that? Yeah,

Sara Smeaton 3:12
so I think there's a bit of a reorientation that happens in midlife. And I don't know, when it happens, I think it varies for people. But you know, that study, I think, said 42 is the real bottom of the curve. And I, you know, it can happen before that or after that. But I think there's this moment of reorienting, to say, Wait a second, how am I spending my time? Is it meaningful? Is it fulfilling is am I doing what I was meant to do? Who am I actually, and who am I becoming? And I think that's part of that reason for that feeling of dissatisfaction. Because for so many people, they've checked every box. And they're still feeling this kind of longing or yearning and they can't name it. And there's no permission really to explore it. And there's no more boxes left.

Jenn Huber 4:06
Yeah, and that also ties into my good friend, Dr. Sarah Bailey, who's another naturopath. She talks about the emotional experience of midlife and and I've quoted this 1000 times. So forgive me if anyone listening has heard me say this. But, you know, this perfect example of how, as our estrogen levels are changing our ability and capacity to give of ourselves to others changes. So you know, estrogen is the hormone, that nerve that drives us to nurture things, whether that's a garden, whether that's a child, whether that's a relationship, in a very, I think like a biologically driven way, not that we're biological machines that are capable of thinking outside of our biology, but there's a bit of a mechanism there at play.

And as those hormone levels start to change, I think that our motivation changes and also just our capacity to you know, give of ourselves unconditionally. And so we're, you know, it kind of turns inward, and it's like, what do I want? And what do I need? Yes. And so I think it's a perfect storm of that happening alongside just this, like, really busy time of life.

Sara Smeaton 5:16
So, yeah, yes, yeah. Yeah, I think that's right. And I think there's a lot of conditioning, especially for women, especially for women, our age to the, you know, sacrifice themselves to the people in their lives, to take on all the things to you know, and we do, as he said, we have obligations, we have responsibilities in all kinds of different facets of our life. And then there's these really oppressive shoulds that I think,

Jenn Huber 5:44
yeah, the patriarchal programming, the programming,

Sara Smeaton 5:48
the societal, the cultural, the family, you know, and then they become these shoulds in our heads that we think are ours. And we just either do the things we think we should do, and are dissatisfied, or we don't do them when we feel guilty or shameful. Because we're not good. Yeah. And so that I think, adds to the perfect storm to that. It's just like, by the time we've gotten to midlife, the shoulds are just stacking up.

Jenn Huber 6:17
Absolutely. And you know, that the analogy of like, what balls are going to drop, like, some have to drop, right, you know, we can't continue to sacrifice ourselves. Nor should we have to, but you know, even even when we want to our capacity to be constantly juggling all the things at our own expense is has changed has shifted. Yes. And you know, the shoulds are something that shows up, I think, in every aspect of life, and I know, you know, with with the work that I do around food and nutrition, it comes up in every conversation, what should I have versus what do I want? Yeah, and I think we can expand even just that dichotomy to so many pieces of life. Oh,

Sara Smeaton 6:59
yes. I mean, those are, what

Jenn Huber 7:01
are the shoulds? Sorry, go ahead. Well, I

Sara Smeaton 7:04
can say the work you do and know, at least my understanding of it from bawling you and being such a huge fan of your work on Instagram. It's like, such a metaphor for the rest of life. Yeah, like, what would it feel like if I stopped starving myself of pleasure of creativity, of find fulfillment? What would it feel like if I stopped letting an industry outside of myself? Tell me what I should look like? Yeah, like, what would it feel like to let my intuition guide me? I mean,

Jenn Huber 7:41
yeah, that's, it would feel easy. Like that's the thing that I you know, I tell people is that it feels like letting go of expectations and rules, and plans is going to feel scary, it feels like you're just going to be free floating. But it's having the tools to tune in, that actually make it intuitive and make it easy. It's really clear where you need to go when you know, what you want is, and when you know, you're looking for our work is

Sara Smeaton 8:12
so similar. It's so interesting, like the actual process of it is so similar.

Jenn Huber 8:21
So tell me about what are the kinds of things that women in midlife are going through that really cause or contribute that emotional depletion, that feeling of I'm just done, because I hear that all the time. You know, I'm just done, whether it's with dieting, whether it's with hating my body, whether it's with the expectations, whether it's the patriarchy, whatever it is, it's just like, I'm emotionally spent. So what leads to that? How can we change

Sara Smeaton 8:55
it over? All the things right, all the things that we've already talked about the patriarchy, the expectations, that we're supposed to be able to be everywhere, be everything to everybody, and also look hot? And, you know, it's just an impossible standard that's been set. So of course, we're done. But I think there's something else, there's like a shift of the lens here. And it's like, if I don't, if I'm done, and if I don't focus on these things anymore, what is actually possible for me, and I think that's the piece that doesn't get talked about a lot.

But there's an opportunity and an invitation in my life that doesn't get talked about that, you know, if you are to listen to that intuition of doneness, and that this actually doesn't fit me anymore, and that this map has run out that I've been following, and that I get to actually now become the cartographer of my own choices in my own life. What becomes available that's so powerful and that doesn't get talked about.

Jenn Huber 9:58
Yeah, well And also just what is the cost of not saying yes to that, you know, what, what are what potential are you sacrificing? Like, what is the future that you're saying no to? By not even giving that possibility a chance? Right. Yeah. You know, and I think that for a lot of us, who have maybe even felt comfortable in those roles that were expected of us, like, you know, a lot of times people say, I didn't resent staying home with my kids. I didn't resent, you know, making that sacrifice. I'm glad I did it, I wouldn't do it any differently. But I feel that something is missing because of it. And I think that's a really hard thing for people to reconcile that it is still the choice they would have made. It's still something they're happy they did. And yet, they're not okay with maybe what was sacrificed as a result of it. So interesting. Yeah, you know, and it's kind of like, I run into this conversation, it like in a sideways kind of parallel way, when I'm talking about, you know, people's history and relationship with food. And so people will say, I know that all the dieting that I did in the past, has damaged me, like, I know that it has really messed with my head.

And I know that that's the reason why I don't trust myself. And yet, I wish that I could go back there. I wish that I could still do that. You know, because there was some there was a level I think of acceptance and comfort of fulfilling that expectation. And that is a hard thing, I think, to realize that fulfilling someone else's expectations of you may feel good in the moment, because you're feeling good about the situation. But upon reflection, it didn't nourish you, it didn't feed you, it didn't actually help you to grow as a person. I don't know if that makes sense. But I feel like it's a parallel conversation to one I have around looking back nostalgically one past event or past part of our life. So

Sara Smeaton 12:02
yeah, this is really interesting. Because, you know, as you were talking about staying at home, I stayed home with my kids. I don't regret that that was a choice that was really came from a deep place of values and alignment and privilege. And, you know, joy for me. Did I love every single second of it? No, were they super hard? Stressful years? Yes. But I don't regret that. And that for sure. There are parallel roads that I could have taken that would lead me somewhere else. But I never think any experiences wasted. You know, I never think it's too late. And I never think it's like what I'm doing now. I might not have been doing I might not have been doing that. If I had gone down some other roads. Yeah, I have no regrets. I don't feel like anything was sacrificed. I feel like it's all compost for the person I'd become. Oh,

Jenn Huber 12:53
I love that. Yeah. Oh, I love that compost for the person I've become because you're right. I mean, I, you know, wouldn't, I wouldn't be here doing the work that I was doing. If I hadn't spent 25 years and diet culture personally and professionally. Right. Exactly. And so I think that for anyone who feels maybe that like their the choices that they felt stuck in or feel stuck in, if they feel you know, regret to reminiscence? How can they move past that?

How can they like, let's say somebody's like, you know what, I'm 40 and screw it, I want to live my life. How can they start to think about putting some of that into action? Without feeling like they're letting someone down? Because I think ultimately, that's what holds a lot of people back from making those. Those decisions that are serving them is I don't want to let someone down. I don't want to, you know, let someone's expectations of me change. How do we how do we get out of those shoulds? Because that's ultimately a should conversation. Yeah,

Sara Smeaton 13:56
I mean, the shoulds I think we really do have to be with the shoulds. And I have a word that I use that works really well for for your midlife feast, if we have to metabolize them. Like, we actually have to work with them. So oftentimes, I think the shoulds run almost like a tape in the background. Right? You should work out you should be cleaning your house, you should be getting a promotion, you should be quitting your job you should like there's just this like yammering behind us. So it's like okay, one at a time, take each shed and examine it and see what's there for you because the thing about the shoulds are they come from a place of of inner judgment, but that inner judgment is usually not actually authentic to you. It's been internalized right.

So it's, it's coming from somewhere else. Okay, so I should eat a salad, whatever that is like well, who says what do I want to eat or salad like, what it makes me feel good as as a race. So it's the same for all our choices begin and small, I think as we first we have to start there. And the other thing that I work on with my clients, one on one, but also I run groups for midlife women, as we always say, we don't start with the shoulds, we start with what's important to me, what do I care about? Because it's really important to have that as an anchor.

Jenn Huber 15:21
Yeah. Because your values should be able to fit your life and then your life should fit your values, right? Like, there should be a, you know, an interplay there that if something is important to you, you want to make it happen. But at the same time, it also kind of fits into your life, right? Yeah. Yeah.

Sara Smeaton 15:39
So like, let's, let's just, for example, can I just give you a quick example? So an example is I highly value connection, connection with other people connect with myself connection with nature, whatever that looks like for you. And then you have all these shoulds? I should be cleaning my house, I should be eating a salad, I should be 20 pounds lighter, like, just line them up? Like, does? Does it fit into your value of connection? How does it honor your value of connection to do those things? Usually it doesn't. And if it does, then it's not a should it's a choose?

Jenn Huber 16:15
That's a great, great tool. While that's really I think that's really powerful to really kind of see if it's lining up. Because often, I think I think we do that for a lot of our shoulds. They won't, they won't line up,

Sara Smeaton 16:33
they won't. And then when? Well, sorry, you just said you asked the question, how do we do it without letting people down? I think we have to let people down sometimes.

Jenn Huber 16:43
Yep, that's me, too.

Sara Smeaton 16:46
I think that the notion that we can't let people down or shouldn't let people down is a lie. That leads to the emotional depletion and physical depletion of women. Yeah. So

Jenn Huber 16:58
yeah, absolutely. One of the shoulds that are the value conversations around food that often comes up is, you know, when we're talking about ditching rules and things like that, one of the ones that sometimes gets a little bit messy in the middle is when people are choosing not to eat animals, for ethical reasons. You know, if that's your value, and then you know, then you do have to kind of have some rules in place, right. But if you're at the same time trying to make that choice, own or, you know, primarily about lining that value up, it can be hard to kind of separate out the, well, I should eat this, like, there could still be a hierarchy that shows up where like people will often you know, also have a value of wanting to eat foods primarily that are local sourced, and, you know, or organic for reasons other than, you know, wellness, culture beliefs. And so, I think that there's a lot of, there's a lot of messy middles that come up when we're trying to really examine, like, Is this something I want? Yeah. Or is this a should? And, you know, if it's a should there's, there's some unpacking, sometimes that needs to be done. They're like, why do you believe

Sara Smeaton 18:11
that? Yeah, because there's always a belief, right? Always a belief behind the shed? Always. Yeah. 100% That's so interesting about all the rules I had about eating went out the door when I actually started living.

Jenn Huber 18:26
Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah. And I think that, that a lot of people realize that a lot of the rules that they have put in place, have come with the promise of a destination or a feeling or, but you never actually arrived just by following those rules. You know, it's like, I call the numbers like false prophets. Because, you know, they promise you that when you get to this number, and you get to this size, and you do this thing, you know, that everything will fall into place. You know, like for people who've done keto I, you know, I call that net, Grunt, that net carb thing, calculation, a false prophet, because there's nothing comfortable about staying under 25 grams of net carbs a day, like, do not arrive in this place where you don't want to eat anymore, you don't arrive in this place where all of a sudden, the food that you enjoy doesn't look enjoyable.

You just arrive in a place where you're constantly living in fear of going over a number. And so, you know, I think that when we're talking about how do we create a life that is livable, you know, we really have to think about, you know, what am I doing to get there? And if I've been doing something for 25 years, and I haven't arrived, it's probably not going to work for the next 25 Like, we shouldn't just keep doing the same thing over and over again, right.

Sara Smeaton 19:50
Yeah, it's so it's so interesting because of what I'm what's coming up for me as you're talking is how the patterns that play out in one way area of our life It will play out and others. So, absolutely right. So if I am restricting myself and punishing myself and trying to keep myself small in one area, where else am I doing that?

Jenn Huber 20:13
Yes, that's like I've got shivers just thinking

Sara Smeaton 20:17
about it too. And then, you know, conversely, if I give myself freedom and let my intuition, intuition guide me, and am creative and curious, in one part of my life, where else does that invitation? Show up?

Jenn Huber 20:33
Wow, again, more shivers. I love that. So thinking about how can we feed ourselves emotionally? How can we feed all the feelings that often come up? As we explore this pleasure deficit messy middle, you know, you know, just kind of coming full stop at this place and, and having the opportunity to maybe change what we've done and how we've done it and who we've done it for? What are some things that women who are looking to feast on midlife can feed themselves with emotionally?

Sara Smeaton 21:10
Well, I think even before that, I think there's a little bit of a step before that of just huge self compassion, because there's this tendency to be like, Oh, sadly, I'm just doing this for the first time now. Or, I've wasted all these years or so. So, so much self compassion is needed in order to make change at any age, but especially once you're pretty entrenched, right? So I work with women to befriend themselves, and to take care of themselves in the way they've been taking care of others, and to be in tune with their own bodies. I think there's been so much of a wedge between us and our bodies, and like, shutting our bodies all our lives. And so it's like, actually, if I make friends with my body, what does it have to tell me?

And what are its messages and what its guidance? I mean, it's actually chilling when you stop and listen to the body, what it will tell you. So there's, I think there's that step. And then from there, there's this real like, what will I not tolerate anymore? Where am I abandoning abandoning myself that I don't want to anymore? So what are the boundaries that come with that? So I think before we can even, I mean, obviously, you can go and try all kinds of things. But when they're in these, these really important parts, you're supporting yourself. You've got your own back, you're saying, okay, like, I've got you, you can do this, like, whatever you want to explore and be curious about is good. Like, go try it. So to answer your original question, how do we feed ourselves? I think the first thing really is getting curious.

Like, the same way you might tell someone to like try different foods in the grocery store. It's like, well, what is out here for me? Yeah, sound here for me, like, do I want to take a class? Do I want to, you know, learn something new? Do I want to try something different? Is there an activity? Or is there like, journaling? Or, you know, there's a million little things that we can try just like small, small shifts? And then it's really about checking in? How did that feel? What was good about that? Did it energize me? Did it deplete me? How can I change that next time? So I think there's small things we can do, but really carving out time for ourselves and saying, I was not put on this earth, to make other people happy to please other people. My body wasn't put on her for that reason. My mind wasn't put on her for that reason, my soul wasn't. So what am I here for? And what do I want to experience? And what do I want to contribute? I mean, it's world changing stuff. Pretty powerful. Yeah.

Jenn Huber 23:57
And I think that those are questions that many people have never asked themselves, you know, they have followed the path that is expected of them on the timeline that was expected, hitting the landmarks that were expected. And, you know, I use this expression in my work where, you know, we have to focus on the process, not the outcome. Because the process is like it. That's that's the goal. It's actually the process. And so it's that series of little experiments. It's that being curious. And so when we have this, you know, expectation that life is a goal and a destination and you know, these checkboxes that we're checking off, we kind of lose the living in the life. Right, and it's yeah, do

Sara Smeaton 24:39
you remember, I posted a while ago on Instagram about desire paths? Do you remember that?

Jenn Huber 24:45
I think so. Yeah, but remind us and remind the listeners. So

Sara Smeaton 24:48
when you're walking, let's say through a park and there's a paved walkway, or like you're going to a government building and there's a paved walkway. But you'll notice in the grass So there's these paths that have been created by people's footsteps because it makes more sense to go that way or it's easier. It's a shortcut. And you can see if you're a city planner, you can see where the where the sidewalks are, that pathway should be based on where people's footsteps. So I really feel like it's interesting that those are called desire paths.

And it's like there's this paved walkway, that they're saying walk here. And people are like, actually, no, walk this way. And so there's, there's the people who take the first steps. And then there's the people who walk in those people steps. And, you know, it's like, repetition of those steps is what causes the desire path. So I always think about that. And I think about who are you? Are you the person on the paid path? Are you the person taking the first steps across the grass that have not, you know, like charting that new course? Or are you somebody who's like, oh, that really looks interesting that that person's going, I might try that. And so one of the things I think we can do is like see who is doing things a little differently? Who is doing something in midlife that you're like, oh, that's, I didn't know that that was an option. Like, it's not necessarily that you want to do exactly that same thing, but what's in it for you, like, just get curious about what's here for me? What's here for me,

Jenn Huber 26:26
I love that. And I think that that's a great place to end this conversation. Because I think that we've given people a lot of food for thought, a lot to metabolize and digest. As you you know, if you're listening to this, and you feel like you're in this place where life is fine, there's nothing wrong, you know, all the pieces are in the right places. And yet, there's something missing. I encourage you to take her as advice. So Sarah, as I always ask my guests, what do you think is the missing ingredient in midlife?

Sara Smeaton 27:02
I really think that it's a narrative that gives us hope, and that focuses on profitability. I think we are fed a lie about aging and a lie about midlife that then becomes our perspective and our beliefs and create shifts. So what I think is missing is a news story about the promise in the life and the power that is actually there.

Jenn Huber 27:32
It's about changing that programming. I love it. Oh, my goodness. Thank you. Thank you so much, Sarah. And for anybody who wants to learn more about Sarah's amazing work, you can check the show notes were all have links. And yeah, and please do check out Sarah's work on the power years, which is her signature work around helping you know, women to and people to discover, you know, the best years of their life. Yeah. Thank you so much for joining us, Sara.

Sara Smeaton 27:59
Thank you for having me. It was so much fun.

Jenn Huber 28:03
Thanks for tuning in to this episode of the midlife feast. If you're looking for help with menopause nutrition or just want to figure out how to make peace with food on midlife. Check the show notes so you can learn about how to work with me and sign up for one of my group programs. And just a reminder that beyond the scale, my most popular group program will be starting up again in May and registration opens mid March. So make sure to get on the waiting list if you'd like to be the first to hear about it.


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