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Food Is Not Medicine & Other Ways to Lower the Bar

intuitive eating menopause nutrition midlife self-care

You might think that after 25 years of studying nutrition, I’ve mastered almost everything there is to know. You would also be very wrong because this field is one that is constantly evolving. But there’s one thing I know with absolute certainty: As incredible as food is at nourishing, supporting, and fueling our bodies, food alone cannot save your life. Food is not medicine. It’s just food. This is why I am so passionate about helping people understand that lowering the bar when it comes to our nutritional choices can actually make the biggest impact on our health in the long run. 


Here are five practical tips to empower you to lower the bar and still feel confident about your food choices.

 1. Always ask the question: Does your filter or food rule result in you adding in more foods or taking away foods? If the only foods you put on your plate are no-sugar or low-calorie, they are also likely going to be less enjoyable and less nourishing. So if your food rule results in you eating something less often, we can assume the rule is probably not serving you. Lowering the bar allows you to add in foods easily and more often, even if it means a few extra grams of sugar.

2. Let “good enough” be the default. Ideally, we can meal plan, shop, and prepare food that meets all our hunger and nutritional goals. But we have to make space for real life and plan B without a side of shame spiraling. Instead of making “perfect” choices for every meal, focus more on making the best choice with the resources you have at that moment (which most often is time). Practicing self-compassion in this way allows you to prioritize how you spend your mental energy daily.

3. Food is only one slice of the pie that is your health. Health is influenced by several factors such as genetics, environment, sleep, economics, and access to healthcare. Is all of your time and energy spent on food and exercise? There’s a cap to the return on investment when we only focus on these two slices of the pie. We have to make sure we are adding time and energy to all the factors that contribute to our health.

4. Commit to the process, not the outcome. We need to be less concerned about the monthly weight loss goal or impacting our next set of blood draws and more concerned with choosing foods that help us feel good in our bodies, even if those foods don’t give us a specific desired outcome. When we can take a long view of our health, we have more freedom to pay attention to hunger and fullness cues and understand what foods support our mood and energy levels. 

5. All foods can fit. In order to truly make peace with food, we have to let go of the belief that there is one “right” way to eat. A perfect example of this is when doctors suggest an anti-inflammatory diet. While these diets are typically high in protein and fiber, that doesn’t automatically mean that sugar is inflammatory. You can absolutely make room for the protein, veggies, and ice cream for dessert a few times a week and still be supporting your body in the best ways.  



Jenn Salib 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 Selena 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. Hi there. Welcome to the last episode of season three of the midlife feast. This is Episode 76, which is crazy. It's crazy that I've recorded 76 episodes in less than two years. But it has been an awesome ride. And I'm really excited to tell you about season four. But first, let's talk about why food isn't medicine, and other ways that I can help you lower the bar, which I know is a bit of a funny title. I think anybody who has worked with me or knows me knows that those are actually things that I say often. But if you're somewhat new to the podcast, and you're thinking why is a dietitian and a naturopathic doctor saying that food is not medicine, I definitely want you to listen. So like most podcasts, this one has been living in the notes in my phone for a while. I've shared before that my podcasting process is kind of organized chaos, and that I have all kinds of ideas. And they usually live as a note on my phone until one day, they kind of come together as an episode. And then I make it happen. But I actually thought it would be a nice season finale, as we get ready to take a little break over the summer, to kind of wrap up what I feel like some is a movement, I should say, not just with me, but just kind of overall to somewhat take the pressure off of food. But the first note came after an interview that I did with someone. And they were interviewing me and at the end, were asking me about my credentials, which led to a discussion about the fact that I've been studying nutrition since 1995. And that I've been a dietitian for almost 25 years now. So she made a comment to the effect of wow, you must feel like you know everything there is to know about nutrition. And I laughed. Because I think is anyone with experience in anything will tell you the longer you do something, the less you know anything with absolute certainty. And I don't even think I can accurately describe how much has changed in the field of nutrition since I started in 1995. For example, dietary fat is no longer something that we fear. You know, when I first started studying, if something was fat free, it was awesome. Even if it was you know, made with lots of things that had to be added to it to make it that way, it was still considered a good choice or the better choice even a less DRA you know, the famous ingredient that would essentially make it impossible or difficult to absorb fat, which had some very unpleasant consequences. Digestive Lee isn't a thing never really took off. We know more arguably about the influence of nutrition on things like IBS and heart disease and what we should eat. But I think in many ways, we actually know less about how to eat, which is why I love intuitive eating so much and the framework that it provides, because it does exactly that it teaches us to take the best of what to eat, and reconnects us with this intuitive way of knowing how to eat. So getting back to this idea of food is medicine. Obviously the idea of food as medicine has been around for a long time. I think the quote is attributed to Hippocrates. But it took on a whole new meaning at some point over the last couple of decades. It was definitely something that I used to say a lot used to believe a lot. And while we've known for a while, obviously that diet and lifestyle can have pretty big impacts on health. I don't think anyone is arguing that there has been this concept or definition of lifestyle diseases, and that is a relatively new term. And so what that means as it applies to a number of conditions that are thought to be caused or cured by the choices that a person makes. And obviously there is a lot of truth there. But it's resulted in this tremendous amount of pressure on individuals to make the quote right choices. And it has resulted in this morality being applied to food that I don't think helps us to make The choices that we want to make more often in the long term. And it brings in this whole big shame spiral around if someone actually gets that lifestyle disease. And did they cause it? Is it their fault? Do we have a personal responsibility to try everything we can to avoid condition XYZ. That might be a little bit outside the scope of this podcast. But what I'm trying to get at is, this is where I think this food is medicine, philosophy really took hold. But food isn't medicine. And it's not fair to anyone or food to make the comparison, because the only thing that food can cure is hunger. So as I often joke, we need to let our vegetables off the hook. Because food is food. It is different, it can nourish us, it can support our health in immeasurable ways. And of course, Food Matters, just not in the way that we've been led to believe. It doesn't have to be perfect food does not have to be perfect. So what I want to give you with today, leave you with today and at the end of this season is five practical tips to lower the bar, so that you can actually improve your health and nutrition with food. So the first is, does your filter or food rule result in you adding in more foods, or taking away foods. So I'm gonna give you an example with Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is one of my favorite foods. It's a great source of protein. Calcium has good bacteria, it's quick, it's filling, it's satisfying. It's portable, you can eat it as it is you can add things to it, you can cook with it, you can freeze it. I think it's great. It's always in my fridge. I think I have it almost every day.

Jenn Salib Huber 7:07
And when I'm talking to women in midlife, and we're trying to add in foods, because that's the other gentle nutrition philosophies that we try and add in as often as we can. And we talk about Greek yogurt, they'll often say, Yeah, but the only one that I like is the vanilla or the strawberry or whatever sweetened one. And I know that that's too high in sugar. And so the bar has been set to no sugar, and maybe even no sugar, low cal yogurts. This might only be a Canadian reference. But does anyone remember when the source yogurts came out? They were like sweetened with aspartame, I think they were 0% fat. And I want to say that they were like 35 calories or something. And I remember that anybody who was doing Weight Watchers or anything was just so excited about the source yogurts. But they weren't filling, they weren't satisfying, they weren't nourishing, we sometimes forget that if it's locale, it's also going to be low nutrient. So if we you know, when people have this bar for Greek yogurt set to no sugar, then they're not getting the nutrition from the Greek yogurt as often because the net result of their food rule is that they have it less often. So I often encourage people to lower the bar and make the choice that is adequate or good enough, and allows them to make that choice more easily and more often. And in the case of Greek yogurt, the benefits of including it more often far outweigh the potential to quote harm of a few extra grams of sugar. Simply put, what has the potential to improve your health in the short term and the long term more, adding in 15 to 18 grams of protein regularly, or avoiding five grams of sugar. So some food for thought there. The second one is let's make good enough the default. This really speaks to the idea of adequacy being the foundation of a healthy relationship with food, not perfection. So if I'm hungry, and I have the ideal set of circumstances to think about plan, prepare a meal that meets my tastes, hunger and all my needs and goals. Great, that's awesome. And it's even awesome if you try and put plans in place to make that happen more often, essentially meal planning, but the reality is that it won't happen as often as I would like to or anyone and I need to have a solid plan B or C or D. That feels good enough that allows me to check the box and just move on. This this often applies or might be relatable to people who are following a really strict diet like people All who are doing low carb or trying to be 100% Sugar free. But it also applies more broadly when we're just trying to make quick good choices. And we find ourselves short on time or just mental energy. And we need to be able to move on from the good enough choice without guilt or shame trusting that we've made the best choice that we could with the resources that we had at the time. In other words, self compassion really needs a seat at your table when it comes to food. And this is a great opportunity to add in things again, that gentle nutrition principle of adding in that might make your life easier and improve your nutrition. At the same time, we've been conditioned to believe that those are at opposite ends that you can't have both, but you really, really can. So sandwiches are such a great example of this. Most people now consider sandwiches to only be okay. Or they might even go so far as to say that they're not healthy. But I'm coming out in defense of sandwiches. So just like oatmeal, I might become the sandwich defender because a sandwich has unlimited potential it can be whatever you want it to be, how many different types of bread can you choose, you can choose bread, that has high fiber, you can choose bread, that is high protein, or you can just choose regular bread, you can add in your protein and fiber. On the inside of the sandwich, of which there are dozens of different protein choices, dozens of different, you know, vegetables that you can add in every culture in the world has a sandwich as fast food because it is good enough. And I'm talking about sandwiches made with bread, I'm not talking about sandwiches on you know, two slices, or two halves of a red pepper, we really need to lower the bar on what is good enough so that we're not draining our mental and emotional energy trying to make the perfect meal. So that's number two. Number three is to remember that food is only one slice of the pie that is your overall health. Health is influenced by genetics, as we know, environment, think air quality, all the fires that have been happening this summer, smog in cities sleep, how much sleep we're getting our social structures, economics, access to health care, movement, health is not a single thing. And I often ask is your time being equally divided? Or are you spending all of your time and energy on just diet and exercise we go through this is an exercise in my group program beyond the scale. And where I you know, I have this pie drawn out. And I have kind of these eight spokes and slices of the pie. And I asked people how much of your pie is devoted to food and diet and exercise. And I don't think that anyone has ever said less than 50%. And some more than some have said that it's 100%. So maybe you actually need to think about food less so that you can devote more time to an energy to things that matter just as much or more. Because the return on investment for food and exercise does have a cap, you can't you know spill over into well, it's okay if I'm getting less sleep. Because I'm getting up at five o'clock to go exercise that the the exercise will negate you know, any effect of the Leslie It doesn't work that way, we need to make sure that we're adding time and energy to all the pieces of the pie. So number four is commit to the process, not the outcome. Again, probably something that regular listeners and people who are in the community will have heard me say before, but what do I mean by this? So remember what I said at the beginning about how we need to spend more time thinking about how not what we eat, we need to make sure that our nutrition goals are playing the long game. So we don't want to decide what to eat just to influence our next set of bloodwork, for example. Nor do we want to make weight loss the only reason that we add in more fiber and protein. We want to choose foods that we enjoy that help us feel good in our body. And that we would want to include even if they didn't give us the intended or hoped for outcome. And I know that this is hard. If I'm being honest, this is actually probably one of the hardest pieces for people to get because we're in such a goal driven society. Do this to get that. And women will often say to me, if I don't believe that something is good for me, I won't eat it. I'll only eat chips and chocolate but it challenge that and say, Is that actually true? I say probably not. Because if we're paying attention to things like how much energy do I have to move my body? You know, in the ways that I enjoy? What's my moon, like, you know, am I able to cope with stressful situations? You know, what's my digestion like, am I bloated and my pooping regularly, if I'm paying attention to all of those things, they wouldn't be great if I was only eating chips and chocolate. So on the flip side, if you really like chips and chocolate, find ways to include them, so that you can do away with the feelings of guilt when you have them. And you can just think about them less in general, this is the thing about moderation that I think can be a bit of a light switch for some people that it takes more time and energy to apply moderation than intuition. So if you can learn to listen to hunger and fullness, and also satisfaction, what you need in your diet or life to be satisfied, you just think about less. So this actually leads me to my last one, which is all foods can fit. Yep, all foods, because the ultimate lowering of the bar comes from letting go of the belief that there's one right way to eat, or that any individual food will kill or cure you. So I'm going to use inflammation as an example. To illustrate this, people will often say, I want to do an anti inflammatory diet, or my doctor has suggested that I look at the anti inflammatory diet.

Jenn Salib Huber 16:36
There is no single diet or food that has met the evidence based criteria as being anti inflammatory. Now, that being said, there are patterns of eating, you could say that's the Mediterranean diet that are associated with less inflammation. But that doesn't mean that sugar is inflammatory. And we want to be able to choose foods that may reduce inflammation more often, and include things that we enjoy often. So you can choose to have fish three times a week, because it may help to, you know, support lower inflammation, and also have your favorite dessert on a Tuesday and a Sunday. So this idea that it has to be that food has to be either or that there's a food hierarchy that there are some foods we should always have and never have isn't the case, we really need to have this unless you're allergic, don't like it, or it has some other effect on you, that doesn't make you feel good in your body. We need to have room at the table for all foods. And all of this is essentially what food freedom and making peace with food is all about which, you know, I'm sure you've heard that saying either from me or other people or seen it elsewhere. And, you know, for women in midlife, I think that this is hard because we grew up in a time. So I'm 46 you know, grew up in that born in 77 grew up in the 80s and 90s. And we grew up in a time when everything we heard was that food was the most important thing you could do. And getting it right was really, really, really important. The end result, though, is that I think we have a generation of women who feel that food is the area of their lives where they feel the least confident. And that makes me sad and angry. And also just motivated to try and change that. Because you know what to eat. I say this all the time that people know what's quote, good for them. We know we should be having balanced plates with protein and fiber, we know that fishes is quote good for us. We know that, you know, eating processed food all the time probably isn't good for us. It's not the what, it's the how. So I really want people to know that you know what to eat, you just need a bit of help, understanding how to eat and to do that, we need to lower the bar. So I hope that this episode has given you some food for thought. I challenge you to lower the bar. And I really believe because I see this all the time that there's a good chance that your health and your relationship with food will improve in the process. So here's a sneak peek at what's coming in season four. So we're going to kick off in September with a few episodes devoted to blood sugar insulin resistance and and dieting, the beliefs and myths around all those things. I have some amazing guests who will be on the podcast and I know that you're going to love this. There's also going to be a regular undated theme. So So that is going to be kind of the theme for many of the solo episodes I'm going to be doing that it's going to address specific nutrition topics like protein or carbohydrates. So the first one that you'll see come out in September is on dieted protein, so on dieting beliefs and myths about protein. And this is super fun. We're still working out all the details, but keep an eye out for the chance to have your questions answered on the podcast. But for now, have an amazing summer if you're in the northern hemisphere, have a lovely fall and winter if you're anywhere else in the southern hemisphere, and if you're looking for any help managing midlife and menopause, without dieting, food rules and all the things that we're trying to get away from, know that you can join the midlife feast community anytime you can dive into my dieters guide to Intuitive Eating course along with an entire learning library of information and recipes designed to help you thrive in midlife, including an awesome community of women who are in the same place. That's all for now. See you in September. 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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