Story Session: The Mindset Shifts Laura Needed to Embrace Food Freedom
Anyone else looking for the exit on the dieting rollercoaster that you’ve been riding for decades? In this week’s episode, I sat down for an inspiring Story Session with Laura, a seasoned dieter turned whole-hearted advocate for intuitive eating. What she shares is that this new lifestyle was not just about what she put on her plate, but the freedom and joy that came when she shifted her mindset around food.
You’ll likely relate to Laura’s journey of 40 years of dieting, starting with her first attempt at age 11, and years of weight struggles with the likes of household names like Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem. With the marketing and design of these programs, it was so easy to buy into the lie that there was such a thing as the perfect diet. You just had to want the results bad enough.
One of the biggest challenges of embracing intuitive eating is to stop equating it with “giving up”. Laura spilled the beans on her past eating habits and how she's now all about balanced meals that satisfy more than just the taste buds. She shares how she learned that shifting from a restrictive diet doesn't mean ditching the idea of nutrition. It's about granting yourself the freedom to relish food while ensuring your body gets the nourishment it needs. Food is more than fuel; it's a source of pleasure, a way to connect with others, and a gesture of love.
Laura so beautifully articulated the liberating feeling of giving herself permission to enjoy food. She emphasized how dining out and treats can be part of a healthy relationship with food. For her, this shift has been a game-changer, significantly improving her overall well-being. The joy she finds in simple treats is a testament to how intuitive eating transformed her relationship with food.
But as Laura points out in our conversation, trying to navigate an un-dieting journey solo can be tricky. Being able to share both the cheers and challenges in community will help you recognize that you’re in good company in the messy middle, and see how great life is on the other side. Join us in the Midlife Feast community if you could use more people like Laura in your corner!
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why decision fatigue was becoming unbearable for Laura
- Why a weight “fix” you can buy is not sustainable
- How Laura would avoid eating socially at all costs
- Why Laura was sure intuitive eating would never work
- What foods Laura has welcomed back on her plate
Introduction to Laura's Journey
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 Jen 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, laura, welcome to the Midlife Feast.
Hey, jen, thanks so much for having me. So this is a story session that I've been really excited to talk about, because you have a dieting turned undiating story that I think will be really relatable for anybody listening and I think will help people to see the process not only the payoff, if we want to call it that, but the process of going from I need to control my food or diet or eat according to a plan for my health, to realizing that there are so many other ways, other than dieting, that we can work to improve how we feel in our bodies and about our bodies. So why don't you just kind of start a little bit with where did you come from? You know, before our paths cross, where were you coming from in the in the dieting wellness world?
Early Dieting Influences
Sure, thank you. It's an area that I would love to be able to help people with, because I thought it would have been impossible to escape from. You know, my dieting story is more than 40 years long. So, maybe for context for people you know I'll share. I'm 53 years old and I'm in really good health. My dieting story, basically, when I look back, I can see in school pictures that I started being a little bit overweight around grade three. You know, when you start to see those differences, I can see it and I was put on my first diet when I was in grade six, so at 11 years old my mom went on a diet and so everybody in the house went on a diet and I was.
I think it was the first time that I ever really thought about food or my body or anything was not okay. And all of a sudden it became very monitored and controlled, and to my mom's credit, you know. Unfortunately for her, this meant she was doing that monitoring and controlling for everybody in the household and it was Weight Watchers back in the day. So it very much instilled the. This is good food. This is not good food. This is how much you should have. You should not have more than this. And and back in the day, it literally involved checking the boxes right and having a little tracker and you had to have pictures. Yeah, yeah, you know exactly, and I think that mindset really, really stuck with me, even though, you know, as I'll explain, I explored a lot of different kinds of things.
So I think that that first diving into dieting, I very much had this idea that we'll all just get the weight off once and then I would gain it again, like I wasn't learning anything about nutrition, I wasn't learning anything about activity, and so everybody in my house lost some weight and then we went back to how we were eating and I just gained the weight again. So and in high school, you know, sort of hovered around that, maybe a little bit heavy, like I I really hesitate to even describe it that way but it was more how I felt about it and how I, how I sensed it. You know I think I have thank you Jen, very much you know better acceptance of all body types, but that you know, that's how I felt about myself at the time. So through high school, a little bit of on again, off again, mostly just around food restriction at that point in time because I wasn't being exposed to anything that looked like activity or any other kinds of diet. So in my world at home as a young person, you know you were on Weight Watchers or it was a free for all, all or nothing.
Jenn Salib Huber: 4:31
Yes, yeah, absolutely.
Exploring Different Diets
So I think that's another piece that really stuck with me. You know, you were controlling it or you were not controlling it, so you were a good size or you were not a good size. Yeah, that's how it felt to me for a long time, and then I started to explore a lot of different options. You know, as I got a little bit older and I had more control over what I was eating, how I was eating, I actually I don't know if you remember back in the day Nutrisystem- oh yes.
Yes, and if you want to talk about disordered eating, all of your food came out of a package that you bought from them. It was tiny portions, I believe. All that you added to the packaged food was a tablespoon of wheat germ in a whole day. That was it, and of course that was really significant restriction and I lost weight, and so that was the goal of. That was when I was getting married in my early 20s you know to be the smaller size for that timeframe and I, at least at that point, started to explore activity a little bit. So you know, my parents don't have any type of activity that they do, you know, whether it's walking or nothing that ever really appealed to them. So I didn't, I didn't ever see that as part of my day to day. So I started to explore a little bit more at that point and then I, you know, again it was this sense of controlling or not controlling, and so I would control it for a period of time and then it would drive me crazy and I'd have to take a break from it and I would not control it, and so my weight was constantly kind of doing that roller coaster.
And after my daughter was born, when I was about 24 years old. It's funny I, as I tell you the story, I reflect on it really differently because at the point I thought this is it, like I get it. I'm looking at this little baby. I want her to just grow up in a house where people are normal eaters and just to see people having some activity and eating normally and have some comfort with food that I had not had at that point in time. And in reality, that is not what she saw growing up. She saw me exploring. Being vegetarian Would that help me control my weight? Being vegan Would that help me control my weight?
I really was all over the place trying a lot of different kinds of things. I followed a keto diet religiously for quite a number of years, so many, many years of exploring lots of different kinds of things and always with this idea of controlling it or not controlling it. The only way to be healthy is to really, really rigidly control, and I think I had had a couple of years. By the point you and I connected and I learned about you on another podcast. I started to follow your material. I think at that point I talked about how I ate is very templated, because I could have this thing for breakfast and this thing for lunch and this small snack and basically no supper, and I wouldn't be gaining weight.
So, if I just sort of followed that template every day, it could take some of the thinking out of it for me. The decision fatigue yeah, the decision fatigue, absolutely. You know, and I'm a busy person, we're all busy people, I have a busy job, and so the decision fatigue was absolutely an important part of it for me to just try to eliminate all the thinking about food. And if I just stick with this, this will work, this will be fine. And again, I just got sick of it. I just was so restricted, I spent so much of the day hungry and I thought there's just got to be an easier way than this. I think I always had this idea there's people there that get it and I just don't get it yet. Or there is a perfect diet and I just haven't found it yet.
Motherhood and Changing Perspectives on Dieting
Jenn Salib Huber: 8:46
But that's what diet culture, I think, instills in us that there's something wrong with us if it's not working, or that we haven't tried hard enough, we haven't looked hard enough, we just don't want it enough, or that there's something fundamentally wrong with us which, if we go back to kind of what you said about, you know, you remember your body changing in grade three, which you know you would have been nine or 10, and for girls that's a pretty typical age when we start to go through those early puberty changes.
And what most people don't realize and it's such a common story that people say I went on my first diet at 10, 11, 12, sometimes much younger than that but what we don't? Well, what we know now, but what I think everyone needs to know, is that our body needs to, you know, increase the percentage of body fat significantly in order to be able to menstruate. So everybody changes as we go through puberty.
But it's often the first time when we internalize the fear of a body getting bigger and it's often the first time when the people around us start to comment on it, start to try and change it, and often very well intentioned, Like that's the thing. I think that it's almost always well intentioned when parents try and help their kids when their bodies are changing, but what it's really saying is there's something wrong with your body and we need to fix it. And because diets don't work in the way that we've been led to believe, the fix doesn't exist. You can't start a diet, get to a certain weight and then just maintain that forever. It just doesn't work that way.
Like saying, as I now know, yes, but it took a really, really long time to understand that and believe that. And I just want to reflect back on what you said, because I think that type of understanding about the changes that our bodies are supposed to go through and what's normal, I think we need to get that information out there sooner, right, as parents of kids.
If we had that better understanding of what's normal and what's happening, I think that's really important education to have and I think, as you said, parents are always trying to do their best for their kids, and I know my mom's mindset was like I want to help her nip this in the bud so she doesn't grow up with the same kind of challenges that I had. Yeah, and I think you're also very right, Like when I say that I was starting to be a bit heavier in grade three. I don't have any memory of that or caring about that. I only know because I look back at pictures now. But at the time I didn't care. It didn't bother me, it was just my body. Thank you.
Jenn Salib Huber: 11:30
Yeah, yeah. And then the Nutra system comment. You know that really reflected this, the mentality or the mindset in the late 80s, early 90s, that there was like a fix you could buy, whether it was Nutra system, slim Fast, jenny Craig, whatever it was that their weight watchers like that there was a fix and you just had to buy it and do it and that would be the end of it. You know, and I think that for our generation and you know anybody, I think, who was dieting in the 80s or 90s it set us up with this like really false expectation about what food should be.
Because you're right, like anything that came in a package that you ate only exclusively was clearly never going to be normal and real eating, right. But it set us up for this expectation that like that that could be a way, when you know we could never maintain that financially for one, but also just realistically because you're not going to take a package of food out for your birthday Like, right, you're going to go to a restaurant and you have to know how to eat essentially, yeah, so so now you know you're through your 20s and you're, you know you're kind of chugging along. You mentioned, you know that you were on keto for a long time.
But I also want to touch on this feeling that I think comes up a lot in midlife, which is this I call it the gift of midlife the inability to do things that no longer feel right, and for so many people, that is I don't want to control everybody to food anymore this doesn't feel good. Can you tell me a bit more about kind of how that feeling came about and what changed and what prompted the change?
The Gift of Midlife and Letting Go of Control
I think within I think that was really diplomatically put and I think within the midlife East community, which I really strongly encourage people to consider, because it has been such a huge support for me, support from you, support from lots of life-minded individuals for like, anything to do with menopause and for intuitive eating. I think there's a common theme there and we would call that more like no more shits to give right, yeah, and you, you have this opportunity to start thinking about yourself first, putting yourself first, and I think with the food it caused so many rippling impacts because it was something I had to think about all the time.
I was really uncomfortable if I had to eat out socially like I would usually try to avoid those situations entirely, and you picked a great example because this week happened to have a couple of different social things that are happening in it and I would have skipped them in the past or I would have eaten before, I would have brought my own food, anything that I could do to kind of avoid having to eat outside of the right food. I say in air quotes and I think for me, just realizing that I was done with that, I want to have a better, easier day and I think and I'm sure we'll talk more about this but a lot of the conversations with you have really helped open my eyes around the fact and this sounds really silly in hindsight but food isn't just about nourishing your body.
It nourishes your soul and your heart and it can be fun to cook fun things and it was really easy for me to recognize for other people that I love to cook, so I love to feed people, I love to make them things that they, that they like, and I love to introduce them to new things. And I didn't give myself that flexibility. So I think starting wanting to have some ease, wanting to have some flexibility, is what really drove needing to make some changes. It takes a lot of time and brain power to be so rigid and how you're eating and really does want to have an easier day.
Undieting: Thinking Less About Food and Body
Jenn Salib Huber: 15:36
Yeah, I mean food has to be. I mean, people have heard me say this, you've probably heard me say this a million times, but we have to make decisions about food every single day of our life, multiple times a day, often for other people, often in imperfect situations that we can't control. But the need to eat is a non negotiable human biological need, and so, you know, when we start to think about it as like, okay, I need to do this, but how can I make it enjoyable?
Because it's also a moment of pleasure. It's an opportunity to meet other needs needs for connection by eating with other people, needs for creativity. I love to cook too, and you know I joke that I'm, you know, food is my love language and I'm done totally a storyteller with food. If someone, someone needs anything, I'm like I'm there with food because it's how I like to connect. But when you're following a set of food rules, I think it disconnects us from that. You know like I remember when I was doing keto, I would make people things that weren't keto and I would bring it to them and they'd say like, oh, have some with me.
And I'd say, no, I can't because I'm keto. The irony of it now that I would make them like this beautiful cake or this like beautiful lasagna, but I wouldn't have any of it, you know. And so that disconnect that it creates between who we actually are and who we're trying to be, I think, is what gets really uncomfortable and we just can't. We can't do that any longer. We just have to be who we are, in whatever way that is.
That is an interesting thing to play back to you too, because you use the phrase. You know who you're trying to be and in hindsight, all I was trying to be was thin Yep. You know that was such a huge goal and, I'll be honest, like now, it feels pretty irrelevant. You know I have to tell you a funny story because part of my journey has really involved, you know, thinking, thinking less about food, thinking less about weight, getting away from the scale. I used to get weighed every day and now I get weighed, you know, occasionally.
I think I definitely need to be adjusting to my sense of my body and once in a while, you know, it's a nice check just to see what it is, and I think I just have a better idea of, like, what does this scale tell me? It really only tells me how much my body weighs. I get that. It doesn't tell me if I'm going to have a good day or if I'm going to have a bad day. But this week was kind of funny because I happened to get weighed and it actually told me something useful because, unbeknownst to me, this scale wished me happy birthday and I thought, well, there's a useful thing that a scale can do for you. There you go there's now. It's got two purposes, that's it.
Jenn Salib Huber: 18:27
And happy birthday, thanks, thanks. So you said something that I want to come back to, because I think this is a good place for us to pick up what undiating actually is, because you said I now think less about my body, I now think less about food, I now worry about it less. Some people might listen to that and think, well, she just doesn't care anymore, right, she's just given up. Which is the big, big myth about intuitive eating, or, you know, anti diet is that it just means not doing anything. So tell us kind of why doing less has helped you and feels good. How has it been a better thing for you?
Adding Joyful Foods and Breaking Scarcity Thinking
Yeah, absolutely. And I'd have to say people would need to understand that I started, you know, following your materials, reading books. You suggested working with you with the right intentions, but 100% confident. It was not going to work for me Like I really. I really did believe people must. It must be a mindset shift. You know, they must not just worry about their bodies anymore. You know, maybe they are more self confident, so if things are changing they're going to be okay with it.
And that is 100% not the case. I think for me, the big shifts were around just how I think about my body overall and that it's here to serve me and I want to move it so that it can serve me as happily and healthy as long as possible and I want to nourish it so that it can, you know, be there to serve me. And I think that that's a really big part of the mindset shift for me. So, you know, a joyful movement has. You know another thing that you talk about a lot and that's been a really big mindset for me too. So I know I am very fortunate that I happen to like to work out and any kind of workout you can think of, I pretty much like it and so really thinking a lot more about that.
You know, my workouts have all been at home especially, you know, since COVID and changes like that and a couple months ago I started to think, well, what are kind of the gaps? What are some other things that I really like doing? So I joined a gym specifically because I love Zumba and I love spin. So it's just an example of like are those the most important part of my workouts? No, but I love them. I just love to move my body in that way. So it just lets me look at it a little bit differently.
And it's very much the same conversation with food. Instead of thinking, okay, what does my template look like Making sure I have the ingredients in, for you know, those short list of meal types that I eat I'm a lot more tuned into how food actually feels in my body, like thank you, carbs for coming back into my life.
Jenn Salib Huber: 21:18
Like I was going to ask about those specific things I want you to tell us about. Let's talk about some of the things you added in, because you know you've mentioned that you had a really restricted templated diet, and what kinds of things did you add in that feel really good?
in your body? Yeah, a really good question. Part of that came from, you know, listening more to my body. But what, what feels good in there and and what do I just really really love? And maybe I'll just kind of share one more thing. Like all these years of restrictions, part of the template of eating that I had falled into was a huge restriction, six days a week, and one day a week was a free day in air quotes, and so that very much led to the scarcity thinking right.
So I was hungry a lot of the time six days a week. So on that seventh day when I could eat whatever I wanted, knowing it was still keto, it was still you know all of these other things, but I just didn't control the volume. I really over ate that day because I really felt like, well, it's the only day I can do it, I've got to fit it all in there, and that's very much not about listening to your body. So I think when I think about the things that I added back in, a lot of it just came from thinking all right, this gentle nutrition goals and these ideas.
If I look at my my average plate, have I got some protein going on? Have I got some fat, some carbs, some fruits and vegetables, and so some of the things I've added back in are because they're my passion fruits, Like I just love watermelon unreasonably so there is a watermelon in my grocery order every couple weeks now just because I love it. And to think back now that, like I restricted how much watermelon I could eat, like that, that seems crazy in hindsight.
I have some things that I can't eat, like dairy does not work in my body and that's fine, I don't miss those things. And other than that, like the things that I've added in are basically everything. I was at a barbecue this week. I had all of the things I'm eating out in a restaurant Tomorrow I'm going to eat all of the things. So I think, really thinking about joyful food, what gives me a lot of satisfaction Even I did a really interesting exercise together that I was worried was going to be really triggering for me, because for about a week I kept track of all the foods I was eating not how much, just what was I eating and then I was rating them for satisfaction and it was. I never thought about it like that before, you know and satisfaction in terms of did you enjoy it, but also were you full? So I'm somebody who has had a smoothie for breakfast for 30 years easy, and I really enjoy it.
I can drink two liters of smoothie and want lunch 10 minutes later, so that is clearly not satisfying, right, that is not taking the boxes for me. It made me think about that. I also have an unreasonable love of peanut butter and almond butter, so that finds its way under my plate more often as well. So I think it's less about specific things that I added and just more that it's. You know it's an open buffet. You know it's whatever is going to feel good in that day.
Although the one really significant change absolutely is carbs, because I was keto for so long and I start most of my days with some type of oatmeal for breakfast, and not that I'm thinking about calories, but if I was, I'm confident it's less calories than what I was having for breakfast, but it is so satisfying and it stays with me for a much longer period of time and you know just, it really feels good in my body and I also want to share. It works the other way around as well.
So it's not just about the things that you add in. You know we talk about should. You know we should ourselves a lot. I had things that I ate, that I should, and I have reached a decision that I am not going to try to like liver anymore. That is that is. I haven't managed to like it in 53 years. I'm not going to 100% there with you.
Jenn Salib Huber: 25:30
I like almost everything, but liver tops the list of things that I cannot develop a palate for.
Yeah, yeah, I have tried to disguise it. I've put it in a blender, I've cooked, I have tried all the, all the things and those days are done. I have put in the effort.
Jenn Salib Huber: 25:47
That's a great. That's a great example to highlight that permission isn't just about saying yes. Food freedom comes with the permission to say yes or no, depending on whether you want it and depending on how you know it is going to feel good or not good in your body. There's no shoulds, there's no I have to eat this or I can't eat this. It's do I want to. And that is, I think, the game changer for so many people is realizing that I can actually ask myself do I want this first? That can be the first question, you know, and if the answer is yes, it always has to have a place to fit, and if the answer is no, it never has to have a place to fit. That is, there's so much freedom in that. So I love, I love that for you.
Food Freedom in Action
It can. It changes your experience in really small ways as well that you wouldn't think about. So my daughter and I went out to Starbucks last weekend and we had this fabulous coffee and I was I was ordering for us and I thought I really feel like a little treat. Well, I would have had that thought before and then not acted on it. But I, you know, asked what they had because, as I said, you know, I can't have dairy and whatnot. And she said, oh, we have a marshmallow cloud bar. And I said, oh, I don't see that here.
And she showed it to me and I said, oh, it's a race crispy square. It was such a Starbucks name for it. I thought it was fabulous. So I got us each one. I couldn't even tell you the last time I had a race crispy square, but it was fabulous. Like it just was just such a nice little treat to have and it's part of that permission, you know I can have that because that sounded good and that was a nice treat to share with my daughter.
Jenn Salib Huber: 27:30
Would you say that you spend less time thinking about food now as an intuitive eater?
Absolutely. You know, last night was a really good example. It just happened to be a really demanding, like long work day. I had to work late, plus I had a brand new fridge delivered yesterday so I had been trying to run out of food. So I'm someone who usually has, like we're sort of batch cookers and we have lots of things around, so right now that is not the case.
So I had a really random meal yesterday because that's what was in the fridge. So I had some chickpeas with barbecue sauce and some cooked cabbage, but it sounded really good to me and it ticked the boxes of gentle nutrition. It warned my husband it was looking like a particularly gassy meal, but hey, that's what was available.
Jenn Salib Huber: 28:25
That's a combo.
But yeah, I think that I didn't worry about that meal until it was time to eat that meal and I wasn't planning ahead to make sure there was food in the house and everything was there. If I eat out in a restaurant, I don't look at the menu a week in advance to try to narrow down if there's anything that I can eat, because I know I'm going to be thinking with satisfaction first in the day of. I'm going to say what looked good to me Like what sounds good.
Jenn Salib Huber: 28:56
I love this. I love you for sharing this food freedom journey that you've been on and I know that it's going to be really helpful to others who may not be able to kind of envision what it looks like, because I think that's the hardest part. You know, everybody can want to be free of diet culture and to be, you know, to quiet the noise. I think everybody can relate to wanting that, but it can be really difficult to actually kind of convey what that looks like, where you're starting from and where you're ending up. So thank you so much for sharing your story. As I always ask my guests you probably know this but what do you think is the missing ingredient in midlife?
The Missing Ingredient in Midlife According to Laura
Conversation. It should just be part of everything that we know and understand. A lot of it relates to the same thing that I said about you know what's going to change in our bodies during the course of our lifetime. I would have liked to understand that in grade three. It would be great for parents to understand that about their kids. I think if it just becomes part of conversation whether it's a joke, whether it's a meme about hot flashes or whatever it is I think that that is just fantastic.
I know you asked me only one thing, but I'm going to say two, because I think community is a really huge part of it as well. Right, so we don't all necessarily have family or friends that are particularly local, but what their midlife experience is, and I would just really encourage people to find community in whatever that looks like for you. You know it could be meeting great women at a gym or at your office or, you know, in the midlife feast group, but you know, find your people.
Jenn Salib Huber: 30:43
Yeah, I mean, I did an episode last year where I said that I think the missing ingredient is community, and I still believe that to be true. So I 100% agree. Conversation community sounds perfect to me. Thank you so so much, Laura, and I wish you a great day.
Thanks, jen, you have a great day too.
Jenn Salib Huber: 31:05
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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