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Story Session: Un-Dieting From Wellness Culture in Midlife

menopause nutrition un-dieting wellness culture

Isn’t it strange how we’ve made this generational shift from grandparents keeping candy for kids in their pockets and purses to insisting on sugarless cakes for a child’s first birthday? The moralization of food in wellness culture has taken up too much space in conversations about what it means to be a good parent or even a good person. But when every bite of food has a moral value attached to it, our own self-worth naturally becomes tangled up with what we put in our bodies.  


You may not know how the negative influence of wellness culture has impacted you because of how subtle it often is. For example, “clean eating” sounds like a great idea until you’re faced with the reality of how much time, energy, and money it can cost you. Is your only other option  “eating dirty”? In this Story Session episode, I’ve invited Kristen to share how she made big lifestyle shifts like sourcing raw milk and growing her own veggies to being comfortable filling her daughter’s Easter basket with traditional drugstore candy for the first time this year.  

So few of us escape unscathed from the impossible standards of wellness culture.. Join me in this episode as Kristen shares how un-dieting from wellness culture gave her the courage to lower the bar and make more mental space for creativity and self-discovery! 

In this episode, you'll learn:  

  • The key turning point in Kristen’s relationship with food
  • Why it’s necessary to challenge the idea of extreme health
  • How parenting has added an extra layer of guilt to wellness culture
  • Why wellness culture makes us so vulnerable
  • How “lowering the bar” transformed everything for Kristen



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.

Jenn Salib Huber 0:25
Hi, Kristen, welcome to the midlife feast.

Kristen 0:28
Hi, Jen. Thanks for having me.

Kristen 0:31
I'm really excited to share your story. But before we kind of dig into the specifics of why I invited you onto the podcast, tell us a little bit about your age and stage kind of tell us where you're at in life. So I'm 42. And I would say I'm at the very beginning of perimenopause. I don't have a lot of the symptoms that most women I think, think of when they think of perimenopause. But I started to notice,

Kristen 1:04
maybe at the end of my 30s, especially around 39, just starting to feel like not myself, I don't know how else to describe it other than like, it was just this generalized feeling of not myself. And I just kind of took note of that. And as the past three years have gone on, I've started to notice small shifts and changes. And that kind of led me to looking for support just for what I was going through.

Jenn Salib Huber 1:34
Yeah, and I can definitely tell you, and I'm sure that lots of listeners will as well, that that feeling of I just don't feel like myself, I don't recognize who I see in the mirror. I don't recognize myself and my reactions, my relationships, my like, interactions with people like that is a pretty, pretty universal thing, I think. And it definitely is, it's uncomfortable. Because, you know, I know that when I got to that point for me, it was a little earlier because I was like mid 30s. But, you know, you get to that point in life and you feel like you're adult, you're an adult, right? It's like, okay, I've got this whole adult thing figured out, I know who I am, I have my shit together. And then it all of a sudden you wake up and you're like, wait a minute, what is this? Who am I? What's going on? And it's not it's not fun? So you're definitely not alone in that.

Kristen 2:21
It's it's nice to know, I'm not alone. Yeah.

Jenn Salib Huber 2:24
So you mentioned that there were some changes that you were noticing. And so what were some of those changes that kind of felt uncomfortable?

Kristen 2:32
Um, well, one of the two of the main things that happened that I really started to take notice of was this, waking between like two and 3am, consistently, like every single, which I have not had that happen, since that used to happen in my late teens. And it hasn't happened since. And that started happening. And the other thing was, I started developing like restless leg syndrome, which I had at the end of my pregnancy. And that started to come back. And then there were also little, like smaller things I started to notice, like forgetting words, maybe it'll even happen as I'm talking to you. Like all of a sudden, like, I just forget words, and I have to explain with a bunch of words instead of like one good vocab word. And I started putting on weight in my abdomen that I just would not budge. And

Jenn Salib Huber 3:30
yeah, yeah, yeah, all very relatable, common changes the memory when especially someone described it the other day, and it was so perfect. And they and they were describing the situation where they were in a really important meeting that they were paying attention to, and like, it wasn't that they weren't interested. And then all of a sudden, this like, idea popped into their head about what they wanted to make for supper. And before they'd realized that they were like, halfway into making a mental grocery list and this really important meeting. And I was and she was like, why, why does that happen? And I was like, that is so relatable. It definitely feels like focus concentration. And even when you know, it's important. It's just like your mind wanders in the weirdest ways, like who would think of a grocery list in the middle of a meeting? But I know that's happened to me.

Kristen 4:19
You know, I don't think I would have articulated that until I heard you say that. But that has definitely happened to be that in that didn't used to be a thing. Yeah.

Jenn Salib Huber 4:27
So you mentioned kind of body changes. And one of the reasons that I thought it would be helpful to share your story is that unlike I think a lot of people who listen to the podcast and who follow me and work with me, you don't have a lot of diet, culture baggage. You haven't been dieting your whole life. You know, I think you've described it as weight was just something that you never really worried about, because you were kind of naturally in a smaller body and it was just kind of who you were, you didn't think about it. And then these changes happen and you're in midlife and all of a sudden it's like, Oh, my goodness, what is happening? And what? Well just kind of tell us about that? What, what felt uncomfortable about your relationship with food, even though it wasn't based in dieting as you came to this place where your body was changing, you know, despite your best efforts?

Kristen 5:21
So I think that's a difficult question to answer because I feel like at least from what I've heard, people from the diet, culture side of it, it was so obvious what they were doing. And I feel like a lot of what I was doing was unconscious, or I didn't realize how much it was the mindset that that there was a mindset, and that was affecting my relationship with food, like I thought I had a great relationship with. And what I'm learning is that maybe it's a little more disordered than I thought, one of like a prime example, something that really sticks out to me as a turning point. And I can't remember exactly when this was, it was, it was maybe three, four years ago, I was in the grocery store. And I hadn't put anything in my cart yet. And I'm looking around, and there's all this beautiful produce and stuff. Everywhere, that just looked good. And I stood there frozen. And I started to have tears streaming down my face, because I thought there isn't anything in here that I can eat that isn't poison. Like, this isn't food. I cannot feed this, I can't buy this, I can't feed this to my child, there was all this stuff going through my head of like, even the organic stuff I was like, but the organic stuff is being shipped from Guatemala, and it's being sprayed with stuff to keep it fresh, and it's bad for the environment. And I am being a bad consumer if I purchased this, and there was just all this

Jenn Salib Huber 7:01
food morality. Really? Yes, that's

Kristen 7:03
exactly what I was just gonna say thank you like this morality. I didn't really recognize it as that at the time. But what I did recognize fully is like, there's something really wrong with my mindset if I'm in a store full of food, and I don't think of it as food and I think of it as poison. And then I was trying to figure out like, where am I going to get this food to feed myself and my family?

Jenn Salib Huber 7:26
Yeah, so really was like the wellness culture, food rules and food morality, that were kind of just front and center in that relationship with food. And that's, I think, I think it's so important to talk about this because I think people may have heard the term wellness culture. Sometimes it's also called, you know, the worried well, you know, so people who don't objectively have a disease diagnosis or condition, but they're worried about what they should be doing. And I think it's really those shoulds that kind of climbed to the top of the hierarchy in the decision making process like well, if I can eat non GMO, organic, ethically traded, whatever, then I'm a bad person if I don't and that's a really and I've been there too. I mean, I've shared before that my my oldest daughter's first birthday cake was gluten free, dairy free, sugar free and the one was made with a blueberry like and I wore that like a badge of honor. I proudly like it comes up in my Facebook memories every year on her birthday. I was so proud of that. And now I look back at it and I think oh my goodness, I just I get so uncomfortable thinking about that now because the morality like was high high I was high on my horse believing that that's what everyone should do. But it's it's interesting that this experience of like feeling like you needed to untie it wellness culture kind of crashed landed in midlife which I think a lot of things crash land into midlife and force us to confront them so what what what happened? I mean, there was this moment in the grocery store was there anything else that kind of made you think this doesn't feel right anymore?

Kristen 9:13
Yeah, so I thought right around the same time I also had a client so I am a trauma informed somatic practitioner and embodiment coach and I had a client who most sessions that I talked to her she was talking about like this and dieting and words I had never heard before I didn't know what she was talking about and she just consistently talked about it and the way she talked about it coming from a diet culture was so relatable to my own thinking even though it was like totally different food rules like I felt like we ended up in the same place and so she introduced me to some people to follow one of them being you there was another non dieting dietitian and And, you know, I learned about orthorexia. When I heard that word I was like, That is me, just for anybody who doesn't know orthorexia, or how I think of it is like unhealthy obsession with being healthy. And I, it was like, I felt so grounded in that moment. And so seen that I was like that, that is what I'm feeling, which I hadn't really recognized was happening. It was an unconscious place I ended up in, in this food world. And I'm like, I. So I saw her struggle with the like, she just talked a lot about like, the culture of dieting. And that's where I started to understand what people who diet experience. And I felt so aligned with that. But I hadn't really heard a wellness culture so much until I joined your page and your group in hearing about about that a little bit more. So that happened, and at the same time, like, these physical changes were happening in my body, and I was just like, I know, I want to go into this next stage of my life, not doing what I've been doing.

Jenn Salib Huber 11:10
Yeah. And I mean, obviously, I think that, you know, most people feel a vulnerability when they feel like something is happening to them, which is how so many people describe these body changes, because they'll say, I'm not doing anything differently. I'm, I'm eating the same, I'm moving the same, or maybe even moving more. And yet, this feels like an out of body experience. And yet, it's what I'm living in. And so wellness culture, is always there to catch you. Even when you don't know that it's there. So like, people will often say, oh, no, I don't dye it. I just try and eat, insert, fill in the blank, whatever it is. And so you know, this is where I think it wellness culture also preys on women in midlife, knowing that all of this is happening. It's like, oh, well, this is the problem. And here's the solution. You have to eat organic, you have to get the toxins out, you have to reduce the inflammation, you have to do all of these things. And it sounds reasonable on the surface. It's like, Oh, yeah. Oh, cool. That's a good thing. I should want to do that. And it's not a question of whether you should want to or not, it's really a question of like, is it possible, because most of the time, the solutions that are there, especially around food, are really just kind of like complex recipes of hope, and wishes and prayers. It's like if I eat this combination of foods, or don't eat this combination of foods, if I eat this before that if I eat organic if I eat that, and so it can feel really, like it can kind of feel cult, like this wellness culture, you know that this is where the strong morals around food live, like calories aside, this is where food morality really thrives as a wellness culture. So it's hard to disentangle from.

Kristen 13:02
Yeah. And I think just adding to that, like, it also puts this part on you like that, if you don't see the change that you're looking for, like you just didn't do it, right. Like you didn't do it good. Yes. And you can just keep, you just need to try harder. And I have learning that that is not the case.

Jenn Salib Huber 13:26
So let's talk about lowering the bar code, because the opposite of trying harder is lowering the bar. And hopefully, people have heard me say that before. It's coming soon to a T shirt near you. But I really think that there is so much not just peace, and it's not giving up this is the thing that I want people to know is that when I talk about lowering the bar, what I'm really talking about is just letting go of this expectation that it needs to be 100% Yes, eating more vegetables is great, but you don't need to eat vegetables like all the time every day at every meal or else right it's the or else it's the all or nothing thinking so we've talked about lowering the bar before how what does that what does that mean to you? How did that kind of help you in your underwriting of wellness culture?

Kristen 14:14
Oh my gosh, Jen lowering the bar. I've told you this before but it is my favorite thing. And I now say this to like everybody about everything. It's because this is gonna sound dramatic, but it has, it's so freeing. It creates so much freedom and I just love this concept. So if for me that has particularly look like like, I love vegetables, like I will genuinely choose vegetables because I love them a lot of the time. But so for me lowering the bar meant Well it started out really of like not needing to make everything from scratch. So I think this kind of came about, like from parenting like becoming a mom and Hmm, that like almost like this purity culture of like I did not want to put anything impure into her body. Yes. So then that like, it was just a snowball of from breastfeeding to. And again, I'm not knocking any of that like I love it but it just went it went into I made a cake just like you made a cake for your daughter's first birthday, which nobody enjoyed like nobody AK because it was so bad. And then it just continued on from there to the point where like I was making everything I had, I was sourcing raw milk and making every single thing from scratch, including like our bread and our pasta. And if we wanted baked goods, like you could enjoy it, but you had to make it with the highest ingredients with maple syrup and or like unrefined sugars, and I couldn't just go to the bakery and buy something. And so I was spending all my time preparing food, and I enjoy preparing food, but it's not the only thing I enjoy. And I was really having to cut other things out of my life that were really the things that bring me joy in my life. And then for me anyways, it went down this rabbit hole of like, this is kind of my personality is like, I have to take it to the next level like I can do better, I can do better. So like making it from scratch was no longer good enough, I had to like source everything from a local, like a local farm, a local provider. And then even that wasn't good enough. I live in a rural area, I should be able to grow everything and make everything I was even like, at one point, I'm like, Okay, I gotta grow the wheat so that I can grow. And I'm like, wow, it's like this. For me, it would became like this very, like goal oriented, like, I've I can do this. And then I realized, I don't even like to garden. I don't like I don't like a garden. At first, it was like, it's funny now. But at the time, I was like, I live early, I should be able to do this. And there was a lot of judgment on myself of like, why, but then it's not just the gardening, then I had to take care of that garden, and I had to harvest and I had to process that food so that it lasts, because fresh stuff doesn't stay fresh. And I'm like we have because we live rurally we have so many farmers that are doing this beautifully. I can buy it from them.

Jenn Salib Huber 17:47
Oh my God, such a great example of the shoulds. And also of how with wellness culture in particular. There's never you never arrived, because there's always something that could be more or better or higher on that like morality chart, right. Like you were saying, like, it just started out as one thing. And the next thing you know, you're like grinding your own wheat. I mean, that's, that's, that's pretty extreme in 2023. Like, and I'm not making fun of that at all, but because I really want to highlight that, unless you love doing that, in which case, fill your boots. There is no need to do that in 2023.

Kristen 18:27
Exactly, exactly. I do think I have friends who love doing stuff like that, and it brings them a lot of joy. But I think again, that's articulating exactly what happens that it's always the next level. There's never an arrival of like, and now you can just be an enjoy. It's like okay, well how can I improve this? It's almost like cuz, like wellness culture and like bio hacking, like kind of go together?

Jenn Salib Huber 18:56
Oh, they're totally, totally No, no. So.

Kristen 18:59
So it's like, well, how can I do this better? How can it be more efficient? And I love efficiencies. I was like the queen of that. Yeah.

Jenn Salib Huber 19:09
Can you share a couple examples of how you have lowered the bar in a way that has you know, made your relationship with food feel good again?

Kristen 19:19
Well, one of the things that and I think for me, this is the most important thing because yes, I don't want to live like this. But I really I mean, part of the reason I was in wellness culture in the way that I was because of my daughter, one of the things that I did was I stopped policing her sugar intake about a year ago and I might get a little emotional with this because I

Jenn Salib Huber 19:43
I get emotional with you because

Kristen 19:46
I just did not want to I thought I was doing all these great things in like, teaching her about how to nourish her body. And what I realized now is like, Yes, I was doing that. It's not like I will Are we doing that at all, but I also was giving her these very strict foot food rules. And sugar in particular was kind of a villain. And she had to ask permission. If she wanted something sweet if it wasn't fruit, and I, about a year ago, I just set her down. And I was like, Hey, I think I got this wrong. And I want to do it differently. So you now have free rein to choose what you want. And I even started to bring some of that stuff into the house, and not just, you know, stuff that I bake. Because I don't like to bake. Some packaged process things that we both enjoy and letting her control that and I don't know what I thought was going to happen. But she's very intuitive and in her body, and she, she takes someone she wants it, but it's not like, it's straight. It's not like what I would think of as an extreme. It's just, she wants something sweet. And so she takes a bite or two of something. And yeah,

Jenn Salib Huber 21:14
I think I wonder. And I would actually, I might do a poll about this on Instagram, but I wonder if it's somewhat generational for us. You know, like, I feel like our mothers and grandmothers want it wanted to give us those treats and foods, you know, like I don't ever want I know, it wasn't as available. So I know that I know that it actually probably was more of something that you had on occasion, just by virtue of it not being everywhere. But like, I just remember, like any grandmother would be like, here's some candy, you know, like it was this thing. And then, but I feel like our generation, we moralized every part of raising our children as not only a being about them, but a reflection of us. Right. If you breastfed or didn't breastfeed, there was a line there. You know, I mean, thankfully, I think that has changed. But I mean, it wasn't something I ever imposed on someone. But, you know, friends who weren't able to breastfeed, for whatever reason, had tremendous guilt and shame. And at the end of the day, like, all they needed to do is feed their baby. That was the end goal, you know, formula has saved many babies lives. And yet, there was this like, first tier, second tier, feeding culture. And I don't know, I feel like it was a generational thing for us. Maybe that or maybe we just felt it more. I don't know

Kristen 22:48
what and I think, too, this is something you have taught me. And I feel like it really goes to what you just said is like, the actual difference in adequacy between like, what our body needs and how you can get that. And the difference between like, this idea of extreme health, or like this optimization of food is either non existent or so miniscule, it's not making significant health differences,

Jenn Salib Huber 23:17
especially when it's contributing to your stress, right? If you're stressed about what you're eating, I can guarantee that any small benefit you're getting from that whatever, it probably isn't doing what you want it to do. But yeah, and I think that I love that you have brought your daughter into your on dieting and wellness culture journey. I think, I think you also had Easter, was it Easter, that you just kind of like bought the things that you know, that you wouldn't have bought before and that that was a really joyful experience for her and probably for you.

Kristen 23:52
It took some of the stress away too, because it's not super easy. Where I live again, I live very rarely. So to get, like these organic candies, or like high quality, what I was thinking were high quality candies is not super easy, either had to order them or search out a specialty shop. And then they just weren't ever quite as enjoyable. And so this was the first year and her Easter basket. I just bought things that I knew she would enjoy. And it was so easy and felt so good.

Jenn Salib Huber 24:26
Yeah, that's awesome. So you really have had like quite the undying wellness of wellness culture journey in the last year. How do you feel now about food and health and mid life? Like even if it's obviously you know, it's never gonna be, I think as easy as we would want it to be but like how do you feel now in terms of like trusting your body to know, this is what feels good? Or this is what I want and I can have it if I want to have that. Is that something that's changed for you?

Kristen 25:00
Oh extremely, like I really do not think about food at all in this in any sort of like, hierarchy of like better or worse, like I have really embraced that part of it, the only time I really think about food is the fact that I have to eat it to live. And, you know, of course, like there's things I enjoy more not. But as far as like, I am not concerned when you know, I have to buy something non organic, anymore. And one of the things a friend, and I were talking about this, and she pointed out was like, you know, sometimes it was the choice between the organic or nothing at all. And what that did was really decrease our variety of food and what we were eating. Absolutely. And that was like never in my scope of awareness. And if that's the case, then I'm going to choose something that's available, and that I can still enjoy and all that like eating that is not going to kill me.

Jenn Salib Huber 26:08
That is such an important point. And what came to mind was the Dirty Dozen that list. And how many people would not buy anything, if they couldn't get it organic on the Dirty Dozen.

Kristen 26:19
I did that for a very long time, a very long time. Yeah,

Jenn Salib Huber 26:23
I used to print out copies for our clinic for people to have in their purse. You know, when I think of that now, it's like, Oh, that feels so awful. But again, at the time, I know, I was making the best decisions with the information that I had at the time. And I extend that grace and compassion to everyone. And hopefully, people listening can extend it to themselves. But absolutely, if you're not choosing to eat an apple, because you can't buy an organic apple, everyone loses like your nutrition is is reduced. Right. And I think that is a really great point for us to actually end on. Because I think that what you've shared, I know is going to be very valuable to anyone else who is maybe not fully aligning with the diet culture piece, because they don't have a history of dieting in the way that we think of. But that maybe is feeling a little bit confronted with the reality that there are a lot of food roles that are playing into their relationship with food. So thank you so, so much for sharing this.

Kristen 27:33
Yeah, thanks for giving me the space to talk a little bit about my journey.

Jenn Salib Huber 27:38
So what's your missing ingredient in midlife? Kristen?

Kristen 27:43
Ah, I feel like there's so many I could say but I guess I'm gonna say creativity. Because, yeah, I think a lot of times going into midlife people in the midlife area, what I'm hearing a lot is the negative experiences, the things that don't feel good. And, you know, we are in a transitional period, there's a lot of discomfort that comes with that there is a little bit of a lot of pain, I don't want to negate that that's a real thing. But it's also this really great container for you know, a type two, there's a transition, there's an ending, but there's also this beginning and so we can reinvent ourselves. And creativity is a great way of doing that.

Jenn Salib Huber 28:32
I love it. And I have found that like I definitely found a renewed creative spark for wanting to create things. And I am not a creative person. I'm like a type A list making, you know, can't really draw a stick person. But just kind of realizing that like a lot of my creativity was how I wanted to express myself like including through this podcast, right? So I think having the space for creativity is definitely a side benefit of on dieting, because you're no longer using all of that mental energy and emotional energy thinking and worrying about food all the time. So thank you for that. Yeah. Okay, well, I know that this is. I'm sure we're gonna get lots of messages about this. And so thank you for sharing your story. The story sessions are always so helpful, because we need to talk about our stories and so that we all know that we're not alone. Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of the midlife feast. For more non diet help 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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