On The Menu: Your Questions About Menopause & Nutrition (Part 2)
Well you asked! So I answered! Welcome back to a special series of bonus episodes of The Midlife Feast, where we're flipping the script! Today, I’m in the hot seat and my podcast manager, Dee-Anna (who just turned 40) will be asking MORE of the questions asked by those of you in this community!
#1: How can I keep eating healthy during the mood swings that happen in perimenopause and menopause?
Midlife can throw our moods into a rollercoaster, with anxiety, depression, irritability, and PMS making appearances. While these mood swings are common during perimenopause, they might not be the direct culprits behind those chocolate cravings. What's really at play here is emotional hunger, a powerful urge to eat for reasons other than a grumbling tummy. I've been there, and emotional hunger can be triggered by these mood swings, busy lives, and a lack of self-care. The key is to recognize that food should be a source of pleasure and satisfaction.
Instead of just focusing on the "healthy" part, think about how to make your meals enjoyable. Prioritizing pleasure and satisfaction can help reduce emotional hunger. It's important to remember that mood symptoms are real, and you don't have to suffer in silence just because they're normal. Seeking help can also be a game-changer in reducing emotional hunger.
#2: What are some ways to stop using food as a numbing or coping mechanism?
Emotional hunger often stems from uncomfortable feelings, and your brain's first instinct is to stop feeling them, not ponder solutions. It's self-care, though it might not feel like it at first. Self-compassion is crucial, and shedding blame, shame, and guilt is key. Instead of labeling it "emotional eating," consider it pressing pause and tuning into your needs. It's a learnable skill, with support and tools to guide you.
If you find yourself struggling with uncomfortable feelings in your body and emotional hunger, especially if reactive eating has been a longtime coping strategy, don't hesitate to seek support from professionals like certified intuitive eating counselors. They can help you understand what's happening and why, offering the tools and guidance to make changes that feel right.
#3: How can I discover the freedom to eat freely, without feeling guilty?
Intuitive eating's foundational principle is unconditional permission to eat. We make eating decisions daily, and guilt and shame aren't effective motivators. Hating yourself won't lead to self-care. If you feel guilty after eating, examine why. We must eat, just like going to the bathroom, sleeping, or breathing.
Explore if food rules are triggering cognitive dissonance, and question if they serve you. It boils down to a permission versus restriction mindset. It's about saying yes to what you want, need, and enjoy while allowing yourself to say no when it doesn't satisfy you. Breaking free from guilt around eating paves the way for shame to exit.
Did you enjoy this episode? If so, make sure you’re subscribed so you don’t miss any of the bonus episodes we’re preparing for you where we answer even more of your questions about midlife nutrition!
Jenn Salib Huber: 0:00
Hi and welcome to the Midlife Feast, the podcast for women who are hungry for more in this season of life. I'm your host, Dr. Jenn Salib Huber . I'm an intuitive eating dietitian and naturopathic doctor and I help women manage menopause with oat dieting and food rules. Come to my table, listen and learn from me trusted guest experts in women's health and interviews with women just like you. Each episode brings to the table juicy conversations designed to help you feast on midlife.
And if you're looking for more information about menopause, nutrition and intuitive eating, check out the Midlife Feast community, my monthly membership that combines my no-nonsense approach that you all love to nutrition with community, so that you can learn from me and others who can relate to the cheers and challenges of midlife. All right, hi everyone. Hi, Dee-Anna, hello. So we're back for the second kind of Q&A. So if you need a recap of what these Q&A episodes are all about, we'll put the link to the first episode in the show notes, which kind of describes how this came to be. But I am being interviewed in these. Dee-Anna is reading some questions that we received from people in midlife asking how can I help make menopause nutrition easier? So let's get right to it.
Dee-Anna : 1:24
All right, okay, so this first question is something I personally relate with a lot, but basically, how do we keep eating healthy during the mood swings that happen in midlife, perimenopause, menopause, as I am such an emotional eater an emo eater, as they wrote.
Jenn Salib Huber: 1:47
Yeah, well, okay, so let's talk about what's happening with mood in midlife. So we do know that mood symptoms whether that's anxiety, depression, irritability or just mood swings or PMS we do know that there's more of that in perimenopause especially, but we don't actually have a lot of data to say that they create cravings for particular foods. So it's not like, oh, I'm angry, I need chocolate. But what we do know about emotional hunger is that emotional hunger is the strong and intense desire to eat for reasons other than physical hunger and, having been through it, I can definitely attest to that emotional hunger being created by these mood swings, right? So, whether we're talking about, like, mental rage, which is, you know, that eruption of anger that so many people can relate to, but there's just, there's so many things that are happening around perimenopause, whether it's being in the sandwich generation, whether it's being busy with, like, whether you have kids or not, whether you have, you know, aging parents or not, whether you have a career outside the home, whatever it is.
This is a really busy time of life and we tend not to have a lot of time for ourselves. We tend not to be able to prioritize our own self care as easily. We tend to be really busy until we crash, and all of those are kind of perfect recipes for emotional hunger. So what I try and get people to see is that food should be a source of pleasure. Right, there is a reason why we want more of the things that taste good. So, recognizing, welcoming food as pleasure and really kind of, instead of focusing on just like the quote-unquote healthy part, trying to reframe that so that you can ask yourself, how can I make my meals and my opportunities for eating more satisfying, more enjoyable, more pleasurable? Maybe that's like setting the table so that you actually have, like you know, the nice China out, or if it's a nice day, it's eating outside or eating with a friend, or even just putting on like music that you enjoy. Really trying to find a way to create that pleasure and satisfaction I think can enhance how we feel about the food that we're eating at any time.
And what people often find is that if they prioritize pleasure and satisfaction with meals, that the emotional hunger created by that pleasure deficit is reduced. So that would probably be kind of the first thing and just to you know, not to suffer Like mood symptoms are very real. They can be very disruptive. They can be very, very uncomfortable. So just because they're normal does not mean that you have to suffer. And, yeah, try and get some help, because that will ultimately help to reduce the emotional hunger too.
Dee-Anna : 4:52
That's such good advice, I think, for me when you were I think you just recently were talking about the choice to meal plan as a way of taking care of yourself versus a way to count and track. For me, meal planning is the way that I I curb some of these responses that I have when lutswings, cause I've always struggled with like paying attention to my hunger cues and then I just crash because I was like wait, what just happened? And now I'm falling out. And so when I'm excited that I have chicken salad and some chips and you know something to look forward to, then I will absolutely eat. But if there's just not any options, I'm just gonna skip the meal again, and that always leads to a bad situation.
Jenn Salib Huber: 5:43
So and I talk to people that do that all the time, especially people who work from home. Like people who work from home tend to make lunch and afterthought cause they're just like, oh, I'll just find something, I'll just grab whatever. But, if there's something that you wanna grab, you will either not grab it or you'll eat something outside of buying and then you'll still be left wanting something later. Yep, and I just wanted to add too I just remembered that there is a entire food and mood and mood and there's two modules.
There's a food and mood and a mood and menopause module in the midlife feast community that can give everyone kind of you know. If people are looking for more information, that's a great place to start, because not only does it explain what's happening, but it also gives you some of the kind of things that you can do with food and otherwise to support your mood and menopause. Yep.
Dee-Anna : 6:30
I love that. Okay, next question this person would love some help figuring out ways to not use food as a numbing or coping mechanism. I feel like this is a lifelong problem and now that I feel like I don't have any control over the way my body looks, it seems even more prevalent.
Jenn Salib Huber: 6:51
Oh my goodness, again, super, super relatable. We are programmed. Our brain is programmed to avoid pain and seek pleasure. And if you think of a little Venn diagram and you have like three circles, we have avoid pain in one, seek pleasure in the other and use the least amount of energy in the third. So we get into these patterns of when I feel, uncomfortable feelings, which is emotional hunger. Your brain doesn't wanna think about how to fix it, it doesn't wanna think about the solution, it just wants to stop feeling that feeling. So in the moment that you are doing that, I always like to remind people that they are practicing self-care. It doesn't feel like it after the fact, but in the moment you are actually taking care of a need that needs to be met.
So, having some self-compassion for that, trying to remove some of the blame and the shame and the guilt from it because that's so often what I hear and really I think, just pressing pause and understanding that calling an emotional eating isn't my favorite thing to do and people have probably heard me say that before because it really focuses on like the end behavior and it feels like it's blamy. It's like, oh, I was emotional and I ate, so I was emotional eating and that's bad. And instead trying to understand that, okay, if I have this really uncomfortable feeling, I can't ignore it.
It's just like needing to be, like I'm gonna have to go pee at some point. So, like, the more we try and ignore it, the more we feel it and the more uncomfortable it gets. So learning to press pause in those moments is a skill that we teach as part of that intuitive eating framework. You know we call it either reactive eating or emotional hunger, but learning to press pause in a way that doesn't feel like you're saying no is a key intuitive eating skill that it absolutely can be learned. Like people think nope, never gonna work, and they're shocked, at once you have a bit more background and support and just like the tools to make that happen.
How, I don't wanna say it's easy, because it's not always easy, but it actually feels like you're taking care of yourself. And because it feels- good, and this isn't about control, because it often still includes the food, but it's really about pressing pause and trying to tune in. It just feels good. So there definitely are things that you can do, and especially if you're feeling uncomfortable in your body and if you're having a lot of emotional hunger that is coming up and if reactive eating is a pattern that you have had to cope with these feelings for a long time, like don't feel, like you have to do it on your own, like there's. That's the kind of thing that that's what professionals do, that's what certified intuitive eating counselors do is we teach people to understand exactly what's happening and why and give them the tools and support to make changes that feel good.
Dee-Anna : 9:46
And that can't happen overnight. No, no, yeah, and I think one of the first steps for me in that process was just like paying attention to my self-talk.
Dee-Anna : 9:58
I feel like anytime I've had like a really powerful session with like a therapist or a friend, the best thing that they said was wow, you must really be hurting, you know, and just like how the validation it with that, you know, and like if we could, you would say that to your friend. But do you say that to yourself in that moment? I mean, if we could, just, if I can just practice that and get really good at saying that to myself, how much farther, you know, would I be in that, in that process.
Jenn Salib Huber: 10:31
But self-compassion always makes it feel safer. Yeah, and especially with, you know, with emotional eating and reactive eating, there's so much shame that people don't want to. Actually, they often don't want to admit to anyone that they're doing this because there is so much shame around it, which is why I always bring it back to in the moment. It is self-care. So give yourself a pat on the back for that Mm-hmm and give yourself permission To explore something new, without the guilt you know, um, because, yeah, guilt's a terrible motivator, definitely.
Dee-Anna : 11:07
Well, on top of that, just more generally speaking, someone said I just, I just want the, the freedom to eat and not feel guilty. What do you do with that?
Jenn Salib Huber: 11:21
So, so one of the foundational principles of intuitive eating is that we all have unconditional permission to eat. Again, I've said this thousand times that we have to eat every day. We have to make decisions about eating multiple times a day, often for other people, and so you know this. Unconditional permission to eat has to be the foundation, and Guilt and shame are terrible motivators. We know this from decades of psychological research. You can't hate yourself into a body that you love. You can't hate yourself into taking care of yourself. You will not feel better for trying to beat yourself up. And If you're experiencing guilt after eating, what is it that you feel guilty about?
Because we have to eat, so don't feel guilty for doing that. That would be like would you feel guilty for going to the bathroom? Do you feel guilty for sleeping? Do you feel guilty for breathing? Like we have to do this. And Then is it about the particular food? Are there food rules that maybe are creating that, that Dissonance of like, ooh, I shouldn't be eating this, or may, I should be eating something else. So if there's cognitive dissonance and the shoulds are showing up, yeah, that that's definitely. I think a good place to start is kind of identifying like what are the food rules that are on Repeat and are they actually serving you in the way that you want them to? Yeah, and it really comes down to the permission versus restriction mindset, I think. So Mission to eat doesn't mean Permission to eat all the time. It means permission to say yes to the things that you want and need and enjoy, but also permission to say no if you aren't on it. Don't find it satisfying.
But, when all of your decisions about food have been made from a restriction or a scarcity mindset. Anytime you're presented with the opportunity to eat something that tastes good or that is fun food, it's very hard to say no, even if you're not hungry, because the reward of having it is right in front of you, mm-hmm, and your brain has really terrible FOMO if it thinks it's not gonna have it again anytime soon. So, unless it's actually something that you can't have on a regular basis, you probably really do have Permission to say no if you don't want it, aren't hungry or for whatever reason, but you also have permission to say yes, yeah. So that mission piece, I think, is how we get rid of the guilt Around eating, and if we can get rid of the guilt around eating, then the shame will start to find its way out the door too.
Dee-Anna : 14:08
I think that's so true. I think that often shows up, especially just in you talk about like food being a part of so many just celebrations, cultural traditions, like, and wanting to partake in all of that and not Think through that and overthink. I guess overthink that it's, it's just super relevant to.
Jenn Salib Huber: 14:34
Yeah, we eat for all kinds of reasons, and that has to include eating for reasons other than physical hunger. 100%, yay, well, thanks again, Dee-Anna, absolutely, and we'll be back with another three questions and a few episodes. But if you love these Q&A style episodes, let us know, either Send us a message, send me, send me a message on Instagram, or leave a review and tell us that you love these Q&A Episodes and and if you love them, we'll do more of them.
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