The Midlife Feast

#111 - It's Time for a Diet-Free Revolution with Dr. Alex Conason, Psy.D.

May 06, 2024 Jenn Salib Huber RD ND Season 4 Episode 111
#111 - It's Time for a Diet-Free Revolution with Dr. Alex Conason, Psy.D.
The Midlife Feast
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The Midlife Feast
#111 - It's Time for a Diet-Free Revolution with Dr. Alex Conason, Psy.D.
May 06, 2024 Season 4 Episode 111
Jenn Salib Huber RD ND

What did you think of this episode? Send me a text message and let me know!

Welcome to another episode of the Midlife Feast! Today, we're diving into my favorite topic: intuitive eating and breaking free from the dieting cycle. Joining us is the incredible Dr. Alexis Conason, a US-based psychologist and author of Diet-Free Revolution.

We're not just scratching the surface here; we're exploring the behavioral and emotional aspects of intuitive eating. Dr. Conason’s approach, woven beautifully with storytelling, offers a fresh perspective that resonates deeply with those on the journey to reclaiming their relationship with food and their bodies.

Whether you're a seasoned dieter or just dipping your toes into this paradigm shift, this conversation reminds us that we're not alone. Dr. Conason’s insights reassure us that we're not broken, and perhaps most importantly, we’re not to blame.

To learn more about Dr. Conason and the work she does, be sure to check out her website at www.drconason.com or follow her on IG @theantidietplan or Facebook at @conasonpsyd.

Looking for a place to learn more about midlife, menopause nutrition, and intuitive eating? Click here to grab one of my free resources and learn what I've got "on the menu" including my 1:1 and group programs. https://www.menopausenutritionist.ca/links

Show Notes Transcript

What did you think of this episode? Send me a text message and let me know!

Welcome to another episode of the Midlife Feast! Today, we're diving into my favorite topic: intuitive eating and breaking free from the dieting cycle. Joining us is the incredible Dr. Alexis Conason, a US-based psychologist and author of Diet-Free Revolution.

We're not just scratching the surface here; we're exploring the behavioral and emotional aspects of intuitive eating. Dr. Conason’s approach, woven beautifully with storytelling, offers a fresh perspective that resonates deeply with those on the journey to reclaiming their relationship with food and their bodies.

Whether you're a seasoned dieter or just dipping your toes into this paradigm shift, this conversation reminds us that we're not alone. Dr. Conason’s insights reassure us that we're not broken, and perhaps most importantly, we’re not to blame.

To learn more about Dr. Conason and the work she does, be sure to check out her website at www.drconason.com or follow her on IG @theantidietplan or Facebook at @conasonpsyd.

Looking for a place to learn more about midlife, menopause nutrition, and intuitive eating? Click here to grab one of my free resources and learn what I've got "on the menu" including my 1:1 and group programs. https://www.menopausenutritionist.ca/links

Jenn Salib Huber:

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 without 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 everyone, welcome to this week's episode of the Midlife Feast.

Jenn Salib Huber:

When we talk diet culture, anti-diet, intuitive eating often we think nutrition. We talk to and talk about intuitive eating with other health professionals, dieticians, nutritionists but there's also a behavior component. There's also the other side of learning not to diet, which is maybe a little bit more focused on our psychological or emotional well-being, and that's why I wanted to invite Dr Alexis Connison on the podcast today. She's a US-based psychologist who has also written a book Diet-Free Revolution and you know I really just like her approach that uses a lot of storytelling, which I'm a big, big fan of, but also that she is a you know health professional who has walked the walk, so to speak. We talk a little bit about this, but I definitely recommend reading her book if you'd like, if you connect to stories I think her book is a really great resource for that. But also just realizing that you know we're not alone in this, whether you're a lifelong dieter or whether you're somebody who was introduced to dieting in midlife because you were starting to experience some of those midlife body changes that we all go through.

Jenn Salib Huber:

If there's one thing that I want you to know and I think that Dr Coniston would agree, it's that you're not alone, you're not broken and it's not your fault. So I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. Welcome, dr Coniston, to the midlife feast. Thank you so much for having me. So we're going to talk about my favorite thing in the world, which is anti-diet, non-diet, all that kind of stuff. Um, but as you know somebody who also has a personal kind of journey to this anti-diet space I always love hearing about other kind of professionals journeys to the non-ing world, so I'd love to hear yours, if you're willing to share.

Alexis Conason:

Yeah, of course. So you know, my story is that, like so many of us, I was raised in diet culture. I was raised in a home with a lot of chronic dieting and binge eating and I just kind of thought that was the norm. So I grew up really not questioning any of that. I very much thought that, like, what I had to do to be desirable and valuable and loved was to try to kind of conform to this ideal and try to lose weight and have my body be smaller, and that that would be kind of a path to happiness. So I spent many, many years of my life I mean, I went on my first diet when I was eight years old, as I talk about in my book, which was really, I think, not from a place of wanting to change my body as much as wanting to be grown up and thinking that's what my mom did, that's what I could do to kind of be aligned with her in some ways.

Alexis Conason:

And I spent many decades going kind of on and off the diet, overeating rollercoaster. So it wasn't until I entered the field of psychology really with the idea of wanting to help other people lose weight, because I was really, you know, interested in food and body and that was the only framework I knew to try to resolve. You know what I was struggling with so much myself, and I went into psychology with the intention of studying weight management. I worked in quote unquote obesity research for a number of years. I worked in a surgery clinic and it wasn't until, you know, after all of my training and I started my private practice. Then I started to get exposed to messages around weight inclusivity and that was really like the first time that I ever questioned any of those norms that I had really been inundated with.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Yeah, I think that's such a relatable story. You know, the statistics on health professionals going into the field of health, nutrition, weight loss, you know tells a story right that so many of us, you know, went into it with a good dose of personal investment in wanting to fix ourselves as well, as, you know, fix everyone else, because it's what we thought was the right thing to do.

Alexis Conason:

Yeah, very much so.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Yeah, so do you remember kind of what, maybe what some of the earliest I call them the little like aha moments, right, kind of like, oh, wait a minute, this isn't, this isn't lining up. Do you remember what any of yours were?

Alexis Conason:

This isn't lining up. Do you remember what any of yours were? Yeah, I mean. So the first time that I was ever exposed to messages around anti-diet and weight inclusivity was when thankfully not long after I first started my practice and I attended a kind of retreat workshop on mindful eating and, unfortunately, the workshop itself was taught from a very you know, weight loss centered perspective. They were handing out I remember a little like calorie counting books and things like that, but there was a group of participants at the workshop who were health at every size practitioners and you know it was almost like a coup started at the workshop and they started to question things and there was a lot of discontent and they were pushing back and I had never heard that conversation before because, you know, this was like in 2010, 2011.

Alexis Conason:

These conversations weren't nearly as much in the mainstream dialogue and for so much of my life, I was just inundated with diet culture and again, growing up in the 1980s, 1990s, social media wasn't a thing. The internet wasn't even really a thing, and it was the messages that we got from mainstream media, which was television, movies, and so this was all totally new to me, and I remember being at the workshop and talking with one of these people who was a health and exercise practitioner, and I was talking about dieting and why that was important to me or why I was adhering to the weight loss framework, and the person just said very simply, like, but diets don't work. And I was like, what are you talking about? And they're like well, are they working for you? And I thought, no, but that's just because, like, there's something wrong with me that I'm not able to stick to it, I'm not able to make it work.

Alexis Conason:

But then they started to talk about the research behind the health at every size movement and I at the time was still working in quote unquote obesity research and you know actually, so those ideas stuck with me. So I don't know if it was like a huge aha moment all at once, as much as like something that got planted in my mind and rattled around for a while until I started to, you know, kind of grow more and more and what I was actually seeing in the obesity research field was very much in alignment with what was being presented in the health at every size field in terms of diets don't work. The research really was not convincing that people were able to lose significant amounts of weight and keep it off long term. So there was, like you know, overlap there and also a big disconnection between what I was kind of learning in the health at every size movement and what I was learning in academia and research and what was being presented to the mainstream public, because, like those things did not align at all.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Yeah, very true, it's so interesting. Someone had introduced me to this idea of health at every size as well. I think it was like late 2013, early 2014. And I remember thinking, wait, what does that even mean? Like, how can those words all fit together? Because it was just so, it was like a different language and you know, when I, when I started digging into it, it kind of felt like, you know, this foundation was crumbling.

Jenn Salib Huber:

You know, I had all of this education, I had all this experience. I had this career that was built on the idea that, like you know, food and eating and weight and health were all things that were 100% willfully in our control and that it, like you said, it was like our fault somehow if it just wasn't working right. So, yeah, that's so interesting. My other aha moment was when, in 2016, when the biggest loser study, that famous study, came out. This was like that was kind of like my moment where I closed my practice to weight loss. You know, I spent two years, you know, starting the intuitive eating program and learning, and when that study came out, I was like this is it like? What more proof do I need that diets don't work? And yeah, so I always like hearing other health professionals kind of journey to this, so thank you for sharing that. Yeah, you know.

Alexis Conason:

I'll go ahead. I just want to emphasize if there's people watch you know, listening who you know kind of are like when is my aha moment? Or like when is this big transformation going to happen? You know, mine was very, you know it was kind of slowly over time, so it's not always this huge radical shift as much as starting to get the toe in and trying to explore a little bit.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Absolutely. Thank you for saying that, and you know just to to to provide more information. Like this was over a couple of years, right, this was a couple of years of dipping my toe in and finally it was like I'm just all in now, like I'm going for the swim, I'm not like waiting in the kiddie pool anymore. So your book is called Diet-Free Revolution, which I love, and you know we've kind of talked about how you got there personally and professionally. One of the things that I'd love to hear more about is what you talk about, this radical self-acceptance, and I always think you know putting radical and self-acceptance shouldn't be something that we have to do. But what does that mean in the context of being diet-free?

Alexis Conason:

So radical self-acceptance means the idea, you know, radical in the sense of complete, like complete self-acceptance. And one thing I like to emphasize I think there's a lot of misunderstanding around what acceptance really means. A lot of people think that, well, if I accept something, that means I'm giving up. Accepting it means I have to like it, it means I have to be okay with it, it means I have to be okay with it. And when I talk about acceptance, which is from the tradition of mindfulness meditation, we're really talking about being, you know, kind of accepting the reality of what things are in the current moment, which is it just, is what it is Like. We don't, we don't have to like it, we don't have to be okay with it, we don't have to want it, but we, you know, can work to accept that right now, in this moment, this is the way that things are.

Alexis Conason:

And radical self-acceptance is really about applying that to ourselves, that right now, this is who I am, this is the weight that I'm at, this is what my body is like and I don't have to like it. But can I bring a sense of compassion towards myself? And, you know, often I talk about self-love and, again, you know, I think there's a lot of. This is another term that I think is very much misunderstood in the idea that loving yourself, loving your body, means loving what your body looks like. And what I'm talking about is a much deeper kind of love, a love that you would have towards a child, a beloved friend, a family member, a love that is unconditional and not based on what you look like or what someone looks like, but a deep love that can't be broken, even when you don't like what that person is doing or what they look like in that moment. And can we apply that towards ourselves?

Jenn Salib Huber:

Such a hard thing to do, though, when you've spent your whole life hating it right. Can I share this funny story that someone shared with me this week about acceptance? It was how she was able to kind of understand it. She works in, I guess, a large-ish office and has a coworker that doesn't particularly like or care for or get along with, but they're both, as she put it, you know, close enough to retirement that neither one of us is going to quit or move our job. You know, leave our jobs.

Jenn Salib Huber:

And she, in doing this body, this body acceptance work, she said you know what? I realized that I've been putting so much energy into not liking this coworker, avoiding this coworker, trying not to share space with this coworker, but if I just accept that we're both here for another couple of years, it is what it is. All of a sudden, it just like deflated, like the anger, the irritation, and that's the same thing that happens right With this body work. It's just, it is what it is Like, and the energy and the time that we put into trying to change it, not like it, make it not be what it is. The time that we put into trying to change it, not like it, make it not be what it is actually, makes it more, you know. It kind of just puts it under the spotlight. So I love that little story that was shared.

Alexis Conason:

Yeah, that's a great example and I think that's very, you know, very much in line with what acceptance is like. It is what it is and it doesn't mean we want to, you know, we have to feel any certain way about it. But I think that acceptance does kind of neutralize things a little bit and bring us into the present moment, rather than also make this now.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Yeah, so you, I love the 10 steps. And then kind of how you outline that because everybody likes a good 10 step program, right, we all like a list. Line that, because everybody likes a good 10 step program, right, we all like a list. Which of those 10 do you think is the hardest for people to kind of just apply? Or like what are your thoughts on what the hardest piece of either anti-diet or body acceptance?

Alexis Conason:

like, what's the hardest part? That people come back to you and say, oh, I just can't get this. It's hard to say because I do think that different things are different for each person, so what some people find the hardest may not be the hardest for other people, but I think that the body image piece is really tough. We all live in a culture that tells us our body is supposed to be a certain way and when our body isn't mine, Both in terms of ideals around you know, thinness, and also ideals around youth and aging in our culture I think that it can be really hard to, you know, come to that place of radical self-acceptance and it ties in. So, you know, acceptance is like one of the last steps in the program and, you know, one of the first steps is leaving behind culture. And I think those things actually really tie into each other.

Alexis Conason:

Because when we have a difficult time accepting our body and it's hard to let go of that idea that if we just lost weight, everything would be better, you know, and the idea that we can lose weight, right, that's possible and um realistic and healthy goal, and we can't let go of that, we stay stuck in diet culture. And then, when we're stuck in diet culture, it's very hard to trust her to really hear and listen to, like what wants to eat when we're hungry, when we feel satisfied, to trust that when we feel satisfied and our body is telling us it's time to stop eating, it can be hard to trust that that food will be available again. So we tend to hold on to well, I don't want to stop eating because this is delicious, even though I'm really full, I want to eat more because I'm really enjoying this and who knows when I'll be able to have this again. Right? So it keeps us stuck in scarcity mindset or restrictive mentality and it's very difficult to practice mindful eating From that mindset. It can really take us off track.

Alexis Conason:

So, you know, step one I think is one of the most important ones, which is, you know, freeing ourselves from diet culture and understanding why diets don't work and why also, our health is not dependent on dieting, and how we can work to make health improvements, if that's a goal for you, while also pursuing mindful eating from an anti-diet perspective. So you know, in my book each step kind of builds on the one before. So I'd say, like it's hard, you know. Step two becomes hard if you can't let go of diet. You know, if you can't let go of diet culture, the whole thing is really hard and I think a lot of people struggle with, you know, letting go of diet culture, practicing more mindful eating, coming to a place where their behaviors feel a lot better around food and they still really don't feel good about their body, and that can be a huge shift too.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Yeah, I think that that's a really good point. What you said earlier too about making health-oriented or health-focused I mean, obviously that comes up at any stage in life, but they're often in midlife or kind of some more pointed conversations around cholesterol and blood sugar and those kinds of things how. How do you kind of have those conversations where somebody says I totally get what you're saying, I love it all, but I have to lose weight or I have to diet because of dah, dah, dah, dah.

Alexis Conason:

So I work with a lot of clients who are in that mindset and I actually love working with folks who are there and you know, one of the places they start is like around the why. So you want to. What are the things that you're hoping to gain from losing weight, and are there ways that we can start working towards those things now, at your current size? So you know, for example, someone might talk about wanting to, you know, lose weight so that they're able to, you know, be more active and you know, play with their children or their grandchildren be more active, and you know play with their children or their grandchildren.

Alexis Conason:

So you know, are there ways to me that's about physical fitness, right, Not about weight. So are there ways to start improving physical fitness? Some people you know similarly might say I want to lose weight because I have, you know, knee pain. That really bothers me, and is that about weight? Or, you know, have you consulted with a physical therapist? Have you, you know, looked into? Are there things that you can do to strengthen, like, the muscles around your knee? So, like, I think that a lot of us get stuck in this idea that our life can't move forward unless we lose weight, and a lot of those goals that people are kind of waiting for until they lose weight are things that we can actually start working on now. And a lot of those goals that people are kind of waiting for until they lose weight are things that we can actually start working on now. And I always tell people, regardless of whether or not you lose weight, you know, why not start working on that now? You know you don't have to have your life on pause.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Yeah, and that's such a good point because the pause in life really does hold people back. You know, whether it's health goals or just life goals, it's like, well, I'll do that when I lose weight, I'll wear whatever it is that I want to wear when I want to lose weight. You know, access to size, inclusive clothing aside, you know we can wear what we want when we want, not dictated by what our body size is right. So, yeah, those are some really great points. I'm always one of the things that I love about this work is just how often people are pleasantly surprised by. You know, it doesn't take 10 years to undo everything that you can really start to make progress. What are, what are some of the little wins or the things that surprise people when they start working with you or doing this work?

Alexis Conason:

Yeah, I agree, I mean one of the reasons I do love this work, especially with people who you know. We work with people both who are new to mindful eating and also people who have been in kind of the you know anti diet space for a while. But I really love like introducing these ideas to people because we get to be here. So many people are like, wow, you know, I've never, I've never like, like, like what happened to me the idea you know what are you talking about that diets don't work. And it's like this light bulb goes off and you know some people come in and I just really see um big shifts that happen in relatively small amounts of time. I think some people come in really um exhausted from doing you know kind of being on this you know hamster wheel of doing things that don't work, and they come in really ready to do something different.

Alexis Conason:

But even if people don't come in kind of primed and ready, I think that you know that mindset shift can be really powerful in terms of. You know, some of the wins that people experience is things like, you know, feeling more at peace with their body, feeling more like space to think about other things when they're not thinking about food all the time. You know, I think there's just like so much more to life that comes out when we can resolve this issue, and you know it may not look perfect, right, like it's not about getting a body that you're, you know, thrilled to wear a bikini and post about it on social media or whatever, like that's not necessarily that goal, but it's about, you know, having the space and freedom to be able to live your life the way that you want to, without this like you, you know encumbering you yeah, dieting is a life thief, no doubt about it.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Yeah, it really does take up so much, you know, time and energy and heart space and head space to just constantly be thinking about food and whether your body is good enough. Um, it's, yeah, yeah, it's. It's no fun. So I, like I said, I'm a big fan of your work and I think that the way that you describe, especially in your book, the storytelling almost is these really relatable experiences? Do you find that storytelling and hearing other people's stories and having other people talk about their stories, do you think that that's an important part of the journeys that people are on? Because so much of our dieting journeys are shame-filled and by ourselves feeling like we're doing something wrong.

Alexis Conason:

Yeah, very much. So I believe that the power of stories is huge and I think that the power of community is really huge, one of the things that I try. So the stories from my book were really inspired by a group that I went for people struggling with eating issues mindful eating group. I still eat it. It's online.

Alexis Conason:

I used to eat it in person in my office and there was something so powerful about a group of people coming together and before every group started, it was always, you know, very different kinds of people from different backgrounds, different careers, sometimes different ages, and I'd always think, oh my gosh, how is this going to go? Like, how are people going to, you know, are they going to get each other? Are they going to get each other? And I'd say, every single time there was such a universality in this struggle around food and not feeling good, and people who were so different in so many different ways really found those bridges and were like, oh my gosh, you know you do that too. I thought I was the only person who did that, or I thought I was the only person who struggled with that and starting to talk openly about these issues that I do think have been like private and secretive and filled with shame for so many years, even just starting to talk openly about it and talk with other people, that to realize that you're not alone and that these things are actually like not so uncommon, you know, these deep, dark secrets that we thought are the worst things we could never possibly tell anyone. To hear someone else you know say that they do that too, I think, is really powerful. So I started to.

Alexis Conason:

When I was writing my book, I was really thinking about you know how do I convey the power of that community to people you know? Through a book and I thought about stories because at its core, these issues around food are not necessarily relational. I see so many people who come in and they say look, I know that it's don't work. I know, you know, I've spent decades going on and off diets. I've spent decades with my weight going up and down, like I know that what I'm doing doesn't work and yet it's so hard to let go of it. It's so hard to let go of the idea. Not the idea, it's just there's something that's so deeply connected in our brains. So I think that in many ways, our issues around food and our body and our relationships with food and our body are not rational. They're emotional and relational, and I think the way to convey that is through stories and connecting with others, whether it's through, you know, reading about them in a book or like actually meeting others in a group.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Oh, my goodness, I love that so much. It is, it is relational, it is emotional. Like these are. These are very real things. It's not simply about calories in and calories out, right. So, yeah, I love storytelling too, and in my community it's such an important part of everyone's healing journey is seeing other people who have gone through the same thing, going through the same thing, but also coming out the other side right, so that you see that you're just like one person in this big journey. You're not, you know, all on your own all the time. So what is one thing that you would say to somebody who maybe was feeling a little scared of leaving diets behind? Because that's often what comes up is kind of like I love everything you're saying, but I don't think I'm ready to ditch dieting. What are some ways that you persuade them to give it a try?

Alexis Conason:

So you know, the first thing I'll say is I don't persuade anyone to do anything they don't want to do, but I think that when we can look back at our past experiences with dieting and to understand how dieting has and hasn't worked for you, that's a really important step. So one of the first exercises in my book is actually a process of writing a letter to dieting, and it could be a breakup letter, it could be a take a break letter. But this idea that you know it's important for us to think about and say, you know, kind of acknowledge to ourselves like that dieting both serves us and doesn't. If it didn't, if it was all bad, then we would have given it up a long time ago. We don't hold on to things that are only harmful. If it was all good, then it would have solved all of our problems already and we wouldn't be here.

Alexis Conason:

The thing that keeps us really stuck in diet culture is that kind of you know, in behavioral terms, like that intermittent reinforcement that sometimes it works and then sometimes it doesn't, and we kind of get a taste of what we want and you know, it gives us sometimes hopefulness and like. Like there are good feelings that come from dieting as well and to acknowledge that it is hard to give it, but that it also isn't worth it. And it's not. So much of what we hold on to with dieting is the facade, it's the promises of dieting, the idea that it's going to give us something it has never given us or has only given us for short periods of time.

Jenn Salib Huber:

Yeah, yeah, that's great advice, thank you. So this has been a great conversation. I thank you so much. Where's the best place for people to learn about you and your work?

Alexis Conason:

So you can learn about me at my website, drconisoncom. I'm also active on Instagram at the anti-diet plan. If you're interested in the mindful eating courses, groups and coaching that all is available on my website. And if you're in the New York, vermont, florida or Connecticut areas and you're interested in therapy, then you can visit our website at singlehealthservicescom. We do weight weight inclusive therapy for people with issues around food, body image and relationships.

Jenn Salib Huber:

That's amazing. We'll have all those links in the show notes as well. So parting question for all of my guests what do you think is the missing ingredient in midlife life?

Alexis Conason:

I think time, I'm going to have to say time.

Alexis Conason:

Time for ourselves time to feel like I think there's so much pressure on us at different ages, but especially in midlife, to feel like we're doing it all. Many of us are caring for, for our children, we're caring for our parents, we're trying to care for ourselves. We're, you know, having career. There's like so much going on and I feel like it's really easy to kind of lose a sense of ourselves, and I think if we had more time to, you know, be alone and to or connect with friends and other people in my life, I think that's just something that gets lost and it's really hard.

Jenn Salib Huber:

I would 100% agree with that. That's definitely a missing ingredient. Thank you so much, Dr Conison. I know that this will be a well-loved episode.

Alexis Conason:

Thank you so much for having me.

Jenn Salib Huber:

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.