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Why Successful Women Over 50 Struggle to Make Healthy Eating Choices

As a Registered Dietitian who exclusively works with women in midlife and beyond, I often hear my smart, capable clients lament that they have achieved so much in life and yet they still struggle with food.

They wonder, “What’s wrong with me that I can’t control my eating?”, and delay getting help because they feel like failures who “should” be able to heal their eating struggles on their own.

Spoiler alert: If you can relate, there is nothing wrong with you. In this article I’ll help you understand why capable women are uniquely prone to struggle and how to move forward in health.

The Curse of All or Nothing Dieting: How Being Good at Everything Actually Makes Healthy Eating Harder

Ironically enough, being good at everything can make healthy eating harder because you are more likely to fall into the trap of All or Nothing Dieting, where you believe you have to eat “perfectly” or “what’s the point?”

All this time you’ve probably believed that you are sabotaging yourself with poor self-control, but in reality, it’s All or Nothing Dieting claiming that even a little ice cream counts as a failure. The same logical mind that made you successful rationalizes if one bite equals failure you may as well finish the carton.

All or Nothing Dieting Stops You from Trusting Yourself Around Food

As a successful woman, you may trust yourself in professional and social situations, and wonder why that same self-trust doesn’t extend to food?

All or Nothing Dieting makes you believe you can’t trust yourself around food because:

  • You learn that food makes you feel good, so emotional eating for comfort or to “zone out” become primary ways to cope with life’s discomforts.
  • Restriction sets you up for the “forbidden fruit phenomenon,” where your thoughts are consumed by foods on the “no” list, ultimately leading to indulgence.
  • Controlling your intake based on points, calories or carbs disconnects you from your hunger and satiety signals.

When you don’t trust yourself around food, your nervous system ends up on high-alert because food is literally everywhere, resulting in both an obsession with food and exhaustion from the constant food-vigilance and self-criticism.

If you are both obsessed with food and exhausted by it, you’re invited to join me for my free, live Masterclass, “How To Stop Obsessing About Food And Make Consistently Healthy Choices”.

4 Tips to Make Healthy Eating Easier for Capable Women Over 50

Now that you understand how All or Nothing Dieting is to blame for your food struggles (not you!), you can begin to cultivate the Courage to Trust, so you can make consistently healthy choices.

Check out the tips below:

Focus on What’s Working

With All or Nothing Dieting you are a failure with any deviation from perfection. And since eating is controlled by complex biological processes… it’s unlikely that your eating patterns will ever perfectly mimic “optimal.”

Does that mean you should give up? No! (Swinging between doing things perfectly and giving up is another example of All or Nothing).

Instead of focusing on the ways you fall short, shift your attention to the things that are working and you are doing well. Focusing on the positive will lead to more momentum for habit change.

Enlisting a friend to be your “little win accountability buddy” is a great way to get better at this. Commit to texting each other your little wins at the end of each day (or in the moment if needed!).

Friends are often much better at seeing our wins than we are, so getting another perspective can help you get better at seeing your own wins.

Heal the Effects of All or Nothing Dieting

The way All or Nothing Dieting has impacted your relationship with food is not your fault because it’s the only solution you’ve been given up until now.

And yet, if you’ve been in a pattern of All or Nothing Dieting for decades you will need to unlearn the unhelpful beliefs about food and yourself so you can eat with joy instead of eating to seek joy.

Focus on Calming Your Nervous System

A client was sharing she was struggling with nighttime eating again while preparing for a big move. She was surprised when my advice was not to plan a healthy snack or close up the kitchen at 7pm, but rather to focus on calming her nervous system.

If you check in with your body during strong eating urges, you might be surprised to find feelings akin to panic or anxiety rather than hunger.

My client realized her lack of routine associated with packing and all of the feelings related to moving into a new chapter of life were the root of her hunger. By adding in calming practices, she was able to get a handle on nighttime eating and reduce her stress!

A few calming practices you might try:

  • Meditation
  • Movement
  • Journaling
  • Writing out affirmations
  • Spending time in nature

Get Support from a Registered Dietitian

A recent article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics compares two paths to treating obesity.

The first path the journal refers to is “Self-directed dieting,” which leads to disordered eating, poor self-worth and weight gain through:

  • Severe avoidance of food
  • Flip-flopping between severe restriction and excessive intake (All or Nothing Dieting)
  • Unsustainable behaviors.

The second path, which is working with a Registered Dietitian (RD) for evidence-based obesity treatment, leads to sustainable healthy behaviors, health improvements, and improved self-worth.

In my experience of walking over 100 women through my Courage to Trust Method, accomplished women often believe they should be able to solve their eating struggles on their own, and yet research shows that may be an unrealistic expectation.

To find a Registered Dietitian near you, you can search your local nutrition association:

Wherever you are in the world, if you are a woman in midlife and beyond who is looking for obesity treatment while creating a supportive relationship with food, your body and your health so you can eat with joy instead of eating to seek joy you are welcome to learn more about working with me.

Have you noticed that the pattern of All or Nothing Dieting seems to make you simultaneously obsessed with food and exhausted by it? Can you think of a friend who might want to be a “little win accountability buddy” for you? What does it feel like when you have a strong urge to eat? Do you notice panic or anxiety?

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The Author

Cassie Christopher is a Masters-trained Registered Dietitian who helps women in midlife and beyond create a supportive relationship with food, their bodies, and health so they can eat with joy instead of eating to seek joy. You can get immediate help when you're experiencing a craving by downloading Cassie's Cravings Busting audio guide.

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