An Empowering Approach To Body Weight In Midlife, Menopause and Beyond – Ep #033 Erica Leon, MS, RDN

Perimenopause and menopause can be a traumatic time for women. Some of us can start to feel betrayed by the body that we thought we knew so well after all these years or perhaps it’s just the perfect storm that fuels a life long struggle with body hate even more. It’s normal and natural to feel frustrated and even a little angry. But if we can remember to show ourselves – and our changing bodies – some compassion and kindness, we can feel calmer and have an easier and healthier transition during menopause.

Navigating our changing bodies as we get into midlife is distressing but it’s made worse when we cling to intentional weight loss as the only answer. To effectively address our body’s needs during this turbulent time requires patience and a gentle approach. It’s time to commit to self care practices that affirm our inherent value beyond the size and shape of our bodies.

Erica Leon is a registered dietitian and eating disorder specialist and the owner of Erica Leon Nutrition, a group nutrition practice in White Plains, NY. Erica’s work is guided by the non-diet approach to health referred to as “Intuitive Eating.” and the Health at Every Size ® approach to create a safe and nurturing environment for individuals to explore their attitudes about food, weight and body image.

In this honest and heartfelt conversation, we discuss how intuitive eating is an empowering strategy for dealing with menopausal and peri menopausal issues. We explore how the subtle and long lasting effects of diet culture are particularly damaging for those of us struggling with mid life health changes.

Erica Leon’s Website:

Online Programs: Intuitive Eating Essentials For Mid Life and Menopause

Holiday Thrive and Survive Challenge

Recommended Reading Resources:

Pursuing Perfection: Eating Disorders, Body Myths and Women at Midlife and Beyond, By Margo Maine, PhD, FAED, CEDS

Intuitive Eating – A Revolutionary Program That Works, By Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D., ‎Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A.

Health At Every Size, By Lindo Bacon, PhD

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Podcast Transcript

0 (1s):
Welcome to the Soul Science Nutrition Podcast, where you’ll discover that when it comes to your health, you’re so much more powerful than you’ve been led to believe. And now your host, she’s a holistic nutrition and lifestyle coach, chef author, and Yogi, Christine Okezie.

Christine Okezie (21s):
Hello, and welcome to the Soul Science Nutrition podcast. I’m Christine Okezie. . Thanks so much for tuning in today. All bodies change throughout life and all bodies are different. Sounds like common sense knowledge, but it’s these two basic facts that diet culture and society itself brainwashes us to fear and reject when it comes to our quest for health. It’s why nutrition becomes synonymous with weight loss. Then this becomes a proxy for health and aging is something that we try desperately to avoid or pretend doesn’t exist. So on top of the normal stresses of everyday life, it’s these belief systems that become a recipe for painful suffering because they cause us to relate to our changing bodies.

Christine Okezie (1m 9s):
Once again, as a moral and personal failing, consider the sad fact that virtually all mainstream medical and nutritional approaches to menopause and women’s midlife changes are centered on managing weight. Now perimenopause and menopause can be a traumatic time for women. Some of us can start to feel betrayed by the body that we thought we knew so well after all these years, or perhaps it’s just the opposite. It becomes a perfect storm that fuels a lifetime struggle with body hate and self judgment, even more. It’s so normal and natural to feel frustrated and even a little angry.

Christine Okezie (1m 49s):
But if we can remember to show ourselves and our changing bodies, some compassion, some kindness, we can feel calmer and have an easier and healthier transition during this time navigating our changing bodies as we get into midlife is distressing, but it’s only made worse when we cling to the intentional weight loss strategy. As the only answer to tune into our body’s needs. During this changing time requires patience and a gentle approach. It’s a time to commit to self-care tools and practices that honor our body’s changing needs, not another restrictive diet.

Christine Okezie (2m 36s):
And we need a reframe on food, food as nourishment, not just calories, carbs and fat grams. So today’s special guest is Erica Leone. She’s a registered dietician and eating disorder specialist and the owner of Erica Leon Nutrition, a group practice in White Plains, New York, Erica brings over 30 years of expertise to bear on important topics, such as disordered eating, eating disorder, treatment and children and teen eating issues. Erica’s work is distinguished by her non-diet approach to health known as intuitive eating and the Health At Every Size approach, which is to create a safe and nurturing environment for folks to explore their attitudes about food, weight, and body image.

Christine Okezie (3m 25s):
Erica’s passion is helping people learn to make peace with food and their body image and help them recognize that health can be achieved in a wide range of body shapes and sizes. On today’s show, we discuss how Erica gears, the intuitive eating and Health At Every Size Approach as a strategy for addressing midlife menopausal and perimenopausal health challenges, we explore how the subtle and long lasting effects of diet culture and its disempowering messages are particularly damaging for those of us struggling with midlife change. I hope you enjoy today’s conversation.

Christine Okezie (4m 6s):
And if you liked the show, I’d be grateful. If you could leave a rating and review, and of course, please hit that subscribe button to help me keep these empowering messages growing. Thank you so much. Hello, Erica, and welcome to the podcast. It’s so wonderful to have you here today.

Erica Leon (4m 22s):
Thank you, Christine. I’m really happy to be here. Awesome.

Christine Okezie (4m 25s):
So tell us about your personal journey with food and weight and your body and how you got on the path to do what you do now.

Erica Leon (4m 33s):
Well, it’s a, it’s a long journey. How long I’ve been in the field. I got into the field. A lot of people think that dieticians get into the field because they’re dealing with their own body image issues and their own weight loss. And that’s really not how I found nutrition. We actually talked about how we both went to Cornell and the experience at Cornell wasn’t wasn’t about weight loss. It was really more about, I was a pre-med and I was going to learn about how the body works and what to do with it. And I found the nutrition to be a fascinating subject. And as I worked in the field, that really is the theme that kept coming up is anyone whose nutrition is really helping people lose weight.

Erica Leon (5m 16s):
And so that’s how I came upon it, but my original intention was really how the body works. I found it very interesting and I wanted to quote unquote help people, whatever that means. So, yeah, so I started out actually, my first job was at a hospital doing, working with cancer nutrition. My first job was at Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer center. Okay. It was my first job. And when I think back, it was really an amazing, amazing place to work. It was amazing to help people. Here’s the thing about nutrition for oncology, helping people work through their illness with giving more nutrition, with having more, more food, not less.

Christine Okezie (5m 55s):
Yes, absolutely.

Erica Leon (5m 57s):
Certainly my starting place. And I moved and moved into a lot of different areas of nutrition and eventually found my way into a private practice. And again, starting with this weight loss and, and the weight loss, eventually what I noticed is people continue to come back and developed eating disorders. So my prescription of diets for, for themselves and their whole families eventually led to disordered eating. And that’s kind of how I made the connection between between dieting and problems and problem behaviors and watch launch my career right in that area is why I’ve been doing this for about 20 years, working with eating disorders.

Christine Okezie (6m 41s):
okay. Your transition into a more holistic approach or a more integrative approach to what nutrition can be in the body other than weight loss. Right. It was really an opportunity to continue deepening your work with your existing clients though. And that’s what’s so beautiful.

Erica Leon (6m 58s):
Yes, yes, we would. Totally. Yeah, definitely. Our work evolves. The more that we learn, the more we learn, the more we know we change our practices. As I saw, I saw very quickly the role of the diet culture plays in, I have to say robbing us, robbing us of the joy of our bodies, robbing us of the ability to truly nourish ourselves. You know, I’ve been sitting for so long with people, you know, and I miss, I miss sitting in an office across from somebody I know in their, in their pain, over their eating disorder, over their struggles to, to nourish themselves. And it’s, it’s really informed the way that I practice now, which is that we, we have so much life to live.

Erica Leon (7m 44s):
And if we focus every moment on trying to shrink our bodies and trying to starve ourselves, we’re not, we’re not participating in life. We’re not, we’re not at the ballot box. We’re not doing the things we need to be doing if we’re starving ourselves.

Christine Okezie (7m 58s):
Right. Right. No, I know. And thank you for sharing all that, but it’s, it’s a positive thing. And I know there’s a lot of progress that’s happening in the world of nutrition and dietetics. That’s sort of waking up and trying to break free from, you know, the, the pitfalls of diet culture and, and messaging. So I know you’re right there. So that’s great. So you came to embrace and coach around intuitive eating and the Health At Every Size. Can you tell us a little bit about that for those of us who might not be familiar with that specific approach?

Erica Leon (8m 32s):
So yeah, so intuitive eating is really about getting back to listening to what our body tells us, which we lose. We lose the ability to sense whether we’re hungry. We lose the ability to sense whether we’re feeling full and the messages that we’ve been getting since where literally I was a wound. I mean, I, I, I talked to people who’s telling me from the time I was five. My mother told me I was full not to eat any more, I’d have enough. So when the whole world tells us what we should be eating, we lose touch with what we truly need and what we really feel inside of our bodies. And that’s really the basis of intuitive eating, which is a wonderful framework for, for not just nutrition, but for living that was developed by two dietitians, Evelyn Tripoli, and Elise Rash.

Erica Leon (9m 18s):
And they’re my aunts and my heroes. And they wrote a book called Intuitive Eating that came out, I want to say, 1996, 95. It was, it was at that time almost a radical concept. Like you mean you don’t have to tell me exactly what to eat. I can know for myself. Yes. So it’s now in its fourth edition and it’s evolved as a bit more information than that we have. And it’s, it’s, it’s a 10 principle framework around learning just your body’s about telling us what we, what we need to eat, how we need to be in the world. Amazing. And the, and the goal of Health At Every Size. It’s let me just say the first and foremost, it’s, it’s around the social justice movement.

Erica Leon (9m 59s):
And I, I know you spoken earlier and I’m going to pitch the previous episode. It’s with Lindo Bacon, which is amazing.

Christine Okezie (10m 7s):
Thank you.

Erica Leon (10m 8s):
Who wrote the book called Health At Every Size, which basically says that we, we can exist in our body at a wide range of weights and that where we’re all meant to be different and that we can exist in our bodies and, and, and, and work towards pursuing health in whatever way is that we, we, we in our capacity. Okay.

Christine Okezie (10m 28s):
But both such radical concepts, you know, the fact that we can trust ourselves, trust our bodies and that their bodies are allowed to change and be different than an ideal.

Erica Leon (10m 39s):
Thank you for saying that there are bodies that are allowed to change. You know, I, my body has changed a lot. I think I said this to you. Yeah. Monday, I’m gonna be 62 and my body very different than it was when I graduated Cornell. When I was a teenager, when, when I changed and that’s normal and that’s to be celebrated the same as when we were yelling. And what’s so horrifying about getting older, you know, I mean, I’m, I’m joking that I happened to have a young looking face,

Christine Okezie (11m 14s):
But it’s a blessing. It’s a blessing.

Erica Leon (11m 18s):
It iIs what it is, what it is.

Christine Okezie (11m 22s):
Yeah. Yeah, no. And, and so that whole concept that our bodies are allowed to change, that there is no mythical ideal norm that we should have in our, in our, in our, in our subconscious, you know, dispelling, all of that is really powerful, especially when we start to talk about, you know, the, the group that you’re really passionate about serving now, which is the midlife, you know, menopause, perimenopausal life stage, how do you reframe then the menopausal weight gain? How do you reframe midlife body changes?

Erica Leon (11m 56s):
Yeah, thank you for saying that. And it is about a reframe because most, and we say mostly women, and then I’m going to include in that group of women, is anybody with ovaries, female at birth is going to have changes that occur because of naturally declining levels of both estrogen and progesterone. As we get older and estrogen in particular really helps us to have healthy bones, keeps our bones strong. It maintains heart health. It keeps us supple, but when we don’t have enough estrogen. Our skin gets dry. A lot of things get dry in the body.

Erica Leon (12m 36s):
So naturally as we get older, here’s what happens. Our other parts of our body’s fat cells form estrone, and it’s kind of mother nature’s way of supplying extra estrogen as our, as our natural levels decline because of our ovarian. I don’t want to say ovarian failure, but lower levered amounts coming from our ovaries. And so it’s this wonderful reframe. And I want to say, I didn’t, I didn’t make this term up, but Margo Maine, a wonderful psychologist who wrote a book called Pursuing Perfection. I’m I’m going to get it wrong. But she came up with this phrase.

Erica Leon (13m 19s):
It’s a life preserver as opposed to a spare tire. And I love that analogy that it has, Estrone when our body’s not making enough and to normalize it and to say it’s really okay, everything that you read in any information or literature about what happens to your body during perimenopause, it’s you get horrifying messages, don’t gain weight around middle don’t gain weight. It’s going to lead to diabetes and heart disease and, and all these horrible things. And I don’t believe that it’s really looking at other behaviors. We can’t just look at what’s happening to our middle section. We have to focus on a lot of other areas.

Christine Okezie (13m 57s):
Okay. Okay. So yes. And for sure, you know, when it comes to conventional medicine, the approach to menopause are all focused on weight. And so to me, you know, what you’re seeking to, you know, let people know is that that is it’s, it’s a misguided focus and it’s a very incomplete focus when it comes to how we define health at this stage. Right?

Erica Leon (14m 26s):
Exactly. And I’ll tell you what, I’ve, what I’ve noticed. Again, being a dietician for so many years is sitting in my office is that the more people have the notion that I have to lose weight, to stay healthy. I come from it at a place of seeing the other side, which is people developing eating disorders. And there’s a statistic that over, over 13% of women over 50 actually have at least one eating disorder symptom. And I think that’s very low. So what it tells us that this information out there that you need to keep your body small, don’t gain weight through the middle if getting the message that we need to starve ourselves. Yes. You know, thinking even the work that you do, knowing that there are certain nutrients that we need in our bodies. As we get older, we need to have dietary fiber to maintain bowel health and have good GI function with certain plant foods.

Erica Leon (15m 17s):
We need to have vitamins and minerals coming from, from grains and from, from vegetables. And when you’re told don’t have any carbs, you’re not getting the wonderful nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy. Yes. That’s really where I’m coming from and seeing the disordered, eating arising from these messages.

Christine Okezie (15m 35s):
That’s a shocking statistic. And, and I want to be really clear at, you know, I myself have come to know that when we talk about eating disorders or disordered eating, it’s so much beyond the clinical definition of anorexia and bulimia, right? So we really want to have a wider lens to, again, you know, people’s relationship with food can be very dysfunctional, can be very, you know, just full of suffering. And, and that in and of itself is a cause for concern, right. Is an opportunity to kind of intervene with Whoa, what’s really going on here.

Erica Leon (16m 9s):
Absolutely. You know, and that’s one of the first questions that I ask someone when they come to me, like, what percentage of your day do you spend thinking about food body, your weight? And people will say to me every minute, constantly, constantly thinking about it and it’s exhausting and it’s dysfunctional. And I exhausting, I get angry. And to imagine the other side, to have the freedom, to have permission to eat permission, you know, I’ve had people say to me, you mean I can really eat a bagel. I mean, seriously, I can eat a bagel. Yes, yes. You can eat a bagel. I’m not saying it should be every single meal and it should be, you know, 20 bagels all the time, because you can eat a bagel.

Erica Leon (16m 52s):
It’s about learning where foods fit it’s just one part of your overall health and wellbeing.

2 (16m 58s):
Beautiful. Beautiful. Yeah. And it’s about taking the power back from the food and from the food police, if you will. And, and, and to me, that’s, you know, that’s hard work, you know, and people we’re looking. So when we’re told, you know, look for the quick fix, you know, do you know, whatever X fad diet, you know, to lose X pounds fast, it’s really such a disservice, you know, to, to our ability to take care of ourselves. Right. We just feeds this belief that we don’t know how to take care of ourselves.

Erica Leon (17m 29s):
Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, talking about sort of health and wellbeing. There’s so many other components other than just what we put on our plates, there’s particularly around midlife. I mean, I just want to say in general, it’s a really stressful life stage. Yes. And each fixed storm. It’s a perfect storm. I reflect back on mine. And I think I just went through it like honestly, is a zombie. I don’t think I even knew what was going on. And I say this, you know, I’ll share something really personal that I haven’t shared, but I feel like I want to start talking about it during my experience of midlife. My mother was very ill in a hospital. My mother-in-law was in the other hospital and seriously I was going back and forth between the two hospitals, you know, taking care of them, taking care of, I had a lot of stuff going on, both of my kids.

Erica Leon (18m 18s):
And I remember I actually had a car accident. I was so stressed out. I wasn’t thinking I wasn’t even looking. And that, that car accident, that really, it sort of, that, that, that is a symbol of, of what happens during this period of time. Absolutely. You know, reflecting back, like, why didn’t I, why didn’t I work on meditation? Why didn’t I think about starting yoga classes, like all the things that we need to work on, stress management. And now at this point, you know, years later I’m reflecting back and I want all the women that I work with now is a good time to start thinking about ways to take care of, you know, working on stress management. Because I want to say that period of time is really stressful, really stressful.

Christine Okezie (19m 1s):
Yeah. And thank you for highlighting that, because again, with a weight centric approach, it ignores the fact that we’re a little bit more than just a calorie burning machine. You know, we, we have lives and we have changing roles and identities and, and that’s a lot to manage.

Erica Leon (19m 16s):
It’s a lot to manage. Oh my goodness. I think the things that we don’t really talk about about stress management and getting enough sleep, I mean, well now to save this world where we’re on our computers, 24 seven, yes. It’s hard to work on our sleep hygiene, but it’s so necessary because when we don’t get enough sleep, it’s harder to pay attention to what our body’s telling us and the same care we’re hungry, whether we’re what we’re feeling internally. You know, I talk a lot about quote unquote, emotional eating I’m putting up quotations because I think all of eating is emotional, absolutely feelings around it. But when we are feeling a lot of stress and we can’t think of what to do in the moment, so many people that I work with tend to use food as a, as a comfort tool.

Erica Leon (20m 8s):
And I don’t ever like to demonize it because it’s, it’s actually pretty handy. You know, when, when all else fails, it is very sensible, very sensible. But if it’s the only coping tool that a person has, it becomes problematic. And I think that’s really another important thing to mention that not sleeping, being stressed out, all of this affects our ability to have this, what I call interoceptive awareness, this sensation of what’s happening in our body.

Christine Okezie (20m 34s):
Thank you. Yes. Okay. So it all comes down to self-awareness and so the work and the tools, you know, as you say, are extremely useful, whatever kind of slows us down, whatever kinds of scares us, gets us back into that awareness for this body that we keep trying so hard to run away from, right.

Erica Leon (20m 53s):
That you know, that what you just said, our bodies, that we try to run away from it’s. So, so many of the people I work with, and so many people out there are just walking around just their, their heads. They’re, they’re not connected to their bodies at all. And, and they’re all in their head. And the goal is to really connect your head and your heart. That’s the work right there.

Christine Okezie (21m 10s):
Beautiful. Beautiful. So how do you do this? You know, so for example, you know, I’ve worked with a number of clients who, who are so aware of all the conditioning and the programming, you know, from early childhood, you know, their mothers were taking them to WeightWatchers through, you know, $70 billion later of, of, of messaging. How w how do you help people kind of like where what’s a good place to start to help people entangle disentangled from those beliefs that they need to let go of weight, that weight doesn’t equal health, weight loss, shouldn’t be their primary goal. You know, what are some talking points that you like to share with your clients?

Erica Leon (21m 51s):
Well, the first thing I’m going to say, first and foremost, I just want to really be very clear about this, that I am a nutrition therapist, a dietician, and I work with people do nutrition therapy, but I’m not a therapist. And there are times particularly when someone has an eating disorder, disordered eating, where they do need to have something more, more trauma based, more, you know, really do this work alone. And so I look, I do a lot of work with, in conjunction with a therapist, but you know, this trauma around food, it might, it might be helpful to have to have that kind of work with a therapist, but I really just, wherever people are I, and I, I really work to figure out what their thought process is.

Erica Leon (22m 32s):
What, what do they think about their bodies? What are their, what are their beliefs? And, and I actually have them start to think about notice. And if they start noticing, like, that’s the first step, what do you notice? What are some of the thoughts you have about your body? I spoke to someone yesterday and she said, I think every five minutes I say something mean to myself. Every five minutes, I have a conversation. And I said, just notice, just notice. And this is the first step. And then just being a nutritionist, I like to get a sense of what their eating habits are. Like, I kind of start with, what are you eating? I think sometimes it’s hard for people to let go of this notion that I don’t have to control what I eat.

Erica Leon (23m 13s):
And just, again, being an eating disorder, dietician, sometimes I’ll give a little bit more guidance of where to start with their food. You know, here’s some ideas, maybe you just want to work on eating every three to four hours and having balanced meals of proteins and carbs, and really sort of inviting them to recommend to, I invited them to think about, they can have, they can have bread. It’s not going to be tragic. So that’s really where I start, you know, I start understanding what their thoughts and beliefs are around, around their bodies, around what should be. And then I also work with getting started with a nutrition plan, and I’m going to put in quotations, normal eating, whatever that means.

Christine Okezie (23m 52s):
Yeah. So you, you kind of, you know, want to shine the light of where they might be too restrictive, you know, based on sort of the rigidity that comes from this belief system,

Erica Leon (24m 3s):
You said it very nicely.

Christine Okezie (24m 5s):
Thank you. Yeah, no worries. That’s cool. So what is the common myth though, about intuitive eating that, you know, you work to dispel. I mean, there’s a lot of, you know, intuitive eating and self-trust, you know, hopefully the two points we’ll meet at some point, but, you know, that’s kind of the biggest obstacle to intuitive eating.

Erica Leon (24m 25s):
I think a myth and a fear is that I’m going to let go of my restrictive eating. I’m going to let go. And I’m just going to keep, I’m going to start eating. And I’m never going to be able to stop. I’m going to eat and going to gain an overwhelming amount. I’m just going to exactly. And that’s really the fear, the fear of weight gain, which is so real. And so normal. Of course, it makes sense in the world that we live in to think that you’re going to gain weight and ever be able to stop. I mean, the word fat, even the word fat is, is scary. Yes. Although we need dietary fat, we need fat to live. We get our fat-soluble vitamins from it. We need fat in our body. It produces estrogen, you know, fat.

Erica Leon (25m 4s):
Isn’t a four-letter word. It’s, it’s, it’s needed for survival. It’s really slowly, very slowly starting to help people loosen up a little bit. Okay. It takes time and a lot of reflection and a lot of, you know, a lot of grieving, I think people have to recognize that they may not have the body that they wished they had. They may not have the body. I mean, it happened to me and I say this all the time, you know, coming to three 62, my mind has changed. I am fatter around the middle. It has happened to me. And it’s not a tragedy. I mean, there are things that I do to offset whatever I work towards achieving whatever health for myself as possible.

Erica Leon (25m 51s):
You know, we talked about getting enough sleep, but things like moving our bodies. So important.

Christine Okezie (25m 57s):
Yeah. Okay. Yeah. You know, I think for me, it’s, it’s important for us to recognize that it’s okay to feel good in your body, you know, independent of the shape and the exterior, right? Yes. The, the two don’t have to go hand in hand, you know, so it’s okay to feel good. It’s okay to feel, you know, confident. And, and I think if we can break the belief that unless I look like X, right, then I’m not, it’s not okay for me to like myself, not okay to be happy or accepting in my body. It’s such a, it’s such a tight belief around that.

Christine Okezie (26m 37s):
And I think if we can help people to do that, that’s kind of the work,

Erica Leon (26m 42s):
You know, so I’m just saying something you hear a lot within the body positivity movement, you know, self love, love your body.

Christine Okezie (26m 49s):

Erica Leon (26m 50s):
And, and what my client says, I’m not going to love this body, have that. I just, can I tolerate, can I tolerate being in my body? Like, that’s, that’s the first step.

Christine Okezie (26m 59s):

Erica Leon (27m 0s):
We’re taking it down. You have to be able to tolerate and definitely breaking it down. And you may never get to the place of self love. You may get to a place of being okay. And, you know, the idea is just work towards more acceptance. Yeah,

Christine Okezie (27m 15s):
Yeah, yeah. And that in of itself is a, it’s a redirect of the energy, right. To work towards acceptance rather than false expectation.

Erica Leon (27m 22s):
Exactly. Yeah.

Christine Okezie (27m 24s):
Yeah. So the, I never say this word, right. The patholigization of fat. Right. Did I say that right? Right. How do we help people? You know, what’s the information that you share around that, because as you said before, okay. We know that, you know, the body, you know, puts on some weight, that’s so normal part of the process, you know, but at some point, you know, there’s this question of, well, what is there fat around my organs and is my cortisol kind of creating that belly fat that is inflammatory? Can you help us, you know, discern how people can understand that.

Erica Leon (27m 59s):
Yes. I’m going to give a really, I’m going to give a wacky example, but I think it will explain what I’m talking about. Yeah. If you think about a Sumo wrestler and you think about, they eat a lot to have mass and, and actually a lot around the, the belly. Yes. But they’re incredibly physically active. And actually I was reading some studies cause I’m very interested in this whole topic about this, this, this fat as being an organ and being, you know, pathological when you are physically active, the issues that you’re talking about go away.

Erica Leon (28m 38s):
So it’s really not about the fat per se, but it’s about how we’re moving in our bodies and how that, how the, the energy is being utilized. And so what I say is there are people who have a genetic tendency to have weight around the middle. That’s just, I mean, to be honest with you, I have that. So I’m very protective of that, but, but I move my body. And so that’s really, I think that’s the difference when we worried about what’s going to happen and we’re pathologizing it. I said, let’s, let’s see what we can do outside of focusing on weight loss. How can you move your body? And, you know, in, in other ways, and, and I want to just say a thing about that as well, especially when I’m working with people with disordered eating, you need to move in ways that are okay for you.

Erica Leon (29m 26s):
Not everybody can get up and run a marathon.

Christine Okezie (29m 28s):
That’s right.

Erica Leon (29m 28s):
No, I, I, not everyone is, is able-bodied some people are disabled and you just want to move in, in your own capacity. I think that’s the way I, that’s the way I try to shift things, instead of focusing just on the waiters in your middle, what are some other behaviors that we can do that can keep us quote, unquote, healthy, whatever that means.

Christine Okezie (29m 46s):
Yeah. No. Okay. Thank you. So again, going back to those behaviors, you know, sleep movement,

Erica Leon (29m 52s):
Right? Yes. Stress relief,

Christine Okezie (29m 55s):
Stress reduction. Yeah. Stress relief. Absolutely. Okay. And I think that’s, that’s a really good workaround because again, we’re getting to that. We want to talk about the root cause. You know, we want to talk about, you know, what’s causing us to what’s what is causing the body to break down, you know, and it’s not necessarily just the number on the scale or the shape of your body. There’s so many underlying factors. Right?

Erica Leon (30m 17s):
Absolutely. And I think that we need to be respectful of where a person is. I, I think too, I’m thinking in my head of, of, of my client load and all the people that I’ve worked with. Yeah. Recognizing that everyone is in a different place in their journey. I’m thinking about someone in particular, I work with who has who’s in a larger body. Who’s been shamed her entire life. And this is really a composite of, people’s not just one person, but the shame and someone may have diabetes. Someone may be on medication. And I’ve seen instances where we’ve been able to even without weight loss, without a focus on weight loss, have their blood sugar improve by making these small, subtle shifts.

Erica Leon (30m 60s):
Yes. Starting to get up a little bit and move more starting this whole thing about permission. When you give yourself permission to eat at regular intervals and not starve yourself, you’re less likely to put on good binge and emotional eat. A lot of the, a lot of the people that work with have a tendency to binge eat. And I think the message has been to not eat, to not eat, to starve your, you know, you’re too large and it unfortunately leads to this sort of yo-yoing the idea is to really try to help people to just normalize, just eat balanced normally through the day and your blood sugar will normalize. You’ll have more energy and you’ll be less likely to binge eat. It’s really that I, you know, we’re talking about belly fat.

Erica Leon (31m 42s):
I mean, eating a large amount of one at one sitting can get me to that. So again, it’s around the behaviors.

Christine Okezie (31m 48s):
Yeah, absolutely. And I think you’ve, you’ve said it, or a few people have said it, you know, weight is not a behavior.

Erica Leon (31m 55s):
Exactly. Wait, it’s not a behavior. I can say that 10 times wages, right? Yeah. Yeah.

Christine Okezie (32m 0s):
Are there any food rules, quote, unquote that you do promote?

Erica Leon (32m 5s):
I don’t promote rules. I’m a rule breaker, terrible breaker. You’re a radical, when something becomes a rule, it becomes, it’s rigid. It’s, it’s really about finding the gray. It’s not about a black and white rule. Then. Interesting question. I have to think more on that.

Christine Okezie (32m 27s):
You know, there’s a lot of noise and there’s a lot of distraction when it comes to, you know, and again, I, I, I used to use this term. I don’t anymore clean eating, you know, you know, kind of again, you know, shades of the diet culture, very insidious ones, you know, come up when it comes to. And again, I’m just gonna use, you know, keto like diets or intermittent fasting, you know, like regimens, you know, it’s, there’s the shadow side to those things I’ve found.

Erica Leon (32m 57s):
Absolutely. You know, I want to make a point about this roped in the whole thing with the rules, but really going back to the intuitive eating principles, because when we can start slowly peeling away the layers of diet culture and feel okay about being able to eat all foods in, in ways that feel good to our bodies, the idea with intuitive eating is that, you know, you’ve worked towards gentle nutrition, which is a very last principle. And a lot of people like to start with that at first. But when you start with that first and thinking about, okay, well, which foods are good, which foods are really good for me. Like I know you say that all foods are equal, you know, but this a nutritionally, interestingly, there are differences. Okay. There are differences between, I don’t know, between a chocolate bar and a chicken breast, of course there’s differences.

Erica Leon (33m 44s):
But until you start to really understand and break down the morality piece of it, it’s harder to feel okay about eating something because you know, it’s good for your body. And that’s, that’s really what I, when I work on teaching in, in, in my online course about intuitive eating for midlife and menopause, and when it’s with my individual clients is help them really understand the rules of diet culture, break it down and feel okay about making, going back and making choices that are maybe better for their bodies. So for example, I have someone who’s who knows that she might feel better. She might have better metabolic health if she had more fruits and vegetables, but it’s not, it’s not ready to do that because it sends her back into a spiral of her disordered eating.

Erica Leon (34m 27s):
So it’s about, you know, being patient and working through this, the principles, and then being able to sort of go back, it’s almost like a, it’s almost like a package.

Christine Okezie (34m 39s):
I think that’s so important. Thank you for sharing that because that’s really it. Right. We have very little patience when it comes to the work of changing our relationship around food and our behaviors around food, you know, it has to happen in, you know, 30 days, you know, and yeah,

Erica Leon (34m 54s):
Exactly. Thank you for that. That’s it. Okay. That’s it. We have to be patient. This intuitive eating is a practice. It’s not a diet where you get your honor. And often in 30 days, it’s a practice just like learning to meditate and learning yoga. It’s a practice. The more you practice, the more you practice, the more skilled you’ll become, the more skilled you’ll become at listening to the information that your body gives you.

2 (35m 20s):
Yes. Yeah. That’s huge.

Erica Leon (35m 24s):
It’s so hard as, as we go through perimenopause, perimenopause brings with it. So many symptoms. Yeah.

2 (35m 32s):
Yeah. Well, we get to the point too, and we say, well, what used to work? Isn’t working anymore. How come it’s not working anymore? And so again, it’s really hard not to go down that rabbit hole of, you know, why I just need to work harder at it.

Erica Leon (35m 46s):
Right? That is correct. I just need to work harder. I need to restrict more. I need to restrict more. And when you do that, by the way, you give your body less opportunity to take care of itself. You’re you fight harder like this whole notion about this yo-yo dieting. It actually increases levels of cortisol. It increases all of the stress in your body. Yeah.

2 (36m 7s):
Yeah. I, and, and that’s, that’s something that the diet industry doesn’t, or, or, you know, well-intentioned professionals in the, in the field don’t necessarily share. And I’m just coming into the, the data on weight cycling and the damage that it does to our metabolism and damage that it does, you know, from a disease risk standpoint is very, very shocking,

Erica Leon (36m 31s):
Shocking. We didn’t, we didn’t know this, we know this. Now we know this. Now we can do better. Absolutely. We have to be understanding that we come to a place, you know, it takes time. We learn things. And when we learn things, we change things.

Christine Okezie (36m 43s):
Well, that’s a huge thing, right? So many of your clients probably feel well, how come you know? And I wish I’d started doing this 10 years ago. How many times do you hear that one?

Erica Leon (36m 53s):
I hear it every single day. Yeah. Even from, from people that I’ve, I have several women who have had bariatric surgery, like twice, three times. I mean, gaining, I don’t wanna use numbers, but gaining an X amount and losing it and then gaining it again. It would have been so much, but they all say it would’ve been so much better if they never had the procedure in the first place, they would’ve learned how to have a better relationship with food. And they wouldn’t have as many issues as they have related to the surgery. So yeah, patients I wanted, cause that’s such an important topic.

Christine Okezie (37m 27s):
No, it is. We need to be more patient with ourselves. We need to have more compassion for the fact that we’re navigating a culture that is based on, you know, external appearance and, and self-worth, and, and so if we can have some compassion around that maybe that helps take the sting out of, you know, feeling so disempowered and feeling so like a willpower weakling or my body’s against me,

Erica Leon (37m 51s):
You know, I try to help my clients really understand the roots of diet culture and start to work towards getting angry. You know, I think some sometimes, or I’m getting angry and in understanding and being more patient angry.

Christine Okezie (38m 7s):
Yeah, no, yeah. Take your power back, Right? Yeah. That’s awesome. How do you you know, there are a lot of, there are a lot of health issues that come up during this stage of life, you know, there might be, you know, or underlying health conditions that actually get worse. Maybe, you know, at this point, things like IBS PCOS, can develop insulin resistance. So pervasive, you know, so many degrees of insulin resistance. So knowing all of that, I guess my question is how do you integrate, you know, some therapeutic nutrition guidance for those specific conditions within this empowering, intuitive eating, you know, body acceptance framework.

Christine Okezie (38m 59s):
How do you integrate the two?

Erica Leon (39m 3s):
Oh, I think you’re really number one. It depends on what’s going on with each individual. But we, we, when we have a mental situation, if someone has diabetes or someone has celiac disease, for example, and they cannot have wheat gluten, it’s about a reframe. It’s all about, we can, we can work on challenging diet culture and working through the rules, but for your body, for your overall wellbeing, you’re going to feel better. For example, if you have celiac disease, if you don’t include gluten in your diet, you’re going to feel better. It’s going to be better for you or life-threatening allergy. If diabetes, it’s about, you know, you’re taking care of your body and taking care of your health and claiming it back by doing XYZ with your food.

Erica Leon (39m 53s):
It’s all about the reframe. And a lot of people feel very deprived. Like there’s a lot of deprivation when someone first starts working through intuitive eating, it’s like, Oh my God, I can’t believe I can have it. It’s so important to give full permission because I think this process can just linger if you don’t allow yourself the permission. But again, if someone has a situation, a medical situation, you know, we do therapeutic nutrition. It is about the reframe. This is better for your body. See what happens, how you feel if you, I don’t, I’m trying to give an example. You know, I’m thinking about someone who has diabetes, who uses measuring her blood sugar as, as a tool, instead of focusing on the specific food so that she doesn’t feel so deprived so that she has less of a, less of a chance of binge eating.

Erica Leon (40m 46s):
If she knows she can eat XYZ, measure her blood sugar in a few hours and sees that she can have, I’m making this number up to three cookies and nothing happens to her blood sugar. It’s, it’s, it’s about, you know, again, giving the power back. So measure the sugar as a way of getting empowered. Okay.

Christine Okezie (41m 2s):
It absolutely makes sense. And, and I think, you know, I like the way you, you kind of spell out the trajectory of steps that people can take. So the first is if we can recognize that someone’s really struggling in their relationship with food, right? It doesn’t always land for them to say, well, you know, if you start eating like this, then you’re going to feel amazing.

Erica Leon (41m 24s):
I think exactly, exactly. You have to say one small step at a time. And I think people get really overwhelmed. I have people that come to me and said, I read the intuitive book. I have the workbook. I don’t open it up. I think it’s really hard to go from. Okay. I’m tired of being on a diet, but I don’t know what to do. Please help me. What do I do first? Right. And it’s a baby step. Maybe the baby step is, is just starting to just, just notice, notice what you’re doing. Notice the thoughts that you’re having. That’s step one, maybe step one is just please just start eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. Okay. How about you just do that. It is one step at a time. Yeah.

Christine Okezie (42m 3s):
Yes. Oh my gosh. It, I think that’s really the, the re the part that we need to emphasize is the, is this takes time, you know, and again, we’re working with a population, you know, I always say, how long have you been eating? Oh, about 55. 60 years. Okay. So you want to change in 30 days, how you eat. I mean, you know,

Erica Leon (42m 23s):
Exactly, it’s very challenging. I haven’t talked about this, but when I really needed to meditate, I didn’t have it. So I’ve become someone who meditates, but it took me a very, very long time to build that habit very long time. I kept trying, I kept failing at trying. I kept trying and doing it and, and it’s become a habit. Now I do it after I brush my teeth, it’s become, I try to integrate it into a way that I, I, I would do it. How you form habits

Christine Okezie (42m 55s):
Over time. Right? Yeah. And in fact, it’s the PR, I always say, it’s the process, you know, the progress and the process is what we’re going for. The consistency. It’s not, there’s never like a, Hey, okay, I’m all done. You know, it’s just a work in progress all the time .

Erica Leon (43m 11s):
That we’re always changing. Our bodies are always changing. Our, our health is always changing, you know, as I’ve gone through menopause and post-menopause, I, I actually have a health condition. I have high cholesterol. And part of it is genetic. Part of it may be that I have some fat around the middle, but what do I do with my health? I manage it by moving exercising, exercising, vigorously. I add foods instead of taking away foods. I was thinking about this that’s that question you asked earlier about having a healthy nutrition. The whole idea about adding instead of taking away is one that I, I like to emphasize.

Erica Leon (43m 54s):
Absolutely adding, adding fruits and vegetables, adding fiber, adding more whole grains and adding omega-threes instead of taking away and dieting and starving and understanding that sometimes despite all of our best efforts, we may have a health condition. That’s out of our control. We may develop diabetes because it’s in our families. My father had diabetes. My grandfather had diabetes. My husband has diabetes, and my son will probably have diabetes, despite all of the, his best efforts to not have it. Like some things are out of our control is high cholesterol. I talked about every single member of my family has it as well.

Erica Leon (44m 35s):
And so I think I want to emphasize that, that despite everything that we may try, we may try to eat perfectly, whatever that means and get it right. We may still develop a disease state and, and it’s okay. It’s so important to say that it is not to blame ourselves. This is what I heard, Linda bacon talking about areas. We can’t blame ourselves for things that happen.

Christine Okezie (44m 58s):
Yeah, no, I think, you know, your, thank you for sharing that, because again, I think there are shades of judgment, which are really important to peel back here, you know, in, with all the good intentions, you know, of, of so much of the messaging and so much of the approaches that are out there. And I’ve come to learn that, you know, intentions are say, Oh, you know, that was never my intention. That’s really not enough. These days. You need to look at the impact of what we’re, you know, what we’re recommending to clients of the messages that are, that we’re sharing with them.

Christine Okezie (45m 38s):
We really need to look more deep at, is there any thing that’s, you know, not as conscious and not as compassionate as it could be.

2 (45m 50s):

Erica Leon (45m 50s):
Absolutely. You know, it’s reminding me of, of someone that I worked with who kept blaming herself for her, Ms. She kept blaming herself. She was led to believe that as she followed the Dr. Walls or whatever his name is, that protocol that she would cure herself of her. Ms. That is, that was her belief system. And how detrimental that, that, that was to her overall health. And that’s, that’s just a very little example of what we’re talking about.

Christine Okezie (46m 13s):
Absolutely. You’re right. You’re right. No, and, and it’s, you know, these days there’s so much, right, there’s this diet, this protocol, this supplement, you know, this way of eating this exercise. And again, we, we kind of worship at the alter of these things and, and it becomes really, really problematic. And like you said, I I’m always, in fact, I used to use a quote, I’ll share something, you know, just my own kind of reckoning coming. If I used to, one of my favorite quotes used to be everybody’s the author of their own disease. I think that comes from Aristotle. But anyway, I used to, you know, I used to use it right. And I used to, it used to really resonate with me. Well, I have to tell you, Erica, I’ve had a profound re kind of awakening around that and say, Whoa, you know what, what’s going on there.

Christine Okezie (47m 1s):
Right. But again, like to your point, we only see what we’re ready to see. And so I’m very grateful that I’ve had that realization. That that is not a very compassionate message, you know,

Erica Leon (47m 13s):
Can I just say, thank you so much for saying that acknowledging that that really just touches my heart, you’re doing the work, you know, we’re ultimately, we’re all just trying to be the best that we can be trying to take in the messages as best we can and love that that you’re being self-compassionate because that, that is what we all need in it’s so much, self-compassion, we’re going to make mistakes as practitioners. We’re going to make mistakes with ourselves and how do we move forward? Yes.

Christine Okezie (47m 39s):
You know, if we can find a way to give validation to our experiences in our bodies, no matter what life stage, but specifically this midlife stage, I think that’s the gift that, that starts the healing journey is if you can just be okay and say, okay, you know, yeah. I’d like to feel this. I need to like to feel a little bit better and, and, you know, okay, I’m going to stop putting my attention like outside for the latest solution. Right?

Erica Leon (48m 10s):
Absolutely. Absolutely. I was just thinking about something we didn’t, we didn’t talk about it earlier, but I just want to mention something around awareness of, of certain behaviors, you know, as, as we go through midlife and experienced all of these life stressors, we talked about ways of de-stressing and trying to find strategies that can be helpful, particularly during COVID, I’ll tell you what I’ve noticed. I’ve noticed an increase in intake of alcohol, just being home course, being stressed. And I want to just say that in terms of moving forward and, and our overall health, as we get older and going through the perimenopause and menopause, I always ask my clients to look at their alcohol consumption and know, and just start to notice, notice does it, does it increase your hot flashes?

Erica Leon (48m 56s):
Do you, do you sleep well when you have alcohol? So I know I didn’t mention that earlier, but I feel like put that in there because it is, it, it, it is a component of wellness too, to look at our intake of alcohol and see how our friendship is like to that in terms of stress management or behavior.

Christine Okezie (49m 15s):
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. That’s a huge tip for, especially now, you know, in the conditions that we’re all trying to navigate. What about, you know, an important tip for, for cravings? What do you, how do you work with, you know, those, those late night cravings? Those, I need something sweet after I eat something cravings.

Erica Leon (49m 33s):
You know, the first thing I say is number one, normalize it. It’s okay. It’s okay to have a crazy thing. Life is really challenging. It’s okay. That’s the first thing. Okay. When, when you, when you say it’s okay, it takes the shame away from it. So that’s number one, number two, when you have craving, it’s not, it’s not necessarily hunger. And under the question really becomes, can you start to become skilled at recognizing what’s going on in that moment? If you have a craving, I think it’s great information. I noticed it for myself when I feel like my husband last night, I really wish we had chocolate. Like, I think that I was feeling really sad about life right now, really feeling sad.

Erica Leon (50m 17s):
And so it’s information about what your, what your emotional state is. And so instead of villainizing, it use it as information. If, if you’re craving something in your, your, you know, that you’re not really hungry and, you know, it’s worth looking at what’s going on. Okay. If, if, and if using food as your only tool it’s information also that maybe it’s time to learn some new strategies. I’m going to go back to the things like learning some breathing techniques and kind of figuring out other self-care strategies, you know, journaling. I was thinking about this. I, I, I have a self soothing toolbox right here. It has some lotion in it and the candle, you know, trying to think about other things that can be helpful in those moments.

Erica Leon (50m 58s):
And it’s awesome.

2 (50m 59s):
Yeah. Yeah. You’re always trying to just get our needs met. Right. We just need better, better options. I always say we need to just expand the menu of options.

Erica Leon (51m 6s):
That’s I like that. And then you have options. Yes.

Christine Okezie (51m 8s):
Oh my gosh. So when it comes to, you know, the world of nutrition and the work that you do, what are you most curious about? Like, what are you kind of really researching a lot and, and why? Like, what’s getting your attention these days,

Erica Leon (51m 24s):
This question about belly fat. I’m going to go back to nigga asking me that earlier. Cool. I probably get emails several times a week from dieticians. Show me the research. Show me the research. There’s very little research and the research is out there on this relationship, put you in belly fat and menopause is, is very biased. We don’t have good research studies. So that is something I’m very curious about.

Christine Okezie (51m 50s):
Awesome. Thank you. Yeah. Well maybe we’ll have you back on the show to share some of that cool research, because I think that’s a burning question for a lot of people that gets pushed around, you know, out there feeding the fear. Yeah, absolutely. Okay. Well, I know that you have some great programs and support groups that you want to share. So where can our listeners connect with you and all the beautiful work that you’re?

Erica Leon (52m 14s):
Thank you. Yes. I have a website www dot Erika, I have groups that I run specific to midlife and menopause where women share their struggles and their journeys. And what I hear is there’s someone else who’s going through just like me. I don’t feel so alone. And I think it’s hard to find community in. And that community is so important to know that someone else is going through the same things that you are. I have a handout on nutrition for menopause. So yeah, come to my website and you’ll find all the information.

Christine Okezie (52m 48s):
Oh, thank you, Erica, though. This has been great. I appreciate your time and everything you’ve shared. I think it’s just incredibly valuable. So thank you,

Erica Leon (52m 57s):
Christine, for the opportunity to talk about this and you’re lovely, and I love that you’re also on the journey. We’re all on the journey to just the more we know the better we can do. And absolutely

Christine Okezie (53m 7s):
Really well said, well said. All right. Thank you so much.

Erica Leon (53m 10s):
Take care. You too. Bye. Bye.

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