If you’re burnt out on dieting, you’re probably interested in exploring a concept we talk about a lot around here: gentle nutrition. While most people are eager to get to the “good part” when learning to eat intuitively, gentle nutrition is one of the last steps of the journey of intuitive eating. Why? Because we have to un-do a lot of the default programming leftover from years of dieting and diet culture.
In this episode, I’ve invited fellow non-diet dietitian Rachael Hartley on the show to take a deep dive into understanding gentle nutrition- including who it’s for, how to apply it, and the most common hiccups that people experience along the way. Join us if you’re ready to examine your relationship with food!
To learn more about Rachael Hartley and her work, visit her website at www.rachaelhartleynutrition.com, or follow her on Instagram at @RachaelHartleyRD.
Be sure to grab Rachael’s cookbook: Gentle Nutrition: A Non-Dieting Approach to Healthy Eating for some easy and delicious meal inspiration!
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 Huber 00:02
Hi, and welcome to the midlife feast the podcast for women who are hungry for more in this season of life. I'm your host, Dr. Jenn Selena Huber. Come to my table, listen and learn from me. Trusted guests, experts in women's health and interviews with women just like you. Each episode brings to the table juicy conversations designed to help you feast on midlife. At their midlife feast family, you are going to enjoy today's episode. So if you are familiar with intuitive eating, you've probably heard the term or heard me talk about or heard others talk about this idea of gentle nutrition. So gentle nutrition is one of the principles of intuitive eating. And as I talk about in this episode, there's often this rush to kind of want to get there. It's like, Yeah, let's stop dieting, yada, yada, yada, how do I get to gentle nutrition. And so you know, people who've done group programs with me or done beyond the scale will know that it's the second to last module for a good reason, because we do have to do some of the work before so that we can start to pay attention to understanding hunger and fullness and satisfaction and undying those beliefs about good and bad foods.
But it's also a really fun piece about intuitive eating because it allows people to get excited about food again. And so I was very excited to talk to Rachel Hartley, who's a dietitian based out of Boston, who's written a book called gentle nutrition, which again, some of you may recognize it. It's one of the resources that I often share. And we have this really great discussion about what gentle nutrition looks like on the professional side, how we describe it to people, what some of the kind of hiccups are that people get caught up on? We also talked about changing our language around good and bad foods and how we can start to expand how we think about food. So I think that you'll really enjoy this in whatever stage of intuitive eating that you're in. I think that you'll find it a fun and also helpful conversation. All right, so welcome, Rachel to the midlife feast. I'm so excited to have you here today.
Rachael Hartley 02:09
Thank you and I'm just like really excited to be here.
Jenn Huber 02:13
Awesome. I always love talking to other dieticians. I am I've heard you on Amanda bullets podcast. And Amanda has been on my pot has been on the midlife feast and Val Schoenberg. And so I feel like, you know, there's this circle of us that kind of travel in different, you know, different times, but almost like as a pack, but separately, you know, talking about the same things. And so I'm really, really honored to have you here today.
Rachael Hartley 02:36
Well, thank you so much. I just really, again, appreciate you having me on.
Jenn Huber 02:40
So tell us a little bit about you. And so you you're you've written a cookbook, which I'll we'll talk about. But tell us about your gentle nutrition work and how this kind of showed up for you.
Rachael Hartley 02:53
Yeah, so I am a private practice dietitian. I am based out of Boston, Massachusetts right now. But I actually still run a office down in Columbia, South Carolina, where I moved from a couple of years ago. So my associate dietician Kate is running the office down there. But yeah, so I started my practice about, oh, my goodness, nine years ago now, because I quit my job to start private practice on my 30th birthday. That is always my marker of being able to remember. But yeah, so I, you know, I specialize in working with disordered eating, eating disorders. And then just like, different medical conditions from that non diet approach, and we're gentle nutrition really kind of came in as I, as I was integrating more intuitive eating into my practice, really recognizing that, you know, this principle of intuitive eating, for very understandable reasons, doesn't always get talked about, you know, it's just a hard thing to talk about online to a large audience. You know, nutrition is such an individual thing. And yet that silence about gentle nutrition was creating a lot of confusion about what it actually is what it looks like, in a weird way. It was almost turning it into this, like diet, almost like a like, you know, you pass the first nine principles of intuitive eating, and now you're being rewarded with gentle nutrition.
Jenn Huber 04:25
Yeah, no, I think that's such a great description. And one of the reasons why I ended up with your book a few years ago, because when did it come out? Oh, my goodness, two years ago now. Yeah, cuz I remember ordering it as soon as I saw you promoting it, because I also felt like there was a bit of a gap. So for those people who aren't familiar with the principles of intuitive eating gentle nutrition is at the end. And but it's also where people are often really eager to get to, they're like anti diet, yada, yada, yada. How do I get to gentle nutrition and so it's really easy for people, I think to turn gentle nutrition into a non diet diet. So they're looking for a set of rules. They're looking for the boundaries, they want the like do's and don'ts. And that's the really hard part about gentle nutrition is how do you articulate what it means without giving people a set of rules? So how do you how do you describe it to people?
Rachael Hartley 05:23
Yes, no, I always love this question. And whenever I'm asked, I kind of laugh because when I first turned in my copy of my manuscript, my editor was like, okay, like, I get that you describe what gentle nutrition is, throughout the whole book, but you can't actually have to, like do a couple sentences dividing it, I was like, oh, that's kind of hard. But basically, what I kind of came up with is, you gentle nutrition is basically nutrition, when you take away the focus on, you know, controlling one's body size, like, what does nutrition look like, if we're not utilizing it as a way of trying to lose weight or control one's body, but if we're actually using it, in service of our well being of our health and well being. So, you know, I talked about how gentle nutrition is something that's flexible, gentle nutrition is something that is individual, you know, we all are unique human beings with like, not just unique genetics, but unique lifestyles and unique, you know, resources that we have our own unique barriers. So it's, you know, individual, and it's really looking at like the big picture of our eating over time. It's not hyper focusing in on like, one meal or snack, if it's as if it's going to, you know, make or break our health.
Jenn Huber 06:46
Yes, oh, my goodness, yes, I describe it as nutrition is the long game of health. And so what we do, you know, for breakfast, everyday, this month, it probably isn't going to have any meaningful or measureable impact, but it could change how we feel. And it can change how we move about our day. But it's probably not going to be the deciding factor on you know, whether I live to be 82 or 83. You know, that kind of thing.
Rachael Hartley 07:12
Right? Right. Exactly. It's like, yeah, we put so much pressure on nutrition. You know, when people think about health, they put food and fitness up on this pedestal. And, you know, obviously, you know, dietician here, like, you know, you know that, you know, we know that nutrition is important and can play a role in in one's health and well being. But, you know, there's all these other factors that really get ignored when we put food and fitness on a pedestal above, you know, all these other factors.
Jenn Huber 07:44
Yeah, absolutely. So when you're talking to someone, either, you know, clients or kind of, you know, groups of people about how do we apply gentle nutrition because it sounds lovely, and lots of people just love that word. Even they're like, oh, gentle nutrition. That sounds really nice. Yeah, I want some of that. How do you actually walk them through that it isn't about meeting a set of criteria, that there isn't like a set of do's and don'ts because that I think, is the hardest part for people to understand. So I love hearing how other people describe it, because it adds to, I think, our big picture understanding of how do we actually use gentle nutrition as a tool without it turning into a diet? So if somebody says, Rachel, how do I apply this thing that's called gentle nutrition, but you're not telling me what I can and can't eat? How does that work?
Rachael Hartley 08:33
Totally. No, I love this question. Yeah, because I think there's this, you know, misconception that many people have that like, throughout, you know, what, as they're progressing, progressing in their intuitive eating journey, like, at the end of it, they're going to be craving like kale salads and quinoa all the time. It's like, yeah, that's what gentle nutrition looks like. But, you know, again, it's it's really different for everyone. So yeah, so gentle nutrition. One thing I used to describe gentle nutrition and what it really just integrating nutrition into our life. So use a concept I developed called the nutrition hierarchy of needs. So it's based off of both like, you know, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but also Ellen Sattar has a wonderful hierarchy that that she's created as well. But the big takeaway that I have for people is that, you know, when the most important piece like the bottom of that hierarchy, the most important factor in nutrition is whether we're eating enough food, you know, are we getting adequate amounts of calories and carbs and fats and proteins?
Like, are we energetically feeding ourselves enough? And we know this, like when we look around the world and the way that nutrition is applied in this kind of public health kind of way, but you know, because, you know, I assume most people listening are in a place that relative food sick charity, and yet we like put this sort of self imposed food insecurity on ourselves through dieting, you we really forget that like actually eating enough like that is like that is by far and beyond the most important part of of nutrition, if you're not eating enough, it doesn't matter how much like, you know, kale or you know, blueberries or whatever you're eating, like you are undernourished. So that's really the first thing that I work on with my clients, which I think is also cool in that it serves this other, you know, this, this other role in really showing people that like, No, we're actually integrating nutrition, from the very beginning of the intuitive eating process, you know, honoring your hunger is about eating enough. And so, you know, into a gentle nutrition, excuse me, it doesn't have to be this thing that we have saved to the end, it's actually something that we're integrating throughout this whole Intuitive Eating process.
So, yeah, so So I start with, you know, adequacy, then, you know, we kind of look at balance, so whether someone is most of the time eating, you know, fats and proteins and carbs, and, you know, maybe some produce, like basically getting an array of food groups, most times that they eat. You know, from there, we talk about variety, are we getting a wide array of different foods, because when we eat a wide array of different foods, different foods, we get different, you know, vitamins and minerals and nutrients that our body needs. And then finally, at the top of my hierarchy is individual foods, which, you know, can play a role. You know, there are absolutely ways that we can, you know, utilize specific foods for specific health reasons, you know, I think about how, I don't know just how a lot of foods get put up on a health pedestal. And sometimes there's like a little kernel of truth in that, like, yeah, there's lots of certain foods that are hired certain nutrients, or that might be helpful for various reasons or another. But that's the piece of nutrition that gets focused on the most. And then these other more important aspects get ignored. So, so yeah, so we're kind of flipping the table, I guess, on the sort of traditional way nutrition is talked about.
Jenn Huber 12:16
And I actually use your hierarchy a lot in when I'm explaining gentle nutrition to people. And an example that's relevant to women in midlife is about phyto, estrogen. So phyto estrogens coming from soy foods, sure, that's an individual kind of food benefit. But I would never want someone to choose that at the expense of adequacy, or at the expense of balance or variety. And, you know, so when it comes to adequacy, I describe it as we need to lower the bar. And that's your first filter. So you know, thank you for that concept, because I think that it really helps people to visually get this, okay, it's most important that I eat enough, it is most important that my basic needs to be fed are met. And even if it's imperfect, right, so yeah, I think that that's a really great framework. So thank you so much for that. Yeah. What are some of the mistakes that people make? And maybe not mistakes? That's maybe that's the wrong word. Maybe what are some of the stumbles that people make when they're applying gentle nutrition.
So just to kind of give an example, one of the things that often comes up for people in midlife who might be managing cholesterol, or high blood sugar, or maybe some, you know, health conditions, maybe not even diagnoses, but you know, health conditions that require them to think about food a little bit more than maybe somebody who's 25, for example, and may not be in this age and stage of life, that it sometimes is really hard for them to stay out of that food rule lane. So when I say like, we're going to add in oatmeal for breakfast, they'll say, okay, so I have oatmeal every day. And you know, if they want that rule, but yet they don't want the rule. So that's kind of one of the stumbles that I see what are some of the others, if somebody is kind of new to this, or just starting to think about gentle nutrition? where might they get hung up?
Rachael Hartley 14:11
Yeah. So I think one of the biggest things that I see is this focus on, you know, is my meal, or is this food healthy or unhealthy, instead of like, taking a big step back and really looking at like the overall kind of flow or the overall kind of pattern of what we're eating. So, you know, hyper fixating on individual meals, but that doesn't really serve us. But if we, you know, kind of look and take this broad, like, big picture view of like, what am I eating over time, you know, we may be able to, like, identify some things that are helpful. You know, I'll speak for myself as someone who, as we were briefly discussing beforehand does appear as recently learned that she is entering that life that if I know that I am someone, like, oh, I guess that's true. You know, I, I'm someone who has always had high cholesterol my whole life, no matter how I've eaten, it runs in my family. And you know, I want to be I've tried to be to some degree mindful of that.
So, you know, instead of thinking that actually, your example of oatmeal was great, you know, instead of focusing in on like, oatmeal is the healthiest breakfast I could possibly do. You know, I'm looking at over time, like, what are things that I can do to integrate more soluble fibers into my eating patterns. So integrating more meals that have like beans in them, like, I always have, like canned beans in the house, because that makes it an easy thing for me to do. I always have like oatmeal in my house as like a backup breakfast just in case like, you know, there's other things I like to eat. But I know that that's kind of like, the go to thing that is there when like, my brain is just, you know, running on fumes and not coming up with ideas. So it's really these big picture things that we do that matter and not like, again, that the meals that make or break us.
Jenn Huber 16:08
Yeah, and I love your point about the canned beans because you know, the this whole hierarchy of wellness and diet culture that like canned beans aren't good enough, you have to like soak and cook your own in order for beans to be the right choice. You know, I think that when we place those limits and filters and conditions on including foods, it makes it even more inaccessible, and really moves us away from that adequacy, it makes it out of reach. Yeah. So I think that that's a really great example for people to think about is that even if you have a quote unquote, legitimate reason that, you know, you're you have to or want to or have been told that you should think about food XYZ, it doesn't mean that it has to be done perfectly.
Rachael Hartley 16:55
Right, right. There's this like idea of just, you know, not letting perfect be the enemy of good. And that's not to say that like, you know, campaigns and dry beans like Well, that's like very, very, very similar nutritionally, but there's some times we hyper fixate on these minut differences in foods and forget that, like, it's really not that big of a, you know, not that big of a deal. You know, cool if you want to choose the food that's like maybe slightly more nutrient dense, but like, let's not let that be the enemy of good.
Jenn Huber 17:29
Yeah, so another oatmeal example i for a while, I used to call myself like the defender of oatmeal, but like, steel cut versus quick oats, we're talking about the difference of like, point two grams. And yet there are people that I work with regularly who gave up oatmeal five, six years ago, because they thought that quick oats were processed and bad. Yeah. And then we add it back in because you know, they have a reason what they want too often just because they they like don't meal but stopped eating it because they're like, oh, I don't have time to cook still. I'm like, who does? Nobody has time to make steel cut oats every day? I don't know, you know, I don't even have them in my cupboard anymore. Like I only buy quick oats. You know, and I enjoy. I think that when we start to break down some of the barriers to making nutrition feel easy again. It makes gentle nutrition feel a lot more accessible.
Rachael Hartley 18:27
Yes, yes, yes, absolutely. Absolutely. We don't need to make things. And I'm saying we don't need to make things harder on ourselves. But obviously, there is like a whole industry out there kind of convincing that we do it guess. Yeah, we can we can? You know, yes. We don't have to listen to them.
Jenn Huber 18:48
No, no, we don't. So one of the questions that I always like to ask other people is around this labeling of good and bad foods, because this is also a call it an obstacle in that people will say I get what you're saying. But there are bad foods, right? There are some foods that like I shouldn't have or should never have. And so when I try and say, you know, let's try and remove the language and the morality, it's still a hard thing to, to, it's a hard thing to describe. So how do you describe to people how did you let go of that language so that food, all foods fit? How do we actually make that feel easy?
Rachael Hartley 19:26
Right? So I think it's important to distinguish it like okay, yes, there are certain foods that are more nutritionally dense than others, meaning they have more vitamins, more minerals, more, you know, antioxidants, like that is a real thing. And different foods serve different purposes. And so that doesn't mean that a food is good or that it's bad, just because it is higher and lower in in nutrient density. The example that I always use with my clients is like okay, so imagine there is a imagine there's like a runner who's about to go like, you know, compete in a race, they're about to like, go run a sprint or a half marathon or whatever they're doing? And what are they doing? They're taking those little gel packets, and like, you know, eating that, whether it's like in the beginning of their race or in the middle, like, what is it? It's really just sugar. But from a nutrition standpoint, that is the best food for them, like, are those gel packets like packed with vitamins and minerals, and fiber and all this like no other?
There's things that we associate with health, like no, but it is good for them in that moment. And you know, it's similar with foods, like most people I'm using that example with are not runners, but like, you know, you think about even something as simple as you know, last night, I had, I was getting hungry for dinner. But I had one more client, and I knew that I still like was going to be cooking a little bit afterwards. So what did I eat, I had something that like I had these little like, like little bread, sticky things that were like white flour, and it was perfect. It gave me some glucose, it didn't like overly fill me up. So I didn't have an appetite. Like, it was good for me in that moment, it served that purpose. And so I think if we can kind of take a step back and move away from this, that's a good food, or that's a bad food, and instead recognize that different foods serve different purposes. And that pleasure is like a valid purpose to be eating. And I think that that helps. Yeah, get out of that sort of food labeling mentality.
Jenn Huber 21:32
Yeah, and I mean, it's so hard in our current climate, where every, every diet has its own list. And you know, this was one of my kind of breaking points. Personally, when I was still in diet culture was like, the rules keep changing, what's good for one diet is bad for another. And that was kind of my aha moment of like, okay, there has to be some sanity here. And really, the sanity is that for the most part, those labels are arbitrary. And they don't actually help you make decisions about it. Because like you mentioned in this example, with running, it really depends on the context. It also depends on accessibility. It also depends on taste preference, because that also matters. You know, my family gave up whole wheat pasta a few years ago, because no one liked it. I'm not losing any sleep over that, you know, and I think that when we start to realize that you can actually still build a balanced plate with white flour, with white pasta that you can include and enjoy white rice, and your health is not going to suffer. That it is so I think it was it's mind blowing for a lot of people because they haven't considered that reality. But they start to realize that, hey, I enjoy food a lot more if I like how it tastes. And I'm not thinking about what else I need to meet my needs for satisfaction. If I'm, you know, choking down this supper that I don't like, just because it's quote unquote, good for me. So it's Yeah, I think it's, I think the language really matters. And that's, I find, personally and professionally, that's the biggest barrier is getting people to change the internal dialogue that they have about foods when they're making when they're in the decision process. Yeah. Which kind of brings me to that what we all love about gentle nutrition, which is the Add Ins, right. So it's not about taking away it's about how do we add in? So what are some of the favorite ways? Or what are some of the ways that you find helpful to, you know, get people excited about adding in?
Rachael Hartley 23:32
Oh, that's a good question. Yeah. So I think, you know, I think one of the things that's an are kind of interesting to me, maybe not to other people, might just be a nutrition nerd kind of thing. But a lot of the foods that like provide or ingredients that provide flavors, to meals also like or that add flavor, also add a lot of like, actual nutrition in them to, you know, you think about how a nature things that have like a, you know, think of like garlic or like herbs, things that have this like, pungent smell or like a bright smell or whatever, you know, that's also like phytochemicals that that are beneficial to our health.
So I think that's just kind of a neat little interesting thing that I love that I always kind of find fascinating. Yeah, so I think that's, that's one thing that I'd love to think about. You know, I think the other is, um, yeah, reflecting on that question. I, one other thing that I'm thinking about is how, oftentimes the nutrient dense foods that people are feeling like they should be eating, you know, it's almost like this idea if I'm going to eat something, quote, unquote, healthy or if I'm going to eat a good food, I have to prepare it in the best, healthiest way possible. And when we're able to move away from like, I don't know like, I mean, if anyone like steamed broccoli out there, I'm sorry, I don't but it's like when you move away from like steamed or boiled or or whatever and think about like, How can I take this lovely and nutrient dense food that I'd like to be integrating? And how can I prepare it in a way that actually like tastes good and is pleasurable? You know, that can really change people's perspective on nutrition.
Jenn Huber 25:17
Yes. Oh my goodness. I love that example, too. That was also kind of one of my dieting undoing was when I recognized that I ate more salad with croutons than trying to enjoy them without I get excited about I need crunch in my salad. I actually love salads, but I don't love them as much and don't want them as much if there's no crunch. Yeah, and so recognizing that the crunch was the satisfaction opened a whole new world with salads. And people often will say things like, oh, so it still counts. If I put butter on my broccoli. Still broccoli, it
Rachael Hartley 25:52
didn't turn into something else hasn't converted? Yeah. Yeah, it's funny. It's like almost like I can't like I'm not getting the nutrition benefits out of it. If there's, you know, butter or cheese or you know, croutons or, or actually my salad favorite right now is I like to do panko bread crumbs and like, a little bit toasted and some olive oil with some like herbs in there. That is Yep. That's my favorite thing. That's happening. You're welcome. But yeah, it's like we actually can get nutrition and enjoy it at the same time.
Jenn Huber 26:28
Yeah. I love that. I think that that's a great place to end actually, we can get nutrition and enjoy it at the same time. Thank you so much for your time today. And since you're new to midlife are approaching it. As I always ask my guests. What do you think is the missing ingredient in midlife? Yes.
Rachael Hartley 26:47
Okay, so what I think and obviously I have very limited experience in midlife I have at the front end of my midlife. But you know what, when I think about conversations I've had with my clients, I think the missing ingredient is really open conversation about it, you know, it is a period of transition, much like, you know, how puberty is a period of transition in our bodies. And there's not a lot of open dialogue about like, what is happening in our body? What can we expect, like, you know, what, what is going on? And why are these changes important? So I think that like, just open communication and dialogue like you were doing with this podcast, that
Jenn Huber 27:32
yeah, we definitely need more, a lot more open dialogue. So I 100% agree with you. So if people want to learn more about you and how they can learn from you, where's the best place for them to find you?
Rachael Hartley 27:44
Absolutely. So probably the best place is on my website. It's Rachel Hartley nutrition.com. And my my Rachel is spelled h e l not E L, but just Google Rachel Hartley nutrition, you'll find it. I've got a blog there and just like different resources. You can also find me on Instagram. I you know, I'm fairly active on there, though. A lot of my activity is sharing pictures of my very cute Bernese Mountain Dog on my stories. That's always fun, too.
Jenn Huber 28:15
Awesome, and we will have all the links in the show notes. So thank you so much for your time today and welcome to the midlife Club.
Rachael Hartley 28:23
Well, thank you so much again for having me. This is such a fun conversation.
Jenn Huber 28:28
Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of the midlife beast. 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.