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We chat to nutritionist Ashleigh James

20.06.19 Eat, Learn Blog SumoSalad
Nutritionist portrait with vegetables

With so much confusion and misinformation around nutrition, we’re always striving to sort fact from fiction. Enter: nutritionist Ashleigh James. Ashleigh is our go-to source for all things food and nutrition. She has a refreshingly balanced approach, offering up easy to integrate tips and tricks to help you upgrade your daily diet. Today on the blog, we’re getting to know Ashleigh and chatting about unhelpful nutrition trends, the biggest diet mistakes people make and what a nutritionist really eats in a day.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

I have a bit of a mixed bag of interests actually. Straight out of school I went into journalism because I loved writing and creating content (and still do!). After working and travelling for a few years I realised that my passions were really in the health and wellness space. I have always had a big interest in nutrition. I struggled a lot with my weight and disordered eating throughout my teenage years and into my early 20s, so my interest in nutrition definitely stemmed from a yearning to heal my relationship with food and my body. I first started studying dietetics at Sydney University before switching to purely nutrition at Deakin University, which is where I graduated. Nutrition excites me; I find it fascinating we can heal many things in our bodies and minds with the power of food – it’s our most fundamental tool when it comes to living and thriving. It can be the source of our health or the source of our disease.

Another big passion of mine is yoga. I got into it when I was living in London, and after practising for many years I completed my Yoga Teacher Training last year in Bali – which was a real life-changing experience. Yoga is very much a spiritual practice for me rather than something physical, a journey that is growing deeper and more important to me all the time.

I’m now studying a Bachelor of Psychology. My interest in psychology actually stemmed from my interest in spirituality and eastern philosophies rather than western science – so in that way it was sort of a backwards development for me. I’m fascinated by human behaviour and the mind-body connection. Understanding thought processes, how to manage and change them, and how to live a more fulfilled life through changes to our internal environment and introspection are profoundly interesting and exciting concepts to me.

Can you tell us about your approach to nutrition and any areas of interest you have?

My approach to nutrition is one of balance rather than restriction. I know first hand how restriction and dieting can destroy your relationship with food, and it actually becomes a vicious cycle. The more you restrict, the more likely you are to break any ‘diet’ and overeat, which leads to compensatory behaviours, which leads to more deprivation and then more overeating. I don’t advocate eating whatever you want, whenever you want however. The goal should be to have food as a health-giving part of life that gives you pleasure but doesn’t take centre stage.

My area of speciality is disordered eating – and this can take a multitude of forms. I believe everyone can develop a healthy relationship to food. I love helping people to cultivate that for themselves by looking holistically rather than reducing their struggles to a meal plan. Gut health and food intolerances are another area that I’m particularly interested in, but this stems also from the link between our gut and brain. So again I look holistically at a person’s lifestyle to uncover underlying problems – emotional and physical.

Nutritionist Ashleigh James

There are a lot of nutrition trends. What is one you like and one that you think is unhelpful?

I am very wary of any detoxes. Our bodies don’t really need juice cleanses or the like, our liver and kidneys (if functioning properly) detox our bodies appropriately.

A trend that does have some strong scientific backing is intermittent fasting. I find however men do much better than women with this, and there are types of people who shouldn’t be trying it – e.g. pregnant women or people with a history of eating disorders. The 16:8 protocol has been shown to have a positive impact on blood sugar levels, but even a 12-14 hour fast will be beneficial. You could start with finishing dinner at 7pm and then having breakfast at 9am the next day. You could do this two days a week and see how you feel.

What does a typical day on your plate look like?

I eat pretty similar day to day. Breakfast is always oats, organic yoghurt (either coconut, soy or dairy) and fruit. Lunch is always a salad with some carbs (like pumpkin), protein (like fish, tofu or beans) and fat (like olive oil, avocado or walnuts). And then dinner could be a number of things – salmon and veggies, curries, stir fries, casseroles, soups. I tend to make enough dinner for a few nights in a row. I also usually do some sort of cook up on a Sunday so I have a few meals during the week ready to heat up. I don’t eat much meat, I drink 1-2 coffees a day and generally avoid snacking. I also drink a lot of water. I LOVE cooking and experimenting with recipes, I find it really grounding and nurturing, almost primal. There are hundreds of different types of vegetables and herbs, and countless ways to combine ingredients. It’s a shame that we don’t get taught simple cooking techniques in school anymore. I feel not having these life skills sets people up for weight and health problems throughout their life.

What do you think are some of the most common mistakes people make around nutrition?

Trying to eat diet foods instead of real foods in the hope it will result in weight loss. I see people all the time trying to have shakes or bars in place of real food when they are trying to lose weight. This is a big no no in my books. Firstly your body doesn’t recognise those foods so can’t extract the nutrients it needs from it. Those shakes and bars are often full of chemicals and many different ingredients our bodies don’t recognise. We are also meant to chew foods, so in a way you are robbing yourself of calories by drinking shakes and smoothies. I find people are so much better off spending a little bit of time to make healthy meals and snacks than trying to eat meal replacements. Secondly, when you deny yourself food, you are more likely to overeat at a later stage because mentally you have deprived yourself, even if the calorie intake is not that different. A small meal worth 400 calories is going keep you much more satisfied than 400 calories of smoothie. It’s the diet mentality which is detrimental and which I help my clients overcome. Making peace with food is the goal. I find they naturally lose weight and feel healthier when they stop the dieting madness.

If people want to book in for a session with you, where do they start?

I would love to hear from people; they can contact me via email at ashleighjhealth@gmail.com if they are interested in booking a session with me.


Ashleigh James is a Sydney-based integrated nutritional therapist who specialises in food intolerances, disordered eating and women’s health. She takes a holistic approach to nutrition, incorporating elements of psychology, eastern medicine and mindfulness-based therapeutic approaches to help her clients re-balance body, mind and spirit. If you’d like to chat to Ashleigh about your nutrition concerns, you can email her at ashleighjhealth@gmail.com. Plus, you can follow Ashleigh on Instagram @ashleighjhealth.

POSTED BY: Anthea England
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