“These questions and myths come up all the time. And what's maybe a little ironic is that the most common ones are sometimes the most basic or simple ones.” “And one of the principles of intuitive eating that I love to remind people about is the satisfaction factor. So if you're approaching the holidays and maybe thinking about what you might try differently this year, I would really encourage you to tune into your food preferences, try to think about what it is you enjoy most.”
In today’s episode, we’re joined by Cara Harbstreet. Her expertise seamlessly combines nutrition science with joyful eating. Join us as we explore her commitment to simplifying health messages and fostering positive relationships with food. Discover how she encourages rediscovering joy in eating without unnecessary restrictions.
Cara Harbstreet is a Kansas City-based registered dietitian working in private practice and nutrition communications. She is passionate about fearlessly nourishing meals, and uses a weight-inclusive approach to gentle nutrition.
[0:32] Shireen: In today’s episode, we are joined by Cara Harbstreet, whose expertise seamlessly combines nutrition science with joyful eating. Join us as we explore her commitment to simplifying health messages and fostering positive relationships with food. Discover how she encourages rediscovering joy in eating without unnecessary restrictions. Stay tuned.
[0:59] Shireen: Cara Harbstreet is a Kansas City based registered dietitian working in private practice and nutrition communications. She is passionate about fearlessly nourishing meals and uses a weight inclusive approach to gentle nutrition. Welcome, Cara.
[1:16] Cara Harbstreet: Hello and thanks for having me.
[1:18] Shireen: An absolute pleasure having you on, Cara. So we’ve got a lot to talk about because this is going to be a holiday episode. We’re going to talk about some holiday stuff. But I do want to take a step back, and I want to start out by asking you a little bit about your journey into the field of nutrition and how you really developed this passion for helping people rediscover joy in eating.
[1:39] Cara: Yes, I always love this question because I feel like it’s really difficult to separate the personal side of why I’m interested in food nutrition from the professional. But long story short, I grew up as a really active person. I was always involved in sports of some kind, all the way up through the collegiate level. And at no point did I really draw a strong connection between nutrition and performance. And of course, that’s what kind of eventually spurred my interest in nutrition. I eventually selected dietetics as a major and kind of set that trajectory in motion. And what’s interesting about my formal education as a dietitian is that we learned a lot of obviously clinical nutrition, a lot of helpful ways to support people who are using nutrition to support both short and long term health. And yet, at the same time, that was the time in my life where I probably had the least healthy relationship with food. So coming out of my master’s program and my internship in those first early years as a dietitian, I thought I was doing all the things right, doing it by the book, and yet I was still really struggling with my own personal relationship with food. So that really shaped my practice going forward and really solidified this idea that there’s no one right in air quotes, of course. Right way to eat for better health and happiness. And really just using food as a way to connect with your values and what’s most important to you. I’ve kind of carved my own personal journey in that sense. But one of the really fulfilling things about my job at this point is helping the clients that I work with do the same thing.
[3:12] Shireen: Lovely. And when we talk about those types of things, it’s common for us to hear about certain misconceptions and also myths around nutrition. Can you highlight a common nutrition myth? A couple perhaps nutrition myths that you often encounter when you’re working with individuals.
[3:31] Cara: These questions and myths come up all the time. And what’s maybe a little ironic is that the most common ones are sometimes the most basic or simple ones. One that came up this week alone was around fruit. This idea that fruit is either too high in carbs, too high in sugar, something that we should avoid. And in reality, when we actually look at the consumption data, we see that the vast majority of us living here in the United States don’t even hit the minimum recommendation for servings of fruits and vegetables. So we have this very kind of intuitive, very familiar idea or belief around fruit, which is maybe your parents really offered it as snacks or kind of recommended it as this healthier option when we were growing up. And now we find ourselves as adults facing all of this contradicting information, these claims that are coming from somewhat dubious sources. And I really have a lot of compassion for someone who’s struggling with that because it is confusing to try to sort through what is fact, what is fiction. And when it comes to something as simple and basic as having a few extra servings of fruit, it can do so many wonders for our health. Whether it’s from the fiber, the flavor and enjoyment, the antioxidants. There’s a lot of nutrition benefit in some of these foods, and yet the myth is we need to avoid them for some reason. They’re not good for us or they’re not going to help us meet our nutrition and health goals. We should stay away from them. And it gets really frustrating. I can apply that to other food categories as well, things like carbohydrates or whole grains. Now we’re having a lot of conversations around processed food and kind of the adjacent partner to that, maybe the ultra or highly processed foods, when in reality there’s so many different ways that these foods can serve us. And it’s really just about fine tuning what it is that we need from some of these before we rule them out. Altogether and say, no, that’s something I can’t have.
[3:52] Shireen: Which takes me to what our topic is really focused on is around holiday eating. We all know we pick up a few pounds here, a few pounds there each time the holidays are all around. How can individuals strike a balance between really enjoying their favorite foods and then maintaining a nutritious diet at the same time during a festive season?
[5:44] Cara: Well, you mentioned a couple of things that really stand out. I think the first one is balance, but then also enjoyment. And we sometimes think of these things as opposing forces, when in reality I believe they’re more like two sides of the same coin when we go into the holidays. You’re absolutely right. There is this abundance of foods that we maybe don’t enjoy during other times of the year, and there’s something special about them. Often times they’re family favorites or they have this nostalgia component and we really get excited. We look forward to having these things because we know, all right, we’ve been looking forward to this for months and months. The time is finally here. And what I find funny is that this idea of balance seems to be okay. Well, I need to balance out these more, maybe indulgent or rich types of foods with maybe more exercise. I call that, that earn and burn mentality where we have to earn the right or the permission to enjoy these foods. The idea of balance can also sometimes be, well, everything in moderation. I’m just going to try everything available regardless of whether or not I like it. And one of the principles of intuitive eating that I love to remind people about is the satisfaction factor. So if you’re approaching the holidays and maybe thinking about what you might try differently this year, I would really encourage you to tune into your food preferences, try to think about what it is you enjoy most. I have a feeling there’s probably items that maybe are offered to you or you feel pressure to partake. Sometimes even obligation comes up, especially around family members and those family dynamics. And if it’s something where you don’t truly enjoy that food or it leaves you feeling less than your best, maybe it’s an opportunity to kind of say, hey, maybe balance this year looks like saying no to something so that I can really focus on enjoying the ones that I like the best.
[7:27] Shireen: I love that. And then coming back to sort of the myths question, are there any specific holiday related nutrition myths that you find particularly prevalent this time of the year, and how can people navigate them?
[7:42] Cara: Yes, I think one of the most common ones that I hear as far as myths has to do more around drinking versus eating. I think this is sometimes overlooked because we tend to focus on maybe what’s on our plate, but the reality is you attend a holiday party or you get invited to an after work event or whatever the case may be, and there’s most likely going to be some type of alcoholic beverage, maybe just something that’s really rich and seasonal. Like I’m thinking of eggnog or something similar. And I think one of the myths is that you shouldn’t drink your calories or that you should avoid any source of sugar or energy that comes in that liquid form. And I would say this also applies throughout the rest of the year as well. But I think it really intensifies during the holiday because like we said earlier, some of these things are so seasonal, we’re not probably drinking a lot of eggnog in the middle of the summertime. So I think that’s a myth because again, by allowing some permission to enjoy that, if that’s one of your favorite things about the holiday or something that you’re really excited and looking forward to, then it may be one of those things where you go ahead and have it. And the difference being the mindset or the approach that you take, rather than saying this is all or nothing, I’ve got to get it in while I can. I’m going to overdo it before I rebound and go back to restricting it the rest of the year. Allowing that kind of takes it off of the pedestal in a sense. We’ve kind of taken it down from this really highly relegated base and said it’s actually very normal. This is not something that we have to make a big to do about. It’s just very normalized to have the amount that we feel is most satisfying. And what’s interesting about that, we kind of have this pleasure peak, and that often happens within maybe the first few bites or the first few sips of whatever that food or drink item is. So one of the ways you can kind of test the waters here is to maybe start with a smaller portion or just take kind of a sample size, and then you can always check in with yourself and just ask, was that satisfying? Did I really get the amount of pleasure and enjoyment from that bite or that sip that I was hoping for? If the answer is yes, great. You can move on and turn your focus to other things. But if not, it still opens that opportunity for you to go back and have more. If that’s something you choose to do.
[9:55] Shireen: And what I’m hearing you talk about there is really around intuitive eating. And, you know, we’ve had several times, Cara, now had dietitians come on and talk about the importance of this intuitive eating. In fact, you have a cookbook out, Healthy Eating for Life, that emphasizes intuitive eating. How does this approach really help individuals during the Holiday season in particular when it’s like, well, maybe I can, you know, sort of put some of those things that I know on the back burner and just sort of indulge. How can one sort of strike that balance when there’s often a focus on indulgent foods?
[10:28] Cara: Yes. That framework has been so useful, again, not just from Professional science, which I use in my work as a dietitian, but also personally in my relationship with food. So if you’re not already familiar with intuitive eating or maybe being introduced to this Framework for the first time. It’s not just this idea of, okay, I’ll eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full, Or, you know, everything is allowable, everything in moderation. I think those are two of the most common things I hear. This framework is actually a set of ten different principles, and it was developed in tandem by a pair of dietitians in the 1990s. So it’s been around for decades at this point, but it’s finally gaining some traction. And I think part of the reason is because we’ve seen that restricted dieting or chronic dieting often doesn’t lead to the long term health outcomes, Namely weight loss that a lot of people are looking for. So the main difference with this intuitive eating approach is that it’s not just another diet. There is no focus on counting calories or changing your eating habits for the pursuit of weight loss. Again, within those ten principles, we have things like Honoring your hunger and making peace with food, finding the satisfaction factor. And then the tenth and final principle is gentle nutrition because, As I mentioned, this was developed by a pair of dietitians, so we’re not denying the fact that there are nutritional differences between certain foods, and we Certainly see that at play during the holiday season, but there is no moral difference between these foods. So eating quote, unquote well or healthy Doesn’t necessarily make you a better person, but because our belief system is so attached to diet culture, it really frames this idea of needing to restrict, Needing to pursue weight loss, you know, needing to always perform this model of health. And if we’re doing anything other than that, we often absorb a lot of shame and guilt into our belief system around food. So I really love using this approach, and you’re right. I had a great opportunity to author this workbook that really guides people through some of the questions that, You know, there’s no right or wrong answer. As we said earlier, it’s really just whatever is coming to the surface for you at that time. And so These journaling prompts or these different activities within the workbook can really be helpful for just getting more clear on what your values are around food and eating, which I find for a lot of people, you know, myself included, until I was introduced to this approach is something I never really thought of.
[12:51] Shireen: And it would be your mess if I didn’t ask for a favorite, perhaps, holiday recipe that you can share with us that, again, embodies Both the joy of, you know, sort of enjoying your food and also nutritional value.
[13:05] Cara: Yes. Well, there’s a couple that come to mind, and a Lot of them are related back to families. So one of my all time favorite holiday recipes, we had a tradition when I was growing up, you know, here in the Midwest. My dad did actually his fair share of the cooking, and one of his specialties was biscuits and gravy. So one of our traditions as a family was every Christmas morning, We would have Christmas brunch, and the staple on the table was a homemade batch of gravy served with flaky biscuits. So while it’s Not arguably the most nutritious meal in the sense of offering, you know, like I said earlier, the antioxidants or the fiber or the lean protein that a lot of people like Prioritize. It still has all the basics. We’ve got a carb. We’ve got some fat. We’ve got protein from the sausage that he used. And so it does still embody what we think of when it comes to nutritional balance. Another big difference there is, of course, Labor, there’s that family connection. And so I always encourage folks when you’re thinking about what constitutes a healthy or nourishing recipe to really expand that definition behind just the nutrient composition of that food. I think another one that always feels really special around the holidays. We are a seafood loving family, and it’s ironic that we live in one of the most landlocked areas of the entire United States. But another really special recipe that I like to bring out around the holiday season is a walnut crusted salmon. There’s a version of that in another one of my cookbooks, And I’ve kind of updated it and tweaked it over the years. And one of the main changes is to now make it in an air fryer. So, you know, we have this idea that Foods that are fried or breaded or crispy are somehow, you know, inherently unhealthy because of either a high fat content. And a recipe like this really confronts that myth and says, well, hey. You know, this is salmon. It does have a higher fat content than some other proteins, But it is so rich in those essential omega three fatty acids. We’re also getting a plant based source in the ALAs from those walnuts, which adds Fiber and texture and flavor. And then we’ve been able to maybe hop on a fun trend by, you know, cooking it in an air fryer, which can be both pasty and convenient. So those are just a few examples that quickly come to mind, but, you know, this is one of my favorite topics to talk about, and I could just go on and on.
[15:22] Shireen: We appreciate that you’re on our podcast. So my next question for you, Kira, is how do you navigate the challenge of the competing voices when it comes to health and wellness and, again, specifically nutrition. It’s just really ensuring that your voice and your message stands out around intuitive eating, around sort of, again, focusing on nutrient foods. How do you differentiate yourself from that? Because, again, this also connects back to the question I had earlier around nutrition misconceptions. And we can see a lot sitting on social media, that just seems like on surface, it just really seems like pure garbage at times, but yet there’s a lot of content out there that you’re competing with. So how do you strike that balance?
[16:02] Cara: It’s so challenging because it’s such a saturated space. I mean, anyone with an Internet connection at this point can go out there and start making claims around nutrition or health. And that gets even more confusing when some of the voices saying this Seemingly ridiculous stuff about food and eating, they do have qualifications. They are doctors or they have worked in the healthcare space. And so That line between a credible source and a dubious source gets really, really blurry at times. And even just earlier this morning, I saw an example from a physician who was demonizing sugar in sort of these broad strokes, these wide generalizations. And it is really challenging because those short snippets, kind of those overly sensationalized or really sexy headlines, they grab our attention. And more importantly than that, they evoke a strong emotion. So the strongest emotion that I often see is fear. Maybe it’s anxiety, maybe it’s stress, but all of those kind of fall under the same umbrella, which is why, at least for me, I’ve tried to always emphasize those fearlessly nourishing meals. So setting the record straight when it comes to some of these myths, Going back to nutrition science and what it is we currently know, and then acknowledging that, you know, we don’t know everything about nutrition. Just being really honest about the fact that it is a complex and nuanced science. And as much as we might wanna find exact answers to our questions when it comes to food and how we should eat. The reality is we just aren’t going to know some of those things. You know, there’s limitations to what nutrition science can tell us, But then there’s also that inner wisdom. And when I’m working with clients one on one, and if you’re listening to this, I would really encourage you to remember this as well. We have this embodied knowledge that we develop over the years. We’ve got experiences that we can draw on. We can look back and remember, Okay. What was I doing when I felt my best? Or, you know, what other factors were at play that interfered with my ability to nourish and feed myself the way I wanted to? In asking questions like that, you know, again, I’m more of a guide or maybe a partner. One role as a dietitian that I firmly believe we should not take is that of the food police. So trying to always avoid anything judgmental, guilt inducing, or shaming because that just is not helpful. And I know a lot of my colleagues are using the same or a very similar approach, and what I’ve heard from past clients is that it feels really refreshing. It just feels relatable and realistic and practical. And those simple changes, as unglamorous as they may be actually, do form those long term habits that we feel more confident about being able to stick to in the long run.
[18:39] Shireen: And it really does sound like a breath of fresh Right? If there’s a lot of, like, “No, you can’t do this” or “No, No, No, No.” It seems almost not only confusing, but also it seems like you’re a little bit trapped and Almost suffocating. So I like sort of this approach of saying, like, no judgment here. You know, go out and do what works for you, and these are the facts that you need to know. It’s all the noise that exists out there when it comes to nutritional news. What are some practical tips you can give to our listeners here today who are tuned in for maintaining overall wellness again during this busy holiday season, folks are going on vacation, sleep schedules are off, kids are, you know, out of Cool. What are some next steps you can give to our listeners today?
[19:21] Cara: Yeah. So it’s such a good way to kinda build to, again, the practical reality of, Okay. What is it that we can really do and have it make a difference? I think sleep you know, you mentioned these busy schedules, kind of this travel mode. All of these things really do impact our sleep schedules. And, you know, it’s not directly tied to food and eating, but in an indirect sense, it really does impact things like appetite or, you know, just how hungry or satisfied we feel. I find that this especially this time of year when it’s getting dark so early that this can really throw off kind of that cycle of when you feel the most energized or focused during the day. So one of the practical tips I can offer is within reason or within what your lifestyle style will allow to maybe look at how you just shift the order of your habits. This might look like, okay. In the morning, when the sun is up, maybe I’ll prep a few veggies ahead for dinner or, you know, in the evening when it’s dark and I’m inside the house, maybe I look to maybe changing up my workout routine and finding something I can do from, you know, the comfort of my living room instead of trying to leave, navigate icy roads, or head to the gym. You know, these are little things that I can’t really offer direct advice for because without knowing everyone’s individual situation, that’s really tough to do. But I would say, you know, just Letting go of that rigidity of saying, well, this is the way I’ve always done things or even that more, you know, kind of spicy word of should. This is the way I should do things. If we can let go of that rigidity around the way that we think it should look, all of a sudden we’ve created a lot more flexibility, and we can roll with the punches during the holiday season. You might be the one traveling or you might be the one hosting, and either way, it can feel chaotic and you can just feel really out of your element. So another practical tip I can offer is to come back to some of the things that feel routine for you. We sometimes will use a phrase habit stacking, which is Kind of building habits on top of existing ones. So if you have a habit around maybe a nighttime routine or a certain exercise class that you love to go to. You know, maybe looking at what other habits you can build around those existing ones that can help sort of anchor you in this time of, You know, flux when, again, everyone’s schedule is kind of at the mercy of the season.
[21:34] Shireen: Absolutely. We’re almost toward the end of the episode this time, Cara. But before we go into my last question, if you have to give us, like, two habits to remember during this holiday season, just two. Not a lot. Small things that we can do. Just pick two of them that you can tell us to do.
[21:50] Cara: Yeah. I think one habit that I could use as a reminder for myself is around hydration. You know, we talked about drinks earlier where it’s so easy to forget, again, just the basics of, you know, having that glass of water with you. This time of year, it’s so easy to inadvertently skip over the water in favor of other things, but that is one simple thing that I find is so so helpful and have gotten that same feedback from clients. Another one that I personally find really helpful that I like to recommend is to keep in mind some of the more convenient options. So This habit really has more to do with, again, an existing habit, which is grocery shopping or sourcing whatever it is that you cook at home. But the habit change that I would offer is to keep in mind some of the more shelf stable or less perishable things because, again, we never know when a last minute invite is gonna come up or we need to scramble and prepare something on the fly. This is where getting in the habit of having, You know, maybe canned foods, frozen foods, packaged or convenience foods. You know, those can really be a lifesaver in some of those times where we’re glancing around and we realize, my gosh. I’ve gotta get dinner on the table, or I forgot to pick up something else that I needed. I think that’s a habit that has saved me multiple times. And, again, we kind of think that fresh is best or that everything has to be cooked homemade from scratch, but building that habit has, again, just ease the stress and anxiety of prepping food at home.
[23:12] Shireen: Love it. So this holiday season to our listeners, give yourself grace. Take it easy. It’s okay. Have a backup plan. You’ll be just fine. And hydrate. Got it. Alright. And with that, Cara, we are toward the end of the episode. How can our listeners connect with you and learn more about your work?
[23:29] Cara: I would love to hear from you if you’re listening. So you can find my work online. My blog is streetsmartnutrition.com. I’m also very active on all the different social platforms at Street Smart RD, and then we’re also on YouTube. So if you or that video format or just want some longer content to listen to in the background, that’s another way you can find my work online.
[23:50] Shireen: Lovely. With that, Cara, it was such a pleasure having you on. To our listeners, thank you also to you for tuning in to another episode of the Yumlish podcast. And at this time, we want you to head over to social media, head over to Facebook, Instagram, and answer the simple question. Have you encountered a holiday related nutrition myth that seemed particularly misleading? If you’re not a hundred percent sure, that’s okay. Go ahead and, again, go ahead over to our social media at Yumlish, On Facebook, on Instagram, find this podcast post. Comment below too. Again, tell us, have you ever encountered a holiday related nutrition myth that seemed particularly misleading? We will continue the conversation there. With that, Cara, Thank you so much for joining us on this special episode.
[24:34] Cara: Thank you so much.
[24:36] Shireen: Alright, y’all. Until next time.