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5 minutes with Nutritionist, Food Blogger & 2x Cancer Survivor, Julia Lawson

Thanks to her drool-worthy breakfast posts, Julia has amassed over 8ooo fans on Instagram. She even won a spot on our list of Top 50 Healthy Instagram Accounts Follow! Be inspired by the open, kind-hearted soul behind @jlfitnutrition:

As a nutritionist, what’s the most fascinating health fact you’ve learnt?

I remember being surprised at what a huge impact gut health has on overall wellbeing – there’s a reason your gut is known as “the second brain”. If your gut isn’t functioning at its best then it’s impossible to efficiently extract all the nutrients your body needs, but of few us actively think about optimising gut health. It’s something I now carry with me and is always incorporated into my consultations with clients.

(Scroll down for Julia’s Top 5 Nutrition Tips)

Breakfast by @jlfitnutrition
Breakfast by Julia. Source: Instagram // @jlfitnutrition

Tell us, how often do you cook and what do you make for you and your family?

I cook everyday! Almost every meal I eat is homemade – I rarely buy my lunch and going out to dinner with is a very special treat, so not a day goes by that I’m not making a mess in the kitchen, either cooking for my family or experimenting with recipe ideas for the blog. My daughter is a very good eater and my husband is one of those annoying people who can eat whatever they want and stay slim, so I’m given a lot of freedom with the dishes that I make.

What I make on an average day:

Breakfast: overnight oats & chia topped with fruit or a smoothie on the weekends – my daughter is a big fan of smoothies and smoothie bowls right now.

Lunch: is always vegetable-based – a huge salad that provides lots of fibre, unsaturated fats, complex carbs and protein. I like to include a few different vegetable protein sources like quinoa, lentils and chickpeas and then a small amount of meat. And avocado – everything is better with avocado!

Dinner: is usually lean meat with lots of vegetables and some carbs – burritos, stir-fry and brown rice, wholemeal pasta with vegetable/tomato sauce.

I’m also a big snacker – fresh fruit with yoghurt, veggie sticks with hummus, and homemade protein balls are all regular inclusions in my family’s diet.

Nothing overly complicated – just simple, healthy food done well.

RELATED: Crunchy Chocolate Granola Recipe, by Julia Lawson

Crunchy Chocolate Granola by Julia. Source: Instagram // @jlfitnutrition
Crunchy Chocolate Granola by Julia. Source: Instagram // @jlfitnutrition

Many people find it difficult to find the time to cook at home. What would your advice to these people be?

Healthy home cooking doesn’t need to be complicated. I love experimenting in the kitchen but most of the meals I make for my family are simple, wholesome recipes that don’t take a lot of time or ingredients. Stir fry and pasta dishes can be whipped up in 20 minutes, and it only takes a few minutes to throw together a huge salad or some toast and scrambled eggs.

I’m also a huge advocate for meal prepping – taking just an hour at the beginning of the week to grill some chicken breast, boil a few eggs, cook some rice and/or lentils, chop up vegetables and bake a batch of healthy muffins. Almost everything can be pre-prepared and stored in air-tight containers so it literally only takes a few moments to throw something healthy together.

Tahini, date, cinnamon and orange scrolls with coffee caramel glaze! Source: Instagram // @jlfitnutrition (Recipe in Julia's e-book).
Tahini, date, cinnamon and orange scrolls with coffee caramel glaze! Source: Instagram // @jlfitnutrition

You’ve said felt ‘deeply uncomfortable in your skin’ as a teenager – what do you believe was the driving force behind this, and how did your mindset change to allow you move on from these feelings?

It sounds like such a cliché but the media has a lot to do with our perception of self and I developed a very negative attitude towards my body. I’ve always been short and stocky, even chubby in my younger years, and never what you’d describe as classically pretty; and I struggled a lot with not looking like the girls in magazines and on TV. If you’d asked me to choose what I liked most about myself I would have struggled to answer and simply chosen what I disliked least.

Again it sounds cliché but there’s a self-acceptance that comes with growing up that helped me accept the body I had and marvel at what it could do, rather than focus on what I thought were my shortcomings.

My body fought and beat cancer twice, it carried and delivered a child naturally and it continues to get stronger and fitter and healthier as I take care of it.

Studying anatomy, physiology, neurobiology and genetics at Uni also really fuelled my love and admiration of the human body and what it’s capable of.

A savoury breakfast, by Julia. Source: Instagram // @jlfitnutrition
A delicious, savoury breakfast, by Julia. Source: Instagram // @jlfitnutrition

How and when did your relationship with food begin to improve and become loving and nourishing once again?

My first encounter with cancer happened when I was 18, fresh out of high school and just finding my feet in the adult world. After I recovered (I was 19 by then) I started to think about what I really wanted to do with my life now I had been given this second chance.

I couldn’t in good conscience hate the body that had just gone through such a terrible experience and come out the other side stronger than before. I decided that life was too short to waste feeling unhappy in your own skin and that I owed it to myself to treat my body with love and respect.

After that I began my degree and learnt so much about human nutrition that I can’t ever go back to hating and punishing my body for not looking a certain way.

Knowledge is power – knowing how to fuel my body and take care of it properly definitely changed the way I ate and dealt with food, which is why I’m so passionate about trying to help others do the same.

RELATED: Delicious & Healthy, Raw Nicecream Sandwich Recipe, by Julia Lawson

Raw, gluten and dairy free ‘Nicecream’ sandwiches, by Julia. Source: Instagram // @jlfitnutrition

You said on your blog that with your 2nd battle with cancer you were fitter and healthier than ever and staff couldn’t believe how well you were handling such high doses of chemotherapy so well. What was it that you did from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective that you believed enabled you to have that incredible stamina and strength?

I think the second time around I had been living and breathing health and nutrition for years, so not only was my body in a better place when I started but I knew how to nourish myself and I trusted that I knew what was best for my body. I understood that to help heal all the damage the treatments were causing and to give my body the strength it needed to fight the disease I had to be giving it the right nutrients.

I think people also underestimate the healing power of positive thinking. Not that I thought being positive would contribute to beating the cancer, just how much easier it is to get through each day when you refuse to let life get you down.

I never for a second believed that things wouldn’t work out ok, and I carried that thought and let it motivate me to stay positive and strong.

The perfect snack, by Julia. Source: Instagram // @jlfitnutrition
The perfect snack, by Julia. Source: Instagram // @jlfitnutrition

How did you eat differently during that time to nourish yourself? Is there any particular foods that are recommended and why?

My appetite was up and down throughout my treatment, and chemotherapy causes taste changes and mouth ulcers that can make eating difficult even when I was hungry. My diet then was very similar to what my diet is now – lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains to fuel and nourish me – which isn’t necessarily what is recommended.

Chemotherapy patients are encouraged to eat a similar diet to that of during pregnancy, which excludes soft cheeses, small goods and deli meats, runny yolks, food that’s been sitting out for long periods of time – basically anything with even a small possibility of containing listeria. On top of that it prohibits some fresh fruit and vegetables due to their capacity to carry microbes as well as yoghurt due to its high bacterial content. I was encouraged to eat high-calorie food to keep my energy levels up and make me more robust, so I could better tolerate the treatment.

My radiotherapy nurse even told me to east lots of Lindt chocolate truffles because they were high in fat and calories, and to bulk up my drinks with weight gain powder.

I couldn’t honestly believe that eating a high calorie diet, regardless of where those calories came from, was going to be better for me than eating a varied diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, nuts and seeds, low fat dairy and lean meats. I stuck to the recommendations of the low listeria diet but washed all my fruits and vegetables very carefully and included yoghurt and all manner of fresh produce to make sure I was getting enough nutrients. I took my own snacks to hospital and ordered very little from the hospital menu, getting my family to bring in healthy food for me if I couldn’t order it.

During that time smoothies were a godsend. When I didn’t feel like eating or my mouth was filled with ulcers I would make a smoothie of coconut water, protein powder, almonds, fruit, baby spinach and usually a few superfood powders such as spirulina, super greens, supergreens  + wild reds – anything to cram more nutrition into myself. Smoothies are easily digested and can be made with whatever fruits we had in the house, so they were a staple.

Beautiful, fresh cold-pressed green juice from the Farmers Market. Source: Instagram // @jlfitnutrition
Beautiful, fresh cold-pressed green juice from the Farmers Market. Source: Instagram // @jlfitnutrition

Which nutrition-rich foods do you aim to include in your diet each day or week?

My whole food philosophy is based around eating more from the ground and less from a packet, so my focus is more on making sure each meal is based around plants. We eat seasonally so that our food is cheaper, but there are a few things we ALWAYS have:

  • Baby spinach
  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • Almonds
  • Chickpeas, to name a few.

All of these things are cheap, very nutrient dense and available almost all year round.

avocado and feta on toast
Avocado and feta on toast, by Julia. Source: Instagram // @jlfitnutrition

Your Instagram is out of control (in a good way!), with breakfast clearly owning the stage. What’s your all time favourite breakfast meal and why?

Thank you so much! I’ve been blown away by the amazing support of people on Instagram and the amazing friendships that can be formed even if we live half a world away.

Breakfast is definitely my favourite meal of the day, this probably stems from being an early riser but starting the day with a good breakfast always sets the tone for a good day.

My absolute favourite breakfast food has to be waffles. I’ve asked every single person in my family for a waffle maker for my birthday so I may end up with about 10! There’s something so whimsical and fun about waffles; they’re like pancakes with abs.

A healthy batter is easy to make and can be sweet or savoury – make pumpkin waffles and serve with avocado and a poached egg, or make sweet waffles with coconut cream and top with fresh fruit and some yoghurt. I love them! I would eat waffles every day if I could!

Top tips for taking a good food photo for Instagram?

Lighting, lighting, lighting. If the light isn’t good, your picture won’t be either.

Also experiment with angles, backgrounds and props. When I first started I would literally just take a photo of my food as I was about to eat it, now I like to play around and make the pictures look interesting and exciting, while still focusing on the food.

Lastly, what are your Top 5 tips for good nutrition?

  1. Base your meals around plants. Try to eat something living at each meal.
  2. Variety is the spice of life. You need a wide spread of nutrients so don’t just eat the same foods day in day out.
  3. Carbs are not bad. Just choose fibre-rich options like fruit, whole grains, legumes and pulses.
  4. Limit added sugars but NOT natural sugars like whole fruit and lactose, those ones are good for you.
  5. Don’t be scared to indulge without guilt once in a while. Good nutrition is about balance, moderation and flexible eating habits.

To connected with Julia, check out her website. To be inspired daily, follow her on Instagram.

P.S Do you know someone who would be inspired by Julia’s story, journey and healthy inspiration? Be a pals and share this with them now, by clicking one of the big buttons below.

Carly Taber Founder - CASA DE KARMA

Passionate about creating impact, income & freedom, Carly is a Business Strategist & Coach for Wellness Entrepreneurs by day. When she’s not working with ambitious entrepreneurs, you’ll find her practicing yoga, relaxing by the sea or enjoying a coffee with loved ones.

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