Health-Esteem Queen Jo Harper – Lifestyle, Cancer, Self-Love and More

Meet Health-Esteem Queen Jo, an inspirational wellness warrior. Here she shares how her journey with breast cancer reinforced her belief that you have to treat your body well. She also shares an amazing vegan, gluten free Chickpea and Lentil Casserole

Hello Lovelies:

I’m a delighted to have the opportunity to share an interview with Jo Harper, the kind, beautiful soul behind Jo’s Food Bites. Scrolling through her wholesome, healthy, homemade meals always leaves me feeling inspired (and hungry).

This lovely lady believes in simple, nutrient dense meals and has a less is more philosophy. Her journey with breast cancer further inspired her to treat her body well and feed it with kindness. And her enthusiasm is marvelously contagious!

Her journey to health-esteem will leave you feeling inspired to embrace who you are and treat your body with the utmost kindness.

Meet the lovely Jo:

Health-Esteem Queen Jo of Jo's Food Bites - healthy eating, how breast cancer further inspired her to live well and a Vegan Chickpea Lentil Casserole

Tell us about your health philosophy.

I believe we are what we eat. With this in mind I cook all my food from scratch where possible, and use the best ingredients to ensure the outcome is a balanced and nutrient dense meal.

I also believe in ‘simple is good’ and very rarely produce food that takes hours to prepare. I cook gluten-free and fructose free/minimum fructose.  But I am by no means perfect and do occasionally succumb to chocolate or cake – when I do I don’t ‘beat myself up’.

Having recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and now drug therapy for many years, this has heightened my awareness of and the importance of treating our bodies well. I not only try to ensure nutritious food goes in to my body but I am also careful of the products I put on my skin – e.g. paraben free products, paraben and aluminium free deodorant.

I exercise daily – walking my dogs and spending time with my horse. I also try to meditate daily for at least 10 minutes.

What’s your favourite part of your health-esteem journey so far?

As a result of the changes to my diet, I never feel bloated, my skin texture has improved and I have lost weight.

I no longer count calories, I eat fats – coconut milk, avocados etc., I don’t snack between meals and most importantly of all, the bathroom scales do not rule my life like they did for as many years as I can remember.

I now have a sustainable positive mindset about choosing the foods I eat and the amounts of food my body wants. I actively listen out for the feelings of satiety and, most importantly and totally amazingly for someone for whom bulimia has been a constant companion for so, so many years, I am eating guilt free. It has been such a liberating experience – I am now free from my bingeing habits and the suffocating feeling that food is controlling me.

Why do you think self-love is an important aspect of someone’s health?

I think self-love is all about owning our own power and acting from a place of kindness toward ourselves.  What matters is how we feel about ourselves, that we accept ourselves, we become responsible for our own lives and we stop trying to prove something.

Self-love isn’t about being narcissistic it is about looking after ourselves. We have one ribbon of life and should value it – our health being one of the most important facets of our lives and one which we can have significant control over.

What changes were necessary in order to achieve your state of self-love?

Firstly, looking inward – I needed to identify my own individual appetite drivers and my food choices.

Once I understood my triggers to eat and triggers not to eat I then became able to manage my weight. Fructose was a trigger for me – so I removed it. Snacking and being unaware was another trigger.

For a long time I, like many others I have talked to, seem to have been in the pursuit of the perfect diet – the key few ‘must have’ ingredients or ‘must do’ approaches to eating. I have followed the latest hot topic dietary approaches and listened to all the ‘experts’ wanting to share their ‘dietary magic’. At times I have been lulled in to the promises of quick fix approaches – which have ‘worked’ – but of course any weight loss has slowly returned or different diet approaches have not be sustainable. If I have followed a restrictive diet my emotional reaction has always ended in rebellion.

Then, I recognized and accepted that my working environment was harming my health. Continual pressure and stresses were taking their toll. So a change of direction was in order. (That is partly on hold due to diagnosis but I do have a plan!)

Finally – acceptance of who I am, who I will never be and most importantly…the person I no longer want to be.

What inspired you to become the Healthy Foodie you are today?

The pursuit of a sustainable way of life. I have always thought myself to be quite savvy about food. I have however, at different times in my life, been ruled by it… controlled by it even.

For a large proportion of my life I have awoken in the morning determined to be in control and not worried about what I was going to eat during the day. Invariably after my first of several weigh ins the feelings of guilt/ self-loathing etc. would raise their ugly heads. I have tried many diets over the years – never needing to lose too much but never satisfied with how I looked or felt.

2 years ago, I was given a copy of ‘Simplicious’ by Sarah Wilson. That was it…my turning point 🙂

Why did you choose to switch to a plant based diet?

For my health.

Every year, following the rich and meat laden excesses of the Christmas period, I would serve only vegetarian meals for my husband and I for the month of February. Then I’d try to limit the amount of meat/poultry based meals we ate afterwards.

Last year, I decided to extend the month and I ate a vegetarian based diet for several months. I do now eat meat occasionally – could I do without it …yes. Could I do without my vegetables, pulses, grains etc.…absolutely not!

Being on a plant based diet ensures that I feel fuller for longer; don’t suffer with bloating and feel generally more energized.

Any tips for those wishing to add more plants to their plates?

Variety – explore the multitude of textures and colours available.

Seasoning – learn to use herbs and spices to enhance and enliven dishes

Describe a typical day on your foodie plate.

Breakfast – oat, chia and teff porridge served with coconut milk and a milk kefir smoothie – acai, baobab or maca flavoured.

Lunch – Buddha / abundance bowl with something green e.g. watercress, something red – peppers / tomatoes / beetroot; something yellow – peppers / sweetcorn and some protein – pulses / fish / egg.

Dinner – easy to prepare meal and often one pot e.g. a cauliflower, chickpea and quinoa bake.

What is a daily health ritual must?

Drinking plenty of fluids.

What advice would you give for someone wishing to make some health invoking changes?

Identify why you want to change and the positive impact this will have. Then break it down in to small and manageable chunks. Don’t view it as failure if it doesn’t always go to plan. Each day is a new opportunity to start again.

What’s your biggest health misconception pet peeve?

That fats are bad for you!

What is your favourite health food staple?

Chia seeds – so versatile and a nutritional powerhouse!

What’s your go to healthy snack?

Brazil nuts – delicious brain food!

What does Health-Esteem mean to you?

Possessing self-regard for your health and valuing yourself enough to want to look after yourself on the inside, as well as the outside.

Please share a favourite health-inducing recipe.

CHICKPEA AND LENTIL CASSEROLE BY JO'S FOOD BITES

Chickpea and Lentil Casserole

This Recipe is Gluten Free and Vegan. 

This is a really quick dish to make and is delicious on its own or with crusty bread and a salad or baked potato.

Chickpea and Lentil Casserole By Jo's Food Bites - Easy Gluten Free, Vegan, Healthy Meal

Ingredients:

1 Can of Chickpeas – Drained

1 Small Butternut Squash – Peeled and Cubed

1 Onion – Finely Chopped

2 Cups of Red Lentils

1 Carton of Tomato Passata

2 Tsp Turmeric

Olive Oil

1 tsp Ginger

1 tsp Cinnamon

500 ml Vegetable Stock

Method:

Fry the onions until soft. Add the spices and heat for another minute. Add all the other ingredients and simmer until the lentils are soft. Enjoy!

Want to see more of Jo’s Food Bites inspiration? Find her on her website and on Instagram. Get ready for tons of delicious, healthy foodie inspiration! 

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