The Role of Nutrition in Positive Body Image

A Nutrition Professional Shares Her Inspiring Story of Change and Body Acceptance.

There are a lot of very strong opinions and messages out there when it comes to body image these days. So much so that it’s enough to make our heads spin. Is it okay to want to change if we’re physically not feeling healthy or is it not? If we really don’t want that piece of chocolate cake, is it okay to say no or is that giving in to diet culture? What does the term “positive body image” really even mean? The questions, the doubts and the polarizing messaging can be deafening. So, who are we women supposed to listen to? It turns out that our body has many of the answers; we just have to know how to hear them. 

That’s what Certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant and Precision Nutrition Level One Coach Jenna Lessner from over at Simply Nurtured teaches from a place of first-hand experience. Through a journey to what she calls self-love and food freedom, she was able to lose 132 pounds after nearly hitting 295 pounds on the scale. Now, she’s helping other women learn about the role of nutrition in positive body image as they come to their own place of body acceptance. She was kind enough to share her thoughts and expertise on this in a Q&A with me. 

Photo of a woman's hand holding up a sticky note saying "You are beautiful" as an example of positive body image

Peppermint Tea & Me: What is your story and how did you decide that this was the profession for you?

Jenna Lessner: For as long as I can remember, I’d used food for comfort. When I graduated university with a Bachelor of Science degree in 2010, my weight had climbed to 295 pounds. The day that I stepped on the scale and saw that number staring back at me, I think that was a big turning point in my life. I vowed that I wouldn’t reach 300 pounds. 

Photo of Jenna Lessner
Jenna Lessner,
Certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant
and Precision Nutrition Level One Coach 

That vow came at the price of a vicious cycle of deprivation and binge eating. Three years later, I was still in that same perpetuating cycle. I was extremely unhealthy physically and mentally. I was full of self-loathing, and I hated myself. In 2013, something shifted in me, and I knew that I could no longer live like that.

I began to heal the relationship that I had with food by allowing myself to actually feel the emotions instead of numbing them with food, and I began moving my body and connecting with my body like I never had before. I also realized how the foods that I was choosing to eat on a regular basis were impacting my energy levels, my sleep, my mental health and my emotional health. That was really the aha! moment that lead me to a 132-pound weight loss and to study nutrition at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition in Calgary.

PTM: What do you consider to be a positive body image?

JL: I think body image refers to how an individual sees their body. It’s your own perception of your body and what you believe about your appearance. It’s also how you feel and move in your body. So, I think a positive body image is more than tolerating what you look like. It means to truly accept yourself and appreciate your body. It means that you aren’t trying to fit your body into this box of what you think it should look like. 

PTM: What is meant by “diet culture?”

JL: I think that it’s this belief that thinness or being skinny equates to our worth or is tied to our health. It prioritizes weight, shape and size over wellness. I think that there is a distinct difference between those things. I feel that there is this very large misconception in the diet industry that if you just lose that 20 pounds, you’ll be happy, and you’ll love yourself. That’s not even close to being true. Happiness is a feeling or showing of pleasure, and it’s a sense of confidence or satisfaction. The definition of happiness does not mention one’s weight or body size, no matter where you look that up. 

PTM: What role does diet culture play in body image?

JL: I think that diet culture promotes this idea that restricting food or punishing ourselves with maybe exercise will result in weight loss and in turn will provide you with those feelings of worthiness, acceptance and being enough. It distracts people from really connecting to their bodies and tuning into how specific foods will make their body feel. Diet culture replaces that with a regimented prescription for a smaller body. It also invites in food shaming and body shaming with questions and statements such as, “Are you really going to eat that?” or “I thought you were on a diet.” That type of culture is damaging to our mental and emotional health. 

PTM: What is the difference between healthy eating habits and diet culture?

JL: I believe that it comes down to intention. When we look at the purpose and objective behind our actions, it changes how we view the situation or how we even view food. If you choose to eat a salad, the intention could be, “Oh, I need to lose weight in order to accept my body. This salad is really low calorie, and it’s going to help me get there.” Or, “I’m choosing to eat this nutritious salad because I love my body and I want to provide it nourishing foods so that it feels really good.” The intention behind any action, I think is the key. 

PTM: How do healthy eating habits, a positive body image and a healthy lifestyle all fit together?

JL: I think that when you intend to take care of your body, live a healthy lifestyle, and choose healthy eating habits, it comes from a place of love and appreciation. You choose to eat foods that energize you and make you feel good and that support your wellbeing physically and mentally. You choose to exercise frequently and rest when you need it. I also think that when you provide your body with nourishing foods that it needs for optimal function and vitality, your body feels really freakin’ good. When you love yourself, you provide your body with nourishing foods that it needs for optimal health and vitality. 

PTM: In this day and time, when there is so much emphasis on calling out fat shaming and recognizing the role that negative body image plays in eating disorders, women are being told to accept themselves just the way they are. While that’s a good thing, in many cases, women of all sizes are being made to feel like they shouldn’t want to change their weight or body size and if they do, they’re giving in to diet culture. What are your thoughts on a woman recognizing that she doesn’t feel good or healthy in her body and that she wants to make changes, including losing weight and how she eats? 

JL: I think Rachel Hollis said that “Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.” It’s a beautiful statement but can be hard in reality when you are dealing with that. I also believe that people project their own insecurities onto others. If someone is shaming you for your weight or desire to get healthier so you feel more comfortable in your body, is it possible that they’re struggling with their own body issues and struggle with food? I don’t think people should be shamed for the size of their body, and I don’t think people should be shamed for choosing to eat a healthier way so that they feel good in their body. 

As someone who has formerly been almost 300 pounds, I know what it’s like to receive those judgmental stares or comments or be the brunt of someone’s cruel joke. I also know how physically hard it is to carry that much weight. Walking up a single flight of stairs to me felt like I was out of breath, and I needed to take a little break before I could proceed. There were times when tying my shoe was a chore, my knees always hurt and dropping something on the floor left me wondering if I really need that anyway. It was uncomfortable. So, I understand that desire to shed weight so you do feel healthier and can actually move in your body and do the things that you want to do. 

Where I struggle with some of the positive body image messages is that we’ve taken this 180-degree turn in the opposite direction because some of them are promoting being overweight and living an unhealthy lifestyle and then shaming weight loss. You can’t call that body positivity if you’re shaming someone for something else. 

PTM: If you do have that desire to lose weight, does that mean that you no longer have a positive body image?

JL: I don’t think so. I think that you can love yourself and still want to change because that’s called growth. I work with people every day that desire to live in a smaller body, and I really ask them to define their why. Often people tell me that they want to be able to move better, that they want to be able to feel good in their bodies, to have a healthy lifestyle and to be around when their children start having grandchildren or doing things with their children right now instead of watching them from the sidelines. I think that why you want to change is really a key indicator and motivator in any change.

PTM: What are the first questions that you ask a woman who comes to you and says that she’s not happy with the way that she feels and/or she’s not happy with her body and she wants to make changes in how she eats?

JL: One of the first questions I ask any client is why. Why do they want to make this change now?  I think that intrinsic motivation is huge. When you can make an emotional connection to why you want to make any change, it empowers you in your choices. 

That’s basically what I did in 2013. I got super clear on why I wanted to lose weight. It wasn’t just an arbitrary number or a goal to be healthier. I realized the life that I wanted to live and with that, something needed to change. I had this vision of being 70 and climbing mountains, running marathons well into my 60s and then chasing my grandchildren around a playground instead of watching them from a park bench. None of that would be possible if I didn’t make some changes. So, I also ask clients, “How do you want to feel in your body? What is that feeling that you’re really seeking through weight loss, and can you tap into that right now?”

PTM: What are the first steps that you would advise a woman in that situation to take in changing how she eats?

JL: To bring awareness of how the food that she’s currently eating is making her feel in her body. Getting curious as to which foods make her feel alive and energized and which foods are leaving her feeling lethargic or bloated. A symptom from a food could be pretty much anything. Fatigue is a number one symptom that I see but even digestive issues, bloating or elimination issues. Also, just getting curious and asking your body, ‘What am I feeling after I eat this? What am I noticing?’ and creating that awareness. If you can become aware of how different foods affect your body and become aware of the thoughts that you’re having about your body that are on repeat, you are well on your way without even changing anything. 

My Thoughts on Positive Body Image

I love Jenna’s message so much because it’s all about nurturing, caring for and appreciating our bodies whatever our shape or size. Positive body image is about loving ourselves. It’s our foundation as we work toward and achieve our own version of real health. I have learned and am still learning with each new phase of life what that feels like for me, and I strongly believe that each of us deserves the space to do the same. I hope you find at least some of that space and support here at Peppermint Tea & Me. All are welcome!


What is Real Health?

Actionable Steps to Achieve Real Health.

Have you ever had periods of time where you simply feel right? We’re talking both mentally and physically. You feel in balance, you feel strong, you feel… well. That’s what I call Real Health.

If you have felt that or you still do, this website is geared toward helping you maintain that incredible state of being. If you haven’t felt that in a long time or maybe ever or when you did, it was fleeting, helping you achieve your version of Real Health is what Peppermint Tea & Me is all about. That’s why we need to define what Real Health is as well as lay out some actionable first steps that you can take to achieve it.

photo of rice and vegetables in bowls on white tablecloth as an example of what to eat for Real Health

Please Note that as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through some of the links included on this page. 

What is Real Health?

As you’ll be reminded frequently if you hang out in this space regularly, I believe that Real Health is achieved by recognizing that every part of us – mind, body and nutrition – is connected. Monique Class, MS, APRN, BC agrees. She’s a board-certified family nurse practitioner and clinical nurse specialist in holistic health at The Institute for Functional Medicine.

Monique Class, MS, APRN, BC

In a conversation about holistic health, Monique told me that “the mind, body and spirit (if you want to use that word), are all connected and are a unified whole. There’s bi-directional communication, meaning what happens to the body influences the mind and the emotions and what happens in the mind influences the body.”

This is understanding that when it comes to our health and overall wellbeing, causes and effects are not simply either physical or “mental.” Most of the time, they’re both. Melissa Grabau, PhD reminds us in her book, The Yoga of Food: Wellness From the Inside Out (affiliate link) that “How we feel day to day, our general health and energy levels, and our overall sense of safety and peace in our own flesh have an enormous impact on how we feel about ourselves and our capacity to function effectively in the world.”

Role of Nutrition

Julie McGregor, MD

So, what does all of this have to do with nutrition? Everything! Julie McGregor, MD works with the Integrative Medical Clinic of North Carolina and is a board-certified internist and nephrologist trained in integrative medicine. She told me that, “Nutrition is a part of building up our physical cells, but it’s also an emotional choice and has a lot of overtones. What we choose to eat has to do with where we are emotionally and also then leads to an emotional response in our body.”

This connection can lead to a healthy, well-oiled machine when it comes to our body and our mind. Failure to recognize this relationship though can lead to us living a life that is less than our best or even worse, spiraling through physical or mental issues that we have more control over than we may think.

Photo of ice cream in cups beside ice cream cones surrounded by candy and toppings as an example of barriers to Real Health
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Common Barriers to Real Health

According to our experts, the most common barriers that many women run into when it comes to achieving Real Health can really be narrowed down to two primary areas.

1. Unhealthy relationship with food.

Both Monique and Julie say this is one of the primary issues they see when women especially don’t recognize how connected everything really is. Some of the primary reasons for this unhealthy relationship can include emotions, social or community expectations, or programming.

Monique gives the example of coming home at 8:00 p.m., going straight to the freezer, pulling out the ice cream and eating it until the whole container is gone. If you do that every night, it becomes a pattern. “We know physiologically that every time you do that pattern, you create wiring in the brain. It’s called neuroplasticity. So, neurons that fire together wire together. Every time you do something over and over again or choose a particular food over and over again, you get hardwired into the brain where that choice becomes automatic and not conscious.”

The same concept is true of emotions. If you reach for chocolate or something sweet every time you feel anxious or stressed or alcohol every time you feel angry, you’re hardwiring your brain to react to those emotions with food.

2. Lack of self-care.

Julie says this is a huge issue for women because we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect in every aspect of our lives. To have perfect careers, to keep a perfect home, to be a perfect mom, to be perfect daughters and to be perfect friends.

“There’s a lot of pressure that we put on ourselves, and the one who ends up coming last is ourselves. So many of my female patients who are in their 50s or 60s come to me fatigued, worn out, completely depleted, having not concentrated on wellness for themselves. They were out trying to achieve perfection in every component of their lives for, you know, 50 or 60 years. Then, they just can’t keep going because there isn’t that attention of self-care or focus on wellness for oneself.”

She’s found that this often leads to obesity, depression, thyroid disorders and general physical unwellness that plagues us around the time of menopause. “This, coincidentally, is a lot of times when we’re retiring or when we’re empty nesters, or during these transitions when the adrenaline stops and the body is just feeling the effects of decades of neglect.”

Photo of water being poured into a glass as an example of steps to take toward Real Health

First Steps Toward Achieving Real Health

To shift away from these barriers, there are several first steps that you can take to achieve Real Health.

1. Love yourself and be happy with yourself just as you are.

There may be things that you want to change, but Monique says that accepting and loving where you are right now has to come first. Then you can identify and become aware of the areas that you want to change in a healthy, realistic way.

2. Carve out time for self-care.

We may not be able to exercise for an hour every day, get a massage once a week or meditate for 30 minutes every morning, but there are plenty of things that we can do. It’s all part of making sure that we’re the best versions of ourselves now and that we don’t end up tired and depleted when we finally do feel like we have the time.

3. Become aware of the choices that you’re making.

According to Monique, this is critical for making any kind of change in your life. She suggests that as you reach for that ice cream every night, that you notice the behavior and check in with yourself and think about what you’re feeling, what you’re eating for, or what you’re hungry for. More times than not, you’ll find that you’re not hungry for the food, you’re looking for something else.

The first step, she says, isn’t taking that food or behavior away. You have to first recognize the behavior and then begin to figure out what you’re really hungry for or what you really need in that moment. At that point, you can substitute the behaviors that truly address those needs for the ones that aren’t serving you well.

4. Drink more water

You may think that you don’t like water, but your body does. In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey says our bodies are made up of up to 60% water, so we have to have it to survive. Since we want to do more than just survive, we want to thrive, Julie puts this step toward the top of the list for achieving Real Health and adopting an attitude of overall wellness.

5. Get better sleep.

Julie says this has to be a priority. I’m the first to acknowledge that this isn’t always as easy to do as it sounds, but there are things you can do to not only make sure that you’re getting the amount of sleep you need but that it’s quality sleep as well.

6. Move as much as you can.

Here are some ways that you can work movement into your day, whether you have 30 minutes at a time or 5-10 minutes here and there.

Photo of coins pouring out of a jar as an example of Real Health on a budget

Real Health on a Budget

“That all sounds great, but even if I can find the time to take care of myself and to eat more healthy, nutritious food, I can’t afford it.” If that’s what you’re thinking, I’m here to ask you to be willing to think differently. Gym memberships are not a requirement for achieving Real Health and neither is having someone else to watch your kids while you focus on yourself.

Yes, whole, nutritious food is going to be more expensive than a 99-cent fast food burger, but in the long run, it evens out. Without health issues that could have been prevented with different lifestyle choices, you’ll likely save money in a number of ways. These include doctor’s visits and prescriptions as well as not missing work or losing opportunities among many others.

Real Health on a budget isn’t about an attitude of lack, it’s about an attitude of abundance. It’s being grateful for what you have and recognizing that healthy can be affordable. It’s also allocating your dollars in a way that supports your priorities rather than automatically spending money in ways that don’t serve you well. 

The concept of Real Health on a Real Budget is such an important part of this website that you’ll find budget-friendly tips and realistic suggestions incorporated throughout. There’s also an entire section dedicated just to that idea. Feel free to check it out here.

Mind + Body + Nutrition + On a Budget = Real Health

Julie sums it all up in a beautiful way. “How we exercise and what we choose for our physical wellbeing as far as movement and environment and choices about stretching or meditation, and our choices with our nutrition all affect how we think and our emotions. In turn, all of our emotions affect how we move, where we put our bodies and the choices we make for our physicality and our diet.”

Because of how entwined these factors are, Real Health looks different for everyone. Yes, the general steps outlined here are good places to start in achieving it, but Real Health is very individual. What it looks like for me probably won’t be the same for you. The goal for all of us though is to live in that place of personal wellness as much as possible and to draw on the strength and power that brings to live our best life possible.


The Healing Power of Food

A Doctor’s Journey from Disease to Health.

Originally posted on Sep 26, 2018, 10:36 am. Updated on Oct. 16, 2019.

If you’re doubtful of the healing power of food, just ask Brooke Goldner, M.D. When she was 16 and diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Nephritis with stage four kidney disease, she never thought she would reach the age of 40. Now she’s healed, healthy and was featured on the cover of Vegan Health & Fitness magazine’s Fit Over 40 issue in April 2018. That’s a transformation that she credits almost entirely to the way she eats. Today, as a best-selling author, the founder of VeganMedicalDoctor.com, GoodbyeLupus.com and creator of the Hyper-Nourishing Nutrition Protocol for Lupus Recovery, she’s helping others to heal themselves with food as well.

As I was interviewing Dr. Goldner for my post on Exploring a Plant-Based Diet, she shared her story with me. There was simply no way I could fit in all of the powerful information she gave me into that one post, so I decided to begin my new profile series on the Healing Power of Food with Dr. Goldner’s journey from disease to health. She reveals the not-so-secret way that she overcame her debilitating and potentially deadly disease and some things you can do to heal your body and feel your best.

** The end of this post was updated in October 2019 with information about the amount of nutrition training U.S. doctors get in medical school.

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5 Healthy, On-the-Go Breakfast Ideas

Quick, Easy, Healthy and Affordable Breakfast Options for Busy Women.

Some people can make it fine in the mornings without breakfast, but I am not one of them. In fact, it is the one meal of the day that I absolutely have to have. If the same is true for you but actually sitting down to eat something healthy is a challenge, I’ve got you covered. These 5 healthy, on-the-go breakfast ideas are some of my favorites, and what’s more, they’re quick, easy and affordable. Try adding one or more of these to your morning routine as you head out the door and feel good that you’re getting your day off to a healthy, power-packed start.

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Eating with Intention

How to Let the Energy of Your Food Fuel You.

Grabbing something to eat, running through the drive-thru and throwing something together. All phrases that certainly reflect our lifestyles and all too often, our approach to food. While doing any of these every now and then is fine and can even be done in a healthy way, letting these phrases describe our overall attitude toward food means that we could be missing out on some of the huge benefits of what the food we eat can really do for us.

Transformational and Energy Medicine Specialist Jean Atman works with people on aligning their energy in every facet of their lives, including through the food they eat. In this Q&A, she explains how eating with intention can change your entire relationship with food and how its energy can fuel you.

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Understanding the Dangers of Belly Fat

4 Keys to Taking Control of Your Waistline and Your Health.

As women, we often tell ourselves and have often been told that belly fat is just part of what happens to us as we start to get older. Another thing we hear is that it’s a superficial issue, and we should learn to accept ourselves the way we are – that only teenagers don’t have a little flab around the middle. While fitness instructor, nutritional expert, mind-body serenity coach and author Adita Lang says that she’s all for women loving and accepting themselves, it’s false to think that belly fat has to be an inevitable and relatively harmless fact of aging. In fact, Adita is 52, and she doesn’t have extra weight around her middle.

Yes, she is a fitness and nutrition expert, but it just goes to show, it’s not something that has to happen or even should happen. It also goes to show why we want to take our advice from someone like Adita, who not only knows and teaches about health and wellness, but who also truly lives it as well. That’s why I went to her to better understand the dangers of belly fat and to find out how we can all take control of our waistlines and our health.

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Benefits of Cooking for Yourself While on Vacation

7 Tips for Making Cooking a Fun and Relaxing Part of Your Vacation Routine.

Summer vacation means keeping things simple and easy. Which for many, means very little to no cooking. But when it comes to what we eat, giving someone else or packaged convenience foods the power over what fuels us during this sacred time off can backfire if we’re not careful. With a little extra planning and a willingness to think outside the box, cooking for yourself can become an important and meaningful part of your next vacation. That’s why I’m taking a look at what those benefits are as well as 7 tips for making it a fun and relaxing part of your vacation routine.

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How to Make Healthy Eating Part of Your Lifestyle

Tips for Healthy Eating.

Are you tired of being bombarded with all the newest information about what you should and shouldn’t eat? Are you confused about what healthy eating even means? Or are you simply saying, “I have three kids who all have different activities, drive-thru it is.” If you answered “yes” to any or all of these, you’re not alone. We’ve all been there, done that. But if you’re reading this, you must be at least a little interested in finding out what eating healthier could look like for you. That’s why I want to help cut through some of the noise and share some tips on how to make healthy eating part of your lifestyle as quickly and painlessly as possible.

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Safe Food Storage Containers

Addressing the concerns over plastic, what to use instead and how to use plastic correctly.

Food storage containers are like socks and underwear. For most of us, there are so many more fun and exciting things we’d rather buy. The fact of the matter though is that these containers are some of the most used, most important parts of our kitchen and our everyday lives. If we don’t give them the thought they deserve, they could be causing us a lot of harm. How? Because the plastic storage containers, baggies and plastic wraps that most of us grew up with might be leaching chemicals that are proven endocrine-disruptorsinto our food if not used exactly right, and let’s face it, most of us aren’t using them exactly right.

This is a topic I don’t take lightly because I know I’m behind the curve in addressing this issue in my own kitchen. While we are transitioning to safer products, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. That’s why I turned to the mountains of research available out there and to chef, nutritionist and award-winning cookbook author Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN for guidance for us all. As a topic that she’s well-versed in, she steers us in the right direction when it comes to safe food storage containers, and if we do use plastic, how to use it correctly.

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Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through some of the links included on this page. You can read my disclosure policy here.

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