Here at Alchemist Eating, we adore Melissa Joulwan. She’s smart, funny and totally rock-n-roll.
Oh, and her paleo cookbooks—Well Fed and Well Fed 2—are the ones we recommend most to clients…and use most ourselves.
So…today’s interview post is a special treat.
In it, Melissa answers our questions about why she eats paleo and how it’s part of a healing journey.
She also lays out what paleo looks like for her, getting really specific about what she does and doesn’t eat.
And she shares what sorts of diets didn’t work so well in the past…along with what changes paleo eating has meant for body and mind.
But wait…there’s more.
Melissa offers a practical tip for getting started with paleo (even if you’re brand new)…plus a simple strategy for keeping with it (even faced with your favorite aunt’s homemade pie).
And she talks about a new cookbook in the works…then shares a recipe for cozy, comforting Mulligatawny Stew. Mmmm.
Thank you, Melissa! Enjoy, Alchemist Eating readers!
What led you to start eating paleo? And—seeing as paleo-primal allows for individual variations—what does “eating paleo” mean for you?
I started eating paleo for reasons of vanity and then stuck with it for my health.
I began my paleo path in 2009, shortly after reaching my “goal weight” with Weight Watchers and CrossFit. I wanted to get “just a little leaner.” Famous last words!
I overdid it on my workouts and ate a very low-carb diet; soon I was feeling fatigued, my sleep was terrible, and I had digestive issues. It was frustrating because I felt like my habits were so good!
Eventually, the doctor found a nodule on my thyroid, and I had a thyroidectomy. After the surgery, we found that it hadn’t been cancerous, but because most of my thyroid was removed, I was now hypothyroid.
At that point, my commitment to paleo was cemented because eating clean was uber important to support my healing body and to give me a solid baseline against which to measure how my thyroid hormone doses were working.
The version of paleo I follow is pretty strict: animal protein, vegetables and fruits (including a fair amount of starches), luscious fats, no paleo “treats.”
I don’t eat very much packaged food, but I do have organic ketchup (with added sugar) and Chinese garlic-chile paste (with xantham gum) in my fridge. I eat very clean without making myself nuts in the process.
I’m definitely not a low-carb person; I eat potatoes, plantains, or sweet potatoes every day, but the quantity changes based on my workouts. I generally avoid all dairy and gluten because it makes me feel pretty lousy. On special occasions, I make gluten-free treats, eat one serving, then give them away.
What changes has eating paleo brought in body and mind?
I went on my first diet when I was 14, when I went to Weight Watchers camp for the summer. After that I tried the Rice Diet, the Zone, Weight Watchers again…learning about new diets was sort of a horrible hobby.
Eating within the paleo framework has finally taught me how to eat with joy, peace, and good health.
I used to snarf my way through the kitchen cabinets, eating anything and everything in an attempt to find satisfaction. That doesn’t happen anymore. Paleo has eliminated cravings and emotional eating.
I love the food I eat every day, and making good choices is easy and routine.
If someone wants to give paleo a go but is feeling overwhelmed, what’s one doable thing to set them up for success?
A quick success is the best way to make the commitment to paleo easier. Most people will feel significantly better in just a week when they eliminate gluten and dairy.
My advice is to try it for one week: stay away from wheat products and dairy for seven days and see how you feel.
Keep track of the quality of your sleep, your skin, how the area under your eyes looks, and your bathroom experiences.
I have no doubt you’ll experience huge successes in one week.
You’ve written before about a wonderful strategy: “Now’s not the time.” What’s that about?
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from anyone was the magic words “Not right now.” It’s a useful thing to say to ourselves and to others.
For example, imagine you’ve decided to avoid wheat for a week, and when you go out to weekend brunch at your favorite restaurant, the special is homemade waffles.
Rather than thinking, “I can’t eat those waffles. This sucks!” you could instead think, “Not right now.” It’s not that you’ll never eat waffles again, or that you’re not allowed to eat waffles, it’s that you’re choosing to not eat them right now.
Here’s another one: You’re at your aunt’s house for dinner and she offers you homemade pie. You say, “That looks delicious, but I’m going to pass on that right now.” She moves on to the next guest. Easy-peasy! You haven’t insulted her by making a fuss about the gluten in the crust, and you haven’t needed to defend your choices or make yourself uncomfortable.
The words “not right now” work in so many contexts; it’s a super handy phrase to have in your back pocket. If you add a “thanks” to the beginning, it can really smooth ruffled feathers. Practice it! “Thanks…not right now.”
We love Well Fed and Well Fed 2. Any new books in the works?
Thank you so much! I’m really glad those two books are helpful.
I feel like a learned a lot of lessons the hard way, and it’s really gratifying to know my experience is helping others.
I’m currently in the recipe-testing phase of my next cookbook! It’s called Well Fed Weeknights and features about 125 complete paleo meals that can be made in under 50 minutes.
It will be released next fall, which probably sounds like a long time but, to me, feels like the blink of an eye!
Tell us a little about Mulligatawny Stew…
I’m sharing Mulligatawny Stew because it’s cozy and comforting, ideal for this time of year! Plus it’s easy to pull together and it freezes and defrosts well, so you can make a double batch! Trust me on this: It tastes even better on the second and third day.
I learned about Mulligatawny Stew in college when I subscribed to the monthly installments of McCall’s Cooking School. I was smitten with the photo of a brass tureen shaped like a crown and filled to the brim with golden soup flecked with coconut.
The taste lives up to the visual: it’s silky, rich without being cloying, and balances the warmth of curry with the sweetness of apples.
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- salt and ground black pepper
- ½ tablespoon plus ½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium onions, diced (about 2 cups)
- ¾ pound carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch coins
- 2 medium stalks celery, diced (about ½ cup)
- 2 medium apples, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
- ¾ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
- 1½ tablespoons curry powder
- 1 tablespoon salt
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup canned coconut milk
- minced fresh parsley leaves
- sliced almonds, toasted
- Sprinkle the chicken assertively with salt and pepper. Heat a large, deep pot over medium-high heat, then add ½ tablespoon coconut oil. When the oil is melted, add the chicken in a single layer with some elbow room around each piece. Brown in batches so a golden crust forms, about 5 minutes per side. Remove cooked chicken to a bowl to catch the juice.
- Add ½ tablespoon coconut oil to the pot. Add onions, carrots, celery, apples, coconut flakes, and garlic. Sauté 7-10 minutes, scrape up any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. In a small bowl, mix the arrowroot, curry powder, salt, chili powder, allspice, cayenne, and bay leaf. Stir-fry until the spices are fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the broth and water to the pot and stir to combine. Nuzzle the chicken into the liquid and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, covered, 45 minutes. Stir the coconut milk into the pot and simmer uncovered, 10 more minutes.
If you haven’t checked out Melissa’s cookbooks and blog yet, definitely do. They’re delicious!
And, if you want to change how you eat and feel…and are wondering whether we can help, go here to check out our programs.
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