Melissa Joulwan: Paleo in Prague
I adore Melissa Joulwan. She’s smart, funny and totally rock-n-roll.
Her paleo cookbooks are the ones I recommend most to clients...and use most myself. For meal planners and cook-up keeners out there, she also posts a weekly line-up of Five Paleo Dinners to Cook Next Week.
Melissa is the author of the best-selling Well Fed cookbook series and the blog www.MelJoulwan.com, where she writes about her triumphs and failures in the gym, the kitchen and life. Her newest cookbook is Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo Meals in 45 Minutes Or Less.
Melissa also writes a column for Paleo Magazine, and her recipes have been featured in Low Sugar Living, Buzzfeed.com, FoodNetwork.com, Nylon.com, PopSugar.com, and Men’s Journal. She has been a featured chef for U.S. Wellness Meats and Lava Lake Lamb, as well as an instructor at Whole Foods.
After a lifetime of yo-yo dieting and food as the enemy, Melissa found the paleo diet in 2009 and has been happily following it ever since.
That year, she also underwent a thyroidectomy. In the aftermath of surgery and recovery, she became particularly interested in how diet affects hormones, body composition, mood and motivation. These days, Melissa’s workouts are just as likely to include yoga and meditation as lifting heavy things and sprinting to stay ahead of the stopwatch.
In 2017, Melissa and her husband (along with their cat Smudge) sold most of their stuff and moved to Prague. They are happily adventuring in their new Czech home.
All that's to say, today’s interview is a special treat. In it, Melissa shares:
Why she eats paleo and how it’s part of her healing journey
What paleo looks like for her today, in her new home of Prague
Her morning and evening routines – including how they support freedom...and fun!
I hope you savour Mel's responses as much as I did!
When and why did you embrace paleo?
There are two primary health reasons to eat paleo: It helps regulate the blood sugar-insulin cycle, and it reduces inflammation in the body. Both of these are important for maintaining good health and weight management, but are also essential for being happy, thinking clearly, sleeping soundly, and tackling life with energy.
Prior to learning about paleo, I'd been a lifelong dieter. I went to a Weight Watchers summer camp when I was 14 years old! I loved to eat and food was also the enemy because, for most of my life, I desperately wanted to look and be different than I was.
It's a paradox, but the "rules" of paleo have given me freedom. I enjoy the food I eat a lot, but it also has what I think is its proper place in my life: It’s fuel to do all the other things I want to do.
Around the time I went paleo, I also learned I had a nodule on my thyroid. The risk of cancer was high, so the nodule was surgically removed, and the doctor hoped the remaining smidgen of my thyroid would continue to function. It held on for a few months but then conked out. It was terrible! Like constantly having a case of the blues.
Eating paleo has helped me keep me healthy and happy while I support my body with thyroid hormones.
You recently moved to Prague! what's eating paleo like in your new home?
Because paleo is built on basics – quality animal protein, natural fats, and lots of fruits and veggies – it's been easy to keep our good food habits going here. And there's an online grocery shopping and delivery service that makes it very fast and easy. I do my main shopping online, then buy gorgeous produce at the local farmers market.
The biggest challenge is that our refrigerator is about one-third the size of a giant U.S. fridge, so I shop a little more often and have learned to pack the fridge like a game of Tetris.
It's been a nice surprise to find I can eat paleo-friendly food in most restaurants here. The traditional Czech pubs are tricky, because there's gluten in many of the dishes. But most cafes and pubs offer salads with chicken or tuna, and there's a very strong Vietnamese presence in Prague, so I eat a lot of Bun Cha – grilled pork with rice noodles and tons of raw veggies. (Rice noodles are not paleo, but I eat them occasionally; there's no such thing as paleo police.)
There are a lot of international food options – Thai, American BBQ, burgers, doner kebabs – so it's fairly easy to find meat + veggies. And when I want a non-paleo treat, there are SO MANY great options! There's also a growing awareness of gluten-free foods here, including a handful of awesome restaurants with totally gluten-free menus.
Do you find routine helpful?
I thrive within the framework of a regular routine! I think from the outside, a routine can look restrictive, but planning frees me up to be spontaneous and have more fun. When the daily requirements are accounted for somehow – sleep, food, work and other responsibilities – I have headspace to daydream, to think about WANTS, and to relax.
Even though we work for ourselves, we still follow a Monday-to-Friday work week, with a little wiggle room for Prague-related fun. I put my workouts – gym, running and yoga – on the schedule like appointments, and I take a long walk every day. The timing of the walk changes, but it's built into my life because that time in fresh air and greenery is really important.
Saturdays are usually active days – sightseeing in Prague or a long hike out in the wilderness – and Sundays are almost always lazy days for napping, reading and movies.
Could you walk us through your morning routine?
I don't use an alarm, and the time I wake up varies by season. I tend to wake up earlier in the summer, but I'm usually awake between 5:30 and 7:00a.m. On workout days, I get dressed, drink water, and head out for that day's adventures. On non-workout days, I usually start with a walk or yoga. (Yoga with Adriene is great!)
I take my thyroid hormones at 7a.m. every day, and I can't eat for an hour after that, so it gives me a good window for activity! Then I cook breakfast, shower, and start my work day, usually around 9-10a.m. If I wake up very early (despite my blackout curtains, earplugs and eye mask), I read until it seems reasonable to say goodbye to the bed.
and at the end of the day?
I stop watching TV or using blue screens around 8:30 or 9p.m. Then I make a cup of Doc Parsley's Sleep Remedy and take it into bed with my Kindle. Because it's challenging and expensive to buy English-language books here, I read almost exclusively on the Kindle. By 10p.m., I'm usually ready for sleep.
How can people find you and learn more?
My website has an archive of hundreds of paleo and Whole30 compliant recipes, plus posts about other things I love: books, travel, other great bloggers. My favourite social media are Twitter and Instagram, but I also have a Facebook page, where I share my recipe posts.
Thanks so much, Melissa! If you haven’t checked out Melissa’s cookbooks and blog, definitely do. They’re delicious!