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Paleo: The Diet You Were Born to Eat

Interview with Nell Stephenson

“Eating good food makes you feel good.”

These are the words that every great diet is founded on. And so spoken by Nell Stephenson, nutritional consultant and author of the book Paleoista: Gain Energy, Get Lean and Feel Fabulous with the Diet You Were Born to Eat, during her exclusive interview with Women Who Run It. Her words are the pathway to healthier eating and living by way of a diet so old it has literally stood the test of time.

“The Paleo diet is what our Paleo[lithic] ancestors ate,” says Stephenson. “It is food we have in today’s culture. You do not need to start hunting and farming your own produce – but you cannot eat anything refined and inflammatory. It is a 60/40 diet; 40% being carbohydrates from primarily vegetables and fruits and 60% being from wild protein and healthy fats.”
The modern world is no stranger to revolutionary dieting in various different forms, so what is it that sets the Paleo diet apart? For Stephenson, it began as a cleanse of her diet at the time: a typically healthy diet that one can assume is implemented by every reasonably health-conscious North American – but one that was nevertheless making her ill.

“The reason I started the Paleo diet is that I was tired of being sick!” she explains. “When I was a child, they thought I had a sensitive stomach. This evolved later into multiple trips to the emergency room, and to seeking specialists. Whenever I went to the ER, no one would ask what I was eating.”

“I always ate healthy and was brought up on a healthy diet, but I was also eating my fair share of peanuts, raw dairy, legumes, and whole wheat bread. All in balance, but [it was] enough to cause a problem. I finally found a doctor who gave me a test for Celiac disease. It came back negative and I was told I had a latent allergy [hypersensitivity] to gluten. I was relieved – but the doctor told me there was no reason to stop eating gluten.”

Stephenson stopped eating gluten anyway. “In only three days I felt better. I had more energy, my sleep improved. I lost extra weight, making me leaner. Cutting out gluten then planted the proverbial seed: if the food I thought was good for me was making me sick, what else was I eating that was making me sick? I began to omit soy products, dairy, etc. And I went from feeling okay to feeling fantastic.”

“This is not magic – it is simple. Eating good food makes you feel good.”

But Really, What Is the Paleo Diet?
After all, the cultural standard for a good healthy diet includes eating lots of whole grains, legumes, soy, peanuts, lean meats and chicken, doesn’t it? These are all things we are constantly advised to eat by healthcare professionals, so for many, cutting them out of your diet might seem a bit extreme. Not to mention hard! But when you think about it, this is merely the diet you were born to eat. The Paleo diet is based on years of scientific research and study conducted by Dr. Loren Cordain, and it reflects the fact that in the Paleolithic era, the human diet was built on what could be foraged, scavenged, picked or hunted – just as it was, in its natural state. Grains and legumes grown from the ground were avoided because the fact is, they have always carried anti-nutrient properties; somewhat detrimental to the human digestive system because of those very properties which serve as their protection from pesticides and predators. The Paleo diet merely suggests a return to eating good food: fresh vegetables, fruits, wild fish, grass-fed meats, free-range poultry and healthy processed fats. Avoid processed carbohydrates from grains and legumes, as well as other acid-forming foods (like dairy products).

Tips on Paleo-Dieting
Because a diet is a diet – when you’re just starting out, sticking to it is always a tough, trial-and-error process. It was no different for Stephenson, and she has a wealth of advice to offer because of it.

“I was a vegan for two years, partially for ethical reasons and partly to see if it would make me feel better after all of my health issues. After 6 months I started craving fish – so bad I would go to bed and dream about fish. I would wake up feeling guilty for being a vegan and for ethical reasons, but I knew it would continue to be a struggle. I found fish to be the ‘gateway protein’. Gradually over time, I found a balance where I could consume protein and support animal rights simultaneously. I do this by buying my meats only from reputable sources – the best way to do this is to eat locally. I am blessed to live in LA where you can have fresh strawberries and blueberries at any time of the year – but you know they are not coming from natural environments or being shipped over without help. [So] eat locally! Visit farmers’ markets; look for seasonal meats and produce and stick with them. And ask lots of questions – ask if the meat is wild, what they specialize in – get to know the vendors.

“This is a completely individual process,” she advises. “Some people do not start at 100% right away. Some people prefer to start with a week of no dairy, then add a week of no dairy and no legumes. Then finally they can add all three and go completely Paleo. My personal suggestion is [to] try going Paleo 100% for at least 30 days. It takes at least a month to reap the benefits, and this way you can know what it is like and consider undergoing it for good.”

Perks of the Paleoista Life
Why not? For Nell Stephenson, who coined the term “Paleoista”, is living proof that a “caveman” diet and the modern-chic, high-energy lifestyle of a fashionista are in no way mutually exclusive. In fact, just on the results yielded by participants of the diet, one could argue the two are symbiotic. Eating real food and feeling healthy and newly invigorated because of it goes hand in hand with style and confidence – you’ll look the part because you feel it.

“I absolutely encourage my clients to implement this diet because it is suitable for everyone,” says Stephenson. “I had an elderly woman in South Africa who could stop taking her medication for high blood pressure. A Paleo diet helps make you healthier and stronger, and this helps some taper off their medications. Of course there are always exceptions, but they are easily modified – you adjust your protein intakes, you factor in allergies – it is all easy.

“My personal philosophy is one of ‘Attitude and Gratitude’. We have so much to be thankful for and a lot of us take life for granted and do not live in the moment. It can be a real energy drain [that] prevents you from being productive. Of course we all get stressed and wind up in bad moods occasionally, but if you wake up every morning and think about what you are grateful for, you carry that with you throughout the day.”

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Amy Kisaka

Amy Kisaka, a graduate from the University of Toronto, is a writer for Goddess Connections’ publication Women Who Run It. She has an intense love for literature, creative writing, social media, and graphic design, and can generally be found writing about anything and everything that grabs her interest in the world around her: politics, lifestyle, film, fashion, and international culture.