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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.

Seeds of Success; or How a Dishwasher Led to the Butler Bag

When an idea begins to take root in your mind, an idea that could really go somewhere, there is a certain rush of euphoria – which comes with the knowledge that you are on the cusp of something brilliant. Entrepreneur, author and business visionary, Jen Groover says it’s a sensation that every entrepreneur becomes addicted to quickly.

And she would know. That sensation has been a part of her life ever since the first step aerobics class she took during a winter break in college, where she spent an hour dancing and barely noticed she was working out. Once she realized that a workout class which felt more like a dance party was something that a lot of other college kids would take an interest in, the euphoria hit.

It was the nineties, after all. Boom-box dance parties were in. The fitness industry was just about to take off, but hadn’t quite become the popular trend that it is today. The potential was there, though, and Groover harnessed it, going back to her university with the plan of creating a group fitness program on campus. Nearly a hundred kids turned up for the program.

Her ideas have been raking in money pretty steadily ever since. Jen Groover has recently been tagged by Success Magazine as a “One Woman Brand”, in recognition of the success story which started with her innovative creation of the Butler Bag – the world’s very first compartmentalized handbag – and kept soaring from there.  She developed the Butler Bag into a full-on company just over two years ago, marketing it to various retailers all over the US.

She has since launched even more lifestyle brands: Leader Girlz and Empowered by Jen Groover, both of which are motivational coaching guides teaching people to embrace life, empower themselves and seek success the way she did. She has been aligned with such internationally-known brands as AvonVerizon, and SkyMall. She has appeared as a keynote speaker at universities, for corporations, for organizations such as Career Wardrobe and the CNN Hero award-winning non-profit “Back on My Feet” (on which she is also a board member).

And between her regular stints as a contributing business expert on programs like Fox News’ “Strategy Room” and CBS’ “Early Show”, and hosting the recently created Launchers’ Cafe – an interactive, multimedia brand which connects tens-of-thousands of business owners and allows them to share information and grow their businesses – it’s hard not to notice that she’s a jack of all trades. Not just in talent, but in the focus areas of that talent. From fitness and health, to motivational life coaching, to business, and fashion … these themes have been the building blocks of her entrepreneurial journey, but they’re all quite different. What’s the common denominator?

It’s all in the ideas that come to you on any given day

The notion of starting a group fitness program came to Groover while she was dancing in a random aerobics class and led to her expansion into the fitness industry with a thriving gym which became competitive and known on a national level.

When at 26 her own body began to shut down due to oxidative stress, she came to fully appreciate the importance of health, wellness, and passion for life. But it was more the sheer pleasure that came to her when helping people and the idea that there were real lessons in her experience for others which had her turning to motivational life coaching as a career. Once again, this was before life-coaching had really become a thing, let alone a career path. Groover would counsel several of her fitness clients, inspiring them to find their passion and make a living out of it, and helping them turn ideas they had into successful – even on a multi-million dollar level of successful – businesses.

The Butler Bag was born out of a moment of pure frustration at the cash register of a grocery store, a moment which all of us has experienced some variation of at least once. Groover had been juggling her young twin daughters and a frantic search for the credit card she’d lost inside of her single-compartment sea of a handbag, and finally she dumped the contents of the bag out onto the counter to retrieve the card. Even then, the idea of a better handbag remained a frustrated wish at best, until months later when she was loading the dishwasher. On a whim, she took the utensil rack from the dishwasher, shoved it into her handbag, and began thinking: “If I were to design a handbag, this would be my prototype. This is what I’d want the bag to look like.”

She didn’t know how to draw. She didn’t know how to design anything, and she was a fitness trainer, not a fashion guru. What she did have was a mantra her mother had left her with years ago – that you’re not allowed to complain about something unless you plan to do something else to fix the problem. So she asked for help from everyone she could, anyone who would know how to design a bag, how to market and publicize it, and so on. Her goal for the Butler Bag company was for it to be a million dollar company by the end of the first year, and she made it happen through a lot of media attention and awareness.

“Failure is a thing which holds most people back from achieving their goals and dreams,” Groover has said. “When children are taught that failure is not an option, it teaches them not to do anything that they think they might fail at.”

Most people have ideas. Groover would even say most people have ideas which could potentially become multi-million dollar businesses. But most people tend to talk themselves out of going anywhere with those ideas, feeling that failure is inevitable if they take such an insane risk.

Groover had never imagined herself as anything other than an entrepreneur, so the risk was less scary to her. But even she stuck to her comfort zone, doing things she was naturally going to be good at, until the creation of the Butler Bag.

The one message she would pass on to everyone in the world if she could is a mantra she came up with for herself. “I have more fear of regret than I have of failure,” she says. “Don’t be afraid. Make your ideas happen.”

Financial Decision-Making in 6 Easy Steps

On the whole, making financial decisions is not the easiest process.

There’s a lot of responsibility which rests on them and, let’s face it, while some mistakes can be undone with relative ease, financial mistakes are a pain to untangle when you’re knee-deep in the fallout.

So it’s easy to get scared beforehand. And we all have our current coping mechanisms for dealing with that fear and avoiding the potential earthquake before it hits.

You might obsess over the options when making the decision. Maybe talk to your more successful, experienced friends and see what they’ve done in the past and how they would advise you. Or maybe you go in to see your financial advisor, only to get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when your advisor spreads out swathes of paper for you to look over, describing IRAs, 401Ks, money markets, and insurance plans that make you think you’re in over your head. Maybe you’d feel the need to read the fine print on every last sheet, and go over it in your mind to know you’re choosing the right products and making a good decision. Scour Google to research the options carefully. Consult even more financial experts. Obsess some more.

Note: these aren’t exactly bad habits. But entrepreneur Kate Northrup, bestselling author of Money: A Love Story, has seen plenty of people burn out on them when making financial decisions, and as she notes, they’re exhausting habits. Just the thought of having to undertake them can leave you feeling sleepy, irritable, and ironically less liable to make a good, clear-headed decision.

More to the point, she says, the problem with obsessing and over-thinking on what decision to make is that life goes on. Opportunities pass, you miss out on them, and you waste time.

“There’s an important part of you that wonders, ‘might there be a better way?’” she says.

There is!

In her new book, Northrup delves into the easy, failsafe way to ensure that you’re making the right financial decisions every time.

The trap that most people seem to fall into is a tendency to silently go over their financial choices in their minds – and only their minds. They preoccupy themselves with the obsessing and the decision-making while letting their bodies run through their daily tasks on autopilot. We’ve all seen that person at the office going through the motions of their day when their mind is clearly elsewhere. Hell, we’ve all been that person at least once. What we don’t realize is that when it comes to financial decisions, this is a matter on which mind and body are better off connected.

“Research has shown us that our physical bodies and our proprioceptors have access to much more information than just our minds,” says Northrup. “When you bring your body into your decision-making and listen to the signals that it’s giving you, you become a lot wiser.”

Here are the six simple steps that will let you tap into this potential and keep you from ever making a wrong financial decision again.

1. Take a deep breath Prior to making a decision, take a very deep breath, all the way into the lower bowels of your lungs. Let it expand your belly – who cares if it suddenly looks rounder? You want to make sure you actually feel the air going all the way in and pushing hard against your diaphragm. And then exhale, and feel it leave your body. Focusing your mind on these feelings will allow you to clear it, even just for a moment. It’s long enough to know you’ll be thinking about something other than your decision in that moment.

2. Close your eyes Even if it doesn’t feel entirely appropriate to do so at the time of your decision-making, close your eyes. Though, if you’re feeling really awkward you could always excuse yourself to the ladies’ room to complete this step. It’s a good idea to give yourself a moment to shut out the world – and any external pressures you might be feeling from anyone around you – so that you can concentrate. It reminds you that this is your decision.

3. Picture one of your choices in your mind’s eye The power of visualization is always a useful tool, but never more than when you’re trying to decide between a number of different options (and outcomes). Whether you’re just picturing the words, like “September IRA”, or picturing something that represents that choice for you, or even visualizing an outcome of deciding on that option. Having a visual image of your choice, even if only in your mind, will make it more real for you.

4. Tune in and listen to how your body feels Now we get to the point where you listen to your body’s input on your decision. Pay attention to how your body is feeling at the moment you’re picturing your choice. Does it feel relaxed and expansive, or tense and contracted? Lighter or heavier? Do you feel energized, or sleepy? You can tell where this is going…does the decision feel right? Or wrong?

For the vast majority of our lives, many of us have been talked out of listening to our bodies, and trained against letting our instincts guide us to decisions. We’ve been told we’re being too sensitive. Even advised to take “chill pills”. But you’re the one who has to live with your decision, and the right financial decision should always leave you feeling good about having made it. Your body can give you the best signal on that.

5. Repeat steps 1-4 for every one of your choices at the time Pay special attention to step 4; be sure to gauge how your body reacts to every single one of your options.

6. Pick the winners Go with the option that makes you feel the most energized, yet relaxed, and that makes you feel the lightest. In other words, go with the right choice.

It may take some practice to wire your mind into following these steps. But with that practice, the time you spend sweating over financial decisions will be cut in half. There’s nothing wrong with doing research and understanding your choices, but at some point you really have to take that plunge – and better sooner than later. Going with your gut is the best way to do it.

Redefining Feminism

There is a Charlie Perfume ad from the seventies, depicting “The Woman Who Has It All,” or at least, a very common perception of her. It was an image that stuck with Harvard professor Deborah Spar for a very long time.

The Charlie girl is exquisite: glamorous, successful looking, and clearly holding down some high-power job with her lovely pantsuit and smart briefcase. In some of the ads she is seen heading out after work with friends; in another, she’s clinking champagne glasses with a hot guy on a date; in yet another she is shown clutching the hand of a small, appropriately-adorable child.

Her message is clear: “This is who you want to be, ladies! You too could have it all!”

Well, verbatim of the message is “Kind of young, kind of now; kind of free, kind of wow!” But same difference. As Spar points out, “Who wouldn’t want that?”

Exactly. And hey, more power to the Charlie Girl. If she weren’t a fictional construct for ad purposes, we’d all want to know her secret. Because she made it look so easy. As any of us real alpha women know, the combination of work and family life is not so much effortless handling and breezy elegance, as it is desperate juggling and time-crunching – and situations that don’t always leave you looking glamorous. How big is the gap between reality and the illusion?

Deborah Spar discovered the difference in the grimy ladies’ room of an airport one morning, five weeks after giving birth to her second child. She was on her way to a business meeting, and briefly took the time to pump breast milk for her baby. Her breasts started leaking all over her clean business suit. “So I guess this is ‘having it all,’” she thought ruefully, recalling the Charlie Girl ads and the personal goal she had always striven for. Just like that, a light went on for her.

The feminist movement of the sixties changed the world for half of its population. But as liberating as the movement was, in many ways it brought along just as many shackles and heavy expectations for women, especially those under the impression that the battle was pretty much over.

The knowledge that we can now be astronauts or scientists or Supreme Court judges is a double-edged sword. It opens up a realm of possibilities…followed shortly afterward by the expectations we’ve internalized after spending much of our lives submerged in media images of the Charlie Girl, and other fantasies of what the working woman’s life must be like.

Spar explains what happens: We start thinking “if I can be an astronaut or a Supreme Court judge, why am I not an astronaut or a Supreme Court judge? What’s wrong with me?”

And it goes in other directions.

Business women begin to  feel like there is something wrong with them for not having eternally-flawless hair and poise, or a husband and child, or even the time to go on a date.

Working mothers who get caught in business suits stained with breast milk end up  feeling like they’re about to drop the ball in at least one aspect of their lives, but are not yet sure whether it’ll be work or family.

Women who back away from the workforce after having children feel like they’ve failed because they couldn’t find a balance.

The running theme is always “why couldn’t I have it all? Why is it not so effortless for me? Society expects it to be.”

Feminism is far from being won. It’s far from perfect. There are plenty of pitfalls to be aware of, and being aware of them is the first step to redefining feminism, and making it work for you.

Recognizing the Beauty Ideal for What It Is We all want to look gorgeous. For many of us, that’s just the ultimate confidence-booster. But ever notice how often the idea of the driven corporate woman is sexualized whenever she appears in the media? It’s not just that she’s expected to be smart and capable but she’s expected to be even more on her feet than the men are to really compete with them. She has to look gorgeous 24/7 on top of all that. It’s another expectation.

Now that’s not to say men don’t face their own expectations in the business world. But let’s face it – they don’t always meet every one of theirs, and it shouldn’t be super-important for us to meet this one. Clearly, you want to aim to at least be presentable in the workplace. But ‘presentable’ should be defined by what we feel good with, not by the standard of beauty demanded by society.

Recognizing that the Fight’s Not Over As Spar points out, we’re still fighting for pay equity. We’re definitely still fighting for a system of sustainable child care in most countries, a system of support for working families, especially those with new mothers. We’re often still fighting for our right as women to have children at all without being marginalized in the workplace due to pregnancy, or the need to take maternity leave.

Women with children, especially newborns, tend to find themselves at a disadvantage when they return to the office – they learn they’ve been taken out of the running for a promotion to some high-level job, or even that they’ve been demoted to a position that’s a little more out of the way. Presumably it’s to allow them better hours, so they can get home to see their children. But it’s hard not to notice how (comparatively) rarely this happens to men with children. And it shouldn’t take surrendering our ambitions to get the time to be a parent. It’s not a personal failure for this to happen, it’s societal. Fighting against it is what should define feminism.

Recognizing the Cons of Extreme-Parenting Spar notes that on the parenting front, it has become a thing in recent decades for parents to micromanage their kids’ lives. Parents decide what instruments their child will pick up, who their playmates will be, what sports they’ll go into, what colleges they’ll apply for…and of course it’s all with the best of intentions. But not only does it utterly cripple the children’s ability to be self-sufficient and independent; it also drains a lot of time away from the parents – especially the mother. Children’s lives don’t need to be micromanaged. And as the mother who wants it all, isn’t this a lot more time that could be spent making it happen?

Women should no longer be feeling the pressure to “do it all!” All that matters is that we feel like we’re doing all we want to, no matter where that falls on societies expectations!


A Love Letter to Dilma Rousseff

“I once saw a photograph of Dilma Rousseff at age 22,” wrote Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the first female President of Argentina, in an article to Time magazine. “She was standing in front of a 1969 military tribunal made up of judges hiding their faces with their hands. She exudes defiance. The roles appeared to be reversed: it was Dilma who was indicting, not only the military, but an establishment complicit in the injustice of excluding the majority from power during the two-decade rule of the generals.”At 22, Rousseff’s dark hair was already rocking her classic pixie-cut. And with her thick lenses framing her eyes, she might otherwise appear to have been an unlikely heroine – if not for that same stubborn defiance being reflected in every inch of her expression, making her lovely. The photograph is a famous one. You would think the judges might seem happier at having finally caught “the Joan of Arc of the guerrilla movement,” as she was known by military prosecutors for her integral role in the armed revolutionary struggle of several groups against Brazil’s military dictatorship. Yet those judges were hiding while Rousseff held her head at an obstinate tilt, faced her indictment photo dead-on, and went to jail, where she was brutally tortured there for her devotion to the cause. “We fought and participated in a dream to build a better Brazil,” she has said. Fast forward nearly forty years, and Brazil has come a long way toward that dream, in large part because “…The woman I got to know in 2003,” writes Fernandez de Kirchner, “…possesses the same commitment as the girl in that picture.” There are countless reasons to love Dilma Rousseff, 65, and not just because she’s the first female President of the world’s sixth-largest economy, and arguably the most powerful woman in the world. Although, no lie, that is a pretty big one. Few of us could have faced the things she has and come out with those results, rather than being cowed by a dangerous regime. They forbade her from engaging in political activity after her release from prison, and expressly closed many doors to her. But we love her because she fought that opression by lying in wait for her political moment and seizing it when it came. When the dictatorship lost its grip on Brazil, she became active in one of the few opposing partisan groups, working her way up over the years to the senior levels of government. We love her because, in a political arena dominated by men, from which she had previously been barred, and with all eyes on Brazil as one of the world’s emerging great powers, she rose to Presidency and has stood her ground on her convictions and has made a commitment to gender equality which has led to a record number of women in high-profile positions of power and one-third of Brazil’s Cabinet being comprised of women. We love her because she’s done it all with the same iron-will that refused to be cowed by the judges at that military tribunal. This ladies, is what you might call “the ultimate alpha female” . Not convinced? Here are a few more reasons to love her:
She’s always the brains and fuel behind the operation “[Former President] Lula realized that she kept things moving.” – Franklin Martins, guerrilla fighter-turned-minister.

Though she has since tried to deny it, there are a number of reports from her past guerrilla days which cite her as one of the masterminds behind several revolutionary schemes conducted by the Marxist rebel groups who took on the dictatorship. She was one of the most wanted fugitives in Brazil as early as 1967 and her eventual capture three years later was seen as a triumph for the military regime. Rousseff is far from ashamed of her radical past but insists her role was mainly political and organizational.

Her radical stance has mellowed since her youth but those experiences were something that served her well later in life when she began climbing through the ranks of government and holding powerful offices. Her intelligence, managerial skills, and courage in facing difficult situations when they arose caught the attention of then-president Lula as early as 2002. Once he appointed her to be his Chief of Staff she became his protégé and her own presidential campaign started from there.

She always makes the choice to fight, rather than surrender “I voted for Dilma because she is a fighter. What we need is a fighter in the presidency to continue…Lula’s efforts.” – Estevam Sanches, pizza-parlour owner in Sao Paulo.

She did not have to entangle herself in a war against Brazil’s military regime. She could have kept her head down. Rousseff was born to a position of relative privilege in the upper-middle class of Belo Horizonte, the city in which she grew up. Her childhood dreams ranged from being a ballerina, to being a trapeze artist, and somehow guerrilla warfare didn’t make the list. She was in high school when she truly became aware that the “world was not a place for debutantes.”

The political situation in Brazil was getting worse at this time: the military’s generals seized power in a political coup and declared a reign of terror during which they suspended the civil rights of the people. It’s easier to stay out of conflict when it doesn’t directly affect you. Many would argue that it’s smarter too. But Rousseff couldn’t.

Not even when she spent three years as a political prisoner being tortured for information on the whereabouts of her fellow activists. “They gave me a lot of electrical shocks,” Rousseff has said. “I began to hemorrhage, but I withstood. I wouldn’t even tell them where I lived.” Her silence was not for nothing – at the time the “mysterious” disappearances of subversives was almost commonplace.

She paves the way for powerful women to succeed her “Given a choice between a man and a woman with the same qualifications, she prefers to hire the woman.” – Gilberto Carvalho, head of the presidential office.

Rousseff makes a point of appointing women to powerful positions within her office. Her advisory circle is, with one exception, comprised entirely of women. Previously, the political parties were always claiming they couldn’t find enough qualified women.  Now “[women] are strong in government, and we have the president to thank for that,” says Marta Suplicy, the vice president of the Senate.

She’s a Power Mom “What is important about my being President is that now all girls can aspire to be President, and it will be seen as completely normal.” – Dilma Rousseff

Rousseff was listed at number two on Forbes’ list of “The World’s Most Powerful Moms 2012”. A mother for decades and a relatively recent grandmother, she has faced her share of personal problems as well, not the least of which being her recent divorce from her husband of nearly 30 years, Carlos de Araujo. Their only child, Paula Rousseff Araujo, currently holds office in Porto Alegre as the Labor Prosecutor.

Paula could have few finer examples.

What Your Body is Trying to Tell You

Fiona Fine Interview with Luanne Pennesi 
It’s such a basic first step, and yet it’s the one we forget to take every day. “Take good care of yourself,” advises Luanne Pennesi, RN, MS and founder of the Metropolitan Wellness Centre in New York City. “We’ve got to take good care of our minds, of our bodies, we have to process emotions in a healthy way; we have to manage us first.”

That is the first thing you need to do in order to take charge of your health, and by extension your life. Pennesi had to learn this herself, the hard way. Currently a leading name in the field of natural health medicine, she has built her career on the melding of new-age, alternative and holistic Eastern health therapies with the conventional, diagnostic science of Western medical practice. But she was working as a nurse administrator in the oncology unit of a large hospital when she first hit her tipping point.

“I was working all the time. I had chronic fatigue syndrome,” she explains. “I used to drink thirteen cups of coffee a day!” This was common among her fellow co-workers, but after sixteen years, the stress of her lifestyle took a devastating toll. She started developing thyroid imbalances and breast lesions due to all the tension and caffeine. And the conventional pharmaceutical treatments she was being given by her doctors were just barely suppressing her symptoms. As an alternative, she started taking classes in holistic medicine, a field in which treatments are focused on the “whole person,” rather than just the illness itself. She was able to reverse every one of her issues through those classes when she realized: “I [still] wasn’t living my true potential as a woman.”
“What happens so often is that people will jump into a cause, and they’ll lose their whole identity to the cause,” she says. “I lost my whole identity to my work as a nurse administrator. It was who I was, and I was terrified to think, ‘If I left there, who am I?’”

This is the Achilles’ heel of many, many career-driven women.

It’s never a bad thing to be focused on your career or your personal causes, but it’s easy to give ourselves over to them so completely that we forget about ourselves in the pursuit of the goal – which is ultimately self-defeating, for our health and even in terms of said goal. It’s hard to succeed when you’re sick.
Avoid the Trap to Begin With
“Women have grown up to be ‘The Nurturer,’” says Pennesi. “We have it in us. It’s what we do, we nurture. And sometimes, well, there’s a thin line between nurturing and martyrdom. Many times, depending on our religion, or our peers, or the profession we go into, we might get pushed into doing-doing-doing – and then we come last. And when you have that kind of mindset, where you constantly feel like you have to be doing [stuff] for other people in order to feel worthy, and to get their acknowledgment – that, combined with an unhealthy diet is the perfect storm for cancer.”

She gives the Eastern alternative explanation for what happens. “When you’re that kind of person … cancer, on an energetic level, is always about some kind of imbalance in the liver. And the liver area, in Chinese medicine, is where we hold on to anger, frustration, and resentment.

“The breasts are the organs of nurturing, of feeding, of giving. If women develop breast cancer – these are the women who are always taking care of everyone else, and put themselves last. People with cancer in the lungs – the lungs are where we hold onto sadness, grief, and resistance to change. But fibroids, ovarian, and cervical cancer – these are about anger, frustration, and resentment because you’re living someone else’s agenda. You never get to give your own life meaning. We just adapt to other people’s expectations of us.”
Don’t rely on pharmaceutical therapies; they treat the symptoms, not the problem
For Pennesi, it took a journey of self-discovery and growing disillusionment with the Western medical industry to find the real key to restored health and longevity.
“Hospitals, and the whole corporation of medicine, are like a business,” she claims. “There’s no incentive to keep people healthy. It’s an illness-based system – [they] need to keep that business going in healthcare. [They] depend on people to eat bad food and get stressed out. The more people get cancer, the more money they make on pharmaceuticals and surgery and radiation. I have witnessed people who have reversed dozens of conditions that conventional medicine has failed miserably at reversing, in spite of the millions of dollars of research that go into studies controlled by the very pharmaceutical companies that are selling the drugs to suppress the symptoms that our bodies manifest in order to beg our attention.”
And Pennesi numbers herself among this statistic: “I had hepatitis B, I had chronic fatigue syndrome, I had cytomegalovirus, I had acne, breast lesions, ovarian cysts, I suffered from mycoplasma pneumoniae – and with perseverance, knowledge and with determination I reversed every single one of these issues.”
She started bringing this up at the leadership meetings at the hospital where she worked. “When I would speak up about the hypocrisy of what we were doing, and looking at other things we could do, [the hospital] wanted to suppress me.”
Her boss told her she was dispensable, and she retorted that they could just dispense of her, then.
“So I got myself fired,” she laughs, “and I went out and got my Master’s degree in Natural Health, and shortly after that I went on to get a four-year degree in Chinese Medicine. I became a certified AMMA therapist: it’s a specialized tendon and muscle massage [therapy] that you do with the hands, where you connect all of the acupuncture pressure points. It was kind of funky for a nurse coming from administration and oncology to go into something like this, yet I was very excited because, for the first time in my career, I saw people actually improving, actually getting well.
“The next and crucial step for me was: how can I recreate my life so I can be more to people, to help them be the best they can be? The first step was me being the best me I could be!”
Live for Yourself
“In the Healing Arts literature, there’s a specific order that we have to invest our energies in ourselves,” Pennesi explains. “Take good care of you. Once you’ve got that down, then and only then are you going to be able to draw in healthy, like-minded people for healthy romantic relationships, friendships, acquaintances, and so on. Now you have your inner and outer circle of good friendships to support you on your journey while you’re taking good care of you, [that’s when] you’re ready to go out and start doing things on a broad, community level.
“This is some pretty heavy stuff for some people to take,” she warns. “When you say ‘what do I need to do to deconstruct my life?’ – what’s going to happen is you may not get acknowledgment. We strive, not just women but people in general, we want to be acknowledged, loved, and recognized. And when we stop doing the things that get you that recognition, you have to be okay with disappointing people, with people saying ‘I don’t like you in this [new] way’.”

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.”