Melissa Joulwan – The Clothes Make the Girl
Jonathan: Hey, everyone! Jonathan Bailor here and welcome to another bonus Smarter Science of Slim Podcast. Today is definitely going to be a fun day and a fun recording, because we have a woman who just brings awesome perspective and awesome energy to the food quality movement. She is the proprietor and the founder of the awesome website TheClothesMakeTheGirl.com. She is the author of the wonderful recipe book Well Fed. She is also the co-author of Living Paleo for Dummies. Melissa Joulwan, welcome to the show.
Melissa: Thank you very much. I’m glad to be talking to you today.
Jonathan: No, thank you so much for being here. Well, Melissa, one of my favorite parts of your website is actually your story because you’ve structured it in a way that is as unique and awesome as your personality, and your personal friend is in general. Your About section, your little numbered list there. I love that. Can you take us through your story a bit?
Melissa: Sure, I’d be glad to. It’s funny when it came time to write my About page, I was like, “I’m not really sure how to make all this. It’s been stories. I’m just going to have to make a list, because their elements are a little conflicting but if you do mean it, it kind of all makes sense.” I think number one on my list is probably when I was an overweight and obese kid. Even though I’m 45 now, that makes a huge impact, and I feel like my whole life has kind of been somewhat in reaction to that, so I started out not athletic at all. My family ate very healthy food, but we ate a lot of food because my dad is on the restaurant, and my mom is a wonderful cook.
I explained in my cookbook she won every cooking contest she ever entered so our whole family was really built around cooking together, and we had dinner together every night between 5:00 and 6:00 until we graduated from high school. It was very traditional kind of family feeling around the table. When I graduated from college, I decided that I really wanted to get in shape, so I started exercising regularly for the first time in my life. I was pretty successful. I lost a lot of weight, but then even keeping my good habits, I started to regain that weight back. It was very frustrating. I repeated that cycle several times over the next say 15 years.
I would find a way of eating that worked for a while, and even though I would start with it and I continued to exercise, I would eventually gain some of the weight back. Then, when I was approaching my 40th birthday, I decided that I really wanted to get serious. I had hung up my roller skates from being a roller girl. I just played five track roller derby, and I needed some physical challenge to take the place of roller derby and I started doing CrossFit. When I found CrossFit, I also found the Zone Diet and started doing that, and it was very, very successful for a while and then the way it started creeping up a little bit again and that’s when I found paleo, which has been wonderful.
It’s been about four years since I switched to a fairly strict paleo diet, which means I don’t eat grains, dairy, legumes, added sugar, I drink very rarely, I don’t eat any packaged food, and that has changed so many aspects of my life. It’s crazy. My sleep improved. My mental clarity is much sharper. I just feel happier. I feel pretty optimistic when I wake up in the morning. When I first started I definitely experienced some fat loss, which is great and then a few months later, I found out that I had a thyroid nodule, and it was so large that it could be tested with a needle biopsy and I had to have it removed.
Since then, my commitment to the paleo diet has not only been because of vanity, because I do want to be fit as possible; but also my health really requires it now. One of the huge benefits of the paleo diet is that it reduces inflammation, and for someone with the thyroid condition, if you are taking thyroid hormones you need to do everything you can to help those thyroid hormones work properly. For me that means I really have to watch what I eat so that I can track how I’m feeling and make sure that my thyroid medication is in the right dose because the thyroid symptoms are very similar to how I feel if I eat gluten or if eat too much sugar so you will can really tell if I feel crappy for legitimate reasons to keep my diet really clean.
Jonathan: You have a minimizing variables there a little bit, it sounds like.
Melissa: Exactly. I feel like in the last four years since I had my thyroid removed, I’ve got really indebted by the whole idea of self-experimentation if any does one, and you really can’t do any of that experimentation; so you get foundationally which is solid nutrition, restful sleep, stress management and then you can start playing with the other variables, but if you don’t have those things nailed down then you just don’t know what you’re dealing with.
Jonathan: Ironically, they may actually be making a difference, but the difference is massive because you have all these interferences from other areas that you give up on something which may actually make dramatic benefit if those other variables who are under control.
Melissa: Yes, that’s absolutely right. It’s very frustrating but in a way it’s also been very good for me, because my whole life I was one of those people that was a goal setter and a plan maker and point me on a path and I will pedal to the medal of goal until I crash into that goal; and this has taught me that it doesn’t actually work that way; but it’s not actually linear because even when you get all the variables figured out, there are other things going on. There are other environmental issues around you. There’s the aging. I’m not 35 anymore, so things are a little different; so it’s all fascinating.
Jonathan: Oh, it’s absolutely. One thing I want to dig into most is — I love what you just said there. You go at things head on, and I love that. Your catch phrase, I don’t know, for lack of better terms, on your website is train hard, or maybe this is more about a vision or a mission statement, Training hard, eat clean and live loud. I bet when you were doing that you mentioned you did the Zone Diet and achieved some success there. I’m curious as to when you were going full speed ahead with the Zone Diet, what are the biggest differences you see between a Zone-type diet and a paleo-type lifestyle? Could you combine them? Could you just eat paleo foods and more of a zone framework? Talk about that a little bit.
Melissa: Yes, so when I originally started doing the zone, I was doing a grain-free. Not because of any understanding really of what grains can potentially do to your body but even in the zone if you have two tablespoons of rice or three cups of broccoli, I like to eat. I like to have big piles of food on my plate. I didn’t eat the grains, because I just wanted to eat more volume, honestly. The zone worked really well for me for a while. I think the biggest challenge was that when I started doing a lot more CrossFit training, I was also running and there were some things that I was doing double work outs. I had to increase the fat that I was eating, so I was actually on a double the amount in the Zone, and that works pretty well, I think.
Now honestly, the way I eat paleo is much more balanced. It is 40-30-30, but I do 40 percent fat, 30 percent carbs, 30 percent protein. The thing that is tricky, I think, about the paleo framework is that it’s just that. It’s a framework of getting started and kind of eliminating foods that can be problematic, but then once you’ve done that, you kind of have to play with your macronutrients because for a lot of women, we need to have more carbs. The general advice usually if you want to get lean with a paleo diet is to go low carb, higher protein and fat, but for women who do high intensity exercise or if you have thyroid issues or you have any kind of adrenal issues or… I just completely lost the four thing it will going to be.
This is why because I’m old. If you are trying to get pregnant, you might need a little bit higher percentage of carbohydrates. If you’re a dude in your 20’s who is tear through the CrossFit workouts, you can sit and drink a can of coconut milk at your desk every day. The framework is really meant to be played with, and I think that for me almost equal 40-30-30’ish approach works really, really well and so I do kind of follow a little bit badly zone mentality of eating protein and carbs and fat together, but I always make sure they’re paleo foods in those buckets of zone macronutrients.
Jonathan: Oh, and I love what you say there, Melissa, in the sense that I think the paleo — it’s only one of many ways we could refer to this type of lifestyle. One could also just describe it as the ‘eat only things you could find directly in nature that do not have things that block the body from absorbing other nutrients.’
Melissa: I have to remember that.
Jonathan: A shorter version is eat stuff that have the most good and the least fat which is almost obvious, but a lot of dietary recommendations don’t do that. They’re “Eat that which is more profitable for the agriculture industry.” or “Eat that which has the funniest cartoon character on the outside of the package.” What I love with what you said is how once you take that — that is in many ways the foods that you can start with, but then how you allocate them and the various ratios that’s what you need to play with and it’s not a usually exclusive thing. It’s really a both/and, it seems.
Melissa: Yes, and again, it’s all influenced by whatever you might be going through at the time. Right now, my husband and I are super busy working on our next book and our days are really different than they were a month ago. A month ago, I had a pretty slow schedule, and I sat and wrote most of the day. Now, I have 12-hour days where I’m on my feet all day. I’m physically tired at the end of the day, and I’m currently stressed because we’re working on the book so I have to eat and rest and meditate and exercise to support that, not being conflicted with that. I think this whole lifestyle kind of teaches you to be a little more fluid and a little more conscious of the other things that are going on in your life.
I feel that can be a little overwhelming for someone who’s just trying to get started, so we’ll say to people who are considering making a switch in their nutrition and eating those just real foods that are good for your body and don’t do any harm. Just start with that. Just get rid of the junk first, and then little by little you can start playing with the other variables but if you don’t eat the junk first you’re like 85 percent on the way there.
Jonathan: I think that’s such a great piece of advice, Melissa, because with a lot of these things, if you start… go do super clean, and then you can start to add stuff and you can start see. Maybe, you are one of those fortunate individuals who can do a little bit better with dairy. There are some people that dairy might make them go bananas and there are some people where even fruit. For example, myself personally, I notice dramatic enhancements in both how I feel and how I look when I went — basically, a complete elimination of fruit other than before and immediately after heavy resistance training workouts and increasing more of my healthy fats during this instead of a carb fats swap, but I know there are people that have just the opposite experience.
Melissa: We’re all special, special snowflakes.
Jonathan: Melissa, one thing I wanted to speak with you with special snowflakes, one thing I wanted to rewind and touch on a little bit, which is a little bit more somber of a subject; but you mentioned something, the phrase you use… the phraseology you used is actually I think very, very profound and you said something along the lines of you felt that you lived much of your life in reaction to struggling with your weight and how you felt about your appearance when you were younger and with what we see with — I believe the statistic now is over 40 million children under the age of five are overweight, and I don’t know if people yet understand that that is not — you don’t give children cigarettes because you know that it would do lasting damage to them, but some of these other foods that are sometimes given to children in their various schools are doing damage to them. Could you talk a little bit about that damage?
Melissa: Yeah, it’s so complicated because our relationship with food is so complex and can be emotionally rich that it’s really hard to tear these apart, all of those variables. One of the things that has always kind of been a conflict for me is that I love what food represented in terms of the feelings that kind of produced in me toward my family and that warmth around the table and the idea that you’re feeding your body and you’re also feeding your soul or your emotions; and I think that’s valid. I don’t ever want that to go away, and one of my biggest problems with traditional dieting is that I feel to be successful with traditional diet, you have to remove any feeling that is associated with the food, and you’re just in the state of denial.
You deny yourself things you like. You deny yourself potentially things that taste good, and you’re just some of these austerity program to lose weight. That’s certainly not anything that you can sustain for a length of time. One of the things that I love about making the switch to paleo is that I feel it’s allowed me to enjoy food at the same time. It’s getting food at its proper place in my life which is it is sustenance for my body. I can feel that emotional connection to healthy delicious food, but I don’t have to cross that line into — I think it was really self-abuse where you’re either over eating or you’re eating foods that aren’t good for you, but to expect someone who’s 10 or 12 or 14 to have the maturity to think through all of that is untenable. Kids don’t think about stuff like that.
They think about what tastes good to them in the moment or they eat whatever is put in front of them; so it’s pretty tough because once you establish those connections with food. It’s really hard to change that when you’re older. I still think that what I really want on a Friday night is to order a pizza and lay on the couch and watch TV and eat half a pizza. I will admit that for Super Bowl Sunday, we actually ordered a real pizza, and I ate it. It tasted good. It didn’t taste as good as the memory of the times when I’d done that before, and I really, really enjoyed it. I know that sounds a little like Pollyanna or whatever. It’s the truth. It tasted good. It didn’t taste significantly better than if I would have made my meatza pie recipe which is a meat crust with vegetables on top of it.
The fall out then over the next two or three days certainly wasn’t worth it, because the gluten made me moody and depressed and I got a pimple and I was bloated and my sleep was disrupted, but the thing that most stands out is I don’t beat myself up over that anymore. “Oh, I eat something I shouldn’t have. I won’t do that again.” The thing that really stood out to me is that the sense memory is so powerful ,and those get set when we’re so young. I wish I had the answer. I don’t know what the answer is, and I can get outraged very easily because… I hope you saw the New York Times article a couple of weeks ago about the chemistry involved in the junk food in this country, but the chemists, the food chemists know what they’re doing.
They know that this amount of fat, and this amount of salt and this amount of sugar is going to make a food that not only doesn’t make you feel satisfied, it actually makes you hungrier. I was losing my marbles when I was reading it. I was screaming at my husband. They regulate cigarettes. They regulate alcohol, but you can walk into a school and buy a bag of burritos out of a vending machine. I think there’s room for burritos in life, too. I eat some once a year, and they do taste good; but there should be some kind of responsibility somewhere for not making those part of kid’s diet every day and now I get up on my soapbox.
Jonathan: No, no. I’ll jump right up there with you. No worries. It might collapse under the weight of both of us because I think we’ll both get up there, but one thing I really wanted to focus on which you said which is very profound is this idea of the memory or the thought of doing something actually being more satisfying the act of actually doing it and how we can… I’m just thinking back from my own experience. I’ve done this and this only I know one, but we have all this lost thoughts in our hearts for foods that we enjoyed as children and if for example, someone reads your cookbook, there are plenty of delicious super healthy foods there, right? No questions.
How much of a gift is it if some of those sense memories were for wholesome, wonderful foods? It’s not. A crazy thing. Fruit might be a good example. There may have been a time when we were just thirsty and it was hot and we have a freshly picked orange and it was just like “Oh, my God! That was so good.” That food was great for you. What if we could gift our children with those positive sense associations with food that will further and empower their lives rather than cripple their lives?
Melissa: Yes. There’s this new blogger that I just found. His name is Joshua and his blog is called Slim Palate, and he’s a teenager. He was overweight. He was getting kind of kicked on at school, and he decided that he was going to change his life and he started eating paleo. He’s in great shape now, and he started this blog where he shares his favorite recipes and takes the photos. It’s beautiful. I think about when I was in 17, I’m like “How is this kid doing this stuff? It’s so awesome.” The thing that really jumped out of me about him is that I did a little Q and A with him that I’m going to be publishing on my site, and one of the questions that I always ask people which I think is really silly and fun is, “It’s Friday night, nutrition doesn’t matter, you can eat whatever you want, what would you have?”
My answer is obviously pizza. His answer was “My braised short ribs recipe.” Thinking about that, I was like “He is really fortunate because he is right at the age for those pathways are kind of getting set, and he’s setting his own for healthy food.” His treat food was short ribs. That’s so cool. I was “Wow!” He doesn’t have the 18 years of junk food in his back pack that I do. I thought that was really great.
Jonathan: Oh, absolutely. I think that is such a profound — It really is a gift, right? I’m fortunate enough that I started my path of healthier nutrition really when I was in high school. Mine was really more predicated on wanting to optimize my athletic performance, and I remember really young. I remember when I was probably 13 or 14 thinking to myself — I’m not saying this is the right thing for everyone to do by any means. This is what a 13-year-old boy’s logic was. Here’s a very distinct memory. I was at a football camp, because it’s really what I wanted to do, play football. I remember that they were going to bring in pizza for lunch, and I remember thinking to myself “Okay. Well, I have to eat my…”
I brought in some tuna fish, a can of tuna because it was hot –I didn’t have a refrigerator — brought in a can of tuna, and I brought in some raw vegetables in a bag. I was like, “Okay, I have to make sure that I eat those things because those are going to help me, and then I’ll eat some pizza.” I notice that I wasn’t able to get a lot of pizza, but I still ate it but just even having that concept of you have to make sure you’re taking in the good because it will help you. Then if you want to do other stuff on top of that, that’s going to be your own prerogative; but having that baseline of nutrition, having that thought of food is rewarding is beyond what it just taste like in the moment as you experienced with the pizza where something could be wonderful in the moment and then terrible afterwards.
Jonathan: We’ve all experienced that in other areas of life where these short-term visceral pleasures can lead to longer term not so good. It doesn’t mean we don’t like visceral pleasures. It doesn’t mean we don’t ever do anything enjoyable with our lives, but it’s kind of a crude analogy; but just like there’s a safe way to have sex and unsafe way to have sex and someone who has sex the safe way, we don’t consider that person to be depriving themselves or stupid in some way. We’re just “It’s common sense.”
Melissa: Yeah, one of the things that I thought when you were telling your story is that I think kids who play sports are at advantage to some degree. I think it’s great because I think when you’re doing athletic stuff you start to make that connection between what you put in your body and how you feel and that’s not an experience that I had when I was younger. I didn’t recognize that if I felt terrible I could connect that to something that I eat both emotionally and physically.
I have some family members who follow the paleo diet. I have some family members who don’t, and when the family members who don’t feel that I would wonder if it’s because of something they ate. I wonder, “If they’ve taken that thing out, would they feel better?” But it’s really difficult to make that connection when you haven’t experienced it for yourself and when you don’t have the nutrition education. I tell myself that people know a lot about nutrition and exercise, and I forget that most people still don’t really understand how food affects them.
Jonathan: Absolutely. Once you do understand that, I think you then have a freedom that you don’t have otherwise; and that’s again the key thing. Even we did the analogy with smoking and food earlier and how smoking is regulated and certainly, no one is saying, “How about smoking?” We just want to make sure that everyone is free in the sense that they are conscientious or they’re may be given informed consent if they choose to smoke. Meaning no one in this country smokes thinking it’s doing something good for them or not understanding what it does to their lungs and a similar thing it would be — what we’re talking rather really is just doing the same thing for food.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone could understand what the food “foods,” because a lot of these things aren’t even food, what the edible products are actually doing to them so that they have the freedom. You talked about there’s addictive elements here so they have the freedom to make that choice and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing either. Your book is very, very appropriately titled well-fed individuals who are eating foods found in nature that do as much good for you as possible and as little bad for you as possible are not hungry and they’re not eating dry, tasteless bland garbage. They may even have a cheat day every once in a while but it’s all conscious.
Melissa: Yes, I think that’s the thing, that conscious decision. One of the great gifts of starting to eat this way is that I really learned the difference between emotional appetite and true hunger and having that the fact what you said about freedom, I know I’m choosing to eat this little popcorn right now. I’m not mindlessly shoveling it to my face. I’ve decided I want to eat a popcorn. I know it’s not meant I’m hungry, it’s because I want it. There’s a difference and that’s okay. That is so powerful.
This formerly obese kid to have that calm to make the decision is really lifechanging. It’s really hard to do that if you’re caught in the sugar cycle of eating the kind of standard American diet where you’re maybe not getting that fat. You’re definitely probably getting way too much sugar, and who knows if you’re getting adequate protein at all. Yeah, until you lay that foundation and clean up your thought process, it gets really hard to make smart decisions about food.
Jonathan: Absolutely, even if the baseline you were describing there of an individual who is being subjected to the standard American diet, I think oftentimes this idea of being satisfied… we have to be satisfied. I do not believe an individual can through life if their whole life feeling dissatisfied with what they’re eating, but one thing I think is very underappreciated is when we eat these edible products, we have vitamin and mineral deficiencies. We are literally deficient in things our body needs and that has a profound effect on how satisfied we feel, and if we ever feel satisfied, we might just be chronically hungry not because we’re not taking in enough calories because we may be eating 3, 4, 5000 calories per day but still not feeling satisfied because our body is craving essential things which it’s not getting. In some ways feeling satisfied almost requires eating this type of nutrient-dense diet ironically.
Melissa: Yes, absolutely, and now, I’m sad.
Jonathan: Why are you sad?
Melissa: Well, I find it a little heartbreaking that there’s so much potentially confusing information particularly in mainstream competitions and TV shows so even people who say “Starting today, I’m going to make healthier choices. I’m going to take better care of myself.” But they’re potentially turning to sources that don’t have the best information, and so trying to take care of themselves, they’re actually doing some damage because they’re eating whole grains and they’re eating tofu instead of red meat and they’re eating canola oil instead of saturated fat and coconut oil and grass-fed butter. It makes me a little sad. Well, I’m trying to get the word out there. We’re doing a pretty good job. It’s slow, God.
Jonathan: One thing you should smile very much about, because you are doing this as an individual; and I know you’re inspiring others, too, as well. I say this a lot on the podcast, but it means a lot to me; and that’s being the change you want to see in the world, because at the end of the day results are going to win out. People are going to notice. “Wow! Melissa is always happy, and she’s a 140.” The person is like “Wow! That works.” I think that is just such an important thing, because every day I seem to meet more and more people who are in their mind redefining what healthy means simply because the quote unquote healthy way of living makes them feel sick.
Jonathan: We have to essentially make healthy, healthy again which is a sad state of affair.
Melissa: Yes, it is.
Jonathan: Well Melissa, turning to a more positive subjects here, what’s next for you? I know you said you mentioned you’re working on a new book. What else is coming down the runway?
Melissa: On a personal note, I’m pretty excited right now because I spent the last a year and half dealing with some adrenal fatigue that was a result of having my thyroid removed and not really knowing how to take care of myself after I had my thyroid removed; so I’ve been on this almost a year and a half now. Lots of self-experimentation, messing around with supplements and really changing how I work out for awhile if I work out at all, which was terrible; but the good news is that I just went to my doctor and all of my numbers look awesome, which is great, because I’m feeling good, but I wanted to make sure that my blood work was representing that.
We’re finishing up this book and then we’re going on a 6-week trip to Europe, and then when I get home I’m going to make a whole new kind of work out, nutrition, lifestyle plan now that I’m not doing rehab on my adrenal system anymore. I’m super excited about that.
Jonathan: Wow! That sounds all six weeks in Europe. That is absolutely amazing.
Melissa: Yes, so we got some really good stuff coming up. It’s going to be challenging to not eat gluten, because we’re going to the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Croatia which you can find vegetables and fill up on lots of corn, which is great in the Czech Republic but there’s also dumplings, and Schnitzel, and the best beer in the world. Yes, I’m going to be doing that 80/20 rule a lot.
Jonathan: Absolutely. Well Melissa, I really, really appreciate you sharing both personal and scientific sentiments with us today, because I think that’s what it’s all about here is making sure we’re in touch with the science, but also bringing things back to being practical; because at the end of the day, food isn’t just science. There’s a lot more to it, so I really appreciate you’re willing to share that with us.
Melissa: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. It was fun.
Jonathan: Oh, everyone will. Thank you so much, Melissa. Everyone, if you haven’t checked out Melissa’s work, please do. I think she brings in an awesome perspective and a very unique and cool aspect to this dialogue. If you haven’t checked her work out please do at TheClothesMakeTheGirl.com, and please also check out her cookbook which is called Well Fed; and certainly you will be well fed because this cookbook has got some ethic recipes in it and also she is the co-author of Living Paleo for Dummies. If you want to learn more about the paleo diet, or frankly like we talked about here just eating the stuff that does the most good for you and least fat to you, check that out. Well, Melissa, thank you so much for joining us today.
Melissa: Thank you.
Jonathan: Hey, everyone! Remember this week and every week after eat more and exercise less but do that smarter.