Looking for Inspiration to Eat Right and Get Fit? Meet the Paleoista

By Riki Shore

I first met Nell Stephenson, aka The Paleoista, at the decadent Caffe Luxxe in Santa Monica. I didn’t know what to look for, but there was a woman in super fashionable clothes who looked like she could keep pace with Usain Bolt. When she caught my eye, she gave me the friendliest smile.

We ordered espresso and fell into an hour-long conversation. We talked about Paleo vs. gluten-free diets, fitness, how to market a blog, and her forthcoming book.

It had taken me the better part of an hour to cross LA and meet her. On the way I was griping to myself, thinking, this better be worth it. It was more than worth it. As we were parting ways, I asked her if she’d be willing to do an interview for Three Squares. She eagerly agreed to share her ideas and opinions with me.

I hopped back in my car, crossed LA, and went straight to the Y for some running and squats. If nothing else, Nell Stephenson is inspiring.

Nell Stephenson

Photo of Nell Stephenson by Aaron Locke

TS: You’ve been interested in fitness for a long time. What drew you to endurance sports in the first place and what keeps you interested in it? What was your first competitive endurance event?
NS: I have always been active, but started feeling like I wanted a reason to train and exercise that was more meaningful than weighing a certain weight or being a certain size. I thought sprint distance triathlon sounded fun, so I started there. About two years later, I watched a friend race Ironman CA, which used to be a full Ironman. She did great, and I loved spectating, but it was seeing athletes crossing the finish line who were in wheelchairs, had a prosthetic leg or arm, who were blind, who were fighting life threatening illness that really inspired me to go long.  I approach every race with the “attitude of gratitude”; in other words, it’s a GIFT to have an able body that allows me to move, so why on earth would I not?  This is not meant to suggest that EVERYONE needs to race triathlon; rather, do whatever you like doing that involves physical activity, embrace it and KEEP MOVING!

TS: When you first started competing, were you following a Paleo diet? If not, what were you eating?
NS: No.  I started racing in 1998 and did not find Paleo until 2005. I was eating a “healthy” diet by most standards – lots of vegetables, fruit and lean proteins (after being vegan for two years!), but also whole grains, legumes, lots of soy, and organic dairy.

TS: How did you learn about Paleo and what was it like converting to this way of eating?
NS: I discovered Paleo after learning I had a latent allergy to gluten, which was causing horrible GI distress. I was at my wits’ end and the GI specialists I saw were of no help whatsoever. I found Paleo on an online search!

TS: Were there any particular challenges or strategies you used to make it easier to follow?
NS: My motivation completely came from refusing to walk around feeling ill every day.  It was very easy to match the foods that produced terrible GI symptoms (and then to NOT eat them)!

TS: Is Paleo eating for everyone?
NS: YES!

TS: Can someone benefit from adopting part of the diet, but not going whole hog?
NS: I do think Paleo behooves everyone, but at the very least, if people cut out soy and gluten, they’ll be doing their bodies a huge favor.

TS: You travel frequently for work. What tips do you have for eating well on travel days and while staying in hotels? Are there any products you always have with you?
NS: PLAN AHEAD AND RESEARCH WHAT YOUR OPTIONS ARE GOING TO BE!!  Ask a LOT of questions and, if traveling internationally, find out which foods may naturally already be Paleo. I do opt for fresh foods as much as possible, but when I fly, for example, much as if I were headed out to the office for the day, I always bring along enough veg, protein and healthy fat to keep me fueled and moving along full speed ahead! It’s all about planning!

TS: Who inspires you to eat well and stay fit?
NS: I was fortunate to learn at a very early age from my mom about not eating sugar, refined junk, processed foods and such. As such, it does come naturally to gravitate to REAL food.

TS: What advice do you have for teens who are interested in sports and fitness?
NS: Again, eat REAL FOOD, not junk, and take it upon yourself to self educate. Don’t rely on what the media is telling you to eat! The earlier you adopt healthy eating habits, the less you’ll have to “fix” later on!

TS: What about an older person who wants to become more active? How can they begin to improve their fitness without becoming injured or just plain worn out?
NS: Most importantly, people need to find an activity they enjoy. If someone HATES the gym, why join one? If you can’t stand running, do something else!  It’s quite simple! It’s a great idea to join a local club or group who is doing what you’d like to do and learn how to safely get started.

TS: Lastly, do you have a favorite recipe to share?
NS: Gosh, that would be impossible! There are so many!  I will list some fave foods – kale, fresh coconut, salmon and apples. Love them all!

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