I could not have been more excited to (finally) speak with Pastured Kitchen for this week’s Featured Contributor Friday Post. Sean and Suzanne are very close friends of Bill and Hayley’s (we actually sat at the same table at Primal Palate’s wedding!) Although I’ve met them several times and heard Sean speak at PaleoFx, I never got to ask them how they started this journey together. I didn’t even know how they initially met. Together, they have battled epilepsy, eating disorders, being in a long-distance relationship; and everything in between. Keep reading as they each share their story, and to hear their tips for switching to a Paleo diet. –Kara
First, tell us about the recipes you included in the Best Paleo Recipes of 2014 Cookbook!
[Suzanne] I wanted to include the cupcake recipe because I was really proud of it! I was working on a cake that didn’t contain almond flour, so it could be nut-free. I didn’t want the cake to be too dry, and I really nailed the recipe. It’s a really moist cake – like the Betty Crocker commercials where the cake sticks to the fork. The frosting was also difficult to figure out. We used palm shortening to get the same consistency as buttercream. To me, you would never know it’s not buttercream.
[Sean] The duck prosciutto salad was our “new and unpublished” recipe. There’s this artisanal shop that sells pasture-raised meats, and they had homemade duck prosciutto. The recipe was a twist on a classic fig and balsamic salad.
[Sean] The head cheese is the most complex thing we’ve ever done, from start to finish. I talked to Bill about including it, because seeing an entire face makes people back against a wall. He said, “Do it! It’s one of your best recipes!”
[Sean] This was the first recipe I made that was very popular with anyone who tried it. Literally everyone who I’ve fed it to has enjoyed it.
[Suzanne] I became obsessed with chia pudding after seeing “Chia Pods” in the store. I really liked this banana flavor, but spending $3 on one little pod wasn’t cutting it. The banana acts as a sweetener while the coconut milk makes it creamy. The addition of cinnamon gives it that sweet flavor, even though it’s just a spice. Plus, you can make it the night before and it’s ready in the morning.
[Sean] I’m obsessed with chicken wings (Bill and I share that quality). When we were in LA, the Whole Foods carried a bag of chicken wings that were smoked in-house. Some friends of ours let us use their smoker to make homemade bacon once, so we went back and smoked the wings. I made the ranch with avocado. It’s a buttermilk ranch with a little mayo, dill, garlic, and parsley added in.
How did the two of you meet?
[In unison] At a bar.
[Suzanne] Both of us work in television – I work in production behind the camera, while Sean is a visual effects artist. He had gone to school in Santa Barbara and stayed, and I moved there to work in TV and film.
I was in California working on a show, and one of my best friends had a birthday at this bar in Santa Monica. Sean happened to be there, because he had gone to school with the same friend. We talked about CrossFit, we talked about baseball; we watched the Rockies game on TV. His roommate was half-dragging him out of the bar, but he added me on Facebook and asked me on a date. That was four years ago.
Sean, your blog originated as a site called FreeRange Human. At what point did you bring Suzanne in?
I started my blog back in May of 2011, more than a year after I started eating Paleo. It was originally created to keep track of my progress with my epilepsy treatment. Recipes became the natural thing to post about, which was helpful to me and the members of the CrossFit gym where I was coaching at the time.
Over the years it has become not just a place for recipes we create, but also a platform to raise epilepsy awareness and the various lifestyle changes I have made to better treat my epilepsy.
Suz had started her blog of her own, but over time, she ended up helping out with mine more and more so we decided to merge a little over a year ago and Pastured Kitchen as you know it today, was born. She’s a much stronger baker than I am and I tend to focus more on savory/food projects so we compliment each other very well. (Man, that’s just like us! No wonder we love you guys so much! – Bill)
How were each of you introduced to Paleo? Were you Paleo before the two of you met?
[Sean] I was. I was introduced to Crossfit first, Paleo second. I started the new year of 2010 with a 40-day Paleo challenge at my gym. At that time, I was drinking the Crossfit kool-aid and jumped right in. I lost almost 30 pounds, and cut my meds in half. Until I met Suzanne, I was really evangelical about it (which happens to a lot of people). Eventually I realized everything, and everyone, is different. When I met Suz, she told me she was a competitive swimmer, and I told her about Crossfit and Paleo.
[Suzanne] I was a vegetarian for close to 10 years. Less than a year before I met Sean, I had allergy testing done and found I was sensitive to soy, corn, yeast, and wheat. Since I was a vegetarian, I basically said, “Well what am I supposed to eat now??” I ate beans, dairy, and gluten-free bread – which was terrible at the time. I thought, “This sucks,” and didn’t stick to it. When I met Sean and he mentioned Paleo I thought, “Oh that’s how I’m supposed to be eating, but I’m not.” It took me a full six months to eat meat again. I started with fish, and eventually went to red meat. Sean was there when I ate my first piece of bacon.
What was your life like before Paleo? And what stepping stones lead to this lifestyle transformation?
Suzanne, let’s start with you. What was happening in your life right before you met Sean, and what eventually lead you to leave LA?
I was also working really stressful hours out in LA, and competing in masters’ swimming. Working in TV requires a minimum of 60 hour weeks, with most weeks being much longer. I was trying to maintain my fitness level while working 14 hour days. I was still competing in meets and practices, and had been coaching a local team for four years. When I joined our CrossFit gym, I was swimming, doing yoga, CrossFit, and Pilates; all in the same day. I have battled every kind of eating disorder over my life, and working out three hours a day is just another form of an eating disorder. Eventually I became completely whipped out. That’s when my second round of health issues started.
Do you mind telling us more about the eat disorders you’ve faced in your lifetime, and what helped you overcome them?
I have struggled with my weight pretty much all my life. I’ve been overweight, severely underweight and every size in between. My struggle with bulimia came to a head in college, and the breaking point was when I lost the ability to induce vomiting because I was purging so much. I wasn’t really losing weight, but I was in control. That’s what I learned about my eating disorders – it was all about my being in control of something.
I worked with an ED counselor while at Alabama, and she told me something very important. Just like your past is always there, you’ll never be cured or rid of your eating disorder. It’s always going to be there but think of it as an old dusty book that lives on the top shelf: it’s there, but you don’t have to take it down. I struggled for many years after, with some spots where I was in a good place, but relapses occurred, eventually leading to anorexia and me being so underweight that my body started eating itself. During this time, I only worked and worked out, wasn’t social much and freaked out if I had to eat in front of other people or not under my control. I had to move from to recover from this, especially since I had severe atrophy and a rare autoimmune syndrome (Parsonage-Turner Syndrome) that left my left arm temporarily partially paralyzed. It took 6 months of physical therapy for me to move my arm without struggle or pain. That whole experience scared me. I eventually moved back to LA, and while I was eating again and thus gaining weight, I was freaked out by it. I continued over-exercising as much as I could for years. Once I had a break from my crazy schedule in 2011, my body shut down. It slammed on the breaks. I put on weight quickly, and I’m still dealing with recovering from all the harm I have done to my body. I know it will take time, and looking back at when I was a size 00 where I’m not happy or healthy is a big step.
When you referred to your “second round of health issues,” what are you referring to?
I didn’t know what it was at the time. I was overly exhausted, didn’t feel like myself, and had dangerously low blood pressure. Sean brought up the words “Adrenal Fatigue” and I said, “That sounds made up.” At the time there was no test, and doctors said I was just burnt out. I tried resuming activity, but I just got more burned out.
I left LA to address my fatigue and work on rebuilding my cortisol production. I moved back around Christmas, and I don’t feel much different. I’ve done a lot of things to move in the right direction. It’s been hard with Sean being in Canada. When he got extended in May, I didn’t think it was worth staying in LA. I wanted to be proactive, and moved home to focus on my health.
I didn’t want to leave LA because I didn’t want to say LA won. I didn’t want to say it beat me. I thought if I moved, I was saying I was giving up. I have to know that’s not the case, [LA] just isn’t for me right now. It’s expensive to seek unconventional medicine; a practice few insurance companies see as legitimate. Moving home has helped save money, and I have a support system in place. We both knew we weren’t staying in LA forever, so it was like, “Alright. It’s time.”
Sean, what has it been like being apart from Suzanne?
It’s been tough for sure. When she was in LA, we were at least in the same time zone. Now that she’s in Alabama and I’m working 90 hour weeks, communication has been limited to texts. I’d be lying if I said it was easy. It’s definitely a bummer that she can’t be here with me, but we’ve been saying for years: health comes first.
Sean, you’re up. How or when did you make the connection between Paleo and epilepsy?
I first heard about the keto diet in 1992. I read about this boy who had 100 seizures a day. Neurologists were pumping him full of drugs and he was living in an incubation chamber. I asked my neurologist and he told me it “wasn’t necessary” because I was still responding to medication.
When I went to college we thought there was a 75 percent chance I would grow out of epilepsy. That didn’t happen. I was in film school, and decided to research neuropathic approaches to epilepsy through various documentaries. I read a bunch of books, but didn’t take any of it to heart. [I was also 20 years old and was smoking a lot of cigarettes.] When I was 26 I started CrossFit, essentially for the badass factor. After 9 months of CrossFit and zone, I felt “ok.” I quit smoking, but my body composition wasn’t changing. After the Paleo challenge I saw a vast difference, and I started researching different approaches to epilepsy. Six months into eating Paleo, I thought, “Alright, I’m loosing weight and my meds are down, great.” I didn’t set a life goal of getting off as many meds as possible until years later.
Everyone is different with what they need. It took awhile to figure out my seizure threshold. It took some trial and error, but I pinned that gluten will affect breakout seizures. At first, I held onto regular pizza or having a beer at baseball games. It took some time to dial into what worked well for us.
When did you introduce Suzanne to Paleo? Did you “push it” on her?
[Sean] I didn’t push it on you…did I?
[Suzanne] You didn’t push it on me. But I also didn’t switch over right away – I loved my oatmeal too much!
[Sean] I basically said, “I eat this way, and I feel amazing.” On our 2nd or 3rd date, I cooked a fully Paleo meal for her. I had gotten over the evangelical phase at that point. I really tried getting my family into it, especially my dad. He too is a former nicotine addict, we’re born the same day, used to drink a lot of diet soda; we’re similar in a lot of ways. Eventually I realized there’s no one approach to this. As Mark Sisson puts it, it’s a blueprint. It’s a template, and you have to experiment with what your needs are.
[Suzanne] It has to be a personal choice. Although I had tests that said I had sensitivities, I wasn’t paying attention to it – I had to come to that decision on my own. My old “cheat days” would be an actual pizza. I would take this medication before I ate gluten so I wouldn’t feel so bad. Then I thought, “Ok seriously, what am I doing?” Now, our cheat days are a gluten-free pizza, or a dessert. In the past two years, it’s just become how we live.
Do you think you would have been able to do this if you didn’t have each other?
It definitely would have been a lot harder. Think about it: you end up spending most of your free time with that person, it should be in a supportive environment. In some relationships I’m sure it works [following different diets], but it can’t be easy.
We’ve done our share of nutritional challenges, and the one we did together was the Whole30. That would have been very hard to do without the other person. If your significant other is not following Paleo, remember: If you cook the food, the other person is either A) going to eat that food, or B) deal with it on their own. Present it in a positive way, and things should go over a lot better. Say, “Ok, we’re having steak and sweet potatoes tonight!” and they won’t miss a grilled cheese sandwich.
Suzanne, what advice would you want to give someone battling an eating disorder?
One thing that really helped me was a counselor/nutritionist gave me the book Life Without Ed by Jenni Schaefer. It was like she wrote everything I was thinking. I highly recommend it to anyone suffering from any ED. I also recommend finding hobbies or projects that keep your mind and hands busy. My college counselor told me to go out and by a coloring book & crayons, and it really helped. Anything like knitting, painting, something that occupies your mind helps.
As for what to tell people going through a similar experience, I would say reach out to someone in your life for support. Telling my close friends and family was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I felt so ashamed. I always told myself I was “too smart to have an eating disorder”…but it can affect anyone and does and you’re not bad for having one. Having a support system is important and extremely helpful.
Sean had me start saying a daily mantra of “I love myself just as I am, right now” when I started struggling with my weight gain and adrenal fatigue. I don’t say it as often as I should and saying it whether you believe it or not at the time is key. Am I cured? No. I still struggle most days. But I am not my eating disorders. I know that one day I will not worry or stress out about food, and I have to stay positive that that day will come.
What advice do you have for someone just starting Paleo?
[Sean] If you’re really going to try it, don’t start off with a gluten-free cupcake. I don’t like the term “strict” because it has a negative connotation, but you need to go pretty clean for 30 days. Think about what you can have, not what you can’t have. You don’t know what it will do to your body unless you give it a fair shot. When you do reintroduce stuff, don’t go for a beer, pizza, and a milkshake all at once. You’ll feel terrible, but won’t know why.
To help with cravings, I just looked back on quitting cigarettes. If you have a tough obstacle that you’ve overcome, you can look back and say, “You did that, so you can do this.”
As two people who work in an industry where you go from working 90 hour weeks to having a lull in work, do you have any budgeting tips for sticking to Paleo?
If you have the space, invest in a deep freezer. We had one in our one-bedroom apartment. It was $200 from Sears, and it easily paid for itself. Your second investment should be a vacuum sealer to protect from freezer burn. One time, Whole Foods had a sale for $1.99 / pound for grass-fed beef, and we walked out with twenty pounds! Costco is a great option for buying in bulk. Also, buy the best quality you can, if it’s not grass-fed that’s fine in my opinion. Shop farmers’ markets regularly, and many will offer deals to loyal customers.
Finally, for a time budgeting device, invest in a crockpot. It’s foolproof to use: throw in some meat, veggies, and liquid. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it machine. I know it’s hard transitioning toward a whole-foods diet in a fast-paced lifestyle, but you need to make it a priority. It’s like starting a new exercise plan – you have to fit it into your schedule. Cook, prep, and plan on your days off. You have to make choices, but it gets easier as time goes on.
Any famous last words? Anything you’d like to tell people on their road to better health?
[Sean] The key to success with anything is just to grind it out. The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result. There will be plateaus and roadblocks, but that’s a signal that you can do other things. The formula that works for you now, may not work in six months.
[Suzanne] It has to be a personal choice. No one is going to convince anyone to change their diet, lifestyle, or exercise routine. It has to be something they come to on their own. Don’t be discouraged because someone doesn’t join you initially. No one can give you good health. You cannot get it from someone else doing the work; it’s something you earn yourself. Everyone wants it, but not everyone wants to do the work for it.