Today we are back with a new installment of our Featured Contributor Spotlight. This week, we’re talking with Anya Shinall of Anya’s Eats. Anya has been a rising star in the Paleo / Real Food world for a while now, and we’re excited to have her as a top tier recipe contributor on Primal Palate. (You can check out her collection of recipes here, and use them in myKitchen, our 100% free Paleo Meal Planner tool! Just click the gold plus on each recipe.)
Anya has vast experience in marketing in the natural foods space, so in addition to being an awesome cook, she also knows a thing or two about what makes brands tick. She’s also had a really interesting Paleo journey over the last 6 years.
Bill & Hayley
PP: I read a lot of your back story on your blog. Sounds like you had a painful journey to Paleo, and even then it wasn’t a complete cure-all. (Read Anya’s story on her site). Tell us more about the transition to Paleo.
AE: I found out about the Paleo diet over 6 years ago. Honestly, at first I tried it as an experiment and I didn’t expect much to change. It wasn’t until I fully immersed myself in the entire Paleo diet and lifestyle that I finally figured out how unhealthy I really was. Not only did I begin to recognize how much sugar and processed carbohydrates I would consume on a regular basis (often disguised as “health” food), but it was only a couple weeks before I started to notice some big health changes. That “hangry” feeling I used to get all the time completely disappeared, I had more energy and, best of all, digestive issues that I struggled with since I was a baby started to resolve themselves for the first time in my entire life. I had so accepted the digestive issues that I suffered with that I never thought they would change, especially not as a result of diet. When that happened, I was hooked. I learned everything I could about Paleo and really never looked back.
The one and only downside to Paleo was that I simultaneously started suffering from acne, which I’d never had before, not even when I was a teenager. Figuring out what was really wrong with me made me question the Paleo diet and lifestyle more than once. I would go through stages of being super diligent and other times when I was just so fed up that I would binge on pizza and beer. It took me 5 years to finally figure out that my acne was caused by hormonal imbalances. I believe it first started when I went off birth control (my acne started 6 months later), but my chronic gut issues, new low carb diet and occasional binges on things like gluten and dairy didn’t help either.
What I discovered through healing my acne over the past year is that extremes are not at all the answer. Health is a delicate balance and it’s always evolving. As miserable as having hormonal acne was, I am so thankful that I was able to reevaluate my health choices and make sure they were right for me individually. My diet became more strict in some ways, less so in others. But what’s important is that it’s what works for me right now. I think at the end of the day, Paleo is most successful when used as a template, not as a super strict rule book.
PP: Even though you’ve been in the Natural Foods community for a while, with your marketing services, you’ve only recently struck out on your own with a blog. How did that decision come about?
AE: To be honest, I’d been interested in doing it ever since I discovered Paleo, but for some reason never thought I had enough credibility. Looking back I realize that was a silly excuse because most of the bloggers I followed 6 years ago (you guys, Michelle Tam, etc.) didn’t have anything like that and I still found the information credible. Either way, it was until I went to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and became a health coach that I feel comfortable putting myself out there. I knew one on one health coaching wasn’t going to be something I wanted to pursue, but for some reason, getting that certification really inspired me to finally put myself out there.
Plus, I think the other factor preventing me from doing it over the years was that I knew when I finally did, I wanted it to be something I was really proud of. I had been into photography since I was 10 or so and I knew if I had my own blog, I wanted to do all the photography and I wanted to be really proud of it. To me, that meant that I needed to be home during the day to cook and take photos with natural light. I worked 60 hour weeks when I worked as the marketing director for some of these natural products companies and a blog that I could really focus on was just not at all plausible then. It wasn’t until I quit my job at Suja that I was able to consult part time (and therefore work at home), which gave me the freedom and time to work on the blog.
So yeah, I think I always wanted to do it but really, I had to be realistic. Having a blog is a lot of work and not at all lucrative at first. My plan all along was to sustain myself with part-time consulting while I pursue the blog. And that’s what I’m doing now. I am slowly able to chip away at the marketing work the more my my blog takes off. It’s a slow process, but I’m okay with that. Progress is progress! It’s all thankfully work I enjoy doing.
PP: What is your food crush of the moment?
AE: Nutritional Yeast. That might sound lame, but when you eliminate dairy from your diet, it’s really nice to have that laying around. I’ve actually been meaning to try your Mac & Cheese recipe for a while… it’s definitely not cheese, but it’s still a really nice option to have when you are craving that cheesy flavor.
PP: What is your favorite dish on your blog?
AE: Ahhhh, that’s so hard. I can’t even answer that so I am gonna give you three. My Chicken Salad, because I make it constantly and I can’t imagine a more perfect chicken salad.
My Dairy Free Butternut Squash Lasagna because it tastes so similar to the real thing that it will fool anyone.
And then my Slow Cooker Pulled Pork because it’s the easiest recipe on the planet and it pairs so perfectly with my Cole Slaw and Bacon Lovers Spicy Southern Greens. My husband and I make that meal at least once a month if not more.
PP: When it comes to marketing, what advice would you give to a blogger looking to grow their audience right now?
AE: Focus, consistency and authenticity.
You won’t get anywhere without being really focused on what you want to accomplish. It doesn’t mean it will happen right away, but I think having a vision is important. It doesn’t have to be a clear cut vision either, per se, but I think if you start off by saying to yourself “I have no idea where this could go,” it won’t go anywhere. There has to be some sort of force driving you forward. It will likely change and adapt as time goes on, but if you don’t have some goals set for what you want to accomplish, I think it’s really hard to get anywhere.
I think focus also means being aware of what’s working, what’s not and also making sure to stay in the know when it comes to marketing best practices. My career has always been in digital marketing and so I know first hand how quickly things changes and adapt. One strategy that works in January, may not work in February because some algorithm changed. I’ve always subscribed to digital marketing newsletters to stay in the know of what’s out there and utilize strategies that I think might work for my business.
Consistency is pretty straightforward. People will lose interest if you stop providing them with information.
And then authenticity is the most important, I think. If you set out to be someone else, or do something someone else is doing, you will fail miserably. You need your own voice, your own struggles, your own motivation… that all needs to come across in a blog, because that’s what attracts people. I really think up until I started sharing my story about my digestive issues and hormonal acne, that’s really when I feel like my message was catching on for the first time. People could relate and they wanted to be a part of that journey with me. And, inversely, it has allowed me to be a part of their journeys too. That’s the magic sauce.
PP: What does your “Paleo landscape” look like right now? Are you strict? Are you laid back? What modifications have you made to help fit your own needs / lifestyle?
AE: Some may see it as strict, some may not. The one strict thing that I did over the past year to finally address my hormonal acne was completely eliminate gluten and dairy. Dairy was always something I consumed as a part of my paleo diet, so that was the biggest change. Gluten I would avoid most of the time, but I would still cheat and eat gluten once in awhile. Now I don’t do that at all. A cheat to me now has to be a gluten and dairy free treat. And I am okay with that because I think it’s made a huge difference in my health overall. My gut could not handle digesting those things.
Alcohol in all forms is also something I avoid most of the time these days. I probably have one drink once every month or even less frequently. Part of healing my hormonal issues has been about allowing my liver to function properly and eliminate toxins from my body, so alcohol does not help. Even “paleo” forms of alcohol… I really avoid it all.
Having said that, I also will enjoy white rice, certain forms of corn (mostly tortillas, I live in San Diego so there is lot of taco eating that goes on out here) and I’ll have gluten-free products like breads and such on occasion. Those don’t normally bother me.
PP: What are some of your kitchen must-have tools?
AE: I write about my must-have tools all the time because I think having the right tools is IMPERATIVE to learning to cook at home and maintaining a healthy diet. I could not live without my chef’s knife, Vitamix and food processor. Having said that, my spiralizer, hand mixer and juicer also make regular appearances.
PP: What are your Paleo pantry staples you always like to have on hand?
Primal Kitchen Foods Mayo in large quantities, for sure. I have tried making my own mayo so many times and it’s just not an enjoyable or successful experience for me. Plus, few things make me happier supporting small natural brands, so if a brand makes a packaged good that is just as good if not better than something I can make at home, I am all over it.
I’ve also been really into nutpods recently, a Whole30 approved non-dairy creamer, Fourth and Heart Ghee, coconut aminos and Amazing Grass’ new Green Superfood Protein powders.
Check out Anya’s recipes on Primal Palate. Click the gold “+” on the recipe to add it to your meal plan.