Eat Real, Live Fully with Hallie Stephenson

This month, we're shining a spotlight on a really amazing lady we found on Instagram - Hallie Stephenson of @eat_real_live_fully. We were captivated by the vibrancy of Hallie's feed and her holistic approach to wellness. A scroll through her feed will make you wish you were in her kitchen at snack time. Or lunchtime. Or breakfast. Or just the entire day. Our very own Melissa Joy got the chance to sit down with Hallie and find out about her unique approach to nutrition, glean her wisdom about the wide world of "trending" diets and how to find your own way, and what some of her must-have and go-tos are for herself and her family. We are so thrilled to introduce you to her!

Here's some insight into eating real and living fully with Hallie!

Sneakz: So let’s kick this off! When I was first doing some research on you, one of the things I noticed on your Instagram profile is the term “Integrative Nutrition”. I'd love for you to tell me a little bit more about what that term means and how it’s different from other forms of nutrition or bodies of nutrition work that people are used to.
HS: Absolutely. So, integrative nutrition is specific to graduates of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I’ve actually gotten a couple of health coaching certifications but integrative nutrition is the one that really resonated with me the most because it’s a more holistic approach. You really help empower clients to dig deep and reestablish their mind-body connection. When we’re born, we just innately get it, you know? We just do. We don’t need to be told “Hey ____________ (anything). We just listen to ourselves. And somewhere along the way, we become adults that don’t listen to our bodies anymore and don’t trust ourselves. Instead, we trust this blog that we read or this article that we heard or this podcast that we listened to. The Integrative Nutrition approach really helps empower people to reconnect with their own personal body and respect what their individual body needs instead of what everybody else is telling them they should be doing to be “healthy”.

Sneakz: I love it. What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about health nutrition?
HS: That it has to look one particular way. That, for me to be healthy and even for example for my husband to be healthy, that has to look exactly the same. Which couldn’t be farther from the case.

Sneakz: Is there any advice you’d have for somebody who feels a little bit out of balance or feels like they could really like step up their health game but they’re not exactly sure where to start? Like, if you could tell them a couple of like two or three things as good starting points- what would those two or three things be?
HS: Yeah, absolutely. So, the first tip that I would give people is to not take everything somebody says as gold. Take it with a grain of salt. Because, just because it worked for them, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. My first suggestion for every single one of my clients is to do what I call a "food and mood journal"  – I don’t care about calories, I don’t care about fat, I don’t care about any of those details – where I have people write down what they’re eating and how it makes them feel. Both physically and emotionally. And, once you see it on paper, almost every single one of my clients has an “aha” moment when they’re like, oh! That’s why I haven’t been sleeping! It’s because I eat such and such at this time. It’s such a simple way of tracking and saying, “Alright this is what I’m doing and this is how I’m feeling" and now it’s on paper. It’s actually one of the tools that I use to start reintroducing the mind-body connection.

Sneakz: What are your thoughts on all of those popular or trendy diets like Keto for example (getting a lot of buzz right now), and your approach to analyzing them as an Integrative Nutritionist?

HS: So, I think that for some of my clients – this is not for all of them – they’re really good stepping stones to their health and wellness journey. So, personally, just to back up a little bit. My story is, I was bitten by a tick and had rocky mountain spotted fever nine years ago. My doctor had no idea what to do with me and was basically like “You’ll be sick for 7 years, good luck, goodbye." I was like, “Oh great. That doesn’t give me any information.”

Sneakz: First of all, that freaks me out because I live in Colorado!
HS: Right, it’s petrifying. But I got it on the East Coast. But it was awful. So, I had this disease, they just sent me on my way and I was not myself anymore. I felt awful all the time. I was tired, constant acne. My stomach was never okay and normal. I physically was fatigued all the time. I started sleeping terribly. Everything was out of whack. Then my job at the time was doing this “physical fitness” sort of challenge and was preaching the Paleo diet. I did it and within two weeks I felt like a human being again. I knew I really need to win is my health back. Thankfully I did that and really researched and worked with a doctor and did the elimination diet and everything. It turns out that I’m allergic to all grains, dairy, and I have an intolerance to soy, artificial sugars, colors, and caffeine.

Sneakz: Oh my gosh. What did you do to figure that out by the way? Like, what was your process?
HS: I mean, it was literally I did paleo and felt like a human so my specific allergies and intolerances happened to line up with what the guidelines of Paleo are.

Sneakz: Did you do any like allergy tests or…?

HS: Yeah, so they ended up like running me through an elimination diet. And with the guided elimination they had me add all of the things I had taken out back in briefly to see how I would feel and everything, like, immediately I was like, nope, nope, nope.
The flip side of it is I realize I’m a unique case. But I still have a lot of clients that try one of those diets and it works to just spark them on the journey. Now, the issue with a lot of the diets - Keto is a perfect example -Keto, you’re not supposed to do the initial phase 100 percent of the time. Nobody talks about that. They talk about, hey, this is all you’re supposed to eat. But that’s just the elimination first phase of the diet. There’s a second maintenance phase that’s completely different that adds more foods back in, that gets you more nutrients, and you’re really only supposed to go into that initial phase for about 3 weeks. So, these people who are like, oh yeah I’m 2 years’s like, “Well have you eaten any of the other things? Have you done the maintenance phase at all?
I’m educated on all of those diets so I can help safely take my clients through that if that’s what they want to do. But then there’s a handful of clients that it just is the opposite effect for them. They see this really highly restrictive diet and it sparks this awful diet culture experience in them and they stress themselves out, they put too much pressure on themselves and it ends up being worse. They, you know, decide to have a cookie which turns into 12 which turns into "I’m done with my health’ which turns into ‘I hate this, goodbye.” It’s really finding that fine line and getting to know the clients before I recommend stuff like that. As I said, some people it’s great, some people it’s not the best.

Sneakz: I feel like there’s always the issue at the surface and then like what’s really going on at the root. Are there big themes, trends, patterns, that stand out that are really like the root issues for a lot of people?
HS: Yes, absolutely. This is one of the things that I learned at IIN. So, I actually – when I went to college, I was a psychology major. So psychology is kinda my thing anyway. But, the way IIN described it was so fabulous because they have what they call "primary foods" and "secondary foods". Secondary foods are the foods that we eat that nourish our physical body and primary foods are the foods that nourish our soul. So the four core are physical fitness, or physical activity, career, spirituality, and physical relationships. However, that looks person to person. And their whole thing is that if any of those primary foods are out of whack, your secondary foods are going to follow. But if you are in balance with your primary foods, your secondary foods will follow. A great example is– think back to a break up you had. Think about how you ate. It’s usually not our best. Or, you know, you lost your job and you decided “Alright, well what I can control is the food I put in my body” so you decide to starve yourself or some other extreme - however it looks.  So knowing those tendencies and patterns, I don’t typically start off with primary foods with my clients. I typically start off with secondary foods and then let them come around to the idea. I’ll drop hints. I’ll nudge them nicely in the direction. And then they usually have, again, a huge ‘aha’ moment when they’re like “Oh! If I get this in balance, my life will flow better.”

Sneakz: Yeah. It’s funny like thinking about that, with the primary foods it's like, something’s always gonna be off balance, right? Life happens and tends to never be this game of perfect balance most of the time. Is there any advice you’d give as far as a specific habit one could employ or a thought framework one could use to figure out how to still continue maintaining a healthy, balanced diet and general lifestyle even when something else in the primary foods area isn’t in balance?
HS: Sure! So, a lot of people are referring to that as “intuitive eating.” So, that’s the big term that everybody’s talking about now. But basically, the way I personally describe it is it’s being so in tune with your primary foods that you recognize and you are aware that something is off balance, right? So, you say, you know what, I got in a huge fight with my significant other today and it’s completely out of my typical diet but you know what I really want today? I want a donut. It’s having that donut and then immediately going back to whatever else that you typically do eat. So, it’s allowing yourself to honor your craving without diving off the deep end. Because if you ignore that craving for that donut today, three days from now that may be an entire box of donuts. So, that’s how I try to explain it to people. You know, being aware.

Sneakz: Yeah, I love it. I know you have a daughter. Do you just have one kid?

HS: Just one so far. I’m 33 weeks pregnant right now.

Sneakz: Well my question, given that you’re a mom to a daughter is, do you have any advice for parents who want to create healthy meals and habits for their kids around eating and diet based on what you’ve done with your kid?
HS: Yeah, so I’ve from the beginning offered my daughter the food that I eat. We did what’s called “baby-led weaning” - I don’t know if you’ve heard of that but it’s where you don’t give the child traditional baby food, you start off with things like avocado, sweet potatoes, stuff like that. We did that and we set her up right from the beginning to eat more healthy foods. When she was younger she was eating whatever we ate. Now that she’s a little bit older, she’ll be 3 at the end of September. Oh my gosh, she’s gonna be 3 in a couple of weeks! So mind-blowing! But anyway, now that she’s there and she goes to daycare, she sees kids eating other foods and it’s just so funny because she would still rather have a smoothie than, you know, other junk food.

Or she would still rather eat the foods that she’s used to. She’s just now more interested in things like popsicles and french fries and stuff like that. So, we, of course, allow her to have those things but, you know, we also balance it out with something healthy at the same time. So, she’s getting a nutrient balance. We don’t want to be the type of parents who are so restrictive that when she gets old enough she just rebels and goes the complete opposite direction. So, again, we’re helping her learn to eat intuitively.
And she helps us with everything. She helps us with all of our food. And, as an active part of the process, she’ll put ingredients in, she’ll help stir and so it makes her more excited to eat whatever we’re making. So, with the smoothies, she loves– her favorite part is to put in spinach and cinnamon. And so I’m like, okay, I’ve got a 3-year-old who just wants a green smoothie and a pink smoothie. It’s great. And then she’ll drink the entire thing and have no complaints. So, you know, actively involving her in the process was huge.

Sneakz: I love it. Those are great tips, thank you for sharing those. So, a couple of the next questions are just quick rapid-fire ones. Is there one meal that you just couldn’t live without?

HS: Well, my meals tend to cycle and it’s so interesting like, you know, right now being pregnant the only thing that I want in the morning is a hard-boiled egg and mustard. And I know it’s so weird and everybody’s always like, really? But I mean it’s just like egg salad but without all the mayonnaise and everything, right? And that’s all this baby has made me crave. So, right now in my pregnancy, I do not think I could survive without a hard-boiled egg and mustard.

Sneakz: Is there a single food item you could never live without?
HS: I think I would have to go with avocados. But the interesting thing is this baby doesn’t like them very much. So, that’s why it’s kind of a tough answer. Because me, as a human being, I can’t live without them. But, he’s like, no thank you. Please, return to sender.

Sneakz: Oh my goodness, I love it. I can’t wait to see who he ends up being. Maybe he’ll be a bodybuilder with all the eggs!

HS: I know right, exactly. Also, again, I already told you I’m allergic to dairy. All that he wants is cheese and that’s really unfortunate for him because he can’t have it. I’m like, sorry!

Sneakz: Can you take me through, like, what you eat in a typical day in pregnancy and then also just like in normal life?

HS: Sure. Let’s do normal life first because that’s much more fun. But normal life, typically in the mornings, occasionally in the winter I’ll have a more warm breakfast like a sweet potato bowl or something like that but I love starting my day with a smoothie bowl. And not even necessarily fruit-based, I do a lot of vegetables in it as well. But there’s just something about a good smoothie in the morning, I just like it. And I love, you know, all the toppings I can put and how I can get creative with it and it’s just fun. So, I typically have that. Depending on whether or not I’m teaching, I’m a barre teacher as well, so if I’m teaching I need a little bit more protein during the day so I’ll grab like a handful of nuts right before I teach. At lunch, I’m a leftover girl. I eat leftovers from the night before every single day. And if I don’t, it’s weird. So, I know a lot of people who get so bored with that. For some reas,on it just works for me. I’ll usually have a late afternoon snack. Hummus and celery or something like that. And, interestingly enough, this kid just loves celery and almond butter. Who gets excited about celery and almond butter? He does! For dinner, we keep it nice and simple so my husband loves to cook. He gets really upset if I cook when he’s perfectly able to. In the winters, we’ll use the crockpot a lot but he loves to come home after work and just spend his time decompressing in the kitchen and he’s fabulous at it so I don’t complain!

Sneakz: I love it. That’s awesome. Ok, one more question for you. If there’s something that you think your 80-year-old self would tell you right now, what do you think it would be?
HS: Definitely to just exhale. I’m one of those people like, so I don’t get too worked up over stuff, I try not to at least but like I find myself during the day like, holding on to certain things that I just don’t need to, you know? I just feel like we do. I have this tattoo. Without going into details, I had a really rough year last year, there was a lot of loss and I just found this peace with butterflies and I realized that whenever I was at my worst, a butterfly would show up and make me feel this like calming presence. Like, everything’s going to be okay. And I was like, wow, how cool is this? So, the tattoo means for me to just trust that everything is going to be okay. And then I have the symbol for "Om" which reminds to me to just breathe. So, collaboratively it means to trust and just breathe. Everything is going to be okay.

You can (and should!) follow Hallie over on Instagram at @eat_real_live_fully for more insight, wisdom and inspiration on eating real and living fully.