Everyone seems to be on the Paleo diet bandwagon these days – from celebrities to health nuts to mums, the Paleo craze is sweeping the nation. But is this just another fad diet, or is there something to be said about eating like a caveman? Genine Howard talks with Cairns mum Marlies Hobbs about how she so loved the benefits of the Paleo lifestyle so much for her and her family, she made a business out of it – a business that is booming with no signs of slowing down.
As new parents, Cairns couple Jai and Marlies Hobbs were prepared for sleepless nights and endless nappy changes, however what they weren’t prepared for was for months of anxiety and desperation as they watched their newborn son, Troy, suffer from sever acid reflux.
During her pregnancy, Marlies, like most mums, relented to her cravings. “When I was pregnant I drank Milo and ate loads of Nutella on toast. Once I gave birth to Troy and my milk came through, he became really unsettled and was constantly vomiting. After every feed I had to hold him up for 45 minutes. It got to a stage where I couldn’t sleep … it was nothing like I expected motherhood to be,” Marlies says of the painful time.
Without answers, Marlies and husband Jai did their own research on what was causing Troy’s severe acid reflux and after four months, discovered that he was dairy intolerant. Marlies says, “Once we worked out that Troy was dairy intolerant, we put him on a non-dairy formula [Neocate] and by the first week he was sleeping through the night.”
With this newfound awareness of the effects of dairy on her baby, Marlies set about researching what other foods had potential effects on our bodies. Jai had been doing cross fit for a while and had come across ‘Paleo’ – a dietary lifestyle that encourages followers to eat like cavemen – consuming lots of meats, eggs, nuts, seeds and berries, while eliminating sugar, grains, legumes and dairy.
Marlie’s, Troy and Jai Hobbs
Marlies recalls, “I was a bit dubious at first – Jai was always coming home with all sorts of new diets. But then he bought home the book ‘Paleo Diet’ by American doctor Loren Cordain. I read the first chapter and couldn’t believe how much sense it made.”
…For the first time in years I finally felt comfortable in my own skin.
In a bid to give their family the healthiest nutrition possible, both Jai and Marlies followed the strict Paleo diet and discovered amazing results. “I had adult acne and digestive problems which came to a critical point during pregnancy. I was at a stage where doctors were prescribing medications which came with side effects. I didn’t believe medication was the right way to fix my problems – within five weeks of changing my diet my skin cleared up. I lost eight kilos on the diet.” Marlies adds, “The change was quite remarkable. I had suffered from painful digestion and fluid retention – for the first time in years I finally felt comfortable in my own skin.”
Marlies wasn’t the only one to benefit from the Paleo lifestyle. Jai also lost weight, and both were sleeping better, waking refreshed. The more they incorporated the Paleo diet the better they felt.
However sourcing ingredients to live a Paleo lifestyle was more difficult that they expected.
Marlies, a Planning and Environment lawyer at the time, was back at work after maternity leave, “I had less time to plan meals for family and source ingredients. A lot of things I just couldn’t get here in Cairns – specialist places sold out – it was frustrating. Eating out was embarrassing and basically impossible. We really felt isolated. It was one defining moment that changed everything. I had just picked Troy up after work. I had no ingredients and said to Jai, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have somewhere to have lunch, meet a friend and still live a normal life?’ The idea to start a Paleo Café came to us and we registered the business name the very next day!
The idea to start a Paleo Café came to us and we registered the business name the very next day!
“I then spent the next few months getting the logo created, communicating with suppliers, Jai was looking for premises … the perfect premises came up and it all fell into place. There was no turning back!” she recalls. “It was quite scary. I had no experience in hospitality except for short stint working in a pub.”
For someone with limited experience, Marlies became quite the entrepreneur and within a month of the café opening (October 3, 2012) she quit her fulltime job. “Because the concept was so interesting to people, everyone was asking about it, talking about it and I realised that we could look at franchising the model.”
By the end of 2013, Jai followed suit and sold his financial planning business to act as CEO in the company. Today, Paleo cafes have opened in Paddington (Brisbane), Brisbane CBD, Bondi Junction, Newcastle and the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. At the time of speaking with Marlies, another handful of cafes are set to open in the next 12 weeks. For anyone who has gone through the process of franchising knows, this is a remarkable feat.
Marlies is the first to admit that it wasn’t all plain sailing by any means. She reveals, “We initially had a few staff hiccups but finally got the right team in place by the January. By March we had our first franchise.
“I now have no comprehension how I did – it was meant to be … it all just happened! Don’t get me wrong it was hard juggling it all surviving on just four hours sleep a night. I look back and perhaps I wasn’t the best friend, the best wife etcetera, but I leant so much about myself through that process.”
Marlies and I then get on to the topic of how the Universe will often open up opportunities when we least expect them and push us forward to our passions. We both decide that having a baby was the catalyst for huge change in both our lives, giving us the opportunity to find our ‘thing’.
“Before, Jai and I were both professionals – both busy and important people,” Marlies laughs. “Now we feel like it [Paleo Café] has been our calling. Jai is about nutrition and fitness through Paleo and for the first time in his life he felt the right weight for his body. It has been very life-changing for him. We feel really excited about our business and life.”
There are misconceptions to the cost of maintaining Paleo lifestyle.
With all the amazing health benefits Marlies and her family discovered from living a Paleo lifestyle, I wonder why most of us aren’t eating this way. Here, Marlies comes alive as she explains the benefits of the ‘caveman’ diet. “There are misconceptions to the cost of maintaining Paleo lifestyle. But once you self-regulate on Paleo, it’s not as expensive and you find you have no cravings and not eating as much. It’s about eating the right things at the right time. It takes three to four weeks to cure your addiction to salt and sugar, for your body to reset. I guess Paleo is about finding out what works for you as there are lots of different variations.
“Dairy is a big no no however at the café we do offer dairy options if people want it and can tolerate it. It’s interesting though that many people are intolerant to dairy but just aren’t listening to their bodies. We are the only species that takes milk from another animal and eats it. If someone has a dairy intolerance the body sees it as a foreign object and creates an immune reaction to it. For some this might be experienced as bloating, others nasal congestion, sinus infections or in babies as reflux.”
Riding on the back of their franchising success, Marlies is about to release her first book – a cookbook, ‘The Paleo Café and Lifestyle Book’. The book provides practical information and advice on living Paleo along with 130 world-class Paleo recipes, all tried and tested in the Paleo Café kitchen.
However this is no ordinary cookbook and Marlies is no ordinary woman. The more our interview went on, the more I was inspired by Marlies’s motivation and dedication – not just to their business and Paleo lifestyle, but her powerful, positive outlook on life. Flicking through an advance copy of the book, I was blown away by the inspirational nature of each and every page, filled with positive quotes and affirmations alongside mouth-watering food images. The recipes are quick and easy (even I could make it) and all gluten and refined sugar free. I love that there is a dedicated kid-friendly recipe section as well.
…It’s about getting enough sleep, exercise, playtime, laughter, getting your feet in the grass, getting out in nature, meditating, doing yoga, living a wholesome lifestyle …
I wonder how Marlies got so wise so young. She reflects for a moment and answers, “I think it is so important to show Troy that food comes from nature. Our children will predecease us if they continue to eat the diet today’s kids do. Its gut wrenching thinking your child may die before you. Paleo is a lifestyle. On top of a clean diet it’s about getting enough sleep, exercise, playtime, laughter, getting your feet in the grass, getting out in nature, meditating, doing yoga, living a wholesome lifestyle … you become in tune with your place on Earth.
“I know all too well what that other life is like,” says Marlies, referring to her busy, fast paced lifestyle and poor food choices. “As a lawyer I never saw anything else for myself – to leave was quite a surprising change. I have a lot of colleagues leaving law and the corporate world and leaving the stresses that are associated with that world. Now we get so many lovely motivating comments from people – people with coeliac disease, different success stories, people losing weight they’ve never been able to shift … it keeps me motivated and positive.”
With their Cairns café now the busiest of its size in the region it seems there are many following the trend of Paleo, even if they don’t eat Paleo at home. The café now operates seven days a week and is well-stocked with all sorts of delicious ingredients for people to purchase and try their own recipes. “We knew there was a community out there, but it wasn’t big at the time [of opening the café]. I knew that once people came into the café they would see that it is possible and sustainable to give the Paleo lifestyle a go. We provide products there at their fingertips – there’s no excuse, and it just makes sense!” Marlies says passionately.
This year is all about family, health and nurturing – I want to spend more time with Troy, be a good wife to Jai.
And now with the book due out late this month and a tour in the pipeline commencing March, Marlies is sure to be busier than ever spreading her message across Australia. I ask Marlies what she sees for the future of her family and the business. “Twelve months ago my goal was to have national franchise and write cookbook – now I’ve done that now. For what I want right now is completely different to 12 months ago. This year is all about family, health and nurturing – I want to spend more time with Troy, be a good wife to Jai.”
And on advice for women who are looking to attain their goals, Marlies says, “I think every year will give you a new set of dreams. You constantly need to revaluate what it is you want and take active steps and measures to get there. And then when you get there, consider ‘how do I feel?’, ‘what new goals do I want?’. And whatever you do, do it from your heart.
Believe in the beauty of dreams.
“When I look back at what I’ve done it surprises me. I had to believe in the beauty of my dreams – I just worked hard and it all just feel into place. I’m really grateful to where things have come to now and the doors that have opened, things that weren’t possible before.”
Lastly I want to know where Marlies draws her inspiration from to stay so motivated. She says, “Janine Allis’ book ‘Secrets of My Success’ gave me inspiration. I thought, ‘if she can do it I can do it too’. I also surround myself with positive people and positive quotes … my favourites at the moment are; ‘Believe in the beauty of dreams’, ‘Positive things happen to positive people’, and lastly, ‘Anything is possible to a willing heart.’
And Marlies’ heart is more than willing. This is certainly one woman to watch.
To learn more about Paleo lifestyle or Marlies’ upcoming book, head to www.paleo-cafe.com.au.
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Thinking of trying a Paleo recipe? Why not try this amazing recipe for chocolate brownies!
These brownies are a rich and indulgent treat for the chocolate-lovers out there. They are very addictive – you have been warned!
Prep time 25 minutes
Cooking time 30 minutes
140g cocoa mass/chocolate liquor)
1 cup coconut oil
1 cup (350g) honey
1/4 cup (25g) cacao powder
1 cup (160g) Brazil nuts
4 large eggs
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 3/4cups (210g) almond meal
1/4 cup (35g) coconut flour
Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a 25cm x 30cm baking tray with baking paper. Place the cocoa mass, coconut oil and honey into a small saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring, until melted and well combined. Remove from heat and sift in cacao powder. Stir and set aside to cool. Place the Brazil nuts in a food processor and pulse until a meal forms. Set aside. Using an electric mixer or hand mixer, whisk eggs, salt, bicarbonate of soda and vanilla seeds on medium speed for 3 minutes. Reduce to low speed, and gradually add the Brazil nut meal and almond meal. Slowly pour in melted chocolate, followed by coconut flour. Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes or until well combined. Pour into baking tray and bake for 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cut into even-sized squares.
Tip: Instead of cocoa mass/ chocolate liquor, you can also use sugar free dark chocolate that’s at least 70 per cent cocoa.