Chef Mary Shenouda On Living With An Open Heart


Team Mend

Mary is The Paleo Chef, and she is also the creator of Phat Fudge, a real ingredient performance food (and it’s delicious; we scarfed some down during our interview). You can follow her on Instagram @paleochef.


“My very first relationship. I was nineteen and while it was pretty serious, it was also not the healthiest of relationships. As such, that relationship had a very clear end. What was painful, or rather confusing, was that in that time in my youth, I had this mindset of oh, this is forever we will work through anything. That was not the case, and so began a slight shift in my mindset of what relationships and love might look and feel like. There were other things that probably played into how I handled that breakup. One being that I was already well into corporate America, having had an early start at seventeen, so I was an adult. I had rent to pay, bills to handle and a job to execute. Those responsibilities contributed to a lot of high self-worth. I really liked myself. Don’t get me wrong, there were and still are things I’m always trying to improve but I, unwaveringly, really liked who I am. “


“That was about a year ago in August. It was very difficult because it was the type of dynamic that built up over time. This man was my friend for the first couple of years, and over time became very persistent about a romantic shift. At first, I was like “No, no. I’m cool. We’re just friends.” But, slowly, I fell IN TRUST with him, which to me was far more profound than falling in love. Trust has always been a huge factor to me, the integrity of two people at its core. At a particular point, I realized I didn’t belong and that there was unfinished business from his past to be dealt with so I essentially had to find the courage to break my own heart. I came to the conversation as the big kid and said “This is what I’m seeing. This is what I’m feeling. This is what I’m not feeling be reciprocated. I feel as though you have some things in your past you probably have to revisit so I’m going to remove myself from this situation. I love you just the same. I support you and your decisions but this isn’t good for me.”  That was really hard and I can still feel that pain talking about it now. Part of me felt really proud because you should never apologize for standing up for yourself and you should always have your own back. I did what I had to do in that relationship so I wasn’t left sitting here, hoping waiting, wondering. It sucks but it is what it is.”


“I’m mostly heartbroken over the fact that this man was either uncomfortable, unwilling or incapable of keeping the friendship. That was where it all started, after all. It wasn’t my first rodeo. It’s not the first time I had someone not reciprocate feelings for me, so I was very comfortable with working on the friendship because there was so much good stuff there. It was so odd because I was the one with the broken heart; he was the one that was uncomfortable with keeping the friendship. It’s a disappointment because of the “I fell in trust with you” depth to the dynamic. I’m an over-communicator, whether it’s business or relationships. I’m always telling the other party how I feel and what’s going on, for clarity’s sake, in case I’m ever misreading a situation. So I feel good about being very transparent in that relationship the whole way through. I’m a little disappointed that they were uncomfortable, unwilling or incapable of friendship but that says a lot of about us and about what wasn’t there.”


“All heartbreak sucks, but I’ve never gotten to a point where I couldn’t eat, sleep or function. I think it’s because I have immense self-love, so when something is over, it’s over. It hurts. I definitely mourn it. I can feel that pain but it doesn’t keep me from performing or doing what I know is best for me. Thinking back to my relationships now, I can remember oh that one hurt. And that one hurt a lot too. Oh, yup, THAT one. Through it, I was still eating right, working out and going to work, bringing my A-game. I would be just a little more quiet and when someone would ask me what’s going on, I would be open and say that I was dealing with a little booboo on my heart. Another thing that I’d do sometimes is pretend I was eighty years old – that I was this really wise and strong woman who would talk about her many great loves, in full appreciation. I’d be really dope about it!”


“I have a philosophy that no one can take away the one you’re meant to be with. So it doesn’t matter if it’s the person you’re with now, a person from your past or a person you’re going to meet in the future – if they’re going to be yours, it’s going to happen no matter what. So when I would have those moments, I’d just think no one can take away the one you’re meant to be with and then I’d feel a sense of calm. It’s learning to trust pain, trust your insecurities, trust your mistakes, and trust your heart. I started saying and feeling that mantra when I was sixteen, before even my first kiss. I had it written in one of my little, teenage poetry journals I carried around with me. I looked at the universe as if she and I are best friends and she’s going to take care of me in some way.”


“The men that I have dated are generally really cool, chill guys and since I keep who I am dating private, their names come up in conversation or interviews a lot, day to day. There isn’t that opportunity of just silence about them. So it’s painful sometimes, when you just want to go twenty four hours without hearing a name just for the sake of wanting to mend. Yeah, that sucks sometimes. I don’t want to hear their name and cringe. I guess that’s not necessarily a vice as much as I just have a harder and longer time to mend. I don’t drink when I’m sad or have these bring me down vices. In fact, I only drink when I’m happy…or if it’s Sunday.”


“Because I like to be present at all times, there’s no avoiding pain. There’s a line from poet David Whyte that reads, “A true well felt pain can be just as generous as a true well felt joy.” I find a lot of beauty in pain and when I find myself sad or crying over a heartache or a loss of any kind, loss of a friendship, loss of a life, when you get into the thick of that pain, there’s, for me, the sudden sense of immense gratitude, appreciation and awe for the vast miracle that is the universe. And I’ll find beauty in that.”


“Yes, heartbreak was painful, and I don’t want to take away from that fact, but I contrast it to having a really keen sense of mortality. There are worse things that could happen and this really is not the worst. I started doing hospice and bereavement counseling when I was sixteen on a volunteer basis. At the same time, my aunt was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and I really wanted to understand what was about to happen in her decline, so I put myself right in it. I experienced death in such a unique way there as well as the mourning process with the family members. It did not make the loss of my aunt or the following loss of my grandmother any less painful but I felt grounded in my mourning process. By the time I was twenty, I had lost many friends that were my age to freak accidents. One to cancer, who I had gone to school with since I was in the third grade. He was such a talented baseball player with scholarships to prove it. Another to an ATV accident, also many shared memories going back to junior high. Another to a car accident. I have these old school photos with them all of them in the photo, all smiles, and it’s such a trip to look at. Then there was a car accident and I was scheduled be on that particular ride. The friend that I would have been sitting next to, she passed away at the scene. Life is just so fleeting.”


“I think it depends on the maturity of both people. I do think it’s possible, though. I am very close friends with some of the people that I have dated. Then there are some I just don’t keep in touch with, while there are a couple in which there was a friendship but when they came into a new romantic relationship their partner wasn’t comfortable with the friendship so it became distant. That definitely sucks.”


“I think it goes back to really trusting your gut. I’m not just saying it for the fact that it’s a flashy hashtag. But sitting by yourself and learning to enjoy your company so much that anyone else you bring into your circle has to add to that – not take away from that. I have not been in a serious long-term relationship and I used to get asked, “Why is that? What’s wrong with you?” I used to think Yeah, what is wrong with me? Now when someone asks me that question, with full conviction I go, “I think I believe in ‘the one’ so much, that I might just make it ONE. And what’s wrong with that? Why have you had ten serious relationships? Let’s talk about that for a second!”  I’ve spent a lot of time single and with myself, I can go on a date and be honest with someone by saying “I really enjoy your company. I think you’re a really wonderful person. I just want you to know that I don’t feel this going anywhere serious.” And it’s not because I have standards or I’m too picky – I’m just simply looking for that ALL-IN feeling.”


“I’m very, very open. I went on a date last night. I have a date tonight. If I was doing this ten years ago, I would be stiff and uncomfortable on a date, trying to figure things out. Now when I’m on a date, I’m very much myself. I’m very goofy. I’m very affectionate. So yes, I am accepting of love. I’m not trying to go on thirty dates in thirty days, hoping that I will find the formula for the one. But I’m also not NOT going to put myself out there.”


“I think it’s a feeling. Resumes are bullshit. Like that checklist – it’s disappointing when you actually get everything on the checklist and you’re just like what up dude, where’s that last invisible thing on the list?! I think it’s just a feeling. It’s a fleeting, indescribable feeling. I think the ideal relationship is very healthy. I think there must be mutual respect and mutual love and mutual pride for the other person. I don’t think it’s anything overly mystic. The trivial stuff for me – I’d like someone I can banter with because I have a little bit of a snarky, aggressive side and I appreciate someone who will banter with me. But also, when I get out of hand, he’ll gently say “You good? You done now?” and I’ll smile and relax around that. So someone I can really rally with. A partner in crime and conquest!”


“I’ve always been surrounded by really great relationships. My parents have been together for thirty-one years, and all of my close friends are in relationships that they had been in since their teens or early twenties – because of that, I have this model of what it looks like, not just when it works but also when it’s hard. None of those relationships were free of hardships or difficulty. Both parties were willing to do the work to stay together and also confident enough to take time apart when it was needed, knowing that all roads lead back home. I don’t want to say I’m picky or have high standards, but I’ll just know if the person across from me will be on that level, my level, with me.”


“I was really sick from second grade to age twenty-four: chronic migraines, chronic hives, emotional issues, hormonal imbalances, ER visits every month. I would pass out from vomiting so much due to the migraines. And when you’re young, being rushed to the hospital in vomit, they assume you’re doing drugs. They assume you’re trying to overdose. And through the pain, you’re trying to explain to them that it’s just a headache, and they think you’re making it up. There was a two week period where they had taken at least thirty vials of blood from me, testing for everything, and they were coming up short. I was frustrated, so I started doing my own research and came across a Ted Talk by Dr. Terry Wahls called “Minding Your Mitochondria.” It was about everything that causes inflammation in your body – which is a lot of processed foods, grains, dairy, soy. So then I sent out my own lab work and when it came back, it came back stating that I was full Celiac and it was the greatest day of my life. I was like, I just need to not eat these things, that’s it, and all these things are going to go away. And in three months, every pain – everything – was just gone. No need for medication. And on top of being more clear and present, I naturally lost thirty pounds. And I’m not going to complain of a natural slim-down. My day gig is a private chef. I’m always expanding the private chef and coaching aspect of it. I’m not your typical private chef. I’m really bossy to my clients. If you just want food, then I’m not the right chef for you. I’m here to support you through a transition into paleo and into eating clean as a full lifestyle of embracing Eat, Play and Crush.”


“Phat Fudge is actually a serendipitous product! It’s a recipe I made for a client, which he enjoyed so much while putting him into ketosis, which is a state in which your body is burning fat very efficiently. It’s all the ingredients I had in my coffee recipe that I call “Unicorn Fuel,” which won an award for Best Coffee Hack, and I made it into this fudge form. I posted the recipe online, the recipe went viral and then a lot of athletes were taking pictures of themselves making it at home, putting them in sandwich bags and taking them on marathon runs. So I was like alright, let me test the market and just do fifty orders of twelve-packs on Shopify. I didn’t set up the back-end correctly to cap at fifty and I ended up selling 268 orders in twenty-four hours and was like What the fuck did I just do?! And so Phat Fudge was born.”


“My theme right now is Naked. To be really open, and strong and vulnerable, and when I think about all the things I want to be which include being in my power, being kind, being balanced, being fierce, and even being gentle. At the core, being comfortable with being “naked” allows you to achieve all those things. We come into this world naked and that’s kind of how we’re going to go out of this world, totally exposed and vulnerable, so I want to be strong in that.”

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