Justin and Erica Winn, the creators behind Real Simple Good, are the perfect match. When they first began dating, their paths were heading in very different directions, but one thing brought them together: their mutual desire to find health and balance in life. Now married, they’ve built a community dedicated to passionate cooking, inspired living, and continuous growth.
But it wasn’t always easy. Erica, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 21, learned early on that diet has a direct impact on her ability to live life to the fullest. And Justin, whose father passed away at the young age of 56 from a heart attack, developed a love for cooking healthy food out of his desire to strengthen his heart and body. Today, they’re sharing how the paleo and Whole30 diets worked for them, and how you can rekindle your own relationship with healthy food.
When did you start Real Simple Good? What inspired you to create a blog?
We started our blog in 2015 as a way to save some of the recipes we were making after starting to follow the paleo diet. We were really uninspired at our corporate jobs and the blog became something for us to pursue that we truly cared about! We enjoyed creating new recipes, learning the ins and outs of blogging and photography, and it slowly grew from there. In 2016, we quit our corporate accounting jobs and moved to Bend, Oregon, to pursue our dreams and work on Real Simple Good full-time.
Erica, you were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at a young age. How did this change your outlook on health and wellness?
I was 21 when I was diagnosed, and at the time, there wasn't a lot of mainstream info out there about diet and lifestyle and how they can impact disease progression and day-to-day symptoms. I didn't change much at the very beginning of my journey with MS. I just stayed active and tried to eat pretty healthy. It wasn't until several years later, when I was really starting to not feel great most of the time, that I realized something needed to change. I started looking into ways to reduce inflammation and my brother-in-law sent me a Ted-X with Dr. Terry Wahls. I learned about the paleo diet, began making changes to my diet and lifestyle, and very quickly started to feel different—better and more vibrant. It's all history from there. I've since dedicated a lot of time, energy, and money investing in my health and wellness. This is the only body I'm ever going to have, so I try to do the best I can to support it.
Justin, after your father passed away, you vowed to make exercising a habit and ultimately began thinking about the quality of your food shortly thereafter. What were some of the key lessons that you learned during this period?
The number one lesson I learned was how important diet is! Working out and being active is good, but what you put in your body for fuel and nourishment is so much more important. I learned that refined sugars, grains, and processed vegetable oils were more than offsetting those hard hours I was putting in at the gym. Also, reading the labels on foods for the first time was really eye-opening. There is some sort of sugar and ingredients you can't pronounce in most of the pre-packaged food on the shelves. Finally, I learned that small changes can make a big difference. Just cutting out some of the processed foods can go a long way in changing how you feel and help you get started on the way to a healthier lifestyle.
How did you first discover the paleo and Whole30 diets? What attracted you to these styles of eating?
Erica was trying to figure out how to reduce inflammation in her body, and after watching the Ted-X with Dr. Terry Wahls, she began learning more and more about paleo and Whole30 and implementing changes to her diet. It was a really natural fit; she felt a difference in just a few weeks and made it a lifestyle change from there. Ever since we started dating, we've been on this paleo/Whole30 journey together, supporting one another's health and wellness goals.
You’re both all about paleo and Whole30 meal plans. Why is meal planning important when you’re trying to follow a specific diet?
We started a version of meal prep and planning when we were working at our corporate jobs and it was a necessity. Eating out wasn't really an option, so prepping lunches we could have in the fridge and ready for work was critical. Also, having a plan for the week was really helpful for dinners because we didn't have to think about it during the week—we just made what we had already planned and shopped for! We know from personal experience that meal planning can be the difference between wanting to follow a specific diet and actually following the diet.
What are your favorite paleo or Whole30 recipes for couples?
We've heard feedback from our readers that pleasing their significant other is one of their biggest challenges. We've found that recipes that feel indulgent or more like comfort food tend to be the best crowd-pleasers! We like to recreate healthy versions of takeout food like Sweet Potato Chicken Pad Thai and Coconut Lime Chicken, or make healthier versions of comfort food like this Creamy Garlic Spaghetti Squash Casserole.
What's one challenge you face in prepping recipes you'll both love?
Our biggest challenge is that Erica is intolerant to certain ingredients that I love to eat and cook with. These are mainly eggs and potatoes (she can't eat them at all) and garlic and onions (she can't have large quantities of these or eat them very often). We have to figure out other ingredients to use that work or just eat different meals sometimes.
What are your favorite products from Thrive Market that you always order, and how do you use those products?
A few of the products that are in every Thrive Market order are coffee, coconut aminos, and ghee. The coffee is equivalent to high-end coffee from Whole Foods and so much cheaper! Ghee is our go-to cooking fat and coconut aminos go into a lot of our recipes and sauces. Aminos are like a less-salty soy sauce with a slightly sweet finish. Check them out in our popular Korean Beef Bowls!
What is your #1 tip for shopping success on Thrive Market?
What we've found to work great for us is to plan a monthly order. We always have a Thrive Market shopping list going, and we add to it as things run out or get low or there's something new we want to try. Then, around the beginning of the month, we place an order for our regular staples, plus the things that have accumulated on our list. It's great because it saves time from making extra trips to various stores, and we save money!