I’m an American living in Prague. And I’m on a mission to be a superfit, well-fed, dressed-to-kill, glossy-haired, tart-tongued detective.  Here are 10 more things you should probably know about me.

[If you want to talk one on one, my email is mel@meljoulwan.com—drop me a line! And if you’re looking for my professional bio, it’s right here.]



I have excellent habits 95% of the time.

I lift heavy stuff and run and meditate and practice yoga. I eat clean. I make music. I read. I write. I cook.

And sometimes, I’m a slug who indulges in corn-based chip products, buttered popcorn, and an icy-cold glass of Prosecco. I might also occasionally sip on a glass of Ouzo and eat whipped cream. (And yes, that 95% listed so brazenly above is accurate; I did the math because I’m THAT dorky.)


I haven’t always had excellent habits.

From grade school to the day I graduated from college, I was a chubby nerd and an easy target.

My parents were both exceptionally good cooks—my dad owned a restaurant, and my mom won almost every cooking contest she entered. I was a chubby kid because I really liked food. And after broken ankles and playground taunts—at a bus stop, I was once unfavorably compared to a whale by one of the neighborhood kids—I stuck with reading and practicing the piano and roller skating to the library. I don’t know how many gym classes I missed because I was “sick” or “forgot” my gym clothes. I do know that my P.E. attendance put my otherwise stellar grade point average in jeopardy.

Even though I avoided sports, I secretly admired the athletic kids. They walked taller than the rest of us. When I was in 10th grade, my dad took me to Annapolis to see the Navy band play a concert, and for about three weeks, I was determined to get in shape so I could apply to the Naval Academy. I abandoned that dream because I was incapable of doing pushups and situps—and I was too embarrassed and overwhelmed to ask for help.)


I’m a retired Rollergirl.

I moved to Austin, Texas in 2001, and my former nerdy roller skating days paid off. I met a bunch of like-minded women and with them, I helped form the Texas Rollergirls, the original Flat Track Roller Derby that started in Austin and spread around the world. I appeared on the Today Show and Good Morning America—and Simon & Schuster even published the book I wrote about my Roller Derby days… Rollergirl: Totally True Tales From the Track.



I’m no longer afraid of my body or food.

Until I found CrossFit and barbells in 2007 and switched to a paleo diet in 2009, I was haunted by a deep desire to be different than I was. To be thin. To feel confident. To break the cycle of thinking of food—and my behavior—as “good” and “bad.” It was still my habit to celebrate and to grieve and to stress out and to relax with food.

Although I worked out regularly, I didn’t feel strong as I wanted, inside or out. I had insomnia and allergies and stomach aches. My body didn’t feel like it belonged to me.

Thanks to Melissa Hartwig, I dumped grains and dairy, did a series of Whole30 cleanups, committed to eight hours of sleep every night, and eventually, made friends with food and my body.

Now I know when and how often I can indulge in non-paleo foods, and I enjoy those once-in-a-while treats like never before. The food tastes a lot better when it’s savored and not followed by a chaser of self-recrimination. I finally know how to truly celebrate on occasion while I live clean and healthy the rest of the time. I finally feel “normal.” Only I suspect my normal is better than most peoples’.


I’m not anywhere near done yet!

I’m pleased with my progress, and I accept that my gams, while muscular and strong, are quite short. And I still want to be stronger, faster, leaner, and more bad-ass. Thankfully, I know I have the tools to do that. I no longer feel like there’s something different about the way my body works—that it’s a big mystery. I understand what I need to do to thrive, and I’m confident that I’ll reach whatever goals I set for myself.


The sillier the workout, the happier I am.

When I graduated from college, I started an exercise program and adopted a “healthy” diet (the old-fashioned healthy: low-fat, high-carb). I became a certified aerobics instructor and was bitten by the triathlon bug. I did the Danskin sprint triathlon and an Olympic distance race, and in 1999, I finished the Wildflower Half-Ironman. I was the very last person to cross the finish line; I’d missed the cut-off for the run, but was too stubborn to give up. My total time was somewhere in the neighborhood of 9-and-a-half hours. When I stopped, the race clock had been shut down for hours.

After Roller Derby, I found CrossFit and fell in love with barbell training and man-makers and sprints and (terrifying) handstands and double-unders and callouses on my hands and sweat angels on the floor. Now I train at John Reed Fitness here in Prague.

Pushing hard in a workout and really facing myself—fear, hesitation, bravado, even silliness—in a training session feels like freedom.


Zucchini is my favorite vegetable.

(Because it can be soup or noodles!) Cumin is my favorite spice. Prague is my favorite city—in fact, we moved here in April 2017. Duran Duran is my favorite band. And these are six other favorite things that make my life better: my husband Dave, sports movies, leopard print, lousy truck stop (decaf) coffee, bear crawl, and Jane Eyre.


I only have 1/3 of a thyroid, and that remaining bit doesn’t work.

In 2009, right about the time I was hitting my goal weight and feeling on top of the world, I learned I had a nodule on my thyroid. The risk of cancer meant I had to have it removed, along with a little more than half of my thyroid. The thyroid remnant hung on for a few months, then it crapped out. I take Armour Thyroid and Synthroid (in split doses, twice a day), and mostly, it’s not too bad. It was a long road to getting my doses right, and I need to pay strict attention to heart rate, how hard I’m working out, how well I’m recovering, and my stress levels. If you’re curious about thyroid issues or are battling a naughty thyroid yourself, you can find details about my experience with this Frankenneck tag.


My site used to be called The Clothes Make the Girl.

I know that, really, it’s what’s inside that counts, but damn! if I’m not a sucker for the perfect little black dress and stompy black boots and a little sparkly what-what. Sometimes I wear all black just so I can pretend to be a spy who might need to outrun a bad guy.

I love telling stories and eating, so my blog is packed with tales of my triumphs and failures in the gym, in the kitchen, in life. Plus, sometimes I talk about my cat Smudge. In 2015, when it was clear my blog had permanently evolved from stories about my outfits to recipes and healthy living, I changed the name to reflect my cookbooks.

But I still love a good LBD and some leopard print.



I generally don’t like to give advice, but I feel 100% confident that you really should read these:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte because underneath the romance and the gothic spookiness, it’s a story of fortitude in the face of seemingly insurmountable and heartbreaking challenges.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern because it’s magical and delightful and will complete carry you away.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde because it’s a cautionary tale about how ‘getting away with stuff’ is really just cheating oneself.

Any issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine because it luxuriates in the art and science of cooking. The recipes are not paleo-approved most of the time, but the technique descriptions are wildly valuable and the joy of preparing then eating a meal is infectious.

Things We Forget Blog because it provides a daily dose of obvious but powerful advice for being the best version of ourselves.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz… because despite our best attempts, some days just cannot be salvaged, and we must accept that some days are just like that.

And please, do yourself a favor, once in a while, listen to Social Distortion and/or The Moldau by Bedrich Smetana very loudly.