Review of PaleoFX – Part 1

The past five days has been a crazy whirlwind of an experience. Not only was the PaleoFX event really interesting, but my experience surrounding the event in general was totally awesome.

I arrived in Austin late on Tuesday night at my rental house, which was filled with some of the most well-known names in the Paleo ‘blogosphere’: Diane from Balanced Bites, Bill and Hayley from the Primal Palate, Michelle from Nom Nom Paleo, Henry from FitBomb, George from the Civilized Caveman, and Diana from Radiance Nutritional Therapy. We had intended on going to bed fairly early but that night kicked off the first of several late nights staying up chatting. It was so exciting to get to meet everyone, and of course we gossiped about what we were going to expect from the presentations that week.

Wednesday morning, most of the group went to one of the local CrossFit affiliates to perform a workout. Michelle and Henry had provided us all with awesome Nom Nom Paleo socks, and those who went to work out were repping those crazy socks. Unfortunately, as a grad student, I had a fair amount of work to get done this week while at the conference, so I decided to skip the workout. But I know everyone enjoyed themselves. I picked up Stacy from the Paleo Parents at the airport, and headed back to the house to meet up with my sweaty friends.

The group WOD - Sponsored by Nom Nom Paleo

We had a late lunch from a tasty local mexican restaurant. In true Paleo style, we ordered 7 pounds of barbacoa and carnitas, and 3 quarts of fresh guacamole. The food was delicious and we ate as we all took turns getting ready for the evening’s activities. We headed to the University of Texas around 5:00 PM to get checked in to the conference and to see the opening speech.

Jack Kruse’s opening speech was definitely not what I expected. Apparently he had developed another speech earlier that he ended up trashing and coming up with something completely new. He discussed a former patient he had treated earlier in his career as a neurosurgeon, and the lessons he had learned from her. The overall gist of his speech was that we all have a role to play in spreading the Paleo message, and that we need to take full advantage of our knowledge and energy to continue being a ‘candle’ for others. I will say that he made us all a little nervous when he pulled a ‘stick of dynamite’ out of his pocket and looked like he was going to light it. He used this visual reference to refer to the amount of impact you can have from one small spark. I’d say the prop was pretty effective!

After the presentation, we had a cash bar mingling session with the attendees and the presenters in attendance. This was the first opportunity that I had to socialize not only with my new friends, but many of the well known Paleo presenters that were so approachable during this meet-and-greet. I spent some time with my new housemate friends, but also took the opportunity to introduce myself to some of the people I had been excited to meet at this event, including Mark Sisson, Jimmy Moore, and Chris Kresser. It was great that we all had this opportunity to mingle with the presenters, because often times at conferences the attendees don’t get much opportunity to chat with those who are there to present. Everyone was extremely nice and approachable, and I think that those who were in attendance of this social hour were quite pleased with  getting the chance to meet their favorite Paleo authors, clinicians, and bloggers.

Meeting one of my 'mentors' Chris Kresser

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the presenter’s invite-only BBQ as well, which was really fun. We had brisket and sausage provided by US Wellness Meats, who always serves a great product. Caveman Cuisine was the caterer, and everyone was especially happy with the delicious sweet potato dish they created. We sipped on some NorCal margaritas, were entertained by a “Paleo” comedian, and mingled with each other, finally getting the chance to meet people we had interacted with solely through online media.

Even though I’m fairly shy and was feeling a bit out of my league at the event, I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Robb Wolf while he was sitting with my housemates at the dinner. I was really nervous to meet him due to his intimidating level of ‘fame’, which was painfully obvious to my housemates who found my meek formality very amusing. They ended up mortifying me in front of Robb by teasing me for my attempt at a professional greeting, which would have been much worse had Robb not been one of the nicest and down-to-earth guys at the conference. I expected him to be far less approachable simply due to his status in the Paleo community, but he surprised me with his level of friendliness towards me despite my total ‘fan-girl’ fawning. I was really, really impressed by him. Hopefully next time I see him I’ll be able to keep myself together a bit better.

I calmed down long enough to snag a picture with Robb

The next two days were full of some really interesting discussions ranging from the basics of practical Paleo, to how to run a successful business, and even to the role of Paleo in food policy. I was especially interested in those talks where the speakers discussed the implications of our way of eating on the rest of the country, and how we can move our nation towards a more real food, biologically appropriate eating approach.

I ended up taking 28 pages of notes during the two days, so here are some highlights from the talks I saw:

Robb Wolf gave a great talk on how to run a good gym, which made me wish I had a gym near me that was so thorough in their approach! He explained how to be really thorough about tracking clients, tailoring programming to suit individual needs, and being able to offer the best service possible in order to maximize your clients’ experience and still make a profit. It’s great that he promotes using your business positively influence thousands in the local community, support sustainable food producers, and spread the Ancestral health message. I will probably end up using many of his techniques if I manage to design a future wellness clinic for myself.

The Community Outreach panel moderated by Jimmy Moore featured Angelo Coppola, Benjamin Palmer, Roger Dickerman, Robb Wolf, Neely Quinn, and Kim Movahill. They discussed how to make the Ancestral health message more mainstream by building local community involvement, supporting local food economies, and even designing an on-ramp protocol for getting people involved in the diet at different levels. Robb mentioned using science-based recommendations to try and effect change with those people who are willing to accept your help, and not battling with those who are resistant. He also rightly observed that nothing warrants the level of vitriol we’ve seen popping up about certain topics, and that the more respectful we are about discussing these ideas, the more palatable the message will be to a wide audience. He pointed out that in 2007 “Paleo Diet” passed the “Vegan Diet” in Google trending, showing how the momentum is growing. Jimmy recommended we find whatever we’re good at to help spread the Paleo message, and Angelo suggested we make food quality part of our approach and meet with people in the community that care about creating quality products. Benjamin said we should be enthusiastic and passionate but be gentle with message, and Robb suggested that if people don’t buy into the theoretical underpinnings, then just let them try the diet and see what happens. He also recommended developing professional organizations that have infrastructure to protect clinicians against sanctioning organizations when they step outside the standard of care. We’re hope that there will be more groups that will work towards changing policy to help protect people who are relying on government to provide for them, such as the Healthy Nation Coalition (a group I’m currently involved in).

The Health Care Policy Reform panel featured Karen Folvo, Shannon Ford, Judith McGeary, Michelle Norris, Diana Rodgers, Robb Wolf, Heather Eisley, and Amy Myers. This was one of my favorites. Judith, who I’ve seen speak at the Weston Price conferences, brought a great level of attention to the governmental control of food and healthcare policy. She focused on the lobbying power of the food industry in its influence of government policy, and said we need to break level of control that corporations have in order to reform free market standards. She suggested we develop relationships with legislatures who are willing to listen to our concerns and possibly make changes. She also explained how important it is to take a little bit of extra time in contacting your representatives in order to have a greater impact. Robb said that while we know more about medicine, our healthcare is getting worse and more expensive. He thinks we’re going to either make a policy shift on our own, or it is going to shift for us in the form of a failed state, and that we’re going to need to create an alternate system. Amy discussed how she couldn’t survive as a physician if she relied on being paid by health insurance. Robb and Judith got into a bit of a disagreement about the role of government in food policy and regulation; Robb doesn’t think the government should be telling us what to eat, whereas Judith thinks we need more specific regulations that address the differences in production methods and don’t cater to big industry. She also said we need to start respecting farmers as a profession. I was really glad Judith and Robb got a chance to debate this topic, because I really respect both of their opinions on this issue, and the fact that they are so passionate about it makes the conversation they had even more important.

The Performance vs. Optimization panel featured Robb Wolf, Jack Kruse, Lane Sebring, Amy Myers, Keith Norris, Amy Kubal, and Dallas Hartwig. The main focus of this talk was discussing the excessive importance placed on chasing performance in spite of the damage to long term health that comes with this high stress lifestyle. I thought it was really important that these speakers reminded the audience that being stressed out about maximizing your level of fitness is really bad for your adrenal health and cortisol production, which leads to burn out and poor health, and sometimes even weight gain. One of my favorite quotes was when Robb said “You can eat well, sleep well, and square dance, and you’ll be lean and healthy.” Long story short, the panelists all agreed that people need to rest more, relax a bit about their diet and exercise, get adequate sleep, and just start enjoying themselves more.

The Whole Foods vs. Supplements panel featured Dan Kalish, Diana Rodgers, Amy KubalChris Kresser, Diane Sanfilippo, and Liz Wolfe. These clinicians generally found that while most nutrients can be obtained by eating a nutrient-dense diet, there are certain physical, lifestyle, and even environmental factors that make it impossible to have a 100% nutritionally adequate diet. There are superfoods like cod liver oil, eggs, liver, fermented foods, and seaweeds that provide high levels of essential nutrients like the fat soluble vitamins A, D, and K2 as well as other vitamins and minerals. However, sometimes supplementation is necessary when people have serious deficiencies, are dealing with digestive disorders, or don’t have access to high quality, nutrient dense foods on a regular basis. All of the clinicians on the panel thought that everyone should be eating bone broths, liver and cod liver oil, butter oil, and fermented foods. I found this panel really informative, and I can definitely see myself using the information not only to improve my own nutritional status, but as a guideline for my future dietetics practice. I also thought it was hilarious that my Jersey-girls Diane and Liz mentioned that they go tanning occasionally to improve their vitamin D status. (And no, Diane, you don’t look Jersey-Shore-ish!) The panelists all gave really good tips about how to supplement without going overboard, and where to obtain high levels of the most essential nutrients.

Mark Sisson gave a talk on his “Primal Blueprint Theory to Practice”, and focused on the way people need to understand the implications of their health choices and determine the inputs necessary to get the outputs you want. Some people may give up a little of their health to pursue things they love like family or their career, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We all have common goals in general, but in order to get more specific about achieving our personal goals, we have to incorporate lifestyle changes that are individual for our own needs and biological differences. He also reminded us that the notion of an ideal body composition is often a myth, since many times people have to sacrifice some level of health to achieve what they consider their ideal body image. I think this is an important topic (one that I’ll discuss again soon), since many times people don’t realize that having extremely low body fat is not only challenging for most people to achieve, but also possibly an unhealthy goal for many of us, particularly women. It’s great that Mark pointed this out, since a lot of people expect that healthy Paleo eating will lead them to looking like bikini models, which is really not the case. He also reminded us that the best way to succeed as an athlete is to either eat enough carbs and continue running as a “sugar burner”, or become fat adapted and run your training on a ketogenic diet. Getting stuck in between, though, is a recipe for failure. I really like Mark’s openness to different diet and exercise methods, as well as his laid back attitude and downplaying of the idea of Paleo dogma.

Those were the talk highlights of Thursday, which ended with my housemates and I enjoying a celebratory dinner at Wink Restaurant. We decided to do the 5-course tasting menu, since it looked so amazing and we had all been anticipating being able to go out to a nice dinner as a group for months. We started with a spinach and apple salad with a bacon vinaigrette, and decided to try the grass-fed beef tartare as an appetizer. It was insanely delicious, served on a drizzle of raw egg yolk, and was the ultimate Ancestral appetizer! Next was a sauteed sea scallop, and then a pan seared duck breast that was very tender and lightly cooked. The final course was a rare grass fed strip steak, which was super flavorful and perfectly cooked. They gave us the dessert menu, and of course we had to indulge in some incredible flourless chocolate cake, creme brulee, and even chocolate soup! The company and conversation was really enjoyable, and it was such a nice experience to have a leisurely 3+ hour gourmet Paleo dinner. The restaurant did a fantastic job of accommodating our dietary requests, and the food was out-of-control. I hope to go back there some day!

Montage from the Civilized Caveman

"Chocolate Soup"

Great dinner, even greater company!

That about does it for my Wednesday and Thursday wrap-up. Keep an eye on the blog for part two, which will cover Friday and Saturday!

While you’re waiting for the next post, check out these amazing shots from my friend Bobby!