AHS 2013 Wrap Up

In year's past, I've given myself at least a few weeks to process everything that I've learned, experienced, and discovered at the Ancestral Health Symposium, but this time around, I wanted to put my thoughts to paper, or should I say screen, while they were still fresh.

Click HERE to read my write up of last year's event 

My experience this time around was much different since I had the honor of being a presenter as well as an attendee. Preparation for my talk about the pitfalls of excess social media consumption consumed much of my attention leading up to AHS. Even though I felt prepared, the knowledge that I would be getting up on the same stage as the biggest names in Ancestral Health filled me with equal parts excitement and anxiety. It didn't seem real until I saw my name in the program included in the attendee packet.

Fortunately, I had the chance to interview Aaron Blaisdell for an episode of Paleo Magazine Radio a few weeks prior and, at the end of our recording, I asked him for some tips on presenting.  He said he was a fan of the show and an avid listener.  He said something along the lines of, "You're a smart guy, I have no question that you'll do great" which, coming from him, was a big confidence booster.

Click HERE to Check out my PMR interview with AHS co-founder Aaron Blaisdell  

I live in Jacksonville, so Atlanta was only a five hour drive away. It was almost surreal to simply pack up my car and, in just a few hours, roll into the one of the biggest Paleo events of the year. Expecting "Hotlanta" to live up to it's name, I brought a selection of t-shirts and shorts, but, much to my surprise, the weather was more similar to the Pacific Northwest. A cold front came through and brought with it chilly weather and a perpetual drizzling rain.

The event was held in a downtown Sheraton Hotel, which made it convenient for many of the attendees who only had to ride an elevator to the even floor each morning, but I couldn't help but feel spoiled after going to Harvard for last year's symposium. Having AHS hosted at one of the top universities in the world gave everything a feeling of weight and importance and I hope that future events will be held in similarly prestigious settings.

As far as the presentations were concerned, I believe that a lot of people, myself included, are feeling "food fatigue". In other words, the nutritional fetishism that has dominated much of the Paleo conversation (as well as past symposium content) is suffering from the law of diminishing returns.  Micron-level debate over macronutrients and esoteric studies yields the average person less and less benefit. Simply eating animals and plants gets you 90% of the way there and, excepting for rare disease states and conditions, most people only have to do that consistently to derive most of the positive health effects of a Paleolithic style diet. Fortunately, the AHS programming committee has taken this into account, and the variety of topics this time around reflected a more diverse and interesting lineup.  

Some of the standout presentations included Gad Saad's talk about "The Consuming Instinct" as well as "The Black Swan" author Nicholas Nassim Taleb's warning against cultivating too much "fragility".  Another notable presentation was Dr. Hamilton Stapell's sobering take on the current state of Paleo.  He laid out a suite of reasons, cultural, biological, and societal, that present obstacles to the mainstreaming of Paleo.

His presentation may have seemed pessimistic, but I believe his intent was to simply be realistic and to give us a reason to keep on fighting rather than resting on our laurels, contented by the belief that Paleo will continue to grow "just because".  As it stands, the impressive Google search statistics for the term "Paleo Diet" seem less so when compared to searches for "cupcakes".  We have a lot of work to do people.

When it came time to give my talk, I felt quite comfortable up on stage. This may have been the result of preparing in front of my housemates and our special guest Paul "The Perfect Health Diet" Jaminet. For whatever reason, talking in front of five people was terrifying. My presentation that night was a train wreck and I was pretty f'n nervous about giving my talk on the big stage the next day. The stars aligned however, and my talk went great. Got some laughs and hopefully sparked some thought about our relationship to social media.

Alex Boake ironically Instagrammed my presentation
I also had the extreme pleasure of hanging out with motivational speaker, author, and athlete Kyle Maynard.  Kyle is a congenital amputee but his parents taught him that he wasn't disabled, the only limitations he faced were those in his own mind.  In addition to becoming a champion high school wrestler, and mountain climber, he's also a huge advocate for the Paleo diet.  He met Robb Wolf a few years ago and, after discussing some health issues he was facing, he decided to go Paleo.  He now owns a CrossFit box and was invited to AHS '13. to share his story.  Words really can't do justice to how awesome Kyle is and if you ever get a chance to see him speak you should do it.

The Paleo community has some really awesome representatives and I had the pleasure of reuniting with many of the friends that I've made at previous AHS events as well as PaleoFX.  The sense of camaraderie and shared purpose is palpable and it left me with a sense that Paleo will continue to grow not just because we hope it will, but because of the tremendous efforts of people like my good friends Keith and Michell Norris as well as the multitude of bloggers, authors, and speakers who all put themselves out there in big ways.  Of course, all of the blogging, podcasting, writing, etc. is only possible because of the groundswell of support coming from everyday folks who are either looking to lose weight, fight an illness, or simply reconnect with their roots.

My AHS presentation was about the danger of excess social media consumption, how it stimulates the same reward centers in the brain that fast food does, and that a Paleo lifestyle does not jive with hours and hours of Facebook each and every day.  However, one awesome use of social media and technology is to bring people face to face, to give a bunch of nutrition geeks, fitness freaks, and back to the land lovers a chance to get together and hang out for a few days.  

Walking around Atlanta the day after the symposium I felt like I was observing the world with a refreshed lens. It wasn't a sense of superiority, but a sense that I was tasked with reconnecting on all fronts. I remember as a kid how we would often attend church only to see people immediately lose their piety once they got to the parking lot and I hope that attending AHS offers more than a short-term buzz.

We have opportunities each and every day, whether its at a gas station or at the Ancestral Health Symposium, to have meaningful conversations, to make the best food choices we can, to move and to live in a way that brings us health rather than harm. I love going to AHS, I already miss my Paleo friends, but I have all the other people in my life to keep me motivated, inspired, and connected until the next Paleo party.

PaleoFX anyone?

P.S. A big shout out and thanks to "The Grandfather" of the Paleo movement Boyd Eaton who hosted a bunch of rowdy Paleo people at his ridiculously awesome house. Props also go to Charles Mayfield who helped plan the kick ass shindig.

P.P.S. If you still want some more, here are some random pics of the dinner I shared with "The Domestic Man" Russ Crandall, the illustrious Alex Boake and my other housemates Janie, Joanne, and Greg.

Russ had some obscure band playing on "the radio", but I didn't complain since he was taking point in the kitchen.

Alex took charge of salad chopping

Russ' kid Oliver showed me how to build an x-wing

Not sure if this was an x-wing :/

Juicy pork chops from Tendergrass Farms

More meat from Tendergrass Farms, this was some kickin' chicken!

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About Unknown

Tony is the host of the Paleo Magazine Radio podcast, author of "Paleo Grilling: A Modern Caveman's Guide to Cooking with Fire", and Cofounder of Powerful PT, an innovative information resource for Fitness Professionals. He has appeared on numerous local and national television and radio broadcasts and regularly hosts healthy cooking workshops and informational lectures. He is also a full-time Personal Trainer and Wellness Consultant who lives in Jacksonville Florida with his wife Jamie.
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