I am not sure that I am at all able to sit down and write something remotely coherent about the Ancestral Health Symposium 2013. I feel like my jetlagged brain will struggle to sort through the blur of those 3 days but I shall do my best.
I was really impressed with the talks this year. Overall I felt that the spread was really even between more popularised topics and hard-hitting science. AHS12 seemed a bit hit and miss, as if the presenters haven’t quite decided whether they were delivering content to laypersons or presenting at a scientific gathering. This year we struck a really good balance. The quality of the talks was also more even, unlike last year when I actually walked out on a couple of talks with a WTF expression on my face. For those of you watching the action at home here are the ones I found interesting:
1. Nassim Taleb - if you haven’t read the book “Antifragile” (and you absolutely must) you are going to think that his presentation is wordy, baffling and incoherent. If you are a fan you will nod fervently at every sentence. A few of us had a quick conversation with Nassim just before his talk. That is to say, Nassim was talking and I was trying (and failing) to look as intelligent as possible. One for the fans, for sure.
2. Gad Saad (“The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature”) had a really relaxed engaging style. He presented great arguments for why our penchant for symmetrical face, big booty, junk food and red sports cars may be evolutionarily driven. I was quite befuddled to hear that evolutionary psychology is still considered a bit “woo” in academic circles. But then I had a recent conversation with a paediatrician about evolutionary medicine and she shocked me by asking innocently: “Isn’t evolutionary biology a bit alternative and unscientific?”
3. Esther Gokhale (“Walk the Talk”)- I was determined not to miss this talk like I did last year. Esther share more of her insights on what constitutes a good posture and why the traditional view of S-shaped spine is not it. She managed to conjure up a real-life baby to assist with her demonstration of traditional baby-carrying style. The baby cried when she handed him back to the parent. I enjoyed browsing through her very well-illustrated book.
4. Victoria Prince (“Fatty Liver – Is It the Fat’s Fault?”) presented a great talk on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Alcoholic liver disease was the topic of her PhD thesis so this girl knows a lot about liver (and I hear she likes eating it too!) She went through the evidence on dietary fat as a contributor to NAFLD and most of the readers here will not be surprised to hear that all fat ain’t the same. I think we all walked away giving ourselves a firm permission to drink piña coladas.
5. Jamie Scott (“Are Your Sprint Intervals HIITing You in the ANS?”) - ok, ok, I am biased. But it was a great presentation even though Jamie was accosted by a whole group of Crossfitters at the end, and I had to be on standby to prevent any possible bloodshed. Everyone knows, Crossfitters go nuts when told that maybe smashing yourself to the ground 6 days a week is not a great idea. (Just kidding, they were very polite and inquisitive).
6. Whole9 Seasonal Model Workshop - I have watched this idea develop between the brains of Dallas Hartwig and Jamie for over 1.5 years now. Dallas presented the much under appreciated Seasonal Model poster at last year’s AHS but this year they decided to make it into a 2 hour workshop. I think we need presentations like this at AHS: new untested ideas, untapped frameworks (after all, Paleo is a framework too!) which encourage people to look beyond rigid programming for each of their 3 meals a day from now to the day they kick the bucket. I also like the idea of seasonal approach because it brings us, humans, back into the fold of natural environment. We need a reminder that we are a part of the natural world. I cringe whenever I hear anthropocentric ideas still thrown around even in the ancestral community (“Humans are the only animals with a capacity to play” – WTF?). Anyone who is interested in moving beyond the dietary principles should watch this talk.
I was very pleased that the conference has moved away from pure focus on diet and weight loss. The diversity of topics is very very welcome because after all, people need to realise that while it starts with food, it certainly doesn’t end there. Sleep was the topic du jour with many post-conferences tweeps confessing they have been guilted into getting their zzzzz.
While we tried to attend the talks we were interested in we certainly did not travel halfway around the world just for those. We feel very privileged to be able to present our topics at the conference but our primary aim is always to catch up with “our people”. Living on the bottom of the planet is awesome when it comes to good food availability (sorry, US food just doesn’t cut it) but it sucks when it comes to Socialisation. We cherish the opportunity to talk in person with like-minded people and this trip was totally worth the big bucks it cost us for that fact alone.
I was going to say thank you to a few people but I don’t want to leave anyone out. Many have become close personal friends and goodbyes were really heartbreaking. I cannot wait to see them all again, either in the US, or Down Under. You know who you are, and you have an open invitation at our place.
I thought there was some really good vibe this year. There was no nit-picking, no whispers in the corner, no petty arguments. It was just a bunch of people who came together to talk about their passion to make a difference. The academic disagreements were polite and civil, and there was (to me) a general feeling of mutual respect. The word “community” kept coming to the front of my mind. “Community” does not mean “cult”. I think “community” means “a tribe”. It is still totally amazing to me that a misanthropic introvert like myself can mingle, and socialise, and chat for hours to total strangers. That’s how you know that you are among “your people”.
When you have a case of warm’n'fuzzies about where we are as a movement it is really disheartening to see the usual characters come out of the woodworks to trash Paleo from the safety of their computer keyboards. It was entirely laughable to read a few tweets commenting on body shapes of the participants or the interpretation of the scientific merit of the conference based of 140 characters. My diagnosis for these keyboard warriors is the severe case of the sulks on the background of desperate attention-seeking. I have no time for that.
Once again, warm thank you to the Ancestry Foundation, to Katherine Morrison for looking her radiant cheerful self while dealing with all kinds of shitstorms, which seem to be a part and parcel of a huge event like this, and to Aaron Blaisdell for his superb organising skills and for being so gracious and welcoming.
Some of the presentations are already up on slide share. Here is my presentation. I have been told it was quite good.
Here is Jamie’s.
The videos are still forthcoming. Of course I am not going to watch mine as I will undoubtedly feel dejected about its imperfections.
AHS14, we will be there.