Friday, February 15, 2013

Physicians and Ancestral Health and BA Training

I spent last weekend in Utah meeting up with my sisters and brothers of the Physician and Ancestral Health organization. We're a group of clinical medicine doctors from all sorts of specialities (though psychiatry is overrepresented, perhaps not surprisingly) who are trying to find safe and evidenced-based ways to integrate evolutionary medicine into our clinical practice. We come together for support, ideas, and friendship (because who else wants to talk about ketones, statins, functional movement, research, websites, canola oil, and the latest paleo diet research?)

I think we are the nascent group (who met for the first time at PaleoFx12 and reaffirmed our friendship at AHS12) for a big upcoming movement in medicine. Personally I would like to see a lot more attention paid to evolutionary medicine, specifically with regards to diet*, exercise, sleep, parasites, and other interesting, cheap, and probably very effective interventions for a variety of modern complaints such as squat toilets and forest therapy. 

*not that anyone can agree on a "paleo" diet but hey, cutting out the processed garbage is 90% of the battle. No grains, soy, peanuts, industrial sugar. Cooked kidney beans here, fermented dairy there, a bit of nightshades here…I'm not too concerned.  Lynda Frassetto who is a formidable genius in person defines the paleo diet as "anything you can eat raw as well as cooked." Though I'm guessing she excludes dairy from that one. For her experiments, she used anything she could get that met the basic requirements and was available at her hospital cafeteria.

Victoria Prince had an excellent summary of the meeting, and I hate to reinvent the wheel. I found the combined focus on academics, organization (though organization is not my personal bailiwick), and functional movement to be invigorating and motivating. @Primalmountain led our movement sessions. We went from lectures to seeing the championship team at Ute Crossfit workout together, and swung a few kettlebells and did some wallwalks ourselves. I beat @RickHenMD for the WOD time but I might have cheated and bailed out early on a few of my bear crawls. We learned about managing crushing systems while championing evolutionary health and went snowshoeing in the beautiful mountains near Salt Lake City.

At most meetings of doctors you are bound to find some useless, narcissistic, competitive losers who ruin the experience for everyone else.  Not at PAH.  These brilliant, motivated folk could actually work with each other, question their own certitude, and learn from each other going forward. Don Wilson is an ObGyn and working on indigenous health in Canada, right on the front lines where evolutionary medicine and comparatively low carb interventions could do a great deal of good. It was a wonderful experience. I'm hopeful that I will be able to get together with the other three northeastern psychiatrists for some nice dinners in the future. And please, go check out Georgia Ede's Diagnosis Diet website as she's been working very hard on it, and doing a lot of good work.

The trip to Utah coincided nicely with some personal changes in my own exercise regimen. After a lifetime of trying everything (from weight training classes in college, personal training, sports illustrated super shape up videos, aerobics, bodypump, running half marathons, step class, etc) I had settled in on CrossFit for the past couple of years, as it was an efficient way to get some personalized attention, intensive movement, and great results. I love my community at CrossFit Torque. However, I have had some shoulder issues, and some of the classic CrossFit movements (sumo deadlift high pull and kipping pull ups) were not shoulder friendly. My need to take some time off the punishing WOD coincided with being approached by the amazing strength and conditioning coach Clifton Harski. I first met him at AHS11 (photographic proof ), conference and the MovNat seminar and he later asked me to write an intro for his upcoming (and no doubt amazing) e-book about V-neck shirts for men. I believe he is calling it "going deep in the V" but let's just say the focus is on making a generation of men healthy, built, and confident, and I'm 100% in favor of that goal. 

Clifton is one of those amazing creatures who can climb a tree and lift baby seal-type things in a workout. I don't presume to question it. He has a bachelors in kinesiology and an internship of MovNat and the keen interest in people and expertise in human movement I've seen in the movement and physical specialists in the paleo blogosphere (Jacob Egbert, Jaime Scott, Dallas Hartwig, and Jesse Dimick also come to mind). 

I've been using Jacob's straps in my workouts which have been very helpful. They are more versatile than training rings and far less confusing than the TRX straps at my gym.  If you want home straps, buy Jacob's! Seriously! Clifton is an amazing coach. I'm not an athlete. I can benefit fully from the online coaching experience by sending videos back and forth and having a few facetime calls to perfect technique.  After only two weeks my shoulder is a happy camper and my overall strength is increasing, partly because the personalized volume training of Clifton's "bootycamp" is so much greater than the CrossFit random programing.

I'm going to do a post Clifton workout post for follow up, but so far I'm extremely happy. Cost wise, ongoing Clifton online training is comparable to a CrossFit gym payment in my area. The down side is that I'm the only woman doing real deadlifts at the globogym…but I don't mind being stared at all that much. And I like how the volume of the program is leaning me out and giving me strength gains right of the bat, and strengthening my silly shoulder. If you are an athlete, you should probably find a coach who can help you in real time on site. If you are a newbie, you might not need the personalization. But for someone like me, online bootycamp is a great addition, inspiring and motivational. 


  1. paleo diet as "anything you can eat raw as well as cooked." Raw meat's okay then?

    1. I think that's a definition that you need to have cooked and with a grain of salt

    2. There are paleo peeps who advocate eating raw meat, with some interesting and reasonably solid arguments in favor of it. Can't recall any names offhand, though. I'm not willing to eat raw meat myself, but I happily order meat cooked rare when I eat out and don't feel a bit strange about it (thanks to those weirdos who eat raw meat).

    3. Raw steak is fine, it's called steak tartare. The point is not whether it's hygienic to eat a particular food raw (raw lettuce has killed a few people through food-borne diseases, remember the E. coli outbreak in Europe recently), but whether it's digestible and non-toxic raw. And meat is definitely digestible and non-toxic when uncooked.

  2. Thanks for this report, Emily. I'll try to make the next annual PAH meeting, if there is one. Hope it's out West again. Or in Austin!


  3. narcissistic, competitive losers; you must know my doc

  4. it's really interesting that as a psychiatrist interested in an evolutionary paradigm for mental health you have not gone into greater detail about exercise (or at least not published it on your blog). I wonder how appropriate crossfit and all those other inefficient glycogen utilizing exercise schemes really are. If we've learned anything about "traditional cultures", it's that they made the most efficient use of every animal that they found--that's why we encourage eating marrow, offal, skin..etc, in the paleo community.

    My question is if you've ever considered/researched the benefits of true aerobic exercise (not just measly walking) for mental, and probably overall health? As a little side note, I think the paleo community is grossly tainted in the exercise scheme of things. As i'm sure you're aware researchers have determined the most efficient running pace to be ~7min/mile, and yet in the paleo community i'm sure most people can barely churn out 10 min/miles, and are constantly hurting themselves due to overzealous crossfit type "abuse", so to speak.


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