Thursday, March 15, 2012

PaleoFx Austin: Theory to Practice

Back in December (I believe) Michelle Norris was kind enough to invite me to the PaleoFx conference.  Since I'm from Austin originally and it was scheduled for March (which tends to be a particularly miserable last month of winter in the Northeast), I said sure and bought a plane ticket.  I wasn't quite sure what the phrase "theory to practice" would mean as a conference theme.  I'm scheduled to be on the Psychology of Change panel tomorrow evening, but in the mean time I'm soaking up the conference milieu.

Michelle and Keith Norris along with Kevin Cottrell have done an amazing organization job in the short half year since the conference was originally conceived.  The venue in the north end of the UT football stadium is fanstastic, with fabulous views of the Austin skyline and a large staff of volunteers to keep everything running smoothly.

View from the venue

Old stomping grounds
 I've seen most of my old friends from AHS11 (Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, Paul Jaminet, Clifton Harski, Diana Rogers, Basil G., and David and Karen Pendergrass) along with many new ones, such as @Fitbomb and @Nomnompaleo (who posted a pic of me in one of those elusive obligatory pictures with Robb Wolf! Scroll down a bit.  I'm in a red shirt and not looking at the camera.  Take my word for it.)  Their upcoming ipad cooking app looks incredible, by the way.

The conference began with a talk by Jack Kruse, a neurosurgeon who with his typical messiahnistic style told us about a patient who had decided against futile cancer treatment, choosing instead to enjoy the last months of her life.  Since a surgeon's job is typically to solve problems, cut things out, fix things, etc., her request did not go well with his boss.  She seemed to connect to him as a young resident and willed him a gift of fine wine and letters after her death.  Though he didn't really absorb the full impact she had on his life at that point, he found at a later date, in conjunction with an epiphany about his own medical issues, that her example helped him to live in the moment and devote his practice to the way he feels medicine should be done, rather than standard clinical conventional medicine.  Kruse's talk was far more focused and cogent than what I can make of his blog posts.  There was a rather strange moment where he lit a stick of dynamite (I'm assuming a faux explosive as it's likely he took a plane to get here…).  I was standing between Mark Sisson and Paul Jaminet so I figured I could duck behind them if things got out of hand… Kruse's talk did properly solidify the theme of theory to practice.  The ideas and stress here is more about what we do as clinicians, gym owners, trainers, and nutritionists than the scientific nitty gritty as to why.

Afterwards the presenters were invited to a special dinner in North Austin.  I drove with Paul Jaminet in the car and we talked about his upcoming plans, Shou-Ching's research, and his work with Aaron Blaisdell to help with publishing an Ancestral Health academic journal, all very exciting stuff.  We passed the restaurant and turned around in the shopping center where I went to buy shoes as a little kid, and I have to admit it is a bit strange to have the paleo world overlap with my old stomping grounds of north Austin and the University of Texas.  Almost as strange as having so many people I don't know recognize me!

This morning the conference proper really began with CJ Hunt presenting on his documentary "In Search of the Perfect Human Diet" and Robb Wolf.  Robb as always is an engaging speaker and his energy and ideas and enthusiasm for bringing people together along with a dedication to doing things right never cease to amaze me.

I had been asked to connect with a few high-powered behavioral/brain researchers and also some other paleo-minded physicians prior to the conference.  It is plus of the somewhat slower pace (lengthy Q&A sessions, breaks between speakers and an hour lunch, provided) of PaleoFx compared to AHS11 that I was able to spend some quality time to talk with these fabulous people about actual practice of research, and especially of the nuts and bolts of the clinical practice of medicine.  The fellow physicians are an amazing, enthusiastic bunch who practice what they preach.  I was also able to meet Chris Kresser in person and talk some shop.  I can't help but think these connections will enable us to bring the actual practice of ancestral health forward inch by inch, and this meeting opportunty is the lasting gift of the PaleoFx organizers.

It's also striking that in person the similarities of message and ideas (eat wholesome food, manage stress, exercise but not like a maniac, and sleep for heaven's sake) far outweigh some of the differences of substance and style among the "paleo" blogs.  One panel group "The Future of Paleo" discussed this issue explicitly, and Robb Wolf made the point that incivility in disagreement may well blow up paleo, when the simplicity of the basic message (Archevore's initial rules + stress management, exercise, and proper sleep) will go 90% of the way to tuning up the health of most people.  Robb's and Mark Sisson's approach of focusing on the health benefits and success stories along with spending their energy on debunking conventional wisdom has proven to be effective and non-devisive.  On the other hand, with so many different flavors of what constitutes a paleo practitioner these days there are bound to be disagreements and some outright weird advice.

Mark Sisson spoke about his upcoming 90 day journal project he will be publishing to help people figure out how to implement the Primal Blueprint as it fits and works with his/her lifestyle and needs.  Mark is a healthy, vigorous walking billboard for his program, and he talked about some different ways to approach the diet depending on your goals.

I left before the Rosedale talk so I could spend some quiet time with the family and catch up on my sleep.  More tomorrow and some pictures (or the next day, when I get a chance at the computer again…)

Angelo Coppola and Jimmy Moore

Melissa and Dallas

Fitbomb and Nomnom!


  1. I'm grateful you took the time to share these thoughts. It makes me feel a little as if I'm there. I'm definitely looking forward to the round of blog posts that will follow the event!

  2. AHS for me was a bit more exciting and scary (probably because i hadn't met too many folks before and I had a talk to present). This conference feels a little more…seasoned, and the focus is not the in-depth scientific talks, but rather clinical experience, making business work, how to reach people, etc. All in all for a geek like me the information at AHS is more interesting, but I'm finding it easier to connect with people here because there is more time, and the business/clinical information is useful (except for some of the esoteric things discussed in the panels, which don't allow for in depth discussion of some matters).

  3. What about the most important information:

    -Who were the tallest participants?
    -Which participants had the most interesting hair on their heads and/or chins?
    -What did you eat?

  4. i was really hopeful to get to go to this, but just couldn't swing it with my work schedule. DOing 3/4 weeks in the icu mixed with trips to vail for the Western Trauma Association and Brussels next with for the ISICEM (my absolute FAVORITE meeting). Would really, really like to meet some of these folks and share ideas about integrating the paleo/ancestral stuff into modern day medical practice.
    hopefully we will get to AHS this year as we were already planning a trip to the cape this august to see some friends and i may actually end up having some Red Sox season tix.
    would love to hear more of your thoughts via other channels

  5. Dan - I will hook you up!

    Debbie - I think they are selling them.


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