Michelle and I had the great pleasure of recently attending Paleo f(x), the world’s largest eat real food conference held annually in Austin, Texas. After three days packed full of insights from the experts in this growing movement, we’ve returned to Belleville ready to share the take home messages with you.
**Warning: I took 43-pages (typed!) of notes at this event, so in the interest of effective communication, I will refrain from posting them as is. You’re welcome.
Today I will provide an overview of the broader themes that were covered. In future posts I will delve further into the topics most pertinent to our eat real food audience.
On a professional level, we were reassured that the content in our online Eat Real Food Academy course is supported by the top experts in the field. Real food really does have a profound and positive impact on overall health.
But what if your best efforts at eating well have yet to produce the ideal health you aspire to?
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. As Sarah Fragoso put it, “If your healthy eating efforts aren’t working, it doesn’t mean they don’t work – it means you have to dig deeper, play detective, take charge, and be patient.”
Beyond the plate
A major theme at this year’s conference was the acknowledgement that optimal health goes beyond what’s on your plate. We know it can be discouraging to have made huge strides in the dietary change department yet still struggle with digestive issues or weight management, but the good news is that the solutions can often be traced back to a few central themes.
- Know thyself — Paleo is a template with no one-size-fits all prescription. Frustrating as this may be, what works for one person may not work for you. Figuring out your “sweet spot” involves some trial and error, but it’s work worth doing. Ultimately you want to reach a point where you can consistently make pleasurable choices while simultaneously mitigating any negative long-term consequences. This should make you feel empowered, not doomed. Beware of the perfection trap.
- Manage your stress — Why is stress such a part of the human experience? Why are we told we have so much of it these days? Many thought leaders are beginning to challenge the way we think about stress. The myth is that it comes from what’s going on in your life. But in reality it comes from your thoughts about what’s going on in your life. There is no such thing as a “stressor.” There’s nothing in the world that can automatically produce your emotions. If you experience stress, it’s a product of your thinking (and this is something we can change!). So interesting, and empowering.
- Habits trump willpower — One thing we know for sure is that willpower and decision making are exhaustible resources. It’s much easier to keep the candy bowl out of sight (a good habit) than to have to decide not to eat from it (which drains willpower). Self-awareness, then, is the key to self-control. Only by becoming aware of what’s driving our poor choices can we cultivate the healthy habits that will bypass the need for costly decision making.
- Our biology is conspiring against us — According to Robb Wolf, “If you are fat, sick, and broken…you are a success story!” Humans are designed to be as lazy as possible and eat as much as possible, which directly opposes the standard advice to be as active as possible while eating as little as possible. The reason most people fail at “diets” is because diets have failure built right into them. Of our current ‘eat less and move more’ dogma, Wolf says, “It works in metabolic wards but sucks ass in real life.” He discussed several “hacks” to transcend our biological programming in today’s modern, unforgiving world. Stay tuned for those.
- Our world is conspiring against us — So much about the world we find ourselves in is beyond our control. For example, did you know the reasons vegetable oils are in our food supply have more to do with politics than health? These, and countless other factors beyond our control, make it harder to choose good food consistently. But as Charles Darwin observed, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” There are concrete ways to stack the cards in our favour, so stay tuned for those hacks.
- Sleep is the cheapest and most overlooked drug — From mitigating the stress response to assisting in the repair and recovery of virtually every organ and system in the body, the benefits of a good night’s sleep cannot be overstated. When in doubt, sleep.
- Friends/family can be a challenge — Our relationships with other people often change when we decide to change what goes on our plate…not always in a positive way. There’s a more (and less) effective way to talk to people about your nutritional changes. Explaining your challenges, asking for what you need, making it personal, and explaining how your new food choices will strengthen the relationship tend to be better received in most cases. If somebody still isn’t supportive, it’s usually because of their own emotional baggage.
- Focus on the fundamentals — The health of your thyroid, brain, digestive tract and immune system are all intimately linked to nutrition (consuming healthy fat and cholesterol are paramount here) and several lifestyle factors brought to you by the letter S (sleep, stress management, sunlight exposure, social connections). Any kind of lasting or meaningful treatments must focus on these fundamentals. According to Nora Gegaudas, “You can’t deal with the branches of the tree when the trunk is rotting.”
Beyond these topics, that are very applicable at an individual level, there was recognition that the larger Paleo/eat real food movement must turn its attention towards sustainable food systems that can ultimately trump the prevailing factory farm-based model.
Can you stand another Robb Wolf quote? He says, “If the food you’re eating comes from a broken system that is destroying the planet, it’s time to think about something more important than your 6-pack.”
It really was an honour to be surrounded by so many experts who are passionate about improving the health of individuals, communities, and the world. And I intend to follow in their footsteps by making my own contribution to this field. Stay tuned to the blog as I explore these topics and more in further detail.