Ancestral Health Symposium

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I’m back to my (more or less) normal life after spending a few days in Los Angeles to attend the Ancestral Health Symposium.  I won’t describe the symposium itself in detail because several other bloggers have already done so – check out any of the links below if you want to know what you missed:

Richard Nikoley (Free the Animal)

FitBomb

An Omnivore’s Decision

Emotions for Engineers

Some of those posts have links to still more posts, so follow links to your heart’s content.  You can also find pictures on some of the blog posts.

I apologize for not posting any pictures of my own.  I packed a still camera but flat-out forgot to use it.  That’s partly because I spent the entire weekend dealing with stage-four sleep deprivation, thanks largely to the heroic efforts of American Airlines.

As I told the audience at the beginning of my speech, when I left Los Angeles two years ago, I promised myself I’d never go back – and when I went to the airport on Thursday, American did their best to make me keep that promise.

We boarded the plane on time, then just sat there, wondering why we weren’t pulling back from the gate.  Eventually someone from the crew announced that the plane was having mechanical difficulties that couldn’t be resolved, so we’d have to grab our bags and go back inside the terminal.  I was, of course, hoping “Please go back inside the terminal” would be followed with a more encouraging statement, such as “and then we’ll put you all on the spare plane we keep around for situations like this.”

Nope.  After we all shuffled back inside, we found ourselves just standing around, taking turns asking each other if anyone knew what was supposed to happen next.  Soon people began queuing up in front of the desk at the gate.  Why, I don’t know, but I got in line with everyone else in case it turned out we were being re-booked on other flights on a first-come, first-served basis.  I spent much of that time talking to a recently-divorced father, which reminded me that I never, ever will get a divorce.

When an hour or so of standing around for no apparent reason failed to convince me to just stay in Tennessee, American announced that there weren’t any other flights available to Los Angeles until Friday.  I called my wife and warned her not to put the girls to bed, since they may all have to hop in the van and pick me up.  I also started mentally working on my apology to the organizers of the symposium in case I had to cancel.

Realizing I still planned on flying to Los Angeles in spite of their best efforts, one of the American agents announced we’d all be getting on a plane eventually (I never did determine if it was the same plane or a different one), but that flight would have to take us to Dallas. Then we’d get on another plane.  When I still didn’t leave, they gave up on convincing me to keep my promise and allowed me to board.

By the time we landed in Los Angeles, it was after 1:00 a.m.  Okay, I said to myself, if I’m in bed by 2:00, I can still sleep for five hours.  Ha … joke’s on me.  In my jet-lagged state, I’d forgotten about little details such as waiting around for the rental-car shuttle, standing in a loooong line at the rental-car facility, and getting completely lost once I started driving because California figures if a sign for a freeway exit is as big as the name plate on your average mailbox, that’s good enough for people driving by at 40 m.p.h. with the view obstructed by a truck.

I was booked at the Hotel Polomar, right near UCLA on the west side of Los Angeles.  By the time I made enough random turns to accidentally end up in an area of town I recognized, I was somewhere south and east of Hollywood.  I headed north again – passing by various groups of gang-bangers who looked at me as if I must be kidding, driving around their turf at night – then turned onto a major street I knew would take me to the hotel.  By the time I checked in and went to sleep, it was 4:00 a.m.  The first talk of the symposium was due to start at 7:45.

When my alarm assaulted me at 7:00 a.m., the soul was willing, but the flesh was … no, scratch that.  The soul wasn’t willing, either.  The soul demanded coffee and refused to let the body so much as shower without at least three cups.  So I pulled on clothes and wandered down to the lobby to find some.  (Go to any Motel 6, and you’ll probably find a coffee maker in the room.  Stay at a fancy-pants hotel like the Polomar, and they expect you to either haul your lazy butt to the lobby or order a $10 pot of coffee from room service.)

By the time I made it over to UCLA and found the building where the symposium was being held, I’d missed the first two sessions.  Wandering around the back of the auditorium and looking for an empty seat, I spotted one next to a stunning young woman who turned out to be Denise Minger.  This surprised me … not because I doubted Denise Minger would be stunning in person, but because I wasn’t sure it was even possible to meet Denise Minger in person – after all, some highly reputable vegan bloggers have insisted for at least a year that “Denise Minger” is just a fictitious persona created by the meat industry to discredit T. Colin Campbell’s impeccable work.  But as Richard Nikoley put it, Denise Minger does exist, and she’s made of meat.  (Either that, or the meat industry hired a terrific actress to portray her at the symposium.)

There were two speakers giving presentations in separate locations every hour, so we all had to pick and choose.  I mostly chose people I haven’t seen before, in some cases skipping speakers who are booked for next year’s Low Carb Cruise.

Between sessions, I got to meet some people whose works I’ve admired:  Richard Nikoley, Mark Sisson, Robb Wolfe, Nora Gedguadas, Stephan Guyenet, Dr. Richard Feinman, Gary Taubes and Dr. Robert Lustig.  I also met a lot of Fat Head fans and some of the frequent commenters who make blogging so much fun for me.  Now I have faces to go with the names.

I missed out on the group dinners I later read about on other people’s blogs.  That’s because I spent both evenings chasing down a few of my heroes for on-camera interviews.  I did the same over lunch breaks.  Someone who saw me interviewing Dr. Robert Lustig of “Sugar: the bitter truth” fame speculated on Twitter that Fat Head II might in the works.

Nope.  The interviews were for what I hope will be a DVD companion to go along with that book on how to feed kids … assuming my wife and I get around to writing it after we get settled on the mini-farm.  Realizing I had a rare opportunity to record several interviews without flying all over creation, I took advantage.  By the time I left the symposium, I’d interviewed Dr. Richard Feinman, Dr. Robert Lustig, Dr. Andreas Eeenfeldt, Dr. Mike Eades (who stayed late just for the interview, bless his southern-gentleman heart) and Nora Gedgaudas (who was very late for dinner as a result, bless her Oregonian heart.)

Oh yeah, almost forgot … I also gave the Science For Smart People speech on Saturday.  Pretty much the same speech you may have seen on YouTube, with a couple more slides and another paragraph or two of text.  I’d only managed to squeeze in six hours of sleep on Friday, which hardly made up for getting only three hours the night before, so I wasn’t feeling my sharpest.  I also never found time to rehearse, so I was nervous beforehand. But when I went to the podium, the old performing instincts kicked in and I felt fine, at least for the next 45 minutes. Here’s my favorite review, courtesy of Richard Nikoley:

The morning of the first day and my first entry into the main auditorium, I came face-to-face with Tom Naughton on his way out. I extended my hand and Tom says, “give me a bear hug.” I’ll tell you what, Tom has taken the ability to be funny and serious at the same time to a form of art. His presentation was probably the most cogent and complete treatment of the scientific method applied to health studies that has ever been put together. And he pulled it off while getting dozens of laughs from the audience throughout. Tom has also continued his own body transformation since his movie and from other pictures I’ve seen since. He looks great.

Thank you, Richard.   You and your bare feet looked good too.

If you haven’t yet seen the Science For Smart People speech, it’s about how to tell good science from bad science.  Later, another doctor who gave a presentation pooh-poohed a point I made about salt not causing hypertension — and then proved his point with bad science.  I’ll deal with that when the video of the speech is posted by the Ancestral Health people.

Richard Nikoley’s speech was excellent, too.  He talked about n=1 experiments, the importance of finding out what works for you.  That’s an excellent point to remember.  I don’t care if we’re talking about low-fat, high-fat, low-carb, high-carb, paleo, raw vegan, various forms of exercise, or going shoeless (as many at the symposium did), the important thing is to listen to your own body, track your own results, and decide accordingly.

Denise Minger’s speech on How to Argue With a Vegetarian was quite funny, informative, and very well-received by the standing-room only audience.  She went through various diets promoted by vegetarian doctors as the cure for heart disease and diabetes and pointed out that those diets do indeed improve people’s health – because they all cut sugar, white flour, most other refined carbohydrates, most white starches, and processed vegetable oils.  Toss some meat in there, and you’d have a paleo diet.  You’d also have a palatable diet.

Robb Wolf later made the point that the best way to deal with vegetarian zealots is to say “@#$% ‘em” and walk away.  Good advice, but of course they don’t always let us walk away.  Some of them show up on our blogs and write endless inane comments about smelly butts.  And those are the relatively smart ones.

Over the course of the two days, I couldn’t help but notice something other bloggers have pointed out:  this was one of the fittest-looking crowds I’ve ever seen.  Some of the angry vegetrollians have posted pictures from last year’s low-carb cruise (cherry-picking the heavy people, of course) as proof that low-carb diets don’t work.  What they fail to realize or simply don’t want to know is that the cruise attracted a mostly older crowd, including many people who spent most of their adult lives trying and failing to lose weight until they went on a low-carb diet.  Many of them have lost more than 100 pounds, but are still overweight and probably always will be.

The crowd at the symposium, by contrast, was dominated by relative youngsters who discovered paleo eating before decades of bad diets could take their toll.  These people weren’t just thin; a striking proportion of them were lean and muscular, with a healthy glow.

After the symposium, I drove to Burbank to stay for a couple of days so I could visit some friends I made during my 10 years living there.  I wondered if returning to Burbank would give me warm, fuzzy feelings.  After all, my daughters were born there.  Didn’t happen.  We liked Burbank, but in retrospect I think we liked it partly because it didn’t suck as much as most of the L.A. area.  It doesn’t hold a candle to our picturesque little town in Tennessee.

I also drove down to Hollywood one night to hang out with two of my struggling-actor friends – still struggling – and then down near Culver City the final night to stay with Chareva’s sister.  Both experiences re-introduced me to the joys of L.A. traffic.

I’m glad I broke my promise.  Partly because returning to L.A. confirmed the wisdom of my decision to move far away from the place, but mostly because the symposium was worth it … despite American Airline’s best efforts to convince me otherwise.

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65 thoughts on “Ancestral Health Symposium

  1. mrfreddy

    There might be something to this food reward stuff… I know that when a batch of all meat (almost) chili comes out really good, or when I’m sitting in front of a really good ribeye, I’ll often continue eating past that “I’m full” feeling…

    I also know that, apparently, people can eat a very high carb low fat diet and get pretty much the same results-weight wise and blood panel wise-as you would expect from low-carb.

    Does make me wonder, but not enough to give up my chili and my ribeyes.

    In the controlled diet studies I’ve seen, low-carb beats low-fat for lipid panels and other markers, but both diets bring about improvements. Either is an improvement over high-carb/high-fat together, which seems to be the worst possible combination.

    Reply
  2. reduceCrapohydrates

    Thanks Lori good to know i’m not alone on this.On a related note has anyone else gotten a really sharp pain in their chest while eating bread on its own(wholegrain and white) i literally felt like the slice was trying to choke me!I have never ever gotten this from any other food so its a VERY good reminder not to eat it.We should bring bread to the food court for crimes against humanity

    Reply
  3. Lori

    Re: high carb, low fat diets, I was on such a diet for six years. It also involved eating a good deal of protein, six intense workouts per weeks, and little meals throughout the day. Initially, I felt great and went down two dress sizes. However, I also developed GERD, tooth decay, gas and bloating, and after six years, I had gained back all the weight and had nutritional deficiencies. My HDL was in the 40s. Low carb, along with megadoses of vitamins and minerals, corrected all that and brought about other improvements as well, and it’s a lot less work than my old program. (Even so, I’ve never had any desire to troll the program founder’s web site.)

    @ReduceCrapohydrates, the bread might be getting stuck in your lower esophagus. In all fairness, I’ve had perfectly good meat and salad get stuck–turns out it was magnesium deficiency in my case. But if a specific food causes that problem for you, and it’s not good for you anyway, it’s a good reason to avoid it.

    My low-fat diet didn’t do me much good either. However, I realize now I have an aversion to grains, and I was basing my meals on grains back then. I don’t see any need for a low-fat diet, but if I ever tried one again, it would be grain-free.

    Reply
  4. mrfreddy

    There might be something to this food reward stuff… I know that when a batch of all meat (almost) chili comes out really good, or when I’m sitting in front of a really good ribeye, I’ll often continue eating past that “I’m full” feeling…

    I also know that, apparently, people can eat a very high carb low fat diet and get pretty much the same results-weight wise and blood panel wise-as you would expect from low-carb.

    Does make me wonder, but not enough to give up my chili and my ribeyes.

    In the controlled diet studies I’ve seen, low-carb beats low-fat for lipid panels and other markers, but both diets bring about improvements. Either is an improvement over high-carb/high-fat together, which seems to be the worst possible combination.

    Reply
  5. Lori

    Re: high carb, low fat diets, I was on such a diet for six years. It also involved eating a good deal of protein, six intense workouts per weeks, and little meals throughout the day. Initially, I felt great and went down two dress sizes. However, I also developed GERD, tooth decay, gas and bloating, and after six years, I had gained back all the weight and had nutritional deficiencies. My HDL was in the 40s. Low carb, along with megadoses of vitamins and minerals, corrected all that and brought about other improvements as well, and it’s a lot less work than my old program. (Even so, I’ve never had any desire to troll the program founder’s web site.)

    @ReduceCrapohydrates, the bread might be getting stuck in your lower esophagus. In all fairness, I’ve had perfectly good meat and salad get stuck–turns out it was magnesium deficiency in my case. But if a specific food causes that problem for you, and it’s not good for you anyway, it’s a good reason to avoid it.

    My low-fat diet didn’t do me much good either. However, I realize now I have an aversion to grains, and I was basing my meals on grains back then. I don’t see any need for a low-fat diet, but if I ever tried one again, it would be grain-free.

    Reply
  6. michael

    Welcome back Tom,

    It seems a lot of the bloggers who attended the AHS have decided that Gary Taubes is the new Ancel Keys ( See, for example, That Paleo Guy). I am not sure what exactly is going on with all this, so I would appreciate it if you might devote an article to this. It is very frustrating for someone like me, who is just trying to get healthy, to see an apparent flip flop by so many of these bloggers in their points of view. I don’t mean to say that someone needs to stick with an idea if it’s wrong, but it does seem to me that a lot of these people are abandoning ship more because of some kind of popularity contest than anything to do with solid information. Anyway, your thoughts on this whole matter would be greatly appreciated.

    Gary accused Stephan Guyenet of ignoring populations that don’t fit his hypothesis that obesity is the result of palability — i.e., we eat too much if the food tastes too good, especially food that’s been manipulated to tickle our reward centers. Stephan accused Gary of doing likewise, ignoring populations of people who lived on high-carb diets without becoming fat or diabetic. Stephan believes elevated insulin isn’t what causes obesity, Gary believes it is, and on it goes.

    These debates are useful and necessary, so I’m not turned off by them like some people are. I also find it fascinating that one of the most interesting debates about nutrition and health is being waged in the blogosphere, not in the halls of universities. This is “The Wisdom of Crowds” (great book) in action.

    Reply
  7. michael

    Welcome back Tom,

    It seems a lot of the bloggers who attended the AHS have decided that Gary Taubes is the new Ancel Keys ( See, for example, That Paleo Guy). I am not sure what exactly is going on with all this, so I would appreciate it if you might devote an article to this. It is very frustrating for someone like me, who is just trying to get healthy, to see an apparent flip flop by so many of these bloggers in their points of view. I don’t mean to say that someone needs to stick with an idea if it’s wrong, but it does seem to me that a lot of these people are abandoning ship more because of some kind of popularity contest than anything to do with solid information. Anyway, your thoughts on this whole matter would be greatly appreciated.

    Gary accused Stephan Guyenet of ignoring populations that don’t fit his hypothesis that obesity is the result of palability — i.e., we eat too much if the food tastes too good, especially food that’s been manipulated to tickle our reward centers. Stephan accused Gary of doing likewise, ignoring populations of people who lived on high-carb diets without becoming fat or diabetic. Stephan believes elevated insulin isn’t what causes obesity, Gary believes it is, and on it goes.

    These debates are useful and necessary, so I’m not turned off by them like some people are. I also find it fascinating that one of the most interesting debates about nutrition and health is being waged in the blogosphere, not in the halls of universities. This is “The Wisdom of Crowds” (great book) in action.

    Reply
  8. Peggy Cihocki

    The food reward hypothesis may or may not have some merit, but the way I see it, even if it turns out to be true, I think it will be because the low fat, high carb, sugar laden WOE messes with hormones and appetite controls. There are numerous cultures that eat a wide variety of traditional, very tasty cuisines, yet don’t have the obesity and diabetes problems we have–as long as they stick to their traditional diets. (I said as much in a comment on Stephan’s blog.) As soon as they introduce white flour, lots of sugar, and vegetable oils into their diet–as we did–the problems surface. Coincidence? I don’t think so. If good tasting food is the problem, why aren’t the French having problems? Thais? Greeks? etc. etc. I just don’t buy it. I agree with Gary Taubes that whatever hypothesis one buys into, it has to explain all the various populations worldwide, not just ours (and the Kitavans), and it has to fit with what we know about Biochemistry as well. As Dr. Su at Carbohydrates Can Kill said, the Kitavan “paradox” can be explained by the low GI of the carbohydrates they eat. And when they do want to put on weight, what do they load up on? Carbohydrates! Meanwhile, as others have said, LCHF works. Why isn’t all that important except for those of us interested in the science. It works–better than anything else. Enough said!

    I could see it having more to do with biochemical reactions to food than taste per se. I enjoy my bacon now just as much as I used to enjoy corn chips, but bacon doesn’t drive me to keep eating and eating like chips did. Either way, I don’t think we need to choose one hypothesis for a cause of obesity to the exclusion of all others. We can agree that smoking is a major cause of lung cancer, but some non-smokers develop lung cancer too — my non-smoking grandfather died of lung cancer.

    Reply
  9. Peggy Cihocki

    The food reward hypothesis may or may not have some merit, but the way I see it, even if it turns out to be true, I think it will be because the low fat, high carb, sugar laden WOE messes with hormones and appetite controls. There are numerous cultures that eat a wide variety of traditional, very tasty cuisines, yet don’t have the obesity and diabetes problems we have–as long as they stick to their traditional diets. (I said as much in a comment on Stephan’s blog.) As soon as they introduce white flour, lots of sugar, and vegetable oils into their diet–as we did–the problems surface. Coincidence? I don’t think so. If good tasting food is the problem, why aren’t the French having problems? Thais? Greeks? etc. etc. I just don’t buy it. I agree with Gary Taubes that whatever hypothesis one buys into, it has to explain all the various populations worldwide, not just ours (and the Kitavans), and it has to fit with what we know about Biochemistry as well. As Dr. Su at Carbohydrates Can Kill said, the Kitavan “paradox” can be explained by the low GI of the carbohydrates they eat. And when they do want to put on weight, what do they load up on? Carbohydrates! Meanwhile, as others have said, LCHF works. Why isn’t all that important except for those of us interested in the science. It works–better than anything else. Enough said!

    I could see it having more to do with biochemical reactions to food than taste per se. I enjoy my bacon now just as much as I used to enjoy corn chips, but bacon doesn’t drive me to keep eating and eating like chips did. Either way, I don’t think we need to choose one hypothesis for a cause of obesity to the exclusion of all others. We can agree that smoking is a major cause of lung cancer, but some non-smokers develop lung cancer too — my non-smoking grandfather died of lung cancer.

    Reply
  10. Lisa

    Hey Tom…it was nice meeting you at AHS11! Your presentation was great too.

    Sorry about your travel troubles…I also recommend a GPS. I took my TomTom GPS to LA with a freshly downloaded voice (Homer Simpson!). Nora G. and I laughed every time Homer said “WooHoo! You have reached your destination. And you can hold your head up high because you are a genius!”. Classic!!

    See in at AHS12!!

    I guess I’ll have to break down and get one. I used to pride myself on my ability to roll into a new town and find my away around just with a map (did a lot of that during my traveling standup days), but getting lost in L.A. at night scared the pride out of me.

    Reply
  11. Lisa

    Hey Tom…it was nice meeting you at AHS11! Your presentation was great too.

    Sorry about your travel troubles…I also recommend a GPS. I took my TomTom GPS to LA with a freshly downloaded voice (Homer Simpson!). Nora G. and I laughed every time Homer said “WooHoo! You have reached your destination. And you can hold your head up high because you are a genius!”. Classic!!

    See in at AHS12!!

    I guess I’ll have to break down and get one. I used to pride myself on my ability to roll into a new town and find my away around just with a map (did a lot of that during my traveling standup days), but getting lost in L.A. at night scared the pride out of me.

    Reply
  12. James

    Tom, my wife and I (the Austin couple) chatted with you for a few minutes right before you went on stage. Just wanted to tell you again how much we enjoyed meeting you (you sure didn’t seem nervous at all!) and watching your presentation. Keep up the good work.

    Thank you. The nerves settled about a minute into it.

    Reply
  13. James

    Tom, my wife and I (the Austin couple) chatted with you for a few minutes right before you went on stage. Just wanted to tell you again how much we enjoyed meeting you (you sure didn’t seem nervous at all!) and watching your presentation. Keep up the good work.

    Thank you. The nerves settled about a minute into it.

    Reply
  14. Charles-Andre Fortin

    @michellej : I just want to say that even on HFLC diet I need to count my calorie to loose weight. The difference between LFHC and HFLC is that I feel hungry at 4 pm instead of 2pm! That’s help a lot in a diet!

    I also don’t need to drink as much caffeine as I use to!

    Keep up the good work tom!

    To lose weight, you have to give your body a reason to tap your fat stores; i.e., a calorie deficit. No way around that. The reason a low-carb diet works so well for many of us is that restricting carbohydrates makes it easier for our bodies to release the fatty acids from our fat cells. But if you stuff yourself on a low-carb diet, you’re not going to lose weight.

    Reply
  15. Charles-Andre Fortin

    @michellej : I just want to say that even on HFLC diet I need to count my calorie to loose weight. The difference between LFHC and HFLC is that I feel hungry at 4 pm instead of 2pm! That’s help a lot in a diet!

    I also don’t need to drink as much caffeine as I use to!

    Keep up the good work tom!

    To lose weight, you have to give your body a reason to tap your fat stores; i.e., a calorie deficit. No way around that. The reason a low-carb diet works so well for many of us is that restricting carbohydrates makes it easier for our bodies to release the fatty acids from our fat cells. But if you stuff yourself on a low-carb diet, you’re not going to lose weight.

    Reply

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