The Ancestral Health Symposium, sponsored by the Ancestral Health Society, is a scientific conference focused on developing solutions to modern health challenges by approaching health from an evolutionary perspective. To me, that means a conference based on an unconventional view of nutrition.
I found out about it for the first time last summer from Nom Nom Paleo and Fitbomb, two blogs that I began following after my diagnosis. When I heard about it, I decided that I would do everything I could to attend the following year. So, as calls for proposals went out while I was in Chile, I submitted a proposal for a panel on Health in Latino Communities with my colleague Armida Ayala. Our panel is tomorrow; I'll share more about it later.
A lot has happened since last year, though. Heck, a lot has happened even in the past six months, which I've been promising to share. The two most important things that happened that changed some of my views on nutrition in the past year are: 1) I met Adele Hite, and 2) I participated in an Intuitive Eating course.
1) I first learned about Adele Hite in a video posted on YouTube, in which she discussed the problems with the one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition. Later on I found out that she is very passionate about this topic, even testifying at the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Press Conference. Her message hit so close to home, that I had to get to know her.
Adele is a Masters of Public Health and Registered Dietitian candidate at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Public Health. Before graduate school, she worked in the Duke Lifestyle Medicine Clinic, run by Eric Westman, which promotes reducing excess carbohydrates for weight loss and improved health. For more about Adele's journey and activism, check out this interview.
To make a long story short, I contacted her and we made a phone date. She shared some of her thoughts on nutrition, including her observation that many food seeking behaviors and even eating disorders are tied to a lack of animal protein in the diet. She also shared a document that she developed called 'DIY nutrition', which I refer to frequently now (and is available to share, if you are interested). In it, she lists essential foods we need to build a healthy body. Contrary to the current dietary guidelines, at the top of this list are proteins and fats. Following this are beneficial foods and optional foods. Finally, she lists clues that your current dietary choices are not working for you. The beauty of it is that it can be tailored to each person's biology and lifestyle and doesn't give hard and fast guidelines, which can cause a lot of feelings of guilt around certain foods. Which brings me to my next point.
2) I participated in an Intuitive Eating course at Harvard this Spring. Intuitive Eating is an approach (detailed in a similarly titled book) that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body based on 10 principles. One of my friends signed up initially to tackle some emotional eating problems she has, but asked me to join because she didn't want to go alone. Initially, I signed up to help her out but soon realized that I needed it myself!
After my diagnosis last year, I admit that I developed an unhealthy relationship with food. I became very restrictive with carbohydrates, which triggered some binge eating episodes. This isn't my first experience with binge eating, though. I went through another period in graduate school, when I was being very restrictive with food in order to lose weight. Those last three sentences are very difficult to write, but I wanted to let others know that I'm not perfect and I hope they help others who have experienced the same thing.
Intuitive Eating taught me to reject the diet mentality (low-fat AND low-carb) and to make peace with food. In essence, no foods are 'good' or 'bad' because this kind of mentality can trigger eating disorders. Instead, you're supposed to listen to your body cues such as hunger and fullness and how foods make you feel.
The last part of the Intuitive Eating course was on nutrition. They saved it for last because they don't want people to become fixated on food rules again. However, I think some of the things they mention in the book, especially that red meats and saturated fats are harmful, are incorrect.
That's where I refer to Adele Hite's DIY nutrition document. Combining these two approaches, I feel that I have developed a healthy relationship with food AND am honoring my health. I found that I can still eat ice cream or bread, for example, without experiencing anxiety and I can maintain a healthy weight.
I am a little anxious, though, to attend AHS, now that my views don't completely line up with Paleo or Primal or low-carb anymore. I'm afraid someone will catch me drinking a beer or eating a (open-faced) sandwich!
But that's not what the conference has become for me. Instead, it's an opportunity to meet some of my heroes. People who changed my view of nutrition guidelines and helped me overcome an eating disorder. Top of my list is Adele Hite, who I'll get to meet in person. I'll also get to meet Gary Taubes, who threw my views of saturated fat on their head. I'll also get to hang out with Dr. Georgia Ede, the Harvard psychiatrist that diagnosed me in the first place.
Because these are the people that are going to change the government's and the public's perception of nutrition and health (physical and mental) in order to tackle our modern health challenges.