If you weren’t among the bunch of lucky folks who converged on Queenstown, New Zealand for The Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand‘s first International Symposium this past weekend, I’m going to fill you in on my top 5 moments!
As I sit here typing this, we’ve just arrived back in Christchurch to our friends Jamie and Anastasia’s comfortable abode from a whirlwind trip around a huge chunk of the South Island. I’m without adequate vocabulary to accurately describe the awe that Mother Nature has struck in my heart, so I’ll let the photos do the talking. More on that in an upcoming post!
Last year at AHS ’14 in Berkeley, Jamie and Anastasia mentioned their upcoming International Symposium, and I was instantly sold on the idea of presenting. Boy, a year has never gone by so slowly or so quickly at the same time! Z and I patiently bided our time and developed our talks to align with the theme of this year’s AHS New Zealand conference, “Looking Back, Moving Forward.” (His, Strength Training for Normal Humans; mine, Beyond Toning.)
The entire Symposium was packed with phenomenal speakers from all fields related to ancestral health including researchers and professionals in nutrition, movement, psychology, public policy and government, ecology and more. It’s impossible to pick a single favorite moment or speaker because I learned something from every single person, and my perspective on health has only expanded. The short synopsis: best conference I’ve ever been to.
Please note that sessions were recorded on video and are now available to the public for free.
Without further ado, here are my Top 5 moments from this year’s symposium:
#1 The case for individual values
Brad Norris of Tracksuit Inc kicked off AHSNZ’s International Symposium with a crystallized take on personal values and how they determine health behaviors. So many times, folks tell me they want to change their diet or start incorporating fitness or other lifestyle modifications only to find that whatever program or challenge they’ve signed up for “just wasn’t working” for them.
The reason, though they may not know it, is that the way those challenges are structured may not align with their values, leading to frustration and abandonment.
Hearing Brad distill it all down really made me think about how to best incorporate personal values assessments and tools into my Healthy Happy Harder to Kill Program and upcoming projects.
#2 Hormones, hormones, hormones
Lara Briden, ND came out of the gate after lunch on the Symposium’s second day with a succinct but powerful presentation on the current roadblocks to hormonal vitality.
So, so many of my readers are dealing with hormonal imbalances, including PCOS and infertility, and Dr. Briden’s talk addressed the most common causes, such as endocrine disruptors, gut permeability issues, and stress.
#3 A focus on food quality
Several of this year’s presenters discussed food quality as a critical factor that’s often overlooked in today’s macro-obsessed nutrition world. Does quantity of food intake matter? To some extent, yes, but speakers such as Professor David Raubenheimer (comparative nutritional ecologist / nutritional geometry) and Dr. Ian Spreadbury (neuroscientist / acellular carbohydrates) brought the idea of food quality to the forefront yet again.
This is of particular importance as the paleo world continues to undergo its own evolution. The staggering number of “paleo” processed foods available now on the market makes me very concerned about the messages the community is sending out to the world at large.
On one hand, we—as a community—tell people to “just eat real food,” and on the other, companies push their processed foods into our niche. This leaves consumers confused because “paleo costs so much.” But when the dollars are going to gluten-free flours, special snack products, and paleo protein bars because people feel that’s what they need to do to follow the trend, something has gone awry.
I’ve beat the drum about this before (read my article, Why Paleo Donuts Suck), and you’ll notice a distinct lack of baking and low nutrient value foods on my site because ultimately, they’re not health promoting. The justification used is usually, “These foods help people transition to a real food approach.” But, I seriously question these gluten-free edibles when people are struggling to avoid hyperpalatable, less nutritious foods. Is the overabundance of low nutrient value, gluten-free or paleo foods really helping people change habits and make better choices?
Consider this my call for the community to do better regarding food quality and also, sustainability.
#4 The wonderfully creepy world of the microbiome
Dr. Emily Deans, evolutionary psychologist, brought us deep into the incredible and sometimes creepy world of the microbiome, including its links—both indirect and direct—to the brain.
Dr. Deans dug into the relationships between commensal / pseudocommensal organisms and mental health, and presented some really fascinating data about how repairing the gut can have important outcomes on the mind.
#5 The connection of personal health to environment
Probably one of my favorite talks was from Dr. Ihi Heke, a Maori health and physical activity consultant who moved the entire symposium to tears as he spoke. Dr. Heke presented the idea that the depth of knowledge in traditional Maori hierarchies about the natural world is sadly missing from most of New Zealand’s educational health and physical education structures, and consequently, the negative implications of those omissions.
Even though Dr. Heke’s talk was specifically based on Maori principles, the concept that modern humans are becoming more and more divorced from our natural environments rings true across cultures and national boundaries. Combined with the incredible places we have visited on this trip, Dr. Heke’s call-to-action has renewed in me a motivation to re-examine my own personal impact on the environment.
Honorable Mention: Strength training for normal humans
I had to sneak in one more highlight and that was the presentation given by my husband who also happens to be a strength training coach. Z talked about Strength Training for Normal Humans complete with a general prescription for how to affect the most positive physical change for sedentary populations.
Stay tuned for links to these presentations and more so you can watch and learn, and for direct notification when the videos are available, sign up for the AHS New Zealand mailing list here or follow them on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram.
I’ll be back with part two—the travel goodies—soon!