An Idiot Abroad Part II: Whole9 Workshop

Whilst the opportunity to attend and present at the AHS was initially the primary reason for heading to the U.S., there soon became many other motivating factors which, by the time August rolled around, almost made the AHS feel like a side-show.  There were some new people I wanted to meet and spend time with in-person, some old friends to catch up with, oh, and a Whole9 seminar to attend…

Originally, my plans to depart the U.S. and head home post-AHS meant I’d be leaving on the day of the Back Bay Crossfit Whole 9 seminar.  However, with Dallas and Melissa being kind enough to offer a seat (or two), it seemed crazy not to take up the opportunity for the sake of staying an extra day.  Then they upped the ante… “would we like to present alongside them at the workshop?”. Um… yes…okay. Eek!

Dallas and Melissa were prepared to make some room in their (normally) full day seminar in order to accommodate Anastasia and myself presenting on a topic/topics of our choosing.  As great as this offer and opportunity was, it was not without causing a degree of anxiety.  Yes, I present workshops for a living.  And yes, I presented at AHS.  But this was different.  This involved co-presenting with Anastasia for the first time, presenting in front of Dallas and Melissa – two people for whom I have such a high degree of respect for – and for whose skills in this area make me feel like an amateur.  And if presenting in front of them wasn’t enough, it was their gig – what they do to make a living…

“Don’t fuck it up, TPG”.

Adding to the pressure was the fact that the audience contained the likes of Dr Emily Deans and some annoyingly loud tart from Canberra who would just love to have seen me make a numpty of myself up there.

A few weeks prior, over a couple of cups of coffee and an entire block of dark chocolate, Anastasia and I worked out the broad plan of what we would present at this seminar.  We knew Dallas and Melissa would obviously cover the nutritional aspects of improving health, and given this was to a Crossfit audience, we figured there’d be limited scope and need to address the exercise side of things (especially with myself having some clear differences of opinion with the philosophy and application).  So we decided to tackle the four S’s – sleep, sun exposure, socialisation, and slow movement.  More on those shortly.

The humans smiled nervously for they knew those Hobbitses could be tricksie.

The Whole 9 guys are a polished act.  They can make claims to being rusty and not quite in their groove for that seminar as much as they like, but they are all class.  They present with authority, charisma, and in a very relaxed manner.  Having chosen to give up 90-minutes of their day to us, they were perhaps forced to keep things clipping along a bit quicker than they otherwise would have liked, but you were never given the impression of being hurried, topics skimmed, or being preached to.  I have read their blog and their book, and I’m obviously a big fan of their work.  Yet I still managed to pick up some new information and had the rest reinforced in a way that I think only seeing real-life people (those with a passion for improving people’s lives) presenting can deliver (it’s a body language, human interaction thing).

For me, however, one of the most enlightening parts of attending this seminar was in being able to hear the common questions that were being asked.  I perhaps wrongly assume that, being at a Crossfit gym, most of the attendees are all largely onboard with, and have a good understanding of, the basic premises of the Whole 9/paleo/ancestral approach.  But some of the questions and comments being asked highlighted that there is still a degree of uncertainty about how to bolt this whole ‘eat real food’ business together.  The questions themselves were, at times, more educational than their answers (allowing for me having a relatively good working knowledge of this area).  For someone in my position, it is good to hear just what it is that people are uncertain of.

One of the more common questions, and one which seemed to crop up at AHS and in many discussions/blogs after, was around how you might convince someone – a friend, family member, loved one, etc. – to go down the same path when they are otherwise resistant to the information and/or reluctant to make any changes?  There seems to be this “we must save the world with this stuff” notion with regard to spreading this information… that because an individual has experienced such positive benefits from picking this lifestyle up and running with it, then everyone they know must now also be convinced, one way or another, to also go down that path.  There is a degree of obvious frustration on the part of these ‘crusaders’ as they are perhaps not able to make the headway with changing the lives of others that they had hoped.

I am firmly in the camp of only helping those who want to be helped.  I am not about to go out clubbing people over the head with copies of “It Starts With Food”, suggesting that they MUST READ THIS.  The thing is, most of us have been in a place where we too were not really interested in making changes to our life.  At some point we did, but I doubt that it was due to the incessant nagging of another person to do so.  Each of us operate under the guidance of a set of values, whether it is something we realise or not.  I won’t labour the discussion on this as I hopefully have a guest-post coming on this very topic.  But these values are shaped and shifted by many things – but mostly by heightened emotional events – births, deaths, disasters, health scares.  It is an unfortunate fact that many of us really don’t give a crap about our health until we are staring down the barrel of something fairly serious.  Or when a lack of health is perceived to be impeding the fulfilment of other values.

The middle-aged wife who feels that her lack of a fit body makes her unattractive to her husband and she doesn’t get the love and affection she craves…  The overweight real estate agent who has been told he is a sitting duck for a heart attack…  The guy who can no longer keep up with his teenage sons… When the pain of staying the same exceeds the pain of making a change, then people move.  But people don’t move, as a general rule, because “you have found this great new diet, and you have lost weight and have so much energy and clear skin and everyone else simply must be doing this too”.

A good piece from Psychology Today recently touched on the issue…

The Error of Using Logic to Address an Emotional Issue

Why aren’t people making healthier food choices? In my experience working with people with weight problems, emotions almost always trump reason. Even those who have food allergies or severe gastrointestinal problems will continue to indulge on foods that make them sick.

The bigger issue is not how many calories are in food but how people are using food. Too often, food is our one and only coping mechanism. Even though there are healthier ways to cope, we only see one option – eating – as a quick fix for every uncomfortable emotion.

We use all kinds of tactics to convince people to change their lifestyle. We reason with them, educate them and even scare them into making healthier choices, yet none of these approaches has been effective.

In my mind, the best thing we can do is to make the knowledge base as accessible as possible, be the leaders, test the boundaries, refine the applications, make the entry points easier, defy the naysayers who claim it can’t be sustained, and rather than get all carried away and start preaching the gospel, we be the example and wait for those who want to change to come to us.  Think of the critical mass we will achieve if each of us entice another two people, simply by living this life.  We will soon get a good head of steam on.  But we need to also accept that not everyone can or should be unplugged.  Some will want to take the blue pill.  And some who are unplugged, will want to be plugged back in.

Dallas and Melissa construct their discussions about healthy eating around their four healthy food standards from the book.

The food we eat should:

  • Promote a healthy psychological response
  • Promote a healthy hormonal response
  • Support a healthy gut
  • Support immune function and minimize inflammation

In the days and weeks following the presentation, reviewing what Anastasia and myself presented (and how), I began thinking that these standards should not just be applied to the food we eat, but to the other lifestyle factors which Anastasia and I briefly touched upon.  Let’s take sleep, for example;

The sleep behaviours we engage in should:

  • Promote a healthy psychological response; are we getting enough to feel emotionally well, or are we skimping and find we are wrestling demons in our head?
  • Promote a healthy hormonal response; are you doing enough to get a good melatonin release so that you sleep well? And are you going through deep enough sleep on your first two cycles to get a good growth hormone response?
  • Is your sleep sufficient to support a healthy gut?
  • Does your sleep support immune function and minimise inflammation?

We can run the same for sun exposure – are you getting enough to promote a healthy hormonal response in terms of vitamin D production?; social relationships – are your relationships promoting a healthy psychological response?  If not, what are you going to do about it?; Your exercise and activity patterns? Are they promoting construction or destruction of your body with regard to hormones?; And are poor resiliency countermeasures to the stressors in your life leading to poor immune function and inflammation?

You can see quite readily that the standards applied to food by the Hartwig’s, have a much wider application (given their smarts, I am sure they are fully aware of this and already several steps ahead of my thinking on it).

The answers to these standards, when applied to other lifestyle factors, might just lead to some uncomfortable answers for people.  What if your exercise routines help you feel good, psychologically, but promote a cortisol-driven dysfunctional gut and immune system?  What if your relationships are such a source of stress that your head, hormones, gut, and immune system are all off kilter?  What do you do?  Ending an unhealthy relationship might make giving up bread seem like a walk in the park.

I would encourage people, especially those already familiar with the healthy food standards from “It Starts With Food” (if you aren’t familiar with them, buy the bloody book already!), to start reviewing other areas in their life and asking the same questions regarding sleep, sun, and socialisation.  Be honest.  You might not like the answers.  But then again, we didn’t like some of the answers regarding food when we first dived down this rabbit hole…

4 thoughts on “An Idiot Abroad Part II: Whole9 Workshop

  1. Kristin Lytle

    Thank you for this post. It’s a good reminder that not everyone is ready to hear the message just yet. I personally struggle with that as I have autoimmune issues as does my sister (RA) and my father (MS). While they eat the “typical western healthy diet” they both still consume grains and dairy quite a bit.
    I realized the other day that I might be trying too hard to convince others when a peer of mine whose job it is to design team building events said she would design a new program called “Cooking with Kristin.” The program would consist of me telling everyone just how bad most “foods” really were for them. (Cooking for Hunger and The Team Cuisine Challenge are already courses in her catalog) A not so subtle cue to shut my trap :)

  2. Ron

    I wonder what constitutes adequate socialization. I have great relationships with my wife and kids, but almost no social interaction outside of that. Are family relationships enough?

    1. thatpaleoguy Post author

      Hi Ron

      I am all about quality over quantity. If your family relationships are fulfilling and provide you with all the love and affection that is vitaly important to your health, then I see nothing wrong with having all your eggs in that basket. I know people who seemingly need a certain number of friendships, even if those friendships are quite negative at times. I know which one I’d rather have.


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