Monday, August 8, 2011

Ancestral Health Symposium

Last weekend I attended the Ancestral Health Symposium at the University of California, Los Angeles, organized by Aaron Blaisdell, Brent Pottenger and Seth Roberts with help from many others.  It was a really great experience and I'm grateful to have been invited.  I was finally able to meet many of the people who I respect and admire, but knew only through the internet.  I'm not going to make a list because it would be too long, but if you take a look at the symposium schedule, I think you'll understand where I'm coming from.  I was also able to connect with a number of Whole Health Source readers, which was great.  I recognized some of them from the comments section.  Now I know it wasn't just my mom with 57 Google accounts.

The symposium was the first of its kind, and represented many facets of the ancestral health community, including "Paleolithic" diet and exercise patterns, low-carbohydrate diets, Weston Price-style diets, traditional health-nutrition researchers as well as other camps.  For the most part they coexisted peacefully and perhaps even learned a thing or two from one another. 

I was very impressed by the appearance of the attendees.  Young men and women were fit with glowing skin, and older attendees were energetic and aging gracefully.  It would be hard to come up with a better advertisement for ancestrally-oriented diets and lifestyles.  I saw a lot of people taking the stairs rather than the elevator.  I like to say I'll take the elevator/escalator when I'm dead.  I think integrating exercise into everyday life is healthy and efficient.  Escalators and elevators of course make sense for people with physical disabilities or heavy suitcases.

The first talk was by Dr. Boyd Eaton, considered by many to be the grandfather of the paleolithic diet concept.  I was very impressed by his composure, humility and compassionate attitude.  Half his talk was dedicated to environmental and social problems.  Dr. Staffan Lindeberg gave a talk titled "Food and Western Disease", which covered his paleolithic diet clinical trials as well as other evidence supporting ancestral diets.  I like Dr. Lindeberg's humble and skeptical style of reasoning.  I had the great pleasure of having dinner with Dr. Lindeberg and his wife, Dr. Eaton, Pedro Bastos, Dr. Lynda Frassetto, Dr. Guy-Andre Pelouze and his son Alexandre.  Pedro gave a very nice talk on the complexities of traditional and modern dairy.  The following night, I was able to connect with other writers I enjoy, including Chris Masterjohn, Melissa McEwen, John Durant, and Denise Minger

Dr. Pelouze is a french cardiovascular surgeon who strongly supports the food reward/palatability concept of obesity.  We had a conversation the evening before the conference, during which he basically made the same points I was going to make in my talk.  He is particularly familiar with the research of Dr. Michel Cabanac, who is central to the food reward idea.  He eats an interesting diet: mostly raw, omnivorous, and extremely simple.  If I understood correctly, he mostly eats raw meat, fish, fruit and vegetables with little or no preparation.  He sometimes cooks food if he wants to, but most of it is raw.  He believes simple, raw food allows the body's satiety systems to work more effectively.  He has been eating this way for more than twenty years, and his son was raised this way and is now about my age (if I recall correctly, Alexandre has a masters and is studying for an MD, and ultimately wants to become an MD/PhD).  Both of them look very good, are full of energy and have a remarkably positive mental state.  Alexandre told me that he never felt deprived growing up around other children who ate pastries, candy et cetera.  They woke up early and ran six miles before the conference began at 8 am. 

I gave my talk on Friday.  Giving a talk is not like writing a blog post-- it has to be much more cohesive and visually compelling.  I put a lot of work into it and it went really well.  Besides the heat I got from from Gary Taubes in the question and answer session, the response was very positive.  The talk, including the questions, will be freely available on the internet soon, as well as other talks from the symposium.  Some of it will be familiar to people who have read my body fat setpoint and food reward series, but it's a concise summary of the ideas and parts of it are new, so it will definitely be worthwhile to watch it.  

We have entered a new era of media communication.  Every time someone sneezed, it was live tweeted.  There are some good aspects to it-- it democratizes information by making it more accessible.  On the other hand, it's sometimes low quality information that contains inaccurate accounts and quotes that are subsequently recirculated. 

It was a great conference and I hope it was the first of many.


Andreas Eenfeldt said...

Hi Stephan!

Nice meeting you at the symposium. Loved your talk, very interesting, organized and visual.

While I may not be a fan of the "bland liquid from a straw" idea, you deserve a lot more respect than that comment during the Q&A. I'm sure you have already heard that like 100 times now. :)

CarbSane said...

"Now I know it wasn't just my mom with 57 Google accounts."

Loved this! :-)

Anya said...


how do you reconcile the ideas from Dr. Pelouze with :

1) the fact that your favourite food (tubers) cannot be digested without breaking the hydrogen bonds between the cellulose polymers to get access to the nutrition/starch (by heat (cooking) or mechanics (juicing))

2) the compelling arguments from "Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human" that we are who we are today because of our ability to cook.

M. said...

“Gary Taubes, the Ancel Keys of Carbohydrates, so not hot right now” – Aravind from PaleoHacks

I have thought Gary Taubes is more like the “T. Colin Campbell of Carbohydrates,” but the comparison to Ancel Keys is appropriately biting considering Taubes’ own experience writing a part of his book about the dogged but unjust demonization of an entire class of macronutrients.

Mirrorball said...

Stephan, have you cleaned up your room yet?

Beth@WeightMaven said...

Mirrorball's comment made me laugh out loud ;).

Me, I'm old enough to be Stephan's mom and I was certainly glad to briefly interrupt his presentation prep to come out as a proud WHS reader. Wish'd we could have chatted longer!

Congrats on the great presentation. Can't wait to see if you dress a little less formally next year ;).

Monica said...

"I recognized some of them from the comments section. Now I know it wasn't just my mom with 57 Google accounts."

Good one!

I'd like to thank you again for your posts on food reward. I find that when I go off the bland diet just a little bit my weight loss stops and I actually gain back a little. Salt and spices seem to be real triggers for me. I basically have not been consistent with the bland food for several weeks and have not lost additional weight -- but have not gained any back, either. I'd say my diet is half bland, half flavored right now. Need to get back on the program.

Do you have any thoughts on coffee and its affect on this food reward system?

PMC said...

It was a pleasure to meet you Stephan.

You gave a great lecture and virtually everyone I talked to enjoyed it very much. Your theory on Food Reward makes a lot of sense and I hope you continue to share your findings with us on your blog.

This was a fantastic meeting and I hope it continues to take place every year for a long time. Aaron and Brent are to be congratulated on a superb job.

Unfortunately, I didn’t mingle and spent as much time as I would like to talking to all the great people that I met, because I was very jet lagged and stressed about my own lecture.

I hope next time things are different.

All the best


STG said...

Carbo confused?

"M" appears critical of Taubes concerns about carbohydrates. Individuals react to carbs differently. People who are insulin resistant, prediabetic, diabetic often do not handle carbs well (see Jenny's blog Bloodsugar 101). The glucose meter does not lie and will let one know if they handle carbs. Attacking the messenger (Taubes) or anyone else about optimal nutrients is silly. If you can handle eating lots of carbs go for it and if you can't don't. Why are nutrients and food so polarizing and debated with such hostility? Here is something to think about in the context of food, "Hundreds of thousands of kids could die in East Africa famine."

Aravind said...

The incredible substance of your presentation was only outdone by the class you demonstrated at the end of your session. Additionally your thoughtfulness and generosity with your time to answer questions outside of your presentation was quite amazing. A heartfelt thank you!!!

Warm regards,

M. said...

STG, I think just about everybody is critical of Taubes’ response to Stephan’s presentation and to his Pima Indian argument.

I am not so much critical of Taubes “concern” about carbohydrates as his intransigent view that an entire class of macronutrients is the one and only causes of the diseases of civilization. Whether diabetics need to watch their carbs or not is really neither here nor there. Taubes argument is that “carbs” are the sole cause of diabetes, obesity, etc…

And I am also critical of Taube’s T. Colin Campbell guru-like stature, especially in the Ancestral/Paleo 2.0 world, because the persistent demonization of an entire class of macronutrients kind of dumbs things down and shifts the discussion away from good science.

Aaron Blaisdell said...

Cheers, my friend. You were one of the stars! Thanks for participating so fully, and we'll see you again at AHS12, AHS13, & etc.

In defense of Stephen's dress-code; in academic circles it's well understood that grad students and postdocs ought to be the best dressed people in the room, then the pre-tenured assistant professors can loosen the tie and wear comfortable slacks and loafers, and the tenured faculty can ditch the tie and coat altogether and wear jeans and a t-shirt! Hell, now that I have tenure, I wear jeans and my VFFs to psychology conferences and NIH grant review panel meetings!

And one of the best quotes from the event was when Stephan approached me at the Thursday party at my house and whispered "It's like being inside the internet."

CU in Seattle.

MangoManDan said...

Many thanks, Stephan. We are all looking forward to seeing the proceedings online. A virtual whole foods wet dream, of sorts.
And, on behalf of your mother, you haven't said much about Denise M. Is she nice? We know she comes from a good family. Is she Single?

David Csonka said...

I admit it. I'm actually Stephan's mom.

That being said, Stephan don't forget to wash behind your ears, and call me on the phone once in a while!

Basil Gravanis said...

Absolutely a pleasure meeting you in person, Stephan... and thanks so much for engaging with me on my personal ruminations, etc, much appreciated!



Dave Tate said...

Stephan, I can't wait to see the presentation online! I'm new to the Paleo community and hope to make it out to AHS 12. In the meantime it was pretty awesome to see the pics of all of the big time bloggers that Richard Nikoley posted at Free the Animal.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I missed you in person. Looking forward to the video of your talk. I've been following your food reward series with interest and I think it has a great deal of merit.

Ross said...

I look forward to seeing the video of your talk!

Galina L. said...

Thank you for your wonderful blog! It should be great to meet so many people interested in healthy nutrition even though not everybody agrees on what the healthy nutrition is. It was wondefull that experts could rub their sholders and have some personal exchanges, because for us, consumers of your appinions, things are not black and white. Not everyone wants to loose weight, not everybody has some obvious illness than may be improved by changing one's diet. What is the main parameter to watch? The blood sugar level? Probably for us who live in USA it would be the absence of the deceases of Western civilization. How do you define somebody who is on the way of having high blood pressure in 10 years?
I am not a scientist, just a person who is eating low-carb at ketogenic level because I feel my best doing so. From reading other people posts and especially CarbSane blog, I can see that many people have different experience. I wish I would know if such people have different reading on glucosemeter than me. Recently I went to visit my mom who lives in a different country, armed with that device. She is generally healthy 74 y.o. overweight with mild blood pressure issues. Practicing the idea that BS should not be hygher than 140 after a meal, not on a theoretical disapproval of sugar and starches in a diet, she had to eliminate starches, especially bread, and dried fruits from her food. Amazingly, occasional candy after a meal didn't make enough difference in her BS level. Her weight and BP dropped in 3 weeks. Another family member- my lean and muscular 18 y.o. son never had an abnormal BS reading, but has some allergies. He was interested to try my diet because it caught his attention that I stopped having asthma and eczema symptoms. I advised him to try to eliminate gluten,sugar, omega-6 oils first(sort-of Dr. Kurt Harris paleo diet) and watch .He doesn't drink milk,but eat a lot of sour-cream and cheese. He is already eating home-made rather bland food for all his life, being a super-tester. By the way, all his friends,exposed more to fast food,have some degree of spare tire on their waists, not him. Even as a low-carber, I don't think that it is reasonable for such youngster to follow Villjamur Stefansson example at the very beginning. To tell you the truth, I don't know exactly why I think so.

Andreas Eenfeldt said...

Regarding the Taubes-Guyenet showdown, I found a picture of it and wrote a comment. I think there is something we can learn from it.

Richard said...


I agree: not everyone is obese, not everyone has some dismal medical condition, and many people have managed, somehow, to maintain a reasonable shape in spite of all the modern foods. I was a muscular 165pounds and 5'8" and I like tasty food. And I'm 66 now. I have been at this weight for ten years.

I did not have to lose weight, in any conventional sense, but I knew it was 5 pounds too high.

The idea is not to lose 50 pounds and recover from diabetes...The idea is to continue to feel good and athletic and NEVER get to that horrible condition. I highly recommend the Kurt Harris Paleo 2.0 approach to a healthy diet. All you have to do is avoid eating certain foods to differing degrees. Stop eating wheat and sugar, and reduce or minimize consumption of nutrient-poor starches, such as rice. Avoid vegetable oils like the plague they are.

Result: I lost ten pounds, not five, and I feel much better. And I get to eat delicious food. Curried chicken made with butter and coconut oil? Delicious. I eat all the fatty meat I want: barbecued, boiled, roasted, etc. My point is that people are omnivores and that if they are on the proper meat and fat based diet most of the time they can eat other foods some of the time without serious effect. That's what it means to be an omnivore. But you can't eat a bad diet all the time and expect good results.

It may be that the obese people have a slightly different problem, but I fail to see how the cure has to be any different.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Andreas,

Nice meeting you at the symposium as well. I enjoyed your talk as well. Thanks for posting your account of the Q and A session.

I agree of course that drinking liquid formula through a straw isn't a good strategy for long-term health.

Hi Anya,

I'm not promoting his way of eating, I just find it interesting. I don't know what Dr. Pelouze's opinions are on cooked starch.

Hi Mirorball,


Hi Beth,

Thanks. I'm often the most dressed up person in the room. It's about projecting professionalism and respect for the audience. Dressing up too much can be disrespectful as well, but I wasn't the only presenter wearing a blazer and tie.

Hi Monica,

Glad you found the ideas helpful. I don't know how coffee might play into it all.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Pedro,

Great to finally meet you at the AHS. Your talk was excellent.

Hi Aravind,

Thanks, it was my pleasure.

Hi Aaron,

You are amazing for organizing that conference. Definitely let me know when you come to Seattle.

Hi MangoMan,

Haha, I don't know if she's single, but I'm not!

Hi Kurt,


Hi Ross,

Thanks, I don't know when it will be online but hopefully soon. Hope all is well.

PeterH said...

I liked your brief summary of the meeting. I'll look forward to seeing some of the talks. So, I was wondering, what did they serve during coffee break time?
- Peter

Greenacres said...

Did Alexandre indicate whether he has ever tried foods that are high reward or highly processed? Say, warm French bread with real butter, or Godiva chocolate raspberry truffle ice cream?
I wonder whether he would find them overwhelming, or "just okay" or like the first hit of a highly addictive drug.

Aravind said...

@M - who are you since you are referencing my PaleoHacks posts? Just curious.

@Stephan - if you read the PH link that was included, I was singing your praises :-)

M. said...

Hi Aravind – I’m nobody. I just saw your quote on another blog and thought it was insightful. I just threw it out with the link to the PaleoHacks topic because I thought the discussion there might be of interest to people wanting to hear more about the Guyenet-Taubes incident.

bentleyj74 said...

The Q and A session with GT is on you tube already.

Galina L. said...

While Steven's idea about the fattening quality of super-stimulating food is a valuable contribution to the explanation of what is wrong with modern obesity epidemic, lets not forget, that over-flavoring of food is mostly American or fast-food problem, and obesity is not. While living in Russia I saw enough of obese and overweight middle-aged or old ladies who got fat by sustaining themselves mostly on gruel , potatoes with sauerkraut and countless sweet teas with bread smeared with some fruit preserve.Not super stimulating.Of course, they didn't reach the proportions you can see on the south-east of USA. Now I live in Florida, close to Georgia border, so I can tell.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi PeterH,

They didn't serve food to my knowledge.

Hi Greenacres,

I don't recall him mentioning it.

Hi bentleyj74,

I couldn't find it. Do you have link?

Hi Galina,

I would have to take a detailed look at their diet to determine what the reward/palatability value of it is. That being said, I don't think reward/palatability is the only factor. And carbohydrate certainly isn't a compelling explanation either.

nutritionbytradition said...

Congratulations on your success at the Symposium. I wish I could have been there to support!


bentleyj74 said...

Love the little reaction at the end.

Galina L. said...

If carbo content of their food is not the factor, than probably the meal frequency is.But, I must tell, the carbo-content looks very suspicious for me. I used to live with my mother-in-law and her mother during my first marriage .I cooked my own food for me and my then husband.They thought I payed too much attention on cooking. Believe me, I could observe their diet quite well - very plain, but each break in any kind of activity was spent drinking sweet tea with bread smeared with something. It was a way to keep company to each other, a social occasion, tee was drunk before going to bed, after waking up. You can't eat a lot of other kinds of food on a such schedule and you don't have to cook that much, and they disliked cooking.It is another way to skip cooking if you don't use a fast-food for some reason, it is also cheep .As far as I know, it is still a very wide-spread way of eating in Russia especially among retirees. Of course, they were really overweight. Just in case,if anybody guessing, I loved them and still keep a worm relation with my former mother-in-law.

bentleyj74 said...


It is primarily that sort of scenario that inclines me to think food reward is the culprit.

I am very confident that I could work my way through a loaf of bread and jam [and butter] especially in combination with sweet tea or coffee in a morning.

It's also interesting that you describe their eating behaviors in such a way that I'm reminded of the smoking behaviors I have observed.

Smoking/eating seems like a hyphen for activity which suggests [to me anyway] that it is being used as a stimulant.

Stephen Boulet said...

I have some meandering thoughts on food reward and French cuisine. French cooking is widely regarded as very good, and the French are among the slimmest in Europe. Is there a difference between food reward as a psychological concept and culinary appreciation of food? Thanks and keep up the good work.

Paleo Phil said...

My own experience matches that reported by Dr. Pelouze. For me, ancestral is very good and mostly-raw ancestral is even better. I didn't expect the degree of difference I have noticed.

It's encouraging to see a leading ancestral diet expert like yourself take mostly-raw ancestral diets this seriously this early on. I suppose it's not surprising given your interest in Weston Price and traditional peoples.

Thanks for sharing Dr. Pelouze's approach, I had not heard of him yet. There is quite an impressive contingent of people writing and speaking favorably about raw animal foods, with you, Dr. Pelouze, Denise Minger, Ray Audette, Sally Fallon, Lex Rooker, and others having something good to say about them.

P.S. If blogs were foods, yours would be high-reward and addictive.

Galina L. said...

@ to bentley74

Maybe you are right, it is like smoking in a way, when people are regularly engaged into some eating activity for other reasons than being hungry.

Ned said...

For me a raw foods diet would be akin to a bland diet, but with lots more chewing. Fruits might be an exception to the bland part, though.

Unknown said...

Far and away the best article i have read. I think that the recently published rrsearch regarding the strong connection between gut bacteria and obesity (see Science, September 2013 for a number of articles) as well as a large number of other factors should strengthen the notion that we need to take a more rational, evidence based approach towards understanding obesity.

I would be interested to see if different gut bacterial populations are diferentially influencing the leptin pathway (we now know that they influence insulin sensitivity, so why not leptin?).

My diabetic 82 year old father has dropped 20 lbs in the last month after switching his entire diet to freshly cooked food, with the same amount of carbs. His blood sugar is now under control with 0 to 1 units of insulin during the day, usyally 0. Clearly, carbs are not what was keeping him overweight and out of control.

Excellent article, I will be sharing this!