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I’m sitting on the plane heading home from my 3rd Weston A. Price conference, writing at 4:00 AM EST because I somehow drew the short straw and wound up sitting in front of the emergency exit row and have a seat that can’t recline. So no sleeping for me on this appropriately named “red-eye” flight, even though I’m thoroughly exhausted. Yuck.
The Weston A. Price Foundation annual conference this year was a much different experience for me for a variety of reasons. First of all, this is the first year I didn’t attend with my mom, who was the one that introduced me to all this nonsense in the first place. Since I’ve been to a bunch of conferences this year already, it was pretty easy for me to find people to hang out with and I was totally happy coming “by myself.”
I also was attending this year as a volunteer; I was the official ‘media liaison’ and spent a great deal of the conference contacting the speakers and setting up interview appointments for them to be filmed by the various crews that had attended the conference. That caused me to miss a bunch of talks, which was disappointing, but at least I got to see the few talks that I had been most eager to sit in on.
It was cool to get to meet some of the media people who were putting together documentaries, and I even got to sit in on an interview of Chris Kresser by the woman who write the About.com material for the low carb diet page. She asked him a bunch of questions on low carb troubleshooting, and how to implement changes in the low carb approach to address certain pitfalls that people run into when dieting inappropriately. I learned a lot just listening, so I can’t wait until that article comes out!
A third thing that made this conference different (and pretty awesome) was that I got to act as an “unofficial publicist” for Chris Kresser, who I already work for part time helping with managing his blog, and who I’m certain needed my assistance once people realized who he was and started to barrage him with their burning health questions. I don’t know how me manages these conference events without someone actively corralling him to his various speaking engagements and meeting plans, since the man can hardly walk down a hallway without getting stopped by someone desperate to talk to him.
Chris is incredibly gracious in talking to these folks, since that’s often at the expense of him being able to talk to certain friends and colleagues who he may only see a couple times a year. Sometimes I think that people forget that these speakers are people too and have their own agenda when attending a conference. I witnessed that one day at lunch where he and Chris Masterjohn were attempting to have a conversation and people came up to them and interrupted them in order to ask questions. They handled it extremely well, but I could tell that they were a bit disappointed to have had their conversation derailed repeatedly. The perks of being a celeb, right?
Despite this conference being quite different than the last two I attended, I really enjoyed myself, more so than I had expected. I got to spend a lot of quality time with both of the Chris’s, which was pretty much a dream come true when it comes to a conference experience. I got to discuss my future career with Chris, who was awesome in encouraging me to not sell myself short and to recognize my potential to go as far as I want in my career. I’ve been feeling a bit deflated lately after my personal life got rocky, not to mention the fact that school is beginning to become less exciting than it was in the past. But getting to chat with him about the opportunities that may arise when I graduate was fantastic and really uplifting, so I greatly appreciate the fact that I got some one-on-one time with him at lunch that day.
I also spent a heck of a lot of time with Chris Masterjohn, though at this point its definitely more on a friendly basis than a professional one. It’s become a tradition of sorts to hang with Chris, ever since my mom let me tag along at the conference in Pennsylvania, where I vividly remember sitting at a dinner table with Chris and Stephan Guyenet (my mother had enticed them into eating with us in exchange for a free meal.) I got to listen to the nerd boys discuss each others’ research, and at the time I had no idea what food reward meant, nor did I have a biochemical understanding of nutrition, so I remember feeling completely overwhelmed by the intellectual level of the conversation.
It’s really awesome that, two years later, I’m now sitting with Chris at multiple meals at the conference, chatting to him about different nutritional concepts and even attempting to toss a few fancy terms around like “HMG CoA dehydrogenase” and talk about how alcohol consumption causes functional vitamin A deficiency, leading to kidney stone development. Besides just the mental stimulation, Chris is shockingly funny and we both have just enough sarcasm between us to keep things interesting. By the end of the night on Sunday, I was laughing until my stomach hurt (imagining lab rats wearing spandex will do that). So I’m really thankful that Chris and I have become friends through this event, and look forward to seeing him at the next one.
I didn’t get to spend anywhere near as much time with some other friends as I would have liked, since I was kind of doing my own thing for much of the conference. Liz from Cave Girl Eats and Diane from Balanced Bites were there, and I luckily got to chat with them a bit while browsing the vendors and eating a meal or two. I adore those girls and really admire their careers, so getting to hang out with them every now and then is a treat. I’m really glad that Diane came to WAPF this year and I hope this will become a new tradition for her!
There were a bunch of other Paleo-affiliated friends that I hope will continue attending the WAPF conferences as well. Bill and Hayley from Primal Palate seemed to really enjoy the educational side of the conference, which I knew they would. Stefani Ruper, who is a total peach, looked like a pea in a pod chatting with fellow conference attendees, so I hope she enjoyed herself this weekend! It was great seeing so many Paleo faces at the Weston Price event, and I hope this is a sign of things to come. It’s about time that the two camps really merged and started recognizing the commonalities between the two, rather than the minor differences.
As far as talks go, I mainly got to see the two Chris’s present. Chris Masterjohn gave two talks, and both were really interesting and potentially helpful for my future career as a nutritionist. His first talk was on the role of methylation in dopamine signalling, and how certain nutrients can moderate that methylation in an important way to reduce mental health impairments. He explained why vegetarianism can cause many people to become depressed or anxious, and also recommended nutritional interventions to improve the dopamine response in individuals who may be deficient in certain nutrients such as folate, B12, choline, or glycine. One of the big take home messages from this talk was to eat the skin and cartilage of animals and not simply the muscle meat in order to prevent problems in the methylation cycle.
His second talk was about the synergism between the fat soluble vitamins, A, D, and K, as well as the various other nutrients that play a role in promoting their function. I already knew a lot about how A, D, and K interact to promote bone health and reduce soft tissue calcification, since I’d read Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox last year. However, there were many more nutrient interactions that I had no idea existed. One of the most interesting points he made was that CO2, which is primarily produced by carbohydrate metabolism and exercise, is important for increasing the activity of fat soluble vitamin-dependent proteins. It was another case for the inclusion of carbs in the diet that I had never even thought to consider before.
Chris Kresser’s talk on the Gut-Brain-Skin Axis was really great, as usual, and it was cool to see how he put it together. I had helped him research the topic, but I didn’t really know how he would end up using the hundreds of studies that I’d sent him over the past several months. One thing that was fascinating to me was how hair follicles mimic the HPA axis in response to certain hormones like cortisol and ACTH. I had no idea that hair follicles could actually respond to stress hormones! It was also really interesting to see how certain drugs to cure skin ailments could actually be useful in IBD and Crohn’s disease as well. The take home message here was that gut health should really be the first thing to address if someone has either a skin or mental health condition, or both.
I also attended Chris’s panel on blogging, moderated by AnnMarie of Cheeseslave. One thing I realized while listening to this panel is that I think the media side of nutrition is really fascinating, and I hope to incorporate a lot of it into my future career. I’m already getting a taste of marketing and using media to spread a nutritional message by working for Chris, but its really amazing to see all the different ways that blogs can not only spread information but also drum up business as well. I had a few gears turning after that event about what kinds of improvements could be made in Chris’s media strategy, and I’m looking forward to the creativity that my job may allow me in the coming months. I think I have a talent for this kind of thing, and definitely want it to be a major component of my career once I graduate.
Too much happened this weekend to really explain everything, but I’m really pleased that I was able to attend the conference this year despite a busy schedule and a pathetic bank account. Even though I hardly went to any talks this time around, I think I really capitalized on the fact that many of my nutrition heroes were all gathered in one location and available to talk about things related to nutrition knowledge and my future career path. I love networking at these events, and I’m really excited to see what kinds of new projects and partnerships may develop after a short three days at the conference. I really appreciate all the people who I got to spend so much quality time with, and am greatly looking forward to the conference next year in Atlanta!
On a side note, I want to give a special shout-out to my new friend Megan Concannon, who I roomed with this weekend and who was so helpful in transporting me to and from the airport. She is a total sweetheart and so interested in the Weston Price nutritional philosophy. She’s having a rough time because her brother is in the hospital in a coma from a traumatic brain injury, but her positivity and excitement over the conference was really inspiring. I’m really glad I got the chance to connect with her this weekend, and look forward to keeping in touch with her in the future!
Well, that’s it for me. Did any of you go to the conference? If so, what was your favorite part? What new or exciting information did you learn while you were there? Let me know in the comments!
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