Welcome to Chill-town!
Holy Hannah, it's already been a week since I returned from Austin and PaleoFX! If I don't get this update done it ain't gonna happen. So here goes!
This was my first time in Austin in about 20 years and my first trip anywhere alone knowing no one at the other end. Kind of intimidating but also exciting! I love to travel and I'm pretty gregarious. I knew there were a few paleo bloggers, authors and podcasters who I wanted to say more than just hello to so I contacted them in advance and somehow the stars aligned for us to hook up. So that was AMAZING! Really, so much more than I could've ever hoped for.
The road to Mecca
Although I don't really do CrossFit anymore (I'm a powerlifter and feel like at my age their metcons hinder my ability to recover from the heavy weightlifting that I value most), I was really into it about 5-6 years ago. Whatever the CrossFit Games has become, it was THE COOLEST in 2008-2009 when it was much smaller and far less commercial. At the 2009 Games, the 3rd fittest woman was a powerhouse named Carey Kepler. Her brother Jeremy Thiel is also a top CrossFitter and together they own CrossFit Central. It's in Austin. It is MECCA. So months before my trip I contacted Carey so I could be trained and inspired by this incredible woman at this legendary box. And so I was!
Two days before the start of the PaleoFX symposium I met Carey at her gym on Burnet road. As I parked I could hear yelling and grunting coming from Central's famous garage doors. Oh my god!! I was so nervous. I'm no great athlete by any means but I'm in pretty good shape, strong willed, and especially passionate. For me what always shone about Carey was her crazy enthusiasm. She's one of those athletes who just LAUGHS as she's training like she's having a ball! And when I get in my zone I'm like that too. I just felt like to go to Austin without spending time with Carey would be to miss an incredible opportunity.
Training with Carey Kepler was everything I could've hoped for and more! It was hard work but we had a blast and I spent the hour sweating, swearing, laughing, hugging, panting, and high-fiving! By the end of our session I could do things I hadn't been able to before, like 24" box jumps and perfect inverted handstand holds. Afterwards I told Carey I needed to settle up, as I'd brought cash to pay for her time. Instead she thanked me for allowing her to train me and said the session was on the house! I was floored!!! Again and again life seems intent on proving to me how frikkin' lucky I am. Yet at the same time I'm starting to think that perhaps there's something about ME and what I put out that attracts these incredible situations and people to my life. Whatever the case, I am SO grateful.
My every day in Austin began with a 50 block drive for coffee. Houndstooth Coffee on North Lamar at 43rd is the best cup I found in the city and a space I just loved, with charming staff like adorable Nate and top quality, custom-brewed beans. Next door I discovered fresh, delicious tacos and salad at Tacodeli and ate there 3 times! There's something so comforting about creating a home base in a strange city. Houndstooth was that for me, and so was 24Diner, which must have Austin's BEST bacon and eggs. It's also on North Lamar, at 6th Street near a gigantic Whole Foods supermarket which carries Nom Nom Paleo-approved, hard-to-find Red Boat Fish Sauce!
Let the symposium begin!
I'm just a health-seeking "layperson" and while I love to listen to smarties like Chris Kresser and Mat Lalonde talk about science, I'd be a liar if I said that I get it all. Or most of it. So on THURSDAY I really enjoyed the accessible but too-brief presentation by Sarah Fragoso of Everyday Paleo about putting ourselves first. Sarah's impressive transformation is sometimes forgotten but she was a young mom who'd lost her mojo and fortuitously walked into NorCal Strength & Conditioning, under the wing of its owner, soon-to-be paleo guru Robb Wolf. During her talk Sarah was relaxed, charming and funny and reminded us that when our motivation is to feel better rather than simply to look better, we'll end up healthier, more energetic, and happier - "healthy by choice, hot by accident". Later that day I heard Robb Wolf discuss an exciting risk assessment project he's involved in with the city of Reno where he now lives.
FRIDAY was chockablock with discussion panels and cooking demos, which made time management crucial. Perhaps my favorite of the symposium was Ancestral Wellness for Women's Health, featuring an incredible line-up of Nora Gedgaudas, Beverly Meyer, Stefani Ruper, Sarah Fragoso, Diane Sanfilippo, moderated by Amy Kubal. Often in paleo (and life) the "default" for anything is male and despite being 51% of the population women are an afterthought. These ladies discussed the challenges faced by women turning to paleo and offered heartfelt advice on how to achieve a healthier body and mind.
Another fantastic panel was Hormones - You're a Walking Chemistry Set featuring Nora Gedgaudas, Chris Kresser, Dr. Amy Myers, Dr. Cate Shanahan, Dr. Lauren Noel, moderated by Sean Croxton. The more I know, the more I see I have completely underestimated the profound, complex role hormones play in our health and well-being. This discussion was a real eye-opener for me and I now realize I'll feel better than ever when I give my hormones the attention they deserve. Got to get on that! By the way, to that end, don't miss these illuminating Balanced Bites podcasts with guest Dr. Sara Gottfried!
Later on Friday I watched a terrific cooking demo featuring the fan-frikking-tastic Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo, who made her paleo sriracha sauce assisted by Diana Rodgers. Other cooks that day included Diana, Practical Paleo author Diane Sanfilippo of Balanced Bites, and paleo treats-meisters Juli Bauer of PaleOMG with Civilized Caveman George Bryant.
SATURDAY was the final day and another jackpot of presentations, discussion panels and cooking demos. I headed straight to the expo floor to see my new buddy Melissa Joulwan of The Clothes Make The Girl whip up Cauliflower Rice Pilaf from her unmissable cookbook Well Fed. As usual Mel was hilarious and the dish smelled exotic and delicious! Later that day I also saw Sarah Fragoso whip up meatballs with the help of her hunky husband John, from her upcoming cookbook Paleo Around The World: Italian Cuisine. It was such a privilege to see these funny, charismatic women in action! Wow. I was secretly pinching myself.
Another outstanding discussion panel was around the Evolution of Ancestral Wellness, featuring Robb Wolf, Dr. Lane Sebring, Hamilton Stapell, Andrew Badenoch, and Dan Pardi, moderated by Roger Dickerman.
My PaleoFX experience capped off with a panel that struck close to home: Journey of Transformation with Steve Cooksey, Jimmy Moore, Abel Bascom, Stacy Toth, and George Bryant, moderated by Tony Federico. This gathering of paleo authors, bloggers and podcasters all famously used to be heavier and discussed the challenges of maintaining a healthy weight and relationship with food over a lifetime. Stacy of The Paleo Parents made an excellent point, I thought, about how orthorexia (an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating) runs rampant in the paleo community yet is never addressed and how the pleasure of eating is an intrinsic part of life and happiness. Yes! Finding balance (particularly for those who lost it) is the key but it's also the greatest challenge. I'm happy to say that the paleo people I hung with in Austin clearly shared Stacy's belief about the value of food as a treasured source of community and joy.
Overall my first PaleoFX and community experience was incredible.
I had high hopes but PaleoFX, Austin, and the people I met exceeded them all. What a thrill and privilege it was to rub shoulders with and learn from the paleo world's best! From the moment I met Melissa, my feet never touched the ground. (Not even at yoga!)
As for Austin, it's a funky, pretty, laid-back city teeming with terrific restaurants, oddball shops, adorable neighbourhoods, and lots to do and see. Austin feels right - a little worn but so comfy - like a favorite pair of jeans. I will definitely return next year! But I will not eat as much ice cream. ;-)
Would you like to attend a paleo event?