Last weekend I attended the inaugural Take Back Your Health conference, an event organized by Robin Shirley and Ryan McGrath designed to be an educational platform about different alternatives and approaches to good health. You might remember that I wrote about this conference a few months ago when I offered a giveaway for a ticket to attend this conference. Gena of Choosing Raw also attended the conference, and I encourage you to read her recap.
I heard presentations by several well-known health experts, such as Dr. Joel Fuhrman, but first, a little context on my own perspective when attending such an event. As long-time readers may know, I have had my share of ongoing (and fortunately vastly improved) health issues, including lifelong joint pain, stomach and digestive distress, and chronic sinus infections. Add to that general lack of energy and extra weight and I spent most of my teens and twenties feeling very discouraged about my health. As someone who has always been very committed to her career, I invested my energy into that, but always needed a lot of rest and I had precious little leftover to do things that other people (no matter how busy they were) seemed to managed just fine – i.e. exercise, enjoy life, hobbies. I am no stranger to feeling like things.just.are.not.getting.better. Ultimately, three years ago, I decided to go beyond conventional/allopathic medicine and talk to a naturopath about my health issues. I strongly suspected my health issues were interrelated and figured I should seek out a practitioner whose training focused on the whole rather than the parts, which tends to be the case with allopathic medicine, though not always. Ultimately, I switched naturopaths when I found a medical practice that has both an MD and a naturopath working together – it is a good combination that works for me. As much as I believe in the power of diet and lifestyle to contribute to good health, I am also well aware that there are limits to how much the body can heal itself and prefer to draw from both conventional and alternative medicine for my own care.
When I was researching various alternative health practitioners and dietary approaches three years ago, the thing that struck me immediately (after realizing that health insurance rarely covers these alternatives) was the variety of theories and schools of thoughts different ones espoused. Take Back Your Health represented the same wide variety of approaches. On the dietary front alone, speakers represented raw diets, vegan diets, and heavily meat-based traditional diets.
Since pictures are worth a thousand words, here are some highlights of the speakers I heard:
Jason Wrobel, who was delightful in his high-energy approach to raw vegan foods. I love seeing people excited about eating nourishing food that tastes good, raw or cooked, so it was great to hear him.
Next up on the first day was Dr. Joel Fuhrman. One of the things that has served me well for the last couple of years is not only eating a lot of raw and cooked vegan dishes, but also the concept of maximizing my nutrition as much as possible, so Dr. Fuhrman’s nutritarian approach was something that really resonated with me. I took a picture of the typical Standard American Diet breakdown he posted as I found it staggering.
Dr. Fuhrman covered a lot of ground in his presentation, and broke scientific concepts down in a very manageable way for the variety of viewpoints represented in his audience. I should add that part of his approach to good health does involve short periods of fasting – I consciously did not listen too closely to that part of his presentation as I find it triggering due to my own history with restrictive eating and other ED issues as a teenager. That issue aside, I really did appreciate how well Dr. Fuhrman framed the power of food and lifestyle contributing to good health, including controlling diabetes and heart disease through those changes, without overpromising the power of food and how it can heal.
Which brings me to Andrea Beaman. Part of the reason this post took me a week to finish is that I really wanted to think about what I wanted to say about her presentation. I had actually been really excited to hear Andrea Beaman discussing thyroid health and was, ultimately, disappointed. Had her presentation focused on thyroid health support alone, I would have found it useful, however Ms. Beaman highlighted a couple of things which I have seen over and over in connection with the alternative health community and which I cannot agree with: (1) she made statements specific to one health concern (thyroid) and stated that it was applicable to anyone, regardless of good or weakened health and health condition, (2) she over-stated the power of the body and diet – “there is no disease your body can’t heal” and (3) she made sweeping generalizations against the medical establishment, going as far as saying that cancer is often an “idea” that someone can’t let go of (as opposed to an actual diagnosis).
On a personal level, I am the first one to say that several conventional doctors completely missed the mark on helping me find good health – the process of being told, over and over, gems along the lines of “of course your stomach hurts, you are stressed out because you are in law school” and “lawyers are just low-energy types” is infuriating. I presented clear signs in my health history pointing to gluten being an underlying issue, yet that was dismissed because I was overweight. That said, I am not willing to wholesale dismiss the medical establishment and this mentality of “us against them” does not sit well with me.
I had a few slight echoes of that feeling in the following day’s Ayurveda presentation, though overall I did find Dr. John Douillard’s presentation informative and balanced. As someone who has done yoga for about 10 years and has spent a lot of time in yoga studios, Ayurveda is something I always hear about, yet only know very small parts of. After listening to the presentation, there are still parts of Ayurveda that perplex me and where I cannot find a logic I am comfortable with, but am glad I attended.
Speaking of discomfort, I did skip Sally Fallon’s presentation, which led me to have a fascinating conversation with Ryan, one of the organizers. Ryan is a vegetarian and disagrees with Sally Fallon’s nourishing traditions which, among other things, a focus on raw milk. When talking to Ryan, I fully admitted I would have been very uncomfortable listening to the presentation, mainly because I have read up on the approach and really disagree with it. That said, it speaks to how varied in perspectives Take Back Your Health is designed as an educational platform that it included speakers who supported a plant-based approach to good health, and other speakers who do not. It was lovely to spend some time thinking about the power we have over building our good health through food and lifestyle, and for that, I am grateful to Robin and Ryan for organizing such an event. There will be a Spring 2012 edition, with date and location being finalized this fall.
General Disclosures & Disclaimers