Paleo F/X 2012, or Why We’re Doing What We’re Doing

Phew! That was one hell of an awesome, BBQ-soaked, Twitter-addicted, sleep-deprived whirlwind. In general, the biggest benefit of any Paleo event like this is meeting your tribe. It’s really awesome meeting new people (Hi Stephanie!), putting faces with blogs/Twitter/Facebook accounts, and rubbing shoulders with Paleo rockstars like Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf. It’s an indescribable feeling to glance around a room of like-minded folks and not feel like a freakish outcast, if only for a few days.

I hope y’all won’t be mad at me for not recapping with any specific info. Firstly, I’m writing it up for Paleo Magazine, so be sure to check that edition; and secondly, other folks rounded it up better than I could:

  • Nom Nom Paleo (in reverse order) here, here, here (I make a cameo in this one, pardon the post-MovNat hair), and here
  • Abel James’s 1 1/2 minute video experience here
  • Ancestralize Me’s here and here (it looks like she’ll have a review Part 2, so check back for that)

Instead, I’m going in a different direction. I’d like to talk about someone I met there.

Darryl teaching a movement workshop. Photo taken from 8th floor.

On the second full day of the conference, I attended a movement workshop led by The Fitness Explorer himself, Darryl Edwards, here all the way from London. It was a group of about ten of us playing together outside. One guy, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, was friendly and had a youthful demeanor about him but didn’t participate in everything. My initial take on him was that he must be a newbie to all this Paleo stuff, but he always had a smile on his face and was a good sport. At the end of the workshop, we all paired off for partner carries up the stairs to the venue, and I thought nothing of hopping on his back for the exercise.

Later that night, a group of us got off the shuttle in front of our hotel and were kind of aimlessly wondering what to do with ourselves. So Tim Huntley (of My Athletic Life), nice guy from the workshop (whose name is Ben), and I decided to walk along the freeway’s frontage road to dinner at a Japanese restaurant, hoping we could find something palatable and not too off-Paleo to eat. Not the easiest task, since our hotel was plopped down in the middle of nowhere with nothing but chain restaurants like Chili’s and Pappadeaux all around.

Soon after being seated, Ben excused himself from the table. Tim, helpfully I might add, let me in on the fact that Ben was here because he won a contest for tickets and that he was currently fighting stage 4 metastatic colon cancer. So yes, he was a newbie, because he was trying to save his own life.

For two days, I had listened to some of the brightest minds in this movement talk about the human body in abstract terms. Things like glucose, insulin, macronutrients, cortisol, vitamin D, cholesterol—all abstractions we’ve arbitrarily named in some futile struggle to understand ourselves. We nod our heads in agreement and say, Yes, yes, that is how it is. But how do we know?

We're all ears.

I’m an introvert, born and bred, but there was one question I wanted to ask the Paleo Experts Master Mind panel before it derailed into a safe starches debate: On a scale of 1 to 10, how certain are you that a Paleo diet and lifestyle will save us from the ravages of the diseases of civilization? Because we don’t really know, do we? We’re all taking a massive leap of faith here. Yes, I said “faith” and it’s not a word I like or use, but that’s really what we’re doing. Because even with the cleanest of the clean Paleo diets, we have many other factors beyond our control like environmental toxins. So even if we’re here for the weight loss or the digestive benefits, I’m willing to bet that huddled in the back of all our minds is the smallest bit of hope that we’ll be able to gracefully age well into our 80s and beyond. That we’ll be around to enjoy our grandchildren. That we won’t be hooked up to machines and depend on the dubious promise of technology to help us eke out a few more years that forsake quality for quantity.

So Ben returns and in short order, he’s talking about his new reality easily and graciously. I find out that large portions of his colon have been removed and he has a colostomy bag. A port has been installed in his chest for the constant stream of injections he requires. The cancer was first diagnosed a few years ago and now he’s facing another round of treatments because it has spread, possibly to inoperable areas.

But these are just factual details. He goes on to talk about how his son, the elder of his two children, is quieter and reserved while his daughter, 10, is rambunctious and constantly in motion. He cracks the table up recalling how he threatens to whack them with his “poop bag” if they play too rough with him. He describes himself as selfish for wanting to teach his daughter how to drive, so he takes her up around the high school to practice, even once letting her drive through the neighborhoods back home. He mentions how he and his wife have decided not to hide everything from their children, but how she cries in quiet moments. He continues to juggle work with receiving treatments and vows to live as normal a life as possible.

He found Paleo because he’s missing a lot of colon and many foods don’t agree with him. Even when they do, he’s not absorbing very many nutrients. In situations like these, it’s hard not to want to help. Tim and I offered a little information about things we’d read—the benefits of coconut oil, a ketogenic diet to starve the cancer of its energy source. But it all sounded so hollow in application. It’s all fun and games until someone actually gets cancer.

On the way back to the hotel, I told him briefly about my background in Eastern religion and philosophy studies, about practicing yoga for almost a decade. I told him about how my yoga teacher and friend had smiled at me once for saying that yoga is merely practice for death, the ultimate letting go. Then I explained how in the Paleo world we talk everyday about the foods we eat theoretically helping us avoid all of this. And I told him how brave he was for facing all of it, for maintaining his humor despite looking directly into death, not just a pretty idea of death.

I keep thinking about one thing from the movement workshop earlier that day. While I was on Ben’s back and he was carrying me up the steps, I remembered Darryl’s emphasis on collaboration, that in his workshops no one gets left behind. I reached forward and opened the door so we could both get inside the building. Ben said, “I hadn’t even thought of you being able to open the door for both of us.” And this is how the world goes, with people we don’t even know opening doors everywhere, unaware of who may follow or who gets left outside looking in. I am here because of some unimaginable lineage of door openers, a beneficiary of something set in motion long, long ago. Ben, I wish for you strength and healing. I hope you find what it is you’re looking for.

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12 Responses to “Paleo F/X 2012, or Why We’re Doing What We’re Doing”

  1. Karen,

    Sharing a meal with you and Ben will be something I remember for the rest of my life! Thanks for putting into words exactly what had been bouncing around in my head since Friday.

    All the best,

    …Tim

  2. You made me cry. What a touching write up! I am forever grateful to all the door openers. You included :-)

  3. Excellent post Karen. I hope Ben was able to leave the event with some helpful information.

  4. 1) Hi back!
    2) wow. I think this is the most meaningful, beautiful post I have read on paleo. You articulate so well why (I think) we are all working to follow this lifestyle, and why we are so hopeful that our loved ones will adopt it as well. Thank you!

  5. Now I really wish I could have attended. I would have so crashed dinner with you and Tim! And would have loved to have met Ben. I wish him well. And Karen, my thoughts on paleo are very similar…it is a leap of faith, at least for me it is. At the same time I have more than a small hope that I’ll be gracefully aging well into my 80s…I’m really determined to do everything possible to make it so! :-)

  6. The Fitness Explorer Reply 03/26/2012 at 10:06 am

    Karen, you are a wonderful writer. Not often am I touched by what I read and this is nothing to do with my mention. It is just because this is an exception. I will stop by often and look forward to reading even more. I am really pleased we spent that initial time chatting and got our special edition DVDs. :-)

    Will post a link to this from my blog and facebook.

    Darryl

    • Thank you, Darryl. And thank you for an awesome playshop! Yes, I wouldn’t even have a special edition DVD without your prodding. I promise to get you a review just as soon as I can get these articles off to Paleo Mag today. And I also promise to look you up when I get over to London again. I won’t consider it a success unless the cops come. ;)

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