This is the sixth of a handful of posts I’ve solicited from some friends in the ancestral health community whose voices I admire (Part 1 by Tara Grant is here, Part 2 by Kendall Kendrick here, Part 3 by Anastasia Boulais here, Part 4 by James Murphy here, Part 5 by Ben Morgan is here). I’ll be posting these in the days leading up to AHS13. It’s my hope that these dispatches will resonate with others out there and help dispel the notion that everyone in ancestral health have hunter-gatherer physiques and zero health struggles. I’m tired of the apologies and I’m tired of people not feeling welcome. We all come to ancestral health for our own reasons, and this is too important of a movement to let divisions arise over perfectly normal, human experiences.
Today’s installment comes from my Kiwi friend, Jamie Scott. You may know him as ThatPaleoGuy.com.
I am literally only weeks away from completing 40 laps of the sun. A couple of things a slightly higher mileage tends to afford you, that were perhaps missing when I was still a bit more shiny and a bit less cynical, is a better ability to stop and think things through more rationally and logically, and the ability to be more comfortable in your own skin (to be read as: not really giving a fat rat’s arse what others think). The 20-30 lap version of me wasn’t always like this. I have been someone who has been quite self-conscious and vain, to the point of having spent many years avoiding photographs. I think it was a photo taken one summer of a 20-something me swimming in a water hole looking like I was 4 months pregnant that did it.
I spent my teen years being a sugar junkie. I spent my early student years trying to be vegetarian (and largely failing), trying to eat lots of carbs and a diet low in fat, all whilst being engaged in my version of chronic cardio – cycling. I was a nutrition and exercise science student after all, meaning I knew I was doing all the right stuff. Graduating university with more letters after my name than I knew what to do with (thus legitimising anything I did) and beginning work in the fitness industry where I was up at 5am most mornings, rarely home before 7pm, not really spending much time outdoors (and wearing sunscreen when I did), and living on skim flat whites (a New Zealand speciality coffee) and low-fat banana muffins and 12” subs during the day, all saw me develop a nice set of kidney warmers around my increasingly skinny-fat and insulin resistant frame. I was marching toward age 30 and seeing my health insidiously evaporate. Not as fast as that of the clients I was working with, but still departing me all the same.
Working in an industry full of insecure people (which the fitness industry largely is) rubs off on you. Everything is judged on appearances. It was hard not to be affected being around largely shallow individuals, who idolised body builders and fitness models, and trying to trade off my qualifications whilst my own body comp was heading backwards. Even harder when the gym cleaner loved to sneak up behind me and grab my aforementioned love handles and give me a bit of stick for them.
A combination of a Paleo lifestyle and the wisdom of age (from my mid 30s on) has seen me far less prone to worrying about that sort of thing. I am still a bit vain (show me someone who ultimately isn’t) and I like being around people who take pride in their appearance. But in the three AHS conferences I have attended, I can honestly say I didn’t really give my appearance and how it compares to others a second thought. I remember going to spend some time on the Pacific Island of Vanuatu prior to heading to LA for the first AHS. The people there were stunning – they walked tall, carried themselves well, had bright eyes and good skin, and looked how a healthy human being should look. I saw exactly the same thing in LA at AHS. Of course, in pointing this fact out, I became one of the supposedly shallow people who judged the event based on how good looking (read as either ripped or skinny) everyone was, becoming subject to the insecurities of others. Sigh.
I guess it is hard not to be affected by some of the comparisons which occur. I mean, there are many photos circulating around the net of this recently-turned 60 year old super-jacked dude (Mark Sisson), whom I won’t be standing next to with my shirt off anytime soon. But these photos are moments in time. They are not the real person. We tend not to see photos of guys or gals with their non-tanned winter coats on (as I will be wearing coming out of my Southern Hemisphere winter into Hot-Lanta), or when they are having fat days, or are puffy because they have been flying up and down the country. These are often very selective photos of a very selective point in time.
Of course, those who are perhaps a bit more insecure, a bit more emotionally reactive, or a bit more immature, are going to believe that these photos represent what ALL of the people at AHS are going to be like ALL of the time. And almost as if it is a virus, when one person has their head fall off over these sorts of things, you can bet your bottom dollar someone else will too. It becomes an escalation of a zero sum game. We saw this last year. Person A (who is fit and healthy): “Oh I feel so fat at AHS.” Person B (who is equally as fit and healthy): “Oh – Person A feels fat and I think she is gorgeous, and I am bigger than her, so how fat am I going to look at AHS?!” Double sigh.
Human nature is such and the population at AHS is sufficiently large and diverse enough that someone will inevitably play out their insecurities in quite a public way. And yes – this includes some of the guys (though perhaps less publicly). A bit more wisdom and rationality affords the ability to not get sucked into it. Yes, I will still feel like a chunky monkey sharing a stage with Dallas Hartwig or following Keith Norris (actually I will feel like a Hobbit following him). But I won’t let this grind my emotions to a pulp, before, during, or after.
Jamie Scott holds bachelor’s degrees in sport & exercise science and in human nutrition, plus post-graduate diplomas in sport & exercise medicine and nutritional medicine. He works as a health researcher & writer in the corporate health sector, whilst maintaining a small private nutrition and exercise prescription practice. He makes up one half of the Whole9 South Pacific team along with his partner, Anastasia Boulais.