Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How I Found My Voice: The Story of a Sweat and Butter Health Coach

This isn't a weight loss success story. It's the story of a skinny girl with a lot of insecurities. This may seem unrelated to your purpose for visiting the Sweat and Butter Journal, but I assure you that my story is as - if not more - relevant to healthy habit formation than many weight loss stories you've read in the past. My name is Stephanie Telep, and I have worn many hats in my life. I am a Sweat and Butter health coach, but I also have been a daughter, an older sister, a younger sister, a middle child, an awkward teen, a girlfriend, an ex, a lover not a fighter, a young adult, a partner, a sappy Sally...shall I go on?

Stephanie's attempt at organized sports in 5th grade
I love reflecting on these roles, because they have shaped me in every way. Growing up, I was always the skinny one in the family. Because I wasn't overweight, I was aloof to the world of weight loss.  We didn't have terrible eating habits in the household. My family took advantage of opportunities to eat locally, and we cooked a lot of our meals at home. Our kitchen environment offered no sugary cereals, no candy drawer, and minimal to no chips or snacks. It is safe to say that items in my brown-bagged lunch were never fought over at the lunch table in elementary school. Suffice it to say that I never had to stress about my weight. I did, however, worry that paying any attention to my body would be misunderstood as vain or insensitive. I am not in any way trying to inspire pity, but, because I was a different body type from the rest of my family, I was encouraged to embrace my natural stature and give credit to the good fortune of my draw in the genetic lottery.

As an adolescent, I boasted the fact that I had an appetite like a football player. Everything seemed to go straight to my wild, curly hair. That is, until it started to go to my hips, which seemed to happen overnight. I went from a size 0 to a size 5 out of nowhere. Boobs came with the territory and insecurities flooded my entire being. Lovely. Even though I had always been "the skinny one", I knew I had certain feelings and reservations about my body.  In the words of the great poet Britney Spears: "I [was] a girl, not yet a woman."  I was fortunate enough to have a great support system, but, ultimately, issues of body image are solo journeys.

Another thing about me: I'm not very athletic. As a kid, I was more like a nervous ball of energy running around than a star athlete. I also did not give much thought to my meals when away at college, because, let's face it, buffet style was my favorite food!  I realized I was not motivated by competition, and anyone who challenged me to do my best was quickly disregarded with an eye roll and a sour face. A post-college breakup (I was the initiator) started a fire within me, inspiring me to focus on something other than the heartbreak. I signed up for my first half marathon and took to an online training program. 

In the past, I sometimes had a hard time following through with things. My efforts were usually mediocre, and I ended up falling short on many school exams. I never felt good enough at anything. I was not a science geek, a writer, a math whiz, or an artist. I had always wished something would just click, but I lacked the understanding that practice was the key to developing skills. People are good at things because they work hard at them?! Whaaat?! So this half marathon forced me out of my comfort zone in many ways. I had to compete with myself, follow through on commitment, and meet my own expectations. In other words, I wasn't permitted to wuss out at the last minute. 

The training period was unusual for me, as the responsibility to hit the pavement was mine alone. I had no one to answer to but myself. Running allowed me to make time to reflect on the feelings I pushed aside and confront my own errors. The time alone with my thoughts permitted me to take a step back from situations and dismantle the chaos of my introspection. For most of my life, I was guilty of finding ways to escape. I would have a whirlwind of thoughts that were self-deprecating: "You are worthless" 
"You suck at running" "Why would you think he loves you?" "Do you actually think you're the only one he is seeing?" "You are dumb" "You are ugly”. It was scary and sad because these thoughts were my own, not the voice of a bully on the playground. My doubts and fears all surfaced like high tide.

These discourses would often go into hibernation for a week or so, but eventually that hateful inner voice would reemerge. Before long my self-doubt began creeping up even during late night runs, which previously had been my refuge from the internal dialogue. One evening around two o'clock in the morning, after my shift at the bar, I was running with a heavy heart and felt the drag. I felt capable of maintaining my pace for the remainder of the run, but there was an emptiness inside. I heard myself saying, "If you decide to stop now, it's your decision. Your body hasn't failed you, you simply don't want to do it."

The word "fail" kept ringing in my head, and I couldn't take it anymore. I was disgusted that I

was being such a doormat to my inner demons! If anyone were to speak to someone I love in this way I would snap! So how on earth was I permitting myself this hateful dialogue? I needed self-love ASAP. I gradually realized that I had to be my own best friend. Nobody could do this for me. I imagined reaching deep down to my beaten up self and pulling her out of the dark place in which she had been residing and told her: "Come on! Only two more miles. You can do it!" 

As bizarre as it may sound, I had two manifestations of self at one point. Outwardly, people saw the positive, supportive person. On the inside, however, I had to identify the self-loathing counterpart that needed so much healing. The fear of failure was so deep that it manifested into a horrible, self-hating persona. I was forced to look at that fear. I needed to touch it, analyze it, and make a decision to not let it control me anymore. Of course I still have doubts and reservations today, but now I realize how important it is to face my demons head on rather than settling into a comfortable cycle of apathy. I'm worth more than that!

If you know one thing about me, you know that I love Michael Jackson. To sum up this story, I'll draw from one of his hit songs. In working through these insecurities, I was finally able to look at the (wo)man in the mirror to make that...CHANGE! It is hard to acknowledge that you don't like your attitude, body, efforts, or excuses. Having since shifted to a healthy balance of physical activity and conscious eating, I have found a new appreciation for my body type. I am more in tune with what my body is telling me and how I feel as it changes through different cycles of stress, eating habits, and general life. Although I still fluctuate from time to time, I am much more comfortable in my own skin. I finally realize what people meant when they would say, “You have so much potential!” I was in a constant state of potential energy until I decided to push through and burst out in kinetic glory.  

Here's to no longer hiding from ourselves and to the start of a life-long journey of challenging the comfort zone.

Stephanie Telep is a co-founder and health coach at Sweat and Butter.  She received her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Duquesne University.  She is inspired to help others make necessary changes in their lives while fostering a positive and healthy path. She can bereached at

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Family-Focused Food: A West Philly Mama's Insight

West Philly Mama is a mother of two from - you guessed it! - West Philly, where she was neither born nor raised, but the playground is, indeed, where she spends most of her days. She is actually a Pittsburgh native who has an insightful and entertaining blog on motherhood. Her blog profile states: “I blog about parenting as a queer, Latina, feminist reclaiming family values.” Another little fun fact? She's my sister!

West Philly Mama opened up to Sweat and Butter to share her transition from personal health to family-focused nutrition.
When did you start focusing on nutrition for yourself?
I suppose it's been life-long, but I didn't always have a clear understanding of nutrition.  I conflated weight and health and trusted information that turned out to be unreliable.  When I had trouble getting pregnant, I really started to explore my health concerns beyond fitting into a pair of jeans.  

What nutrition restrictions and goals did you have when you were pregnant?

Since I spent nearly two years trying to get pregnant the first time, I was already examining my food and health choices before I became pregnant.  I tried to prioritize fresh whole foods and made sure I was doing something active each day, even if it was just walking the dog. When I was a pregnant I maintained those goals but was also a big believer in listening to cravings.  Cravings can point to deficiencies. For example, I had very low iron during my second pregnancy, and I was craving iron-rich foods even before blood tests confirmed it.  Of course other times you just want a brownie fudge sundae, and that's ok, too.

What is important for you to teach your children about meals?

I think it's important to teach kids about where food comes from.  This makes the difference between whole foods and processed foods easier to understand.  It's harder to do this living in the city, but this is why we have a container garden with vegetables. We also try to visit farms at least once a season to pick produce and learn about how foods are grown.  I also try to involve them in the preparation of meals.  It takes a bit longer to let a toddler "help" you, but it makes them much more likely to try new foods, and it cultivates valuable life skills.  One of our favorite dinner table games is "Rainbow Day" - which is where we go through the fruits and veggies we've eaten that day and see how many colors we've included.  It's fun, and it emphasizes that we should be eating a variety of foods.  It has started conversations about colors found in foods naturally versus added dyes in processed foods as well.

Are there any improvements that you'd like to see in your family's eating habits?

I do wish it was easier to eat out.  Most kid's menus are awful and wholesome food tends to be more expensive in general, which is why we try to pack meals or eat at home as much as possible.  I think the kids are mostly on track with good eating habits. It's my own long-standing bad habits that I'm more concerned about breaking.  I'd love to cut my sugar intake in half, and I struggle with moderation.  Those are the two major things that make me feel like a hypocrite.

What has been the biggest challenge in moving to family nutrition from a focus on personal diet goals?

The hypocrisy I mentioned before.  The kids have a clean slate, and I want to preserve that as much as possible, but I'm still struggling with deep-rooted vices.  I try to avoid "Do as I say, not as I do" mentality, but I definitely don't always set the perfect example.  It's challenging having little eyes on you at all times.  I totally get why Mom ate ice-cream in bed after we went to sleep!

What would you like your children to take from your experience with food?

I hope they can grow up with an innate sense of moderation and balance.  It's a tall order, but it's my number one wish for them.  I hope they can see food as vital fuel for our bodies as well as a source of joy and indulgence.  I also hope they think about what they put into their bodies without obsessing over it.  I hope they love to eat and cook and share meals, and I hope those meals are nutritious, delicious, and at times even decadent.  

Play with your food! As an aunt, I have enjoyed sensory play with the kids by hiding objects the babies can mouth along with fruits in a large tray of yogurt. The babies can explore through the cool, wet, and slippery yogurt and discover their toys and food with their mouths. It’s really magical and messy!

Stephanie Telep is a co-founder and health coach at Sweat and Butter.  She received her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Duquesne University.  She is inspired to help others make necessary changes in their lives while fostering a positive and healthy path.
She can be reached at

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Crossfit Pittsburgh: Where Community Drives Achievement

The Pietragallo Family
There are currently over 6,000 Crossfit affiliate gyms world-wide. Sweat and Butter has had the pleasure of working with Mike and Jenn Pietregallo, owners of Crossfit Pittsburgh - the 54th Crossfit opened on this earth - for a year and a half. For those who don’t know this dynamic couple, meeting them in person for the first time is like seeing an old friend. Their radiance and kindness fill the room instantly. Even outside of “the box”, the slang term for a Crossfit gym, their energy is contagious and uplifting.  Mike was kind enough to take the time to share with us his views on health, fitness, business, and his motivation to establish a Crossfit box in Pittsburgh. No matter your fitness level or preferred type of exercise, we can all gain perspective from the Pietragallos on overcoming personal challenges as well as those related to creating a business to improve the lives of others.
Where did you practice of fitness begin?
My wife and I were always active. As a kid I was heavily involved in sports, so training and preparation were year-round activities. I came from a wrestling background, then, in college, I began training in martial arts. Before there was MMA I studied boxing, karate, Aikido, Jujitsu, and Judo, so fitness training was constant. After graduation from the University of Pittsburgh in 1986 I entered the Navy, so I suppose that in every stage of my life a healthy lifestyle played a major role.
What drove you to start your business?

I was introduced to CrossFit by a teammate while on a deployment to Iraq in 2004.  I tried my first WOD (workout of the day) and I was hooked instantly.  I began to put WODs together for my wife and email them to her.  When I returned home from that trip, I thought it would be a great idea to bring CrossFit to Pittsburgh.  At that time there were no other affiliates anywhere close by.  The closest was CrossFit Philadelphia.
Through the obstacles that come from starting a business, what kept you motivated?

Mike after a WOD
For me building the business was no different from building myself.  The challenges presented during a WOD are really no different than the challenges of running a business. For instance, I have to do this WOD today, and it’s 150 Wall Ball shots.  In business, a given day may require that I mix about 1,000 pounds of concrete by hand and pour it into molds to make Atlas Stones. Neither task is glamorous.  Neither is fast-paced and exciting. They’re both going to test my will and grind me down, so how I decide to approach either of them is what will make the difference. Every time I get frustrated you can bet that within the following 12-24 hours I’ll have a break through moment.  Usually when someone I’ve been training has a breakthrough of some kind, I see their post on Facebook, or they come in to train and can’t wait to tell me in person.  There is no better feeling than that.  Knowing that you made an impact is pretty cool.  Hearing the excitement in an athlete’s voice when they tell you about a new personal record makes all the sweat and work worth the effort.

Now that you are a teacher, a coach, a mentor, a figure of fitness, have you seen shifts in your personal health management?

Absolutely.  If I don’t maintain a certain standard, how can I ask anyone I train to maintain that standard?  If I can’t lead by example, then I need to get out of the way and let someone else take over.  That doesn’t mean that I have to be the strongest or the fastest, but it does mean that I have to hold myself accountable to the same set of expectations that I ask of my athletes.

Jenn doing high pulls at the box
What do you hope to achieve through your business endeavors? 

Freedom.  I suppose that’s what we’re all after, but I mean total independence. If I can impact lives in a positive manner and in exchange for that be allowed to get up every day and go to work in shorts and a t-shirt where I can have fun with like-minded people, then I have achieved that independence. I think that freedom only comes from a willingness to serve others.

What do you think we all struggle with and how do we overcome these things?

Fighting our Demons.  They come in various forms, and we all have them.  Often times it will manifest itself in the form of “losing a few pounds” or “training for the (fill in the blank).”
Ultimately, though, it’s something deeper for each one of us. We overcome it through persistence and faith.  I think that is the essence of the CrossFit community.  We’re not a “Globo” gym where you come in, pop in the ear buds and rock out in your own little world. We’re a community, a family.  We share pain and sometimes suffering as well as achievements.  We do this because of the men and women right there with us.  Many times I’ve felt like tapping out, but what’s kept me going is the fact that I’m surrounded by men and women going through the same thing I am.  I’m depending on them, so I have to keep going because they’re depending on me, too.  I think life is like a 15-round fight. Sometimes you luck out and score an early knockout.  More often, though, you win it one round at a time, with persistence and the will to never quit.


Throughout the interview, Mike reiterated that his motivation for fitness and his business stems from the drive not only to achieve his own fitness and business goals but also his drive to help others achieve the same.  He left us with this: “In order for us all to succeed, we need faith, persistence and community.”
If you are interested in learning more about the community at Crossfit Pittsburgh, find more information on their website or through their Facebook page.

Stephanie Telep is a co-founder and health coach at Sweat and Butter.  She received her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Duquesne University.  She is inspired to help others make necessary changes in their lives while fostering a positive and healthy path. She can be reached at

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It's Raining Fad Diets: Will Yours Be Washed Away?

Trendy diets come and go.  Remember these guys?
  • Atkins diet
  • Cabbage diet
  • Fruitarianism
  • South Beach diet
  • Grapefruit diet
  • Ornish diet
  • Blood Type diet
  • Color diet
  • yada yada yada
Critics of fad diets recommend that dieters find "the diet that's right for you!", and this is largely advice that we support at Sweat and Butter.  The problem with this recommendation as a core tenet of nutrition advice is that it ignores those concepts in human physiology, biochemistry, and exercise science that we know work.  For example, losing weight could, indeed, be accomplished through starvation.  Just because this "works for you" doesn't mean that it's a healthy or lasting way to go about achieving your ideal weight.  Likewise, you may not tolerate certain supplements that many of your friends recommend.  Many of the most successful diets are those that steer the focus away from weight loss and towards performance or longevity.  Anybody that has successfully lost and kept off the extra inches around their waistline can attest to this: when you feel great and can go through your day without feeling like you're starving, the environment is more conducive for healthy habit formation. 

We recommend that our clients start with a foundation of fresh produce, add in animal products to taste, and wean themselves off vegetable oils, gluten, and processed crap.  Many "fad" diets out there promote the same strategy, but they try to make these concepts novel by attaching a sexy name.  Our culture has been bombarded by these sexy fad diets for decades, and a handful of bad eggs have spoiled the party.  This is the reason that we don't specifically recommend any one diet by name, even though we ultimately support the principles preached by contemporary lifestyle and dietary movements if they are safe and effective.  In light of so many remarkably popular diets  falling the way side in the past, we wonder: 
-- Will current popular diets survive the test of time? --

My good friend, Hamilton Stapell, PhD, asked precisely this question.  He presented his research and thoughts on the topic through a trilogy of excellent talks covering the past, present, and future of the Ancestral Health movement.  In its infancy, this movement started as the Paleo diet (aka Caveman diet), which was especially popular among Crossfit gyms and non-Western medical thinkers.  The diet's popularity catapulted the movement into classrooms, academic journals, and doctors' offices.  

Dr. Stapell is a historian, so he naturally started by investigating the origins of the Ancestral Health movement.  His first talk of the trilogy (Ancestral Health Symposium 2012) looked at the Physical Culture movement of the mid-19th to early-20th centuries.  This movement started slow, in a similar fashion to the Ancestral Health movement.  It originated in Germany, Scandanavia, and England, and it slowly spread to the United States.  
An excerpt from a book titled Athletics for physical culture states: "It is reasonably certain that man was originally made to live and exercise in the open air, bathe in rivers, [and] expose his body to the healthful action of the sun without even the protection of clothing."  This is strikingly similar to the overriding message of the Ancestral Health movement: if your evolutionary ancestors did it, then it's probably better for you than the alternative. Eventually, the Physical Culture movement migrated to the United States through European immigrants and was gradually adopted into physical education programs within American school systems.  The movement persisted through the 1920s, where it became popular in military academies.  During the World Wars, the movement fizzled out, and we haven't heard much since.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and you find that the Ancestral Health movement prescribes many of the same principles as the physical culture movement: lift heavy things, embrace the sun, eat unprocessed foods, and be one with nature.   Many of the principles pushed by Ancestral Health advocates began on the fringe before their adoption into the leagues of the movement's followers.  Dr. Stapell commented on this in an interview with NPR: "Weightlifting was at first seen as a peculiar activity 100 years ago in the same way that CrossFit and Vibram FiveFinger shoes seemed extreme when they first appeared a few years ago."  

If you've ever attempted lifestyle modification yourself, you have probably faced difficulties in getting friends and family to support your new ways.  "No bread or pasta?  What do you eat?!  (Sound familiar?)  An important reason for which people find it difficult to adopt a healthier lifestyle is the lack of a strong support system.  The modern Paleo movement - like the Physical Culture movement - demands that you deny yourself highly palatable foods, learn new skills in the kitchen, and acknowledge information that contradicts things that we've taken as truth since childhood.  In other words: It's hard work!

Perhaps this is why the Physical Culture movement failed.  Cupcakes obliterate broccoli in vying for our tongue's attention, which is why building healthy habits around eating the latter is a huge challenge!  Dr. Stapell's research corroborates our health coaching experience at Sweat and Butter.  The majority of our clients are motivated individuals that know that they need to change and are driven to make massive lifestyle overhauls.  As you might expect, this leaves a lot of the people who need health coaching on the outside looking in.  The latter are so conditioned to failure that they are intimidated by the huge changes required of them to become optimally healthy.  This is our daily struggle as a health coaching company: how can we break down barriers to lifestyle change?  

Those people who take on Olympic lifting, gluten-free dieting, and rearrangement of daily schedules such that activities are in line with circadian rhythm are in the minority.  They fill like-minded lecture halls, hang out with like-minded dieters, and share all of the same posts through social media.  As such, they have a false sense of their movement's grip on society. I know this because I've lived a pretty strictly Ancestral lifestyle for nearly five years, and I'm guilty of these things myself.  Dr. Stapell showed the trend of the term "Paleo diet" in Google searches over the years in the third of his trilogy of talks (Ancestral Health Symposium 2013).

Graph from Dr. Stapell's presentation:
"Paleo diet" search term from 2003 to present
The trend has been downward since the beginning of 2013 despite more books, podcasts, and media coverage than ever before.  

What sets Sweat and Butter apart from other health and wellness companies is that we provide our clients with good advice in addition to addressing their barriers to establishing healthy, lifelong habits.  This means conducting a thorough health history session during which we explore relationships, support within the household, work place drama, and chronic stressors.  Without addressing these barriers, it is nearly impossible to convince a 38 year-old overweight mother of two to switch from Hostess to carrot sticks when her stomach begins to grumble around 4:00 pm.  This is our challenge!

I would hate to let Dr. Stapell win, but I have trouble producing an argument to counter his belief that the Paleo movement will eventually be abandoned like the Physical Culture movement, Atkin's diet, etc.  What can we do in order to continue to recruit new followers to a way of life that we find so rewarding and vital?  History suggests that the Ancestral Health movement will eventually fall, but I'm optimistic that its guiding principles will live on. Below I've outlined a few important considerations to ensure that the healthy principles that drive a lifestyle movement survive the test of time:

1. Innovation: "I think I'm going to start a blog."
I hear this regularly at health-focused conferences and meet-ups.  Somebody finds great health success by adopting a given lifestyle or diet or by implementing the recommendations of top blogs and books, and they decide that they, too, should have a blog and book.  One would think that this is a positive thing with regards to improving the lifespan of a movement, but that's not the case.  Many lifestyle movements suffer from a condition in which its followers float around the same Facebook groups, listen to the same podcasts, and re-Tweet the same memes.  The results you achieve through a specific diet or exercise plan thus tend to plateau in the same way that that movement's popularity plateaus.  If a lifestyle movement doesn't evolve, its followers will move to greener pastures when they begin to see a slower rate of change to their waistlines or energy levels.  Without continued support for new research and original content development, a movement will slowly die with its original ideas, no matter how effective it may be at helping people look and feel their best.  Instead of starting a blog that recycles ideas, it may be more worthwhile to think critically about the current ideas floating around in order to develop stronger supporting evidence and strategies for greater outreach.

2. Diversity: "Isn't that the same thing as the 'caveman' diet?" 
This guy probably eats like a cave man
Through innovation, we can open our reach to different types of people.  Dr. Stapell conducted a survey to explore the demographics of Ancestral Health movement by looking specifically at individuals who claim to eat a Paleo diet, and his results, which he presented at the second part of his trilogy (PaleoFx 2013), were surprising.  The stereotypical Paleo dieter is a young, shirtless male who eats a lot of meat, but the reality is that most Paleo dieters are middle-aged women that found the diet as a solution to a health problem incompletely addressed by Western medicine.  He also found that the majority of Paleo dieters are white, educated, and affluent.  Dr. Stapell postulated that the lack of diversity among Paleo dieters will limit its growth.  If a movement is going to stand the test of time, adoption by multiple races and ethnicities across the world is vital, as many of our nation's sickest are non-Caucasian. 
Stapell Survey: Respondents to the survey broken down by race.

3. Accessibility: "People are sick because they're lazy and stupid."
In order to increase diversity in a dietary movement, you must increase accessibility.  This can only be accomplished if we get over the notion that our nation is sick due to a lazy and stupid population.  We treat obesity and diabetes as if those who suffer from these conditions exist in a controlled environment in which they have unlimited time for shopping, cooking, and sleeping but simply choose not to change their ways.  While this may be true for some, it certainly doesn't explain why 8% of our population has diabetes.  A patient-client experiencing serious gastrointestinal or autoimmune troubles that grew up in a household with minimal cooking, literacy, vegetable consumption, or physical activity is unlikely to respond to casual requests that they overhaul their lives whether recommendations originate from their physician or health coach - periodThe bottom line is that people want to feel great, though they often feel disempowered to do so.  Numerous gimmicks and fad diets have engrained a large percentage of our population with misinformation.  The leaders of a movement need to use innovation, technology, and collaboration to make ideas and research accessible to all demographics in order that people who do become empowered to change their lives have the resources and support to put this stuff into practice.  Otherwise, it will fail them like all of the other diets and Jane Fond exercise tapes that promised them results in the past.

4. Collaboration: "I don't think this is sustainable."
The most feasible way to increase accessibility to a food movement is by collaborating with professionals in fields outside of the medical sciences.  The Ancestral Health movement is beginning to draw the attention of economists, politicians, and corporations, and this is the beacon of hope for the movement's potential to continue to attract followers.  Collaboration is intimately related to accessibility, as the movers and shakers of the world are as concerned with economics as with the health of the work force.  Robb Wolf's risk assessment project with the Reno police force is a perfect example.  Instead of focusing all of our efforts on convincing patients to adopt a clean, vegetable-rich diet with occasional high-intensity training in order to improve the health of patients, why not work with the higher-ups of corporations, universities, and school districts to demonstrate that these concepts work to improve productivity and waistlines?  Preaching to conventional medical practitioners about the virtues of a health movement is important, but it has its limitations. Opening the conversation with non-medical professionals expands a movement's reach by showing how lifestyle change can save money, save the earth, and make us healthy.  Better reach = sustainability = longevity for a new idea.

We still have a lot to learn about human physiology and biochemistry.  It's naive to think that we can solve it with novel, gimmicky fad diets, but the fact that we've seen specific life ways and diets come and go should not force us to look beyond nutrition and exercise science for answers to our health woes.  The evolution of modern medicine, for example, is still an active process, as things that have been taken for granted are overturned on a daily basis (cholesterol, anyone?).  Our concept of disease prevention is taking a similar evolutionary course.  As more ideas are adopted and discarded by the public, certain principles that pass the test are being carried forward.  It's true that our individual biological make-ups require some degree of lifestyle and diet customization, yet there are some foundational principles that we have tested and observed repeatedly both anecdotally and through controlled trials, and these principles work, so we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.  A plan designed to optimize your health based on these principles is likely to succeed in helping the majority of our population achieve a long, healthy life.  

It's critical that a contemporary movement dedicated to the prevention of disease focus on innovation, diversity, accessibility, and collaboration in order to break the mold set by so many failed fad diets from the past.  If the Ancestral Health movement - or a better alternative - wishes to survive the test of time, it will require an extraordinary effort from both the leaders and followers of the movement to keep it alive, but the good news is that our hard work in testing and implementing the evidence-based principles upon which these movements are founded will assure that these principles live to see another day.

(Thank-you to Hamilton Stapell, PhD, for sharing his slides and insights)

Further reading and viewing:
Hamilton Stapell, PhD, "Ancestral Health in Historical Context: From Physical Culture to the Primal Life", AHS12
Hamilton Stapell, PhD, "Stereotypes and Reality", PaleoFX13 
A huge archive of Physical Culture Magazine issues can be found here

Nathan Riley is a 2014 MD candidate at Temple University School of Medicine.  He writes about food, movement, sleep, relationships, and stress in order to bridge the gap between his patients and evolutionary theory and clinical evidence. You call follow him on Twitter @BeyondtheMD. He can be reached at

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