Conferences inspire parents toward holistic health

Even as online forums, email lists, and blogs have become great resources for sharing knowledge about parenting and all things health-related, there’s something special about going to a conference. For holistic-minded parents, that’s especially true of a huge nutrition conference like Wise Traditions, put on annually in November by the Weston A. Price Foundation, and the smaller Fourfold Path to Healing conference coming to Baltimore next weekend.

When I attended the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Wise Traditions conference in 2007– on the topic of Radiant Health for Children and Their Parents — it was the first time I left my son for a large chunk of the day. There were plenty of moms with babies in slings and carriers, but I knew I wanted to give more attention to the presentations than my toddler would have allowed. It was such a relief when my friend and babysitter told me he’d slept in the sling for two hours while I got to focus on information I knew would benefit us both.

Conferences can be a little overwhelming, but I love that it’s impossible to feel like an outsider to the mainstream when you’re surrounded by some 1800 people who are just as invested as you are in questions about the health and wellbeing of our bodies, our children’s bodies, and the planet. Exhibit halls are places to learn about and try out new products, and in some cases, talk to the people who created them, or wrote the book, or author the blog. After lectures, there’s usually a chance to ask questions, sometimes of big-time speakers, and meals offer plenty of opportunities to share stories of healing and parenting.

As I watched Sally Fallon-Morell, author of Nourishing Traditions, speak about the work of pioneering dentist Weston A. Price, I was actually grateful for the health issues that had prompted me to turn around my diet. Facing infertility (amenorrhea), acne, depression, and Graves’ Disease (autoimmune hyperthyroidism) three years earlier, I had taken the advice of a nutritionist to give up my soy-based near-vegan diet and add in animal protein and fat. After my periods came back quickly on this more traditional foods diet, I later did a test that showed gluten and dairy sensitivity and saw a dramatic improvement in digestion and in my mental outlook on a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet.

Weston A. Price Foundation president Sally Fallon-Morell

I now believe that I owed the lifting of my depression, the remission of my Graves’ Disease, and my successful pregnancy to my return to a traditional foods diet. But all those years of undiagnosed celiac disease and of eating processed foods had really taken a toll on me, and the stress of the postpartum period after my second child’s birth brought those issues to the fore.  To address worsening symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, I turned to the grain-free, starch-free diet called the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet, which makes use of lots of homemade bone broth and healthy fats.

This past fall, I had the chance to hear the Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD, the creator of the GAPS diet, speak at the 2011 Wise Traditions conference. Dr. Campbell-McBride gave a powerful presentation on how the diet helps reestablish healthy gut flora and build back up the gut lining. Problems in these areas can lead to a whole host of symptoms, including anemia, skin and neurological problems, allergies, asthma, anxiety, sleep disorders, hormonal abnormalities, and headaches. Healing the gut can translate into dramatic changes in mood, immune problems, sensory issues and autism spectrum disorders. It was for children on the spectrum that Campbell-McBride originally designed the diet, but the protocol has been found to address people with a wide range of other concerns.

Hearing so many people share their stories of improvement on the diet, especially with their children, I was truly humbled and thankful to have found this path to health. And yet, juggling work responsibilities and volunteer passions while mothering two small children while following a strict everything-from-scratch diet leaves little time for complementary approaches to healing. That’s where the Fourfold Path comes in!

Next weekend, February 3-5, Fallon-Morell and others will address the bigger picture of the multidimensional body at the Fourfold Path to Healing conference in Baltimore. Fallon-Morell and Jaimen McMillian were co-authors of Dr. Thomas Cowan’s 2004 book of the same name, whose subtitle is: “Working with the Laws of Nutrition, Therapeutics, Movement, and Meditation in the Art of Medicine.” All three authors will be speaking at the more intimate conference, which this year adds a day-long class in traditional cooking methods led by Simply Being Well founder — and Wise Traditions conference presenter and meal coordinator — Monica Corrado.

“The reason I love the Fourfold Path conference so much is that it address what we as holistic mothers know about what keeps us in

Chef Monica Corrado served up traditional fare at the 2011 Wise Traditions conference

balance and what helps the body come to wellness,” Corrado said. Knowing my concern about “fitting it all in,” Corrado was quick to add that meditation can be an om, or knitting, or “sitting and looking at your child with eyes of love.”

For several years, Corrado has taught traditional, whole foods cooking classes and worked as an alternative health practitioner. She appreciates that Cowan brings his knowledge as a medical doctor to an approach that treats the patient as a multidimensional being requiring attention in a way that acknowledges the body’s complex physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and life-force energies.

To her, the work was groundbreaking when the book was first published, and it remains leading-edge today. At the experiential conference, participants can learn from McMillan, getting spatial dynamics exercises into their bodies.  This, Corrado says, can give parents a whole new understanding of how our children process stress, learn, and experience the world. She’s excited to be teaching people how to make bone broth and to cook with liver, which she says are critical to healing on the fourfold path.

Fallon-Morell will also give lectures on the building blocks for wellness from a nutrition perspective. At Wise Traditions, there was an entire children’s track of talks that addressed the important components of pre-pregnancy diets and important foods for children. (Hint: natural fats play a big role!). All those presentations – and those from previous years – are available for purchase at http://www.fleetwoodonsite.com/weston. I thought I’d eaten healthy during both of my pregnancies, but after watching Fallon-Morell talk about the preconceptual and prenatal body’s needs, I wish I’d reached for more liver, caviar, and bone broth. Eating the way I do now before I got pregnant might have helped me avoid the digestive and skin issues that have posed challenges in the sleep-deprived postpartum year and a half.

Fourfold Path to Healing author Thomas Cowan, MD

At the Fourfold conference, Cowan, an anthroposophical doctor who draws on the work of Waldorf education founder Rudolph Steiner, will talk about the role of warmth and rhythm in healing in addition to addressing issues related to common illnesses, inflammatory illnesses, and the workings of the heart.  Cowan’s work looks not at alleviating symptoms but at addressing healing from this fourfold path in a way that leads to real, fundamental healing.

It may be a challenge for this mama to get the kids taken care of so that I can attend the whole conference, but it sounds like I’ll walk away with tools to better address my own health and thereby be a more holistic caretaker of my children’s health, in all its forms.

Photos courtesy of Liz Pitfield

Jessica Claire Haney

About Jessica Claire Haney

Jessica Claire Haney is a freelance writer, editor and tutor living in Northern Virginia. A former high school English teacher and now mother of two, Jessica writes about birth, VBACtivism, breastfeeding, Real Food nutrition, holistic health, mindful parenting, and green living on her blog, Crunchy-Chewy Mama, in her Family Today column at the Washington Times Communities, and at TheDCMoms.com, where she is Green section editor. Find her at CrunchyChewyMama.com and JessicaClaireHaney.com.