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Every year, thousands of people gather in Austin, Texas, to celebrate this amazing lifestyle that helps us optimize our health. At this event, we’re not the “weird” ones—this is our tribe. I attended Paleo f(x) for the first time this year. Here are my tips for creating the best experience for yourself in terms of personal fulfillment, but also with an eye toward autoimmune health.

Make Personal Connections

This event can be overwhelming because there are so many people and so much happening at once. There is magic in talking with people individually, hearing each other’s stories, making new friends and feeling understood by people who “get you.” So how can you do this?

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  • If you’re part of the Paleo autoimmune community online, reach out and let people know you are attending. Post in the AIP Support Group and the Paleo Approach Community on Facebook and see who else is going. Send each other private messages to make plans to meet, but don’t leave this vague. You can easily miss each other in the crowds. Either pick a time to meet at the conference entrance or exchange cellphone numbers so you can text when you get there.
  • Join the Central Texas Autoimmune Paleo Group on Facebook, and see if they have a meetup dinner scheduled for that weekend. I did this, and it was the highlight of my trip. It was a small group of six women, but we talked for three hours. Every woman there had an empowering story of living a vital life with autoimmune disease.
  • If you don’t know anyone else attending, take advantage of the Paleo Posse resource offered by Paleo f(x). This is available to Premiere ticket holders, and the goal is to introduce you to people with similar interests.
  • Don’t be shy. Introduce yourself to people at the event itself. I realize this is easier for some to do than others, but this really is a friendly crowd. Remember, others are looking to make these connections, too. When you attend a presentation, introduce yourself to the people sitting next to you. When you’re browsing the vendor booths, say hi to the people browsing alongside.

Choose Presentations That Fascinate You

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At prior Paleo f(x) events, they had presentations specifically geared toward people with autoimmune disease, and I hope they will do that again in the future. Unfortunately, at this event, that wasn’t the case. However, a number of presentations focused on health, covering functional medicine, the microbiome, inflammation, brain health, epigenetics, nutrition and more. There were also presentations on happiness and sustainability, as well as cooking demonstrations throughout the day. And for those of you looking for physical fun, there were fitness tests, primal play, parkour demonstrations and posture workshops. There truly is something for everyone.

Find the Gems on the Vendor Floor

There were over 100 vendors at this event! That shows you how much the Paleo movement has grown in the past few years. You could seriously spend the whole weekend walking from booth to booth and sampling what’s on offer. Here are a few highlights:

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  • There were lots of food vendors, including some that catered to the autoimmune crowd. Paleo On The Go partnered with Otto’s and offered samples of AIP pot pies and “pop-tarts.” Pre-Made Paleo had delicious AIP meatballs and “nomato” sauce. Vital Choice was serving up salmon for a nutrient-dense omega-3 boost. And Wild Zora partnered with One Stop Paleo Shop to offer samples of my favorite AIP-friendly protein bars: Mediterranean Lamb.
  • While food samples always draw a crowd, Paleo is about lifestyle, too, and that was fully represented on the vendor floor—from saunas to sleep solutions, and essential oils to functional medicine testing. There was even a silent auction to benefit the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, protecting our right to have access to real food.

Schedule Yourself Some Breaks

I’m going to be honest here. While Paleo f(x) is an impressive event, it’s also sensory overload. When you have autoimmune disease, it’s important to keep stress management in mind, even at an event as fun as this one. Barefoot Provisions thought of this by offering a Chillout Lounge on the Expo floor. How cool are they? But I also took a break each day away from the conference itself. Once, I went back to my lodging and took a nap. Another time, I went to the Austin Botanical Gardens with a friend. My days were full from the time I awoke until the time I went to bed, so prioritizing some quiet time in the middle was essential for balance.

Take Care of Yourself Food-Wise

While there were meal plans and group dinners offered by Paleo f(x), there were no autoimmune-friendly options, so I planned ahead. I packed some meals from Paleo On The Go to take with me for breakfast. Whole Foods was my choice for lunch every day. They have an amazing salad bar with an abundance of options. And for dinner, my friends and I ordered carefully at the local restaurants, letting the waitress know our needs and asking the chef to help us find a safe option on the menu. Eating out on the Paleo AIP requires diligence, but it can be done. Never assume a meal is AIP-friendly. One of the local Austinites had been ordering a bone marrow burger regularly at one of her favorite restaurants, not knowing it contained gluten. Gluten is everywhere, my friends—always ask!

Talk to the Paleo Leaders

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When you see Mark Sisson hanging out at his Primal Kitchen booth, or Sarah Ballantyne in the hallway after her presentation, you might feel too shy to approach them. Don’t! Everyone at this event, including the Paleo Superstars, is incredibly warm and welcoming. These one-on-one conversations are special for them, too. This is where they get to meet real-life people who they are striving to help through their blogs and books. In fact, a highlight of the conference for me were those times when Phoenix Helix fans approached me to say hello and share their story.

Mistakes to Avoid on the Path to Autoimmune Health

I took my own advice and decided to ask some of the presenters the following question: “If someone with autoimmune disease is just starting their Paleo journey, what common mistake should they avoid?”

Melissa Hartwig

“I think a really common mistake is researching it to death, and throwing so many solutions at the problem that you won’t know what is effective and what isn’t. I always recommend people start with a dietary plan. Something like the Whole30 or Paleo AIP, and stick to it for 30 to 90 days to see if it’s working. The more you pile on top of that—if you try ketogenic and intermittent fasting and AIP and supplements—when things start to get better or worse, you won’t know where to give the credit or the blame.”

Sarah Ballantyne

“I think one of the biggest mistakes that people unfortunately make when they are tackling the autoimmune protocol is just becoming scared of food. As you start to get educated about the incredible healing power of food, but also the list of foods that really undermine health, it can feel like food is harmful. People end up combining the AIP with other dietary approaches and limiting their variety of food choices, in part because the fear becomes crippling… So, I think it’s a bit of a mindset thing in terms of being able to recognize the healing power of food, being able to recognize the importance of dietary changes, while also understanding that it’s important to experiment, it’s important to branch out, it’s important to seek variety. And sometimes things won’t work for us and sometimes we’ll make mistakes, and that’s okay, because we’re going to be able to recover and keep going. It’s a set of tools that we have for making the best choices as often as we can, rather than a constrictive set of rules to live by.”

Dr. David Perlmutter

“One of the most important considerations for individuals suffering from autoimmune conditions from a nutritional perspective is to consume abundant amounts of prebiotic fiber. While a typical Paleo approach offers health benefits, the program needs to be augmented with prebiotic fiber to nurture the gut bacteria as they play such a crucial role in immune regulation.” Here are some examples of prebiotic foods: Jerusalem artichoke, chicory, dandelion greens, onions, leeks, garlic, asparagus and green plantains. And in their raw forms, they contain the highest content.

Dr. Michael Ruscio

“The thing I think is most important for people to understand is that there are non-modifiable factors that influence autoimmune disease. There are early life factors and environmental factors that are out of your control, and so we want to do the best we can with the factors that we can control (like diet and lifestyle) and then make peace with that—not beat ourselves up if we don’t get the result that we’re looking for, and not try to compare our antibody levels to the person next to us.”