Eat, meet, live and learn. Sharing stories for everyday food and health.

Alison Beckner on the Act of Balance

Meet in Paris
  • Alison beckner talks to Foodadit about balance, nutrition, health and Scout
On 22nd April 2016

Alison Beckner’s mantra is simple – excess in moderation, moderation in excess. Using her experience of an undetected parasite that caused extreme discomfort and digestive issues for about 2 years, Alison rebuilt her health and subsequently shifted the focus of her career path. In 2013 she founded Scout, a Paris-based consulting agency specialised in Lifestyle Engineering. Described by her clients as a ‘conscious entrepreneur’, Alison is a matchmaker – connecting people, clients, brands and practitioners to create experiences that promote awareness of individual health, community and empowerment.

If you were to look at her schedule you’d notice that she’s busy being balanced. When she’s not curating the latest wellness retreat, fashion, food, health or travel event, you’ll find her at a yoga class, going for an early walk around the Bois de Vincennes with her dog, Ela, or putting together a mood board for a new project. Oh, and she meditates. Twice a day.

How did health and nutrition start to play a more important role in your life?

It’s a long story – I was going through a period of major changes in my life and traveling quite a bit. I was in Barcelona for a music festival when I got a really stiff neck. I couldn’t move my head and over the course of a couple of days, the stiffness started going down my back, totally limiting my mobility. The stiffness continued for some time – weeks, I think, and then the digestive issues began. Cramping, bloating, sharp pain and loss of appetite. At the time, I didn’t connect these two things, so I just plowed on.
I have been a vegan, vegetarian and also had a bout of anorexia when I was younger. At this point, I was a fairly conscious eater, I was thin but a healthy weight and had a balanced diet.

With the flare-ups I was experiencing, I started getting really anxious about eating

But with the flare-ups I was experiencing, I started getting really anxious about eating, as I couldn’t find the combinations that worked for me – everything I put in my body was a potential threat. This was actually the most stressful part for me. More than the physical pain, I was upset by this feeling that I had to ‘punish’ myself and limit my intake so much when I had worked so hard to become strong and healthy in mind and body in relation to food. It was scary territory for me.  
It was not until two years later that a GI specialist in Paris helped me to solve the mystery. Shortly after our first consultation, I was diagnosed with an endolimax parasite which we traced back to some raw fish I had eaten in Barcelona the night before the partial paralysis had set in. I had seen so many doctors and practitioners along the way who told me that I was stressed out, needed to drink more water, exercise more, exercise less or that it was normal for women to have such digestive issues. It had been a frustrating and expensive time and I hadn’t been getting any better.  
At the same time as my diagnosis, two more interesting things happened. Firstly, the same doctor diagnosed a lack of communication between my sympathetic nervous and para-sympathetic nervous system which explained the chronic digestive issues I had been having for most of my life. Secondly, I had been to see an allergist who ran a series of tests for food-related allergies. On the higher end of the spectrum I tested allergic to wheat, cow’s milk, casein, egg white and black tea.
It finally all added up and I was able to heal and adjust simultaneously. I was comforted at last by science and medicine – it wasn’t all in my head.
Alison Beckner from Scout Consulting getting help preparing food in the kitchen

How did this experience influence your decision to start Scout?

Through this process I learned so much about eating differently, food combinations and making lifestyle choices that could be controlled in a positive way. So, overall this experience was a blessing in disguise.

I quickly realised that apart from what you put into your body, it’s what you do with your body that also has an impact. I started making changes on a culinary level and then shifted into movement – I started doing yoga to help with the cramping and digestive issues. Running helped me with stress and made me feel strong and powerful. Dancing was also a great tool – and a social one.

I quickly realised that apart from what you put into your body, it’s what you do with your body that also has an impact.

It became clear to me that if I were to live authentically and enthusiastically, I was going to have to pursue this as my profession. In retrospect, I truly see it as my calling.

How did you make the shift to turn this into a business?

Scout started because I wanted to focus on clients and projects that I loved – working collaboratively, orchestrating projects, executing ideas. I knew it was possible because I have been doing this for most of my life, and I wanted to focus on this full time. For me, it was a way of getting closer to being happy and fulfilled, personally and professionally on an everyday basis.
I’m naturally really curious and enthusiastic, a connector and facilitator. The more I explored the lifestyle industry, the more I found that had the potential to become a profession. I was shocked that not more people knew about these things and there wasn’t more of a hunger or availability for it. So the idea was to feed the hunger whilst at the same time creating it.

What is your primary ambition with Scout?

Connecting and creating – not only people but connecting the idea and the place. It’s also about bringing pleasure, fun and entertainment to the maximum number of individuals within professional environments through retreats or programmes and events that help with stress management, meditation, weight management or a combination of all those things. I really believe in making the world smaller with these activities.
The Mind/Body Talent & Brands division that I started in June 2015 came from having met so many incredible people, exciting brands and activities that I became aware of when traveling in the the US and the UK. I thought about what I could I do with these other than just be a consumer. I really believe that having people who help you look better, feel better, act better, be better is really supposed to be, and is happening now.  
Alison Beckner from Scout Consulting cooking dinner with friends

How do you decide who is on your books?

It’s my dream team! It could be a small group trainer, a cardio dance instructor, a yoga teacher, a meditator – they are all natural connectors and evangelists in their own way – each with their own unique profiles, originality and most importantly, they are authentic and sincere. There’s not a single person who I’m working with in the talent department that I don’t completely believe in and who I wouldn’t want to spend a significant amount of time with.

Do you find the talent you are looking for is changing based on how you are personally evolving?

Yes and no. On a personal level, sometimes I have to tell myself to slow down, give a little yin to my yang.
In the industry there is always more and I’m really excited about that. It’s interesting because what’s new? Yoga? Well that’s not new, dance is not new. It’s really, really old and primitive. But then you get cool hybrid activities like the SBC, Circuit of Change or even reformer pilates and cardio barre classes like Jenn Seracuse is teaching and it just makes sense to me as a logical progression. For the activities I do and the people I promote, I find it’s actually as much about the mindset as the methodology.

How do you support your body?

For me nutrition is movement, even if it’s just sun salutations or going for a long walk or rolling on the floor with my dog. The worst thing I could do is stagnate. It doesn’t matter what I eat or don’t eat if I don’t move, I don’t digest food properly and my sleep quality is compromised.

It doesn’t matter what I eat or don’t eat – if I don’t move, I don’t digest food properly and my sleep quality is compromised.

And then I’m a grouch. Food and movement are both connected.  I also practice TM (Transcendental Meditation) which is very similar to Vedic Meditation. What it really means is that wherever I am, I plop down to meditate twice a day for 20 minutes each time. TM and Vedic are mantra-based methods, super simple and very practical. It’s been a game-changer for me in terms of sleep, stress, and recently for problem solving and creativity.

Do you have any recommendations for people interested in learning about TM or Vedic Meditation?

Most cities have Vedic teachers who regularly host introductory sessions. They are always free and open to everyone, last less than an hour and are a great way to decide if the technique is for you.
I work with one teacher, Nicho Plowman, an Australian teacher who is based in Paris. I came to him through the incredibly charismatic Thom Knoles. Both Thom and Nicho’s teacher Tim Brown have great online resources, as well.
Through Scout, Nicho and I are building retreats for both Vedic courses and advanced practices. Our first will be in the Médoc area (near Bordeaux on the Southwest coast of France), as well as in Normandy.

How would you describe your personal approach towards nutrition?

When I think of my ideal diet, I think of the alkaline diet, but what actually happens in my real life is moderating excess by supplementing with balancing foods. In my toolkit I have activated charcoal, coconut water, bananas, apples (cooked in winter) as well as baking soda or apple cider vinegar, seaweeds and aloe vera. We can’t feel guilty all the time, but you want to make sure that when you do indulge that you appreciate it and that you can re-calibrate accordingly.
In nutrition and other fields renewal is good because there are new studies and means of analysis that become available medically and scientifically. I think it’s always good to question because, like it or not, we’re not the same person this week that we are next week, especially for women. We are in a constant state of flux and let’s embrace this.

What are the most important things when you are working intensively?

Meditating, sleeping and taking mini breaks. I try not to just push through something. One trick that I learned since running my agency is – if you think that something is going to take you four hours, give yourself six.

One trick that I learned since running my agency is – if you think that something is going to take you four hours, give yourself six.

Projects – especially the good ones – almost always take more time than I think they will, and then I beat myself up feeling that I didn’t work efficiently. I’ve saved so much stress by just factoring in extra time. Then I can dig in and enjoy the process.
Alison Beckner recommends getting a dog as a way to stay active
I would also say get a dog. It’s a great way to make sure you’re active every day. I can’t not take Ela out several times a day. It really keeps me going, from morning to night. In addition to providing unconditional love, having a pet provided me with a frame that I had previously resisted and now very much appreciate.

And finally, call a friend! Talk to people and get out of your head. I went through a year and a half in my old company of not sharing anything with people about what I was going through. Recognising your weaknesses or where you’re struggling is the first step and then ask a friend for help! There is always someone there who can empathize or make you laugh. Hopefully both!
Alison Recommends

Moving – it’s not just what you put into your body but also what you do with your body that’s important.