Me, about 50 lbs. ago, on the Salmon River in central Idaho, Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, in 2016, followed by me a little over a year later, next to friend Mike Beiser’s sailboat.
For those that have been following my weight loss journey — far more immediately impactful that some of the secrets-of-the-universe squirrel talk that appears on this blog — you’ll remember that I make a couple of big points about how we view food. For those without the patience to read the older posts, here they are:
- Most of how we view food in the contemporary world, and fat, has absolutely nothing to do with the actual biochemistry of how our bodies process food. Even the stuff about how we’re supposed to feel when we EAT certain food!
- Most of how we view food is wrapped deeply in notions of social control that feed the Authoritarian v-Meme in our society.
- The deep shame that the top of the Authoritarian food chain wants to lay on us for ostensibly being lazy deprives us of receiving meaningful information on what food (and hunger) actually does to us. The short version of our current food crisis is a.) we eat sugary food because it gives us a buzz, we’re depressed, and it’s addictive, and b.) it makes us fat, and then that feeds back into a system where other people call us lazy.
I’ve advocated for a diet, very similar to Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Body, I’ve taken to calling “Deep Paleo”. This is the diet we actually evolved to eat, over about 1 million years. Screw the various “genetic bottlenecks” that say humans evolved to blow up into zeppelins with minimal food, or the very distinguished folks that say “because we nearly starved, we had to figure out how to get along with each other and hunt cooperatively.” Those beliefs, though widely held (and reliably recited — hang on to that thought) are very likely total bullshit. Empathy — the thing that really organized us — requires energy surpluses. Not energy shortages. Food shortages would drive more factionalization and extinction. Not more social evolution.
But back to that ‘social structure/influence-free’ diet. That evolutionary diet’s history (once again, think a million years ago, not 10,000) is straightforward — for 10 months each year (the Dry Season in central Africa) we ate lizards, and things we could run down, because we could run a long time. Two months of the year (during the Wet Season), we ate fruit, and we got fat, and the women produced estrogen, and got pregnant.
And then, when the fruit was gone, we shifted back to being skinny, because that’s what we needed to be in order to chase impalas and lizards. Farley Mowat showed you could eat mice and be a large carnivore and do just fine. And because it wouldn’t do for us to wander around starving for months at a time, our bodies evolved to shift into lizard-grabbing/antelope chasing food mode in about a week – without much pain. As crazy as it may seem, you’re supposed to be able to lose weight and get back into shape without much pain. We mastered that over a million years of evolution.
The bottom line is NOT that we should go back to that 10 month/2 month cycle. The bottom line is that our deep history tells us what we should eat if we want to lose weight and be lizard-grabbing lively, or carbohydrate-sleepy. We don’t HAVE to do anything (including eating lizards) for 10 months at a time. We can lose weight for a week or so, eating figurative lizards and antelopes and still not being hungry, and then grab some jalapeño poppers with our friends at the bar once every other week or so. It’s really that easy to control your weight. The deep insight is intensely liberating — and also promotes agency. Something else the control-oriented in our society aren’t so into.
All this is pretty cool. But you don’t have to just believe me. Watch the video below — about horses and humans racing along in Wales.
Someone with a lot tighter editorial control than this blog is singing my song. They attribute our ability to run all day to cooling abilities of early proto-hominids as opposed to their prey. I totally agree. I’ve said that, barring a super-hot day, you ought to be able to easily exercise for 3-4 hours without a Camelbak. Certainly without ‘hitting the wall’. And the science supports this. But the other unexpressed elephants-in-the-room, are the food we ate to be able to do that, as well as the efficiency of bipedal locomotion. It also means, implicitly, that ketosis and gluconeogenesis were the historic way humans dealt with getting the majority of the energy, especially for motion, most of the time, that they need. Not carbs, glycogen, glycolysis, and fatty livers.
Because our society can’t process the real basics of who, and what we are, and these basic principles of how our metabolism evolved, we, as a nation, are destroying ourselves. What many of us get, especially as we age, is insulin dysregulation, more properly called, insulin resistance, that leaves many of us suffering with metabolic syndrome.
Even Stephen Hawking has warned us of the ramifications of the obesity crisis. Though, not surprisingly, as a good, old-fashioned Authoritarian, he’s warned us (kinda) about the wrong thing. “Sitting to much is killing us,” and he’s partially right. But he blows any opportunity to really change the debate by doubling down on the old ‘humans are lazy’ trope, instead of discussing the real driver, diet – sugar, fat, and metabolic syndrome — the real demons in this passion play.
What’s really interesting, though, is how the whole food discussion is also a great way to understand the “reliability/validity” discussion I’ve talked about on this blog. We can look at our deep ancestors and come up with all sorts of reasons to reliably support our current views on eating lots of cinnamon rolls and bananas. That doesn’t make them insightful, true or accurate. It just means they’re repeatable, and everyone will basically say the same thing.
But validity-wise, all this is really falling apart. On our carbohydrate-dominated, processed food diet, almost everyone is getting fat. You can go to your local Walmart, or even your local health food store (lots of obese, unhealthy looking people there too!) And we believe we can actually eat that stuff. Our beliefs, more than anything else, drive the creation of our food supply, as well as what we put in our mouth. And everything about that fails profoundly the validity test. When we reach for the cinnamon roll AND the orange juice at breakfast — what we believe balances pleasure and health, we’re still getting fatter. That means it fails the validity test. In spades.
What I’ve found in my own world (or rather, my own body) is that my big brain gets pretty happy when I eat carbs. Which makes sense — the brain burns something like 20% of the calories we eat.
But sometimes you just shouldn’t listen to your brain. Sometimes, you just need to go out and grab a lizard. Or remember those days, loping across the Central African savannah, chasing an antelope with your homies.
Shout-out to co-conspirator Ryan Martens and his successful marathon completion. Ryan’s a little younger than me (not much), and after training only a couple of months (he was in fine shape, but not a marathoner a priori) he ran a marathon all with sub 10-minute miles. Interestingly enough, empathy drove his training — he was coupled with an app and a group of other fine folks, who encouraged each other to stick to the training regimen, virtually chasing that antelope all together across the savannah. Kinda like we did 1 million years ago!