Comments on my post reviewing “Refuse to Regain,” has gotten me thinking on the subject of nutritional history and anthropology and the notion of moderation.
I’ve always defined moderation as “the least restrictive method that yields the intended results.”
I’ve used that exact definition for the last 20 years. I even used it when I taught basic nutrition in community college childhood development classes.
So what is the least restrictive method that is effective?
Ah, if only there were a single correct answer to that question. It certainly would save us all a whole lot of grief and trouble.
I think one effective strategy is to try to recreate in our lives a bit of the past. We weren’t always the fattest nation (only getting fatter).
To a certain degree, I think most weight loss does follow the model of time-travel. Some of us may only have to go back a few years – when there were just few fewer labor-saving devices, people got just a little more sleep, and people ate out just a little less.
But how far do you have to go back? Five years; 10; 50; 100; 500; 2000; 5000; 10,000; 15,000 years?
As Barbara Berkely says in her book Refuse to Regain (I believe quoting another source, because I heard it long before her book came out) that if all of human existence were to be considered one day – we’ve only been eating modern foods (like grains and dairy) for about 6 minutes.
When humans switched from hunting/gathering to farming – average height fell dramatically and new or rare diseases became common in the fossil record (diseases such as tooth decay and arthritis). As farming techniques advanced, those diseases become even more common).
But who wants to eat a “caveman diet,” even if it were proven to be the “best” diet for humans? 150 grams of fiber instead of 20 or even the 35 (which is sometimes seen as extreme advice).
There are few hunter-gatherer societies left in the world. Not many, but a few. Barbara Berkely references a study of New Guinea or Australian aboriginal tribesmen (born into the hunter-gathering tribes) living a modern lifestlye and suffering modern lifestyle diseases. All the subjects had some modern illness diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure. They were asked to return to their tribal culture for a period of time (it wasn’t terribly long, but I don’t remember if it was 6 weeks or 6 months)- and their health improved dramatically.
Does that mean that we can’t get healthier unless we live like triable peoples have for millions of years.
I don’t think so. But I do think that “time travel backwards” is a concept that almost anyone could follow with success. Someone with 10 lbs to lose, or someone who is at a healthy weight but has some risk factors may only have to go back to 1980, whereas someone with allergies, insulin resistance, hypothyroidism, thin tooth enamel, autoimmune joint and connective tissue disease, arthritis and morbid obesity (like myself) may need to go back to the Stone Age.
Even as I’m more and more intrigued by primitive diets, I know that I cannot replicate an ancient diet in much detail. I cannot and will not go back 15,000 years.
I could start from either end (modern foods working backward or stoneage working forward) or I could start in the middle. It doesn’t matter. It’s my strong belief that moderation will be whichever point allows me to reach a healthy state (in weight and symptoms).
When will I end up? 1965? 1800? 20,000 BC
I don’t know yet, but I do know that 2010 is killing a lot of us. If we don’t make some retro-style changes 2050 will be worse.
Ultimately, we can’t ever truly replicate any year. I am not going to eat insects, so whatever humans have gained gained from eating insects I’ll have to replicate in a modified “modern” way. Some ancestor diets recommend low-fat dairy (not a paleolithic food, but if you can digest it, it’s more palatable than eating bugs).
I’m not going to go into the wilderness and chase a deer (or let a bear chase me), but I am going to swim and walk and bicycle.
It’s not about replicating the past, it’s about recreating the results. For the most part, eating more foods that ancestor’s would recognize and the further back the better.
I think it boils down to making changes that are “older” in spirit, using some fairly easy basic principles.
Higher fiber is better than lower fiber (we’ve bred the fiber out of foods).
Lower sugar is better than higher sugar (because we’ve bred sugar into our foods).
More omega 3 fats
Less high fat dairy and other “concentrated” foods (dried fruits have more in common with candy than with fruit).
Eating fewer processed carbohydrates.
If you have autoimmune disease, consider the possibility that you may have to “go back” further than someone without AI conditions.
Ultimately, it can all be reduced to “moderation,” if you define moderation as “the least restrictive method that is effective in achieving the results you want.”