It is well documented that the incidence of human obesity has been increasing steadily with each generation since about the time of the industrial revolution. As societies became more specialized, with constant advances in the fields of science, technology and agriculture, we became increasingly fatter. In addition, we now have alarming rates of child obesity essentially in all Western cultures thanks to television, computers, internet, video games, cell phones, etc. And the problem is spreading into developing counties as well. Another growing concern is the number of child obesity-related conditions that are present and increasing such as, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and type II diabetes. These are health risks that are associated to heart disease in adults.
Surprisingly, according to a study, a significant number of adults in their 30’s and 40’ spend more than 10 hours per week playing video games. Studies have shown that the average American household watches over 4 hours of television daily. Another study suggested that adult internet users spend an average of 13-15 hours per week on the Web. What it comes down to is: we have too much time on our hands. We spend most of our leisure time participating in sedentary activities and we eat too much ready made foods from supermarkets and from fast food outlets. It’s not difficult to determine the causes of this weight gain epidemic. As we know, body weight (including fat and muscle) is based on the balance of the input/output equation. Essentially we are eating too much, too much of the wrong foods and at the same time, we are too inactive. This causes an imbalance in the equation as energy or calorie intake (food) exceeds energy expenditure (physical activity) causing excess calories to be stored as fat (adipose tissue) in the body which turns in to weight gain.
Over the past several decades we have been bombarded with a multitude of weight loss philosophies including starvation diets, high protein diets, high fiber diets, diets that consisted of moderate but frequent meals, many of which included various exercise prescriptions as well. The result? We are still, on average, overweight as a population. And obesity related diseases are reaching epidemic proportions.
Consider some of the latest diet trends that propose eating smaller and more frequent meals. One of the key components of this diet philosophy suggests that human metabolism increases more than that of a diet which consists of fewer larger meals. Results from many studies however have not supported this theory. In fact studies have shown that human metabolism (BMR or baseline metabolic rate*) does not respond differently (i.e. does not decrease) with diets that consist of 3 meals per day and which provide sufficient calories for the body to function.
Let’s consider our Paleolithic ancestors - the hunters and gatherers - and their social behavior: Scientists have studied contemporary but primitive societies (in Africa and
Let’s look at the lifestyle of the hunting and gathering type of society in more detail here. Their diet consists of fruits and vegetables that are found naturally in their environment. A few of these cultures grow their own using small scale (micro) farming methods that are similar to organic cultivation, absent of chemicals. Essentially their diet does not include white carbohydrate sources (stripped of fiber) such as white flour, rice and sugar. Their proteins consist mainly of meat, fowl and fish that is cooked fresh as it’s caught (unprocessed). The vegetable proteins come mainly from natural vegetable sources high in fiber. In short, processed foods are virtually nonexistent in their diets. They do not follow organized or planned calorie restriction diets and they don’t have regular set exercise prescriptions. Not surprisingly, they feast when food becomes abundantly available (when the hunters are lucky enough to catch game). On the other hand, they often have to endure longer periods with low caloric intakes, as they go through periods when little food is available because of either unsuccessful hunting or droughts.
So when food is in abundance they eat a lot (high consumption). When food is sparse, they have to settle for less - in some cases close to what would be a starvation type diet for us. Their physical activity is low intensity in nature but frequent – as quite often several hours of walking per day is required to complete daily tasks.
We can experiment by emulating the diet and exercise habits of our ancestors as it were, in order to see if we can achieve favorable body weight composition and improved health condition.
I have a client named Julie, who wanted to lose 27 pounds. Julie claimed she had been going to the gym 4 times per week. She was on a weight training program and participated in cardiovascular exercise using various machines available at her health club. Also at that time, she was following a calorie based diet that included approximately 2000 total daily calories which she consumed in 6 small daily meals. She also had a slightly higher than normal blood cholesterol level.
I put her on the following plan: I advised her to avoid white carbohydrates, to choose whole grains and to begin eating more fruits and vegetables. The following cooking methods were to be extremely reduced or avoided: frying and barbequing (because that was her favorite cooking method).
The diet did not include a set amount of calories and consisted of 3 meals per day. I simply asked her to stop eating when she began to feel full during meals and more importantly to ensure she did not overeat. A good way to know when you have reached the level of being comfortably full is to eat slowly. Many people can envision the amount of food they need to consume to reach satiety. When you eat slowly, as you get closer and closer to being full with each mouthful, you will be able to actually reflect on whether you have reached the feeling of satiety (fullness). That is if you ponder on it, you’ll begin to feel each stage of fullness so to speak, and you will know (feel) when you have reached the level of complete fullness (satisfied and no longer hungry) at which point you can stop eating – without going too far (overeating), even though you may want to continue. Conversely, if you eat quickly, chances are you won’t have time to reflect (as mentioned above) and you will pass that comfort zone which will result in overeating. This method of eating takes a little practice to get used to but is very critical in a weight loss strategy.
On weekends, for one day only (Saturday or Sunday, whichever day was better according to her weekend plans) Julie was allowed to cheat, which meant she would still maintain the diet - but she was allowed to add her favorite foods that were not normally allowed - for example sweets like chocolate, other desserts, etc. – as often as she wanted (on that cheat day) but not to the point of becoming overfull or stuffed – just satisfied (as mentioned above).
Julie worked as a middle manager in a mid size corporation, 8-12 hours a day, five days a week. At work she would take her lunch at the company cafeteria or various other restaurants within or in close vicinity of the building. Because of her busy schedule however, she worked through lunch approximately 2-3 times a week. That is, there wasn’t enough time to go to the cafeteria or to other restaurants. As a result she just grabbed a snack from the office vending machine and ate it in her office while working.
I advised against this practice and told her to do the following instead. I took the opportunity here to try and mimic the hunter and gatherer: during times of hunting for food they had to endure long periods with little or no food. So I told her to stop the snacking and go without food but to drink water instead. In fact, we agreed that she was not allowed to eat food outside of an eating area or environment (home kitchen, restaurant, cafeteria etc.). All she had to do was endure the hunger pangs for a little while until they disappeared with the passage of time and the aid of drinking water. This was not so difficult to accomplish, she discovered. As she was overwhelmed with work during these periods, after a while she actually did not think of eating. She would just reach for her extra large bottled water instead, which was a reaction that became automatic or unconscious if you will. This method essentially forced her to stop snacking on junk foods at work. She could then take a meal after work at home or at a restaurant. And this did not mean that she could eat 2 meals to make up for the earlier lost meal. It meant she could have a normal dinner later without overindulging (as stated above). Consequently, during these missed-lunch days she would have one less meal than normal.
Now let’s get to the most dreaded part of the program: physical activity. Actually, you will discover that this part is not really that bad after all. Her exercise prescription consisted of slow to moderate pace walking (not brisk walking) 5 times a week for 90 minutes. It didn’t have to be continuous either. For instance, she could break it up in to two walking sessions if she wished. Julie brought her sneakers to work and walked the first hour before she started. She walked around the downtown streets near the building where she worked and often went to a nearby indoor mall and walked indoors through the maze of retail stores. After work, for the remaining half hour walk, she devised a route that ended at the subway station where she hopped on the subway car that would eventually take her home. Other times she took the half hour walk after the subway trip home, in a route she had worked out around her neighborhood. Not so bad so far right? Ok wait, here comes the harder part. Once a week she would participate in high intensity training exercise (HIT). We chose running for the exercise as she preferred this method over others.
The object this HIT session was to run as fast as you could for as long as you could - mimicking the hunter and gatherer during a high intensity hunting episode, so to speak. However, the goal in this particular case would be to complete 20 minutes of continuous running without stopping in between. Of course she would have to gradually work up to this high intensity fitness level. First she began with a combination of walking and jogging intervals for the 20 minute period. Then we raised the level to walking, jogging and some running. Next we advanced to jogging and running and finally, as her fitness level had adapted accordingly, she would run for the entire 20 minute session. Again, keep in mind that this process involves a gradual increase in intensity levels, allowing the body to adapt to each stage over a period of time as required to reach the target. In this case it took approximately 6 weeks to attain this intensity level. She chose to do this routine in a high school outdoor track near her home on weekends, either on Saturday or Sunday as her schedule permitted. So again, to be clear, the weekly exercise prescription included 5 days of low intensity exercise (walking for 90 minutes) and 1 day of high intensity training (running for 20 minutes). It’s important to note here that if you wanted to try this exercise method, you should get clearance from your doctor first.
After twenty nine days of participating in this program Julie had lost 20.5 pounds and her blood cholesterol level returned to normal levels. Twenty four days after that, she had lost a total of 31 pounds (31 lbs. in 53 days!). At the present time, however, Julie is simply trying to maintain the weight loss. She still follows the program but not exactly in its original from. That is, she still maintains the diet part (“as best I can”, she says) and she misses a walking session here and there (may miss up to 1-3 hours per week). Furthermore, she does not perform the HIT session every week but tries to do it at least once a month, sometimes twice. At the present time as I’m writing this article she has gained back 7 pounds. So 5 months have passed and Julie is still 24 pounds lighter than she was at the start of this program. And Julie claims that she is “very satisfied” with that.
So as we can see, weight loss and improved health are quite achievable by taking the Paleolithic lifestyle model and trying to copy, transform and incorporate some of its main characteristics in to modern life by being a little creative and somewhat disciplined. To get more help on achieving permanent weight loss you can visit the following site: