Of Elvis and Twinkies (June 16, 2015)
If the number of us who are obese continues to increase at the current rate, all Americans will be obese by 2230. That is straight out of a paper I read recently. Of course the thing about extrapolating a trend out to its bitter end this way is that trends don't continue indefinitely – particularly in a species as fickle as ours.
For example, in 1977 there were probably a couple of thousand Elvis impersonators in the world. Now there are at least a hundred times that many. If you extrapolate that out with the same logic as that guy talking about Obese America did, that would mean that by the year 7200 AT LEAST ONE PERSON IN THREE WILL BE AN ELVIS IMPERSONATOR.
But, that bit of statistical silliness aside, there is a lesson here. There are some undesirable trends happening, in health just as in lounge acts. And I do think that we can learn some useful things from the lives of primitive people to counteract those trends (well, the health trends, anyway), as long as we use some judgment as well.
As I was carrying on about last week, It turns out that hunter-gatherers were a relatively healthy bunch, in fact healthier than similar farming populations. When your more conservative type of experts look at that a little closer, they find that the reasons for that are what one might have guessed – they ate better food and they moved around a lot more. Plus, hunter-gatherers don’t work as hard as farmers do. Heck, NOBODY works as hard as farmers. Real farmers, anyway.
Here are a few adaptations the human body made for us to to live effectively as hunter-gatherers that are now backfiring on us somewhat.
In summary, your body is designed to successfully and efficiently deal with things that it encountered in a very demanding natural environment. So when it gets what it wants and doesn't have to expend a lot of effort to do so, it's pleased. When it doesn’t have to crawl several miles through the brush to avoid a herd of lions and can binge watch "Firefly" instead, it’s happy. And when it can binge watch "FIrefly" AND "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" AND store away the calories in a bag of Doritos, all at the same time, it’s even happier. Because it thinks it's surviving better. When it isn't.
So this explains why that first cold, hard rule of adulthood -- that the things you like the most are probably not good for you – exists. Your body is pitifully behind the times, and what it wants to do most of the time is NOT good for it any more. So we need to use those big brains that we are so proud of in some other way than figuring out how to find the best free porn. We need to face the facts that:
--We are designed for a lot of activity that uses our whole body, and when we don’t get it, we atrophy and have weird pains that we can’t account for. And
--We’re intended to eat a wide variety of foods, and those foods are whole foods that require chewing and digesting and take some getting used to if we haven't been eating them until now.
And find some way to incorporate healthy practices into an environment that is not so healthy.
The biggest problems we had as hunter gatherers – food scarcity and the need to keep moving – we overcame with settling down to farm. When grandma gets a little lame, we don’t have to pitch her over the cliff because she’ll slow the tribe down anymore. When the Twinkies crop fails, we can eat Ding Dongs instead.
If this wasn't ultimately a successful adaptation to the environment, there wouldn't be so many of us. And the fact that so many of us can survive so long with such poor health, shows (paradoxically) just how successful we've been.
So if we can become more conscious of the negatives in our current way of life and counteract them, there’s no reason we can’t be far healthier than our ancestors were. We just can’t ever forget where we came from, which when you think about it is probably a good lesson on any level.
--dr. diane holmes
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