Welcome to the 9/1/17 edition of 5-Shot Friday, which is usually a curated handful of health and wellness topics that I hope you find actionable and thought provoking. But periodically, I’ll find a resource that deserves attention all by itself.
This is one of them.
Wired To Eat is Robb Wolf’s newest book, and if his name doesn’t ring a bell, it will once you realize he’s the founder of the Paleo diet movement. His book The Paleo Solution is one of the go-to books for new CrossFit athletes adopting the Paleo eating style: low carb, high in veggies and proteins plus healthy fats, and an avoidance of processed foods and food types that Paleolithic man did not have access to.
In Wired To Eat, Wolff explains that this is less about copying Grok the caveman, than about avoiding foods with harmful effects on our bodies, which can be found in usually “healthy” foods like whole grains and tomatoes. Certain plants are especially rich in naturally occurring substances that helped them avoid being destroyed by insects and other predators – mild toxins that can cause inflammation in human bodies, with effects as far ranging as abdominal discomfort to joint pain and cardiovascular disease.
But the beauty of Wired lies in its tackling of a bigger problem, arguably the biggest regarding diet and food choices in the Western World: why is it that many of us just cannot stop gorging on the delicious stuff, and struggle with chronic health problems and obesity as a result? And Wolff’s explanation is the best that I’ve read so far, with the most sensible approach to fixing.
The Problem, short version: we are hardwired to chow down everything that’s not nailed down, and to be as lazy as we possibly can.
Those ancestors who weren’t wired this way – who ate like birds and ran around needlessly, burning every calorie they ate and then some — didn’t survive for long. They died off with the first famine or unexpected herd animal migration, and didn’t become anyone’s ancestors.
We are descended, each and every one of us, from Paleolithic couch potatoes.
If they could store extra calories, they were more likely to survive the startlingly frequent famine, sickness, and injury challenges and have offspring more likely to do the same.
These days it is natural to want to eat tasty food (signal: high protein, fat, and nutrients in the wild, including the rare cache of honey or sweet fruit); it was a gift from Heaven back in the day. And expending just enough energy and no more is just as natural a tendency: to do just barely what is needed conserved hard-to-find nutrition for staying alive and dealing with Life’s curve balls.
Of course, the modern era has a very different definition of what constitutes a sensible hoarding of calories and “just enough” expenditure of physical effort. We can feed a family of 5 with a drive to McDonald’s, and “work” by typing on a keyboard all day long. But our inner drives and instincts are the same as Grok the caveman’s. Paleolithic couch potato food Hoovers.
Wolff pulls no punches with his call to action, he doesn’t sugar coat anything, he has no product to sell. The solution requires nothing less than realizing how we’re wired, and then training ourselves to choose a deliberately healthier alternative, since our modern circumstances are so different from our ancestors’, and following the same impulses no longer fits our current surroundings.
He promotes a basic diet that is simple in concept and execution, yet has more than enough room for essential variety. It’s tasty enough, yet minimizes flavorgasms that trigger massive binge eating. And once the basic diet is dialed in, he promotes an individualization period – a week of carbohydrate eating and testing, to customize your food choices to your particular metabolism and biochemistry. Some folks can eat handfuls of starch with each meal, others will gain weight just thinking the word “pasta”; his 7-day carb testing period helps you determine what you can safely eat and what you are hardwired, individual for your body, to avoid.
I’m working through the book myself, but have already started giving it out to my patients.
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