“Slow and steady wins the race.” “Everything in moderation” These are some fairly old, yet prevalent sayings. And there is some wisdom to be found in them when applied to the right aspects of life. But as biological creatures, they do not describe our natural mode of operation.
Our species evolved to become hunter-gatherers. Like most pack-hunting mammals, this means evolution left us well suited for short, but intense spurts of activity. The typical work week of a paleolithic-man is estimated to be fewer than twenty hours a week. That’s right, twenty hours a week. Hunting was of course a grueling and dangerous endeavor. But after killing a mastodon or bison’s relative, our progenitor would be set for food for a while, and have time to sit around an contemplate existence. Think about a pack of Lions: most of their time is spent sun-bathing, interrupted by intense athlete hunting feats.
While we cannot alter the world around us to accommodate a 20 hour work week, we use this guide in terms of health matters. For exercise (separate this from physical activity done i for fun) we should be favoring short and intense workouts, which repeatedly cross the anaerobic threshold: sprints, and sprint-like activities. Heavy, but short (low rep, low volume), resistance training sessions, utilizing the body’s largest muscle groups which pushes the you almost to your max.
In terms of diet this means dismissing the convention of seeing food only as energy, but instead as the bricks and mortar for your body as well. And then consuming the right kind of calories for your activity level. In recent years the “Caveman” diet-variations have become increasingly popular. While there are a handful of “non-caveman” foods I think should be added to everyone’s diet, and a couple more that should be added to the diets of athletes, the basic principles are sound: no processed foods, no grains or legumes (in another post I hope to have a discussion on these), no dairy or very limited diary, and the bulk of you calories coming from protein and fat. This model of nutrition fuels our bodies appropriately for the types to type of activity we’re made for, and in a lucky trick of fate, matches up pretty well with the sedentary lifestyles most people have these days.
It also means not being able to have everything, which is often what “Everything in moderation” turns into. You cannot devour pastries on a daily basis, and expect to be slim. You cannot drink like a fish, and expect to remain healthy. You cannot smoke and expect to maintain cardio. This things seems self-evident, yet all the time we see people try and “moderate” between extremes and reach a balance: well it’s okay if I eat this much junk because it won’t hurt that much. It’s okay to smoke a little bit, I mean it takes years to get cancer, and how much could it really effect my breathing?”
It takes a kind of mature knowledge to acknowledge that real moderation is not indulging in everything “in moderation”, but regulating the different aspects of one’s life in a balancing way. Moderation is not about it being okay to engage in a number of negative behaviors, because they’re balanced by positive ones (the world rarely brakes down into good and bad that way), but finding aspects and that complement each other.
Without a doubt, one of the larger fans of the “everything in moderation” approach is the pharmaceutical companies, and the paradigm that insists they are the cure-all. They are the ultimate “you can have your cake and eat it to” salesmen. Lose fat without changing your diet or lifestyle. Gain muscle without working out. Lower your bad cholesterol levels without changing your diet and activity levels. Treat diabetes without losing weight or changing you lifestyle. Treat and ignore pain without treating and confronting the root causes.
So try being a little more “caveman” and see how it goes. Re-engage that lost knowledge or our progenitors: eat what is healthy, avoid what is not, be intense and hard-working, then balance that with real rest and recovery, Confront (health) problems at their root, don’t treat or cover the symptoms by rationalizing that the lifestyle change or effort to truly correct the problem will be too great.