According to data published yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we have reached a grim milestone as a society. For the first time, survey data indicates that more than one in four Americans is obese. While results vary by state, the national average is 25.6% – the highest ever.
While this ongoing phenomenon has generated a lot of discussion and debate (as well as no small number of “fad-diet” solutions), I think we’re long overdue for a simple reality check:
Our contemporary food intake and physical activity patterns are highly inconsistent with what our physical bodies have adapted to over the past 50,000 years – and these changes have occurred so abruptly that they are wreaking havoc on our physiologies.
I realize that this isn’t the most pleasant news to read. However, this may be the single most important factor governing whether or not you consistently enjoy good health or chronically struggle with bad health.
* Agriculture is still a relatively new phenomenon. Grain-based carbohydrates such as wheat, barley, rice, and maize (corn) became staples in our diet only about 5,000 – 8,000 years ago. And even with the introduction of these foods, the human diet was still heavily dependent upon fruits, vegetables, and animal protein sources.
* High fructose corn syrup was not present in our diets until the late 1950’s. It was formulated (HFCS-55) as a lower cost substitute for sucrose in processed foods and drinks. Prior to that, HFCS had never been part of the human diet, and sucrose was only introduced by plant sources such as sorghum, sugar cane, and sugar beets – all largely agricultural products.
* Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats) have only been present in our human diet for about 100 years – and only significantly within the last 30 years.
So, despite thousands of years of acclimatization to a completely different diet, we are deferring to food intake patterns that largely consist of grain-based starchy foods (rice, potatoes, pasta, cereals, breads, etc.) as well as processed foods laden with fructose, saturated fat, and trans-fat. And our physical activity patterns (when we engage in them at all) are largely cardio and repetitive in nature – versus the random, high-energy, and “short-burst” activities for which we have been optimized by eons of human evolution.
The key takeaway here is to recognize that your environment has transformed quite radically over the past few generations, and that this transformation has especially accelerated over the last decade or so.
Bottom line, your current lifestyle bears very little resemblance to what you physiologically respond to most positively.
Remember, historically you’re accustomed to eating only fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, and lean meats while engaging in brief, intermittent, and omni-directional physical activities that are intense and challenging to your major muscle groups. If you stray too far away from these consumption and activity patterns, you will suffer the same consequences that we are presently seeing at a national – and even global – level.