The Caveman Test

caveman-computerFirst you couldn’t have more than 10% fat in your diet, then carbohydrates became the source of all evil*. Slow-Carb waged war on the various Schools of Paleo. But the Food Pyramid continues to loom over them all like some kind of Eldritch abomination. 

Weight machines were once all the rage, but then free weights became king. Then Tsatsouline brought kettlebell back into fashion, while others urged us on to condition ourselves with our own bodyweight, like convicts. 

Eggs, coffee, and long-distance running caused perennial headaches to gurus all round.

So how does the layman observing this cacophonic monkeyhouse deal with all the noise? Simplify. Simplify the shit out out of all this crap and reduce it all to the following basic question: 

Would you have been doing this 10,000 years ago?

Diet fads and exercise methodologies come and go, but the human body remains constant – at least on the timescales that matter. Apply the Caveman Test – and you are unlikely to go very far wrong.

Should you count calories? Erm, lolzwut? No caveman would know what a calorie even is. Forget all those Weight Watchers programs that would have you obsessing over that extra 5 calories you ingested at lunch.

How often should you eat? Did hunter-gatherers eat 6 carefully portioned meals a day – or did they alternate between bouts of fasting and feasting in-between their hunts? There you go – intermittent fasting. Feel free to give breakfast the finger if you’ve never liked it anyway.

Did you eat grains? No, they ate root tubers. When humans started eating grains, life expectancy plummeted relative to the levels of the Paleolithic Age. But here’s the thing: Humans have adapted. Partially adapted. Some human groups have adapted more than others. East Asians have been cultivating and eating rice for more than 10,000 years, and it remains a major staple of their diet to this day; but they nonetheless boast some of the world’s lowest morbidity and obesity profiles**. It is not an unreasonable hypothesis that their physiologies have evolved to better process grains. Reinforcing it is the observation that some of the world’s worst obesity crises are among peoples that have only very recently adopted grain heavy modern diets – the Ameri-Indians, the Samoans, etc. If you are East Asian, you shouldn’t worry much about eating rice. You were doing it 10,000 years ago, after all. If you’re Europea, approach with caution – rice only arrived in Iberia only a millennium ago. And if you’re Ameri-Indian, flee for the hills. Other forms of grain however appear to be pretty much universally bad.

lactose-toleranceDid you drink milk? Again, no. But because its a useful trait to have, lactose tolerance independently developed among several human groups – and then spread outwards. But if you don’t come from those red and orangey areas, chances are high you are lactose intolerant. So don’t bother with it. Forget about GOMAD.

Did you eat fruit? Of course – whatever Tim Ferriss might believe. But here’s the thing: The fruits we have now are, quite literally, the fruits of labor – that is, of a long period of selection for size and sweetness. Take the strawberry. People like pretending that eating bowls of the stuff is healthy (I won’t even go into stuff like orange juice). Here is a picture of wild strawberries – that is, the genuine ones – that might change your mind on this (and don’t forget they would have all been foraged, and only available for part of the year).

strawberry-sizes-leslie-land-blog

What kind of things would you have eaten that you don’t eat much of now? Root tubers. Organs. Bone marrow.

How would you have exercised? Certainly not by lifting symmetric weights in “sets” according to a certain schedule. Anything but that.

How about:

  • Ripped rock climbers.

    Ripped rock climbers.

    Bodyweight exercises: Pressups, pullups, squats, bridges.

  • Gymnastics.
  • Rock climbing/bouldering. Seriously - have you ever seen a fat rock climber? It’s pretty much perfect as far as developing the optimal physique is concerned. Most of the muscles (except the pushup ones) are worked out from all angles and directions; there is the strongest of incentives to drop weight, which acts even at the subconscious level; and reaching the top is inherently motivational. There are now many gyms with bouldering walls.
  • Sprinting
  • Wrestling
  • Lugging about uneven weights

What else would you have been doing differently? According to Cracked, a leading scientific authority, pretty much everything: Shitting, bathing, breathing, sleeping, childbirth, dental hygiene, sitting. (Well, okay, Cracked’s articles can be quite dubious in many cases – but that one hits the mark.).

Well, you get the idea. Don’t obsess too much over one guru or another. Use your own brain – apply the Caveman Test.

Would you have been doing this 10,000 years ago?

Comments

  1. anything you say is right, may i add,

    Timothy Ferris has one major quality, he knows how to make money, that is where he applies his real intelligence, anything else is knitted on within the process. that was then, when i was shoved his works.

    dairy is to some people addictive. it encourages the endorphine production similar to something like heroin. then the calorie concentration, mainly saturied fat is high. then it is utmostedly polluted by chemicals, growth hormone, pesticides and other derivatives of the production and processing process.

    wheat, same as above, add genetic manipulation, selection for size, the gluten tend to stimulate endomorphine production in the brain, and the gut(need to recheck to be 100% sure), thus highly addictive to some(a matter of genetics).

    then, vegan, danger of chemicals likewise, if sedentary not much of a problem, if not, watch ironintake, magnesium, salt, calcium and adjust.

    the better approach if within means is to monitor the effect-results of foods of your diet scientifically, and adjust.

    there is no longer “healthy” food available nowhere, anything is polluted.

    food is only part of the picture, exercise, active elements in life-style are needed. we seem not to thrive lying about.

    if you let your muscles believe by upping the weight resistence, your daily is wressling with an elephant, your body will be stimulated by brain output to become a mastodont.

    theory of specificity: fit is for purpose, rock climbing is a great way for fitness, only it does not work the legs.

    we human species commit systemic abuse, it results to derivatives(undesirable side-effects), in occurence, when basic needs are concerned, food, water, air.

    again, please do me a favor and scan some of my upcoming book on some other minor matters.

    thnks for your relevant writing,

    m.

    • “theory of specificity: fit is for purpose, rock climbing is a great way for fitness, only it does not work the legs. ”

      I see that you probably have never done any rock-climbing.. most of the work is done by pushing upwards with your legs, the arms are mostly used to keep you from falling backwards, away from the wall. Though of course in overhanging terrain you rely more on the strength of your arms.

      • I only climbed indoors sustainedly for four years. I can still do fingerboards hand to hand with a distance of one meter between the supports (live currently in the outback so no sophisticated indoor climbing facility is in reach). my best indoors is 7a, that’s the continental-Europe grading, complete 30 meter routes. Could do 6c without interruption for 1 hour on cable, including overhang. My funniest outdoors is Pulpito del Diablo plus 5000 meter, in the tropics, Colombia. Did that with a partner, some 6a verticals after a two day approach, and camped in the snow at the foot of the route. am 55 now.

        No rock climbing doesn’t do much for your legs. Runners, cyclists, triatletes and the sorts have big leg muscle endurance or power, accordingly.

        It is all a trade-of, again, the theory of specificity, at a certain point, what you win one way, you trade in for something else. Fit for no purpose, or if you prefer all purpose is a hoax.

        You write well, you have an academic intellect, not many people do, that’s where it starts. then comes the training, that gives the last percentages, then there is more specialisation in what you are best, then there is the possibility of winning. That’s the same for atletic excellence.

        regards and my complements on your Syria mimes,

        m.

  2. Even granting that we should eat like cavemen there’s a big mistake here. People in the Paleolithic absolutely DID eat grains. And legumes.
    Look, for instance, at this page:
    http://donmatesz.blogspot.it/2011/06/gathering-wild-grains.html
    which details some of the evidence about it, very interestingly and convincingly.

    Also, take a look at this talk, around the 9:20 point:

    The speakers describes findings of barley remnants in the teeth of paleolithic people. She later mentions availability of legumes in the present day wilderness.

    The idea that paleolithic people didn’t eat grains or legumes was always very naive. And yes, this shakes the idea of the “paleo” diet to its very foundations.

    That being said, the idea itself that we should eat like our ancient ancestors is itself a mistake and to follow this simplistic principle might backfire. Natural selection didn’t stop 10 thousand years ago. For instance, as you point out here, some of us did develop lactose tolerance which we lacked back then. If this changed, many other things might also have changed. After 10k years, it’s reasonable to say that we are well adapted to an agricultural diet, and might have de-adapted from the hunter gatherer diet (which did include grains and legumes anyways).

    I don’t believe it’s necessary or reasonable to go back that much. A more reasonable guideline would be: What would you have eaten 200 or even just 100 years ago, before all the industrial crap?

    Also: http://www.nature.com/news/2009/091217/full/news.2009.1147.html

    While rice in particular arrived in Europe only recently, European people have been eating grains in general for a much longer time. At the time of Caesar everybody in Europe lived off various grains, even Germans, Gauls, and Britons, as the conquerors himself says in his works. And of course we have plenty of evidence for paleolithic grain consumption.

    Where do you get the idea that grains other than rice are bad?

    Amerind people have always been healthy eating corn. It isn’t true that they didn’t know grains.

  3. When I was a kid, my dad was a butcher and he used to bring home legs of lamb and other meat from work. We used to hang around in the kitchen together, getting the marrow out of the bone. So I guess I did eat that.

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