Updated: Jul 17
What does a person from the hunter-gatherer time period have in common with the modern day adult?
Aside from having very similar biology - we share the same needs and wants as we did 12,000 years ago.
We need food to sustain ourselves, we need daily movement to stay physically ready for life, and we need to reproduce to sustain our population.
One of the biggest differences however is the availability of food, as well as the increased volume of heavily processed foods that light up our brains.
What I’m going to talk about today is how eating like our ancestors can drastically improve your health and how it’s more simple than you might think.
What was our ancestors' normal diet?
So I want to start this by stating this isn’t a post that will be talking about eating paleo. This is a popular diet trend that really got it’s fame with the CrossFit community.
It was gritty, it was “natural”, it was something that people felt connected to their ancestors in that they would only be allowed to eat foods that were present in the paleolithic age.
Foods like meats, nuts, fish, vegetables and fruits were all available. These foods were the staple of those paleolithic eaters and so the diet and fitness community adapted this style of eating and bowed down to the all mighty paleo diet.
However, regardless if my belief about a specific, one-diet approach is beneficial or not - it’s still important to discuss the types of foods that were ample during these times to connect some dots.
So then - what was a normal day of eating for someone who lived 12,000 plus years ago?
Well according to research they forage for berries, hunt down smaller animals until they get tired (humans are great endurance creatures!) and eat according to the season / location.
If they happened to be in a colder climate where fruits were more readily available, their diet would consist of more fruits than meat.
Another example might be those people who were located in desert-like environments. There aren’t many animals living in the desert so their meat supply was far less than if you saw a person who lived near a lake with lush forests!
To wrap it all together, our ancestors’ ate foods that were not processed as they didn’t have the technology to do so.
What was the reality of the health of our ancestors?
Without modern medicine the life span of many people during these times were very low. Many children died before the age of 15 and rarely did people make it all the way to age 40.
So why then - do we look at this time of life and say that we should eat the way that they did?
Well - throw the advances in medicine to the side and just consider that it’s very rare for us to find instances of obesity, diabetes, and heart conditions for people in these times. Now it’s certainly not impossible to find someone with atherosclerosis (the hardening of artery walls which usually results from deposits of plaque, normally caused by diet choices).
So I would say this is a good thing! There are far less incidents of heart disease than there are now. There must be something that is specifically different about how and what people ate back then, compared to what we eat now.
The world has changed, and we have evolved
During these paleolithic times we did not milk cows or raise animals on a farm. The human body was not evolved to handle lactate (the main ingredient in animal milk).
This is a big reason why those who do partake in the paleo craze don’t use any dairy products. There wasn’t a process to cultivate milk based foods as well as the ability for humans to even digest it safely.
Over time however, our bodies have developed a tolerance for dairy which is why we can stomach cheese, milk, and the like.
So even though our ancestors didn’t eat dairy products - it might have been more because of the lack of production and exposure than it is due to health purposes.
I say this because it’s important to recognize that our ancestors didn’t have this magic formula for health.
The world has also evolved in a “not so healthy” way by creating foods that are highly stimulating for our brains. An example is an Oreo cookie. An Oreo has a sweet cookie that is crunchy on the outside, filled with a soft cream on the inside.
This type of food is not found in nature, it’s found in the lab. Because of this - our brains are not evolved to handle this food without our brains going haywire with neurons firing with pleasure!
This in turn makes these foods very easy to overeat as they are so stimulating to our brains that we crave more. Add to this the fact that these foods have very little fiber in them which would help to fill you up.
This is why it’s very easy to keep eating ice cream, Oreos, cupcakes and such. They don’t provide that same “filling” factor as broccoli might.
What our ancestors did right
So you came here to find out exactly how we can learn from our ancestors!
It’s time to dive into this concept and something that I’ve talked about here before. However, the point is even more important.
Our ancestors ate intuitively.
Your ancient ancestor wakes up in their sleeping quarters. The sun is strong and the brisk fresh air trails itself through their camp as everyone begins to wake.
A hunger strikes in the belly and your ancestor reaches for some berries and nuts that were collected the day before. Just enough to satisfy the craving, just enough to fill a morning jolt of energy to start the day.
It’s time to go hunt and forage for food which may take hours before a successful hunt occurs. Maybe they get a surplus of berries today and they bring the haul back to the camp to share. Maybe they are lucky in their hunt and are able to track down and capture an elk.
Whatever the hunt brings home is what they have to eat that night.
They eat until they feel full and share the rest with everyone else in the camp - they don’t eat more than they should and they don’t have food readily available in a refrigerator.
So you might be asking now:
Okay what’s this have to do with eating intuitively and how does it apply to my life now?
Well if you think about it - there really are 2 big reasons for why our ancestors had to eat like this.
There was no way to preserve meats for a long period of time before spoiling
There was no use for eating more than what could sustain one’s body for the day because others needed it
Couple these 2 with the fact that our ancestors moved much more than we do today - and you have yourself a recipe for keeping people’s weight in a healthy balance without needing to diet, restrict, or count calories.
How to adapt intuitive eating in the modern day world
So how can you do this intuitive eating thing with food always available?
It’s difficult no doubt when we all have packed pantry’s and fridges with various flavors and textures of food.
If it’s one thing our brains and bodies have not adapted for through the years - it’s the ease of getting food in your body each day.
So “unfortunately” for us this makes it harder to have hard cut off points for how much food we can put into our body each day.
I say unfortunately but honestly, it is a blessing to live in a 1st world country where food is available, gets dropped off at your door after pushing 4 buttons on your phone. This is nothing short of magical as well as extremely privileged.
So with this great power...comes great responsibility
*cue the Spiderman theme song*
Therefore it is your responsibility to control and hone in on this power of food ease. It makes sense then that even in our more health conscious day and age, we still see obesity in 1 in 3 adults (33% of the population).
I’d argue this is because we’ve lost the roots of our ancestors, we’ve become too accustomed to the amount of food available at any given time of our day.
What you can do to become a more intuitive eater
Try out these tips to become more aware of your food choices, more aware of your hunger and fullness levels and ultimately, become more in control of your body!
TIP #1. Eat when you are hungry (7 out of 10 on hunger scale).
This one seems obvious...eat when you are hungry. However, how many times in a day are you eating because of other factors?
Are you bored? Are you stressed? Are you eating because of social factors? If you are only a little bit hungry and dinner time is upon you - maybe you’d be better off having a much smaller plate or just waiting a bit longer until you were actually hungry.
TIP #2. Stop eating when you are full!
Again, obvious I know...but I know I get past the full point many times and I’m the one who’s coaching on the topic!
So therefore I know many, many people eat beyond their fullness point until they are feeling stuffed and can’t move. Remember that it’s okay to leave food on your plate - save it for leftovers or just throw it out. IF you don’t want to waste food - it will go to your waist instead.
TIP #3. Think about how food makes you feel after.
Do you feel that after eating your lunch that you can go out for a walk or run? And no I don’t mean literally a minute after finishing your last bite but can you do that in 15-20 minutes? That’s all it should take for your body to feel like it’s in the digestion stage.
If you feel like you are lethargic for the next 2 hours - you probably ate too much. This can also be true on the opposite end - do you still feel the hunger pangs? Well then - eat more! Listen to your body and trust those feelings.
TIP #4. Take a breath while eating.
It’s very easy to over consume food when you don’t allow your body to process what is being put inside it. When we eat our dinner in 5 minutes - it’s easy to still feel hungry and grab a second plate.
Then after that plate your body feels like it’s going to explode and you can’t figure out why since you were just so hungry! Well - you probably ate way too fast and didn’t give your body a chance to process and interpret how full or hungry you ACTUALLY are.
TIP #5. Recognize that our brains are still in the stone age.
Our brains and body are not that different from our ancestors. Our ancestors needed to always consume as much food as possible at each meal because of the limited amount of available food at a moment's notice.
This is certainly not the case anymore - yet our brains still want us to store fat and be prepared for weeks or even months of low availability of food. Life isn’t like that anymore - don’t worry you can order that pizza tomorrow if you’d like!
TIP #6. Stop getting caught up with WHAT you're eating, focus more on HOW you are eating.
Understand that it’s less about what type of food you are eating - someone can lose weight eating McDonalds and someone can gain weight eating Keto, or Paleo.
It doesn’t much matter the actual food...what matters more is the speed at which you eat, how much you eat, and ultimately how the food makes you feel is much more important. Food is energy and energy is found even in those Oreo's!
TIP #7. Focus on the meal at hand.
I’ve heard it so many times - food for the chronic dieter is always on the mind. Before you even finish your current meal, you will be already thinking of what you can eat for your next one based on whatever diet you are on.
This takes you out of the moment and makes all the above strategies that much harder to accomplish. What you are eating later doesn’t matter because honestly, you don’t truly know how you will feel at that moment.
Sure it’s okay to guess and have a plan of what you will eat, but to think something like “Okay I’m going to have this English muffin now so that means I can’t have any bread later on for dinner. Instead I can have this...or that…” All the while you are munching away at a fast pace with your current meal.
It’s okay to be hungry…
Last thing I want to touch on today is the fact that it’s perfectly fine to feel hunger. Hunger is felt in many different ways. From starting to have a craving in your mind for a certain food, to salivating after seeing a commercial of a juicy burger, to getting irritable and noticing the stomach grumbles.
Hunger is just a signal that your body is trying to communicate to you. And hunger is okay - if we think about our ancestors again, I’m sure they were hungry a lot of the time. Yet they didn’t die.
Hunger does not equal death, and being hungry doesn’t mean that you are destroying your muscle, bones etc.
This is why it’s so important to understand how you feel hunger so that you can better understand when you truly need to eat.
Getting comfortable with being hungry is a sure way to gain a better understanding of what food you want and need.
Especially in our world today - there should be no fear of starvation. Even if you feel “like you are starving and you are going to die” - I promise you that you won’t. Food is around you and food is easy to come by.
Now I’m not saying you should always be hungry and put off eating - however I am saying that if you start to become more comfortable with being hungry and knowing what that actually means for you - the more likely it is that you will be able to control your intake, control your weight and feel your best day in and day out.
So if there’s one thing you take from this post today I hope it’s this:
Listen to your body, take some time to understand what it really needs so that it can help you become the best version of yourself.