Obesity and Disease: Have Our Brains Evolved Faster Than Our Bodies?

The biggest problem with weight gain and health problems in developed societies is that our brains and therefore technology and our way of living, have evolved much much faster than our bodies.

We have advanced technology to a point where we can make a living, raise our children, clothe and feed ourselves without the need to ever step outside if we don’t want to! Granted, not everyone does this, but driving everywhere and sitting in an office for over 8 hours a day, is almost as bad. Likewise, technology has made it easier to process foods in ways we didn’t before, sometimes even adding things that have no business in our food at all. A lot of these processes and additives have made foods more appealing to our tastes and get us hooked on things like fats, sugars and other simple carbohydrates. All the while, our modern socail habits making it harder for us to recognize natural satiety signals and encouraging overindulgence.

However, physical evolution takes a lot longer and our bodies are still very similar to those of our ancestors. Our ancestors who ate nothing but whole, unprocessed foods and walked everywhere, went hunting, fishing and foraging, until they started growing their own crops around 12,000 years ago which was a workout in itself.

This is quite the conundrum. It’s almost like our bodies are holding us back from how far our minds can develop. So while the latest advances in technology, education and science, allow for less effort and more food, our body still requires the same level and quality of activity and nourishment it did tens of thousands of years ago. This contradicting set of needs is what causes so many diseases. We have engineered daily conveniences that pollute our environment and foods that put things in our bodies that we are not built to withstand.

We eat more meat than our ancestors did, more processed carbohydrates like bread and sweets, we use added fats which were definitely not part of their diet and of course, larger portions. It’s easy to see how these drastic changes in diet, combined with our lack of activity would wreak havoc on a body that is still designed to be active and run on nuts, fruits, vegetables, small amounts of meat and some minimally processed grains. In fact, this idea is the basis of the paleo diet.

What’s the solution? Well, We can’t very well all go live in farms and villages, and not everyone wants to follow a strict paleolithic diet. There are many positives to the advances our evolved brains have come up with and we love technology. But we need to adapt these advancements to keep nourishing our still primitive bodies. Don’t get me wrong, when I say “primitive” body I don’t mean it in a negative way. I mean it hasn’t evolved as fast as our brains. But the human body is already an amazing design! It already does everything it needs to do to stay alive and keep all the different systems working in harmony. It’s self-regulating, self-preserving and incredibly resilient. It’s like a high-performance automobile. Would you drive a Bugatti through a hill of jagged rocks and through a muddy swamp with low-grade gasoline and low transmission oil? Would you also throw in some loose pebbles in the engine and then attempt that feat? No. Of course not! Yet that’s what we’re doing to our luxury engine. We’re throwing wrenches into a perfectly designed machine and not maintaining it properly. This is why there is a rise in weight problems and health issues.

However, advancing medicine to keep up with disease isn’t the way to go either. The point is to avoid disease all together. This can be done in a grand scale by changing the way we grow and process our foods to the way we process materials and manufacture modern conveniences. Stop adding chemicals to foods and genetically modifying them. Feed animals what they are supposed to be eating so they can be healthy and don’t require antibiotics. Cut pollution from vehicles, factories and society as a whole. But, I digress. I could keep going, but that’s not what this post is about..

Balancing the modern with the primitive:

Luckily, we can deal with this evolutionary mind-body imbalance individually while the rest of the world catches on.

  • First and foremost, cutting out over-processed foods like candies, white flours, hydrogenated oils (read labels!), sodas and the like is imperative. Especially if you currently eat these items on a daily basis. Your body doesn’t need these and so it has a hard time processing them, which causes weight gain and eventually other illnesses. Think of it as throwing a wrench in a well oiled machine. It doesn’t belong there. It will ruin everything. They’re ok every once in a while, but only as treats.
  • ead labels and try your best to avoid items that have a list of ingredients that look like they belong on a college chemistry exam. They don’t belong in your body either. Opt for short lists of ingredients, preferably whole foods, natural ingredients, and words you understand and can pronounce.
  • Eat whole foods! Fill your plate (mostly) with vegetables, then add some grains and legumes, lean meats, cheese or eggs for protein.
  • Snack on whole foods too. Nuts, fruits, vegetables, seeds and even (stove top) popcorn are delicious, healthy and filling snacks.
  • Eat less meat. You don’t need to go cold tofurkey (See what I did there? ;P). Try to stick to a mostly vegetarian or pescatarian diet and get your protein from a good combination of grains and legumes, eggs and yogurt (organic!). When you do eat meat, look for wild caught fish and organic and free range meats. They are raised in better conditions and have less hormones (though still some naturally occurring ones) and no antibiotics.
  • Be active! You’re not hunting or gathering, or growing crops. So you won’t get 8 hours a day of activity. But just adding 30 minutes of exercise 3 to 4 times per week will balance things out. Especially  if you’re eating right. You can take a class before or after work, go out for a jog, look up exercise videos, download a workout app, get a friend or two and challenge each other, start walking or biking to work or become a weekend warrior and start hiking or biking on days off! You’re used to sitting all day so you think you won’t have the energy, but once you start doing it you’ll see your energy levels actually go up!

If we take all these steps, we can still enjoy a desk job, driving everywhere, and bingeing on Netflix a couple of times a week without sacrificing our body’s health. You get the best of both worlds! Take advantage of modern technology and keep your “classic-design” body in tip-top shape!

What do you say? Ready to make a change?

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