Written by Aaron
My health and ability to define a life closer to my beliefs was greatly improved when I started learning more about how humans evolved to eat, move and live. By taking some of these principles and applying them to modern life, you can create an optimal lifestyle.
Over the past couple of years I have maintained a weight loss of about 30 pounds, which honestly has seemed rather effortless. I am more mobile, and generally more healthy even while working through a back injury. Beau has gone from a well-rounded, general athlete, to a “machine”, reducing body fat to single digit levels and increasing his strength and work capacity. This has allowed him to train in Brazilian Jiu Jistu at a higher level as well as hike some of the most challenging terrain in the world including the Matterhorn in Switzerland.
Behold, an informational resource and references to some of the authorities in the field of Ancestral Living. What they have to say is influential and effective in fostering health. We hope this provides a starting point for those new to this concept and gives you some ideas on how to fuel you quest, whatever that may be.
Here we go…
Ancestral Wellness is a term that defines the process of examining how we as humans have evolved to eat, move, think and behave and applying these concepts to our modern lives in order to achieve optimal health. It presupposes that aspects of our health have deteriorated in our modern environment and we must look to the past for a guide back to health prowess.
Genetically, we are virtually identical to our ancestors of roughly 40,000 years ago. Our descendents were lean and strong and did not experience the chronic health conditions that plague the modern landscape. While they did not always enjoy the lifespan contemporary humans do, due to infection, infant mortality rates and the general risks of living in a wild environment, they were by many accounts much healthier and more physically capable than the general human population of today.
So if we share the same genetic make-up, what explains the disparity in health? The answer lies in our modern lifestyles. Particularly our food and activity levels. What in particular are the differences?
Foods Available To Our Ancestors:
Roots and tubers
Nuts (also a fat source)
Protein and fat sources:
Fish and seafood
So What Changed?
The agricultural revolution took place around 10,000 years ago and had a great influence on the types and quality of food that were previously available to our ancestors. With the advent of agriculture and animal domestication, humans began consuming large amounts of conventional and processed dairy products, cereals, breads, grains, beans and other legumes. Shortly thereafter, the Industrial Revolution led to large-scale developments of food processing. Factory farming, farm-raised fish, modified foods, refined sugars and processed oils became staples of the modern diet. Compound this with the typical modern diet which included a great deal of processed food, a lack of vegetables lots of sugar and low quality meat and you arrive at a diet much different from that of our ancestors.
The argument made by proponents of Ancestral Wellness is that if we are genetically, virtually identical to our ancestral counterparts, then we have not yet evolved, in the relatively short period of time since the agricultural revolution, to eat what constitutes a modern diet. Particularly one rich in processed grains, high in sugar and low in nutrients and healthy fats. We now have access to and eat carbohydrates and calories far exceeding what our ancestors did, leading to unhealthy insulin spikes and weight gain. Further, the high amount of grains modern humans have access to contain harmful anti-nutrients.
Ancestral Wellness proponents argue that in the time following the agricultural revolution, when these new foods were introduced, the general health of the human population has deteriorated and chronic health conditions have risen.
Enter The “Paleo” Diet:
The Paleo Diet refers to as its name suggests, eating a diet similar to our Paleolithic ancestors. It is a diet that attempts to bridge the gap between our modern lifestyles and our ancestral past. It is not literally the wild food based diet our ancestors ate, however it is a version closer to that than the typical modern diet. To make it really simple, eating Paleo basically means eating more of the ancestral food from the list above and less of the foods following the agricultural revolution. This includes eating more free range, organic, grass-fed meat, wild caught fish, lots of organic vegetables, some fruit a small amount of nuts and healthy fats such as coconut oil .
The Paleo Diet is not a “one size fits all approach”. While an exploration through the literature of the authorities regarding this diet reveals that while some basic principles remain constant, there is room for individual adaptation. Chris Kresser, acupuncturist and practitioner of integrative medicine encourages a level of self-experimentation when eating a Paleo diet. In fact, he encourages people to adopt a Paleo template rather than a strict notion of eating Paleo.
Sometimes the Paleo diet is mistaken for being an exclusively low carbohydrate diet. While limiting carbohydrates is often recommended for people with the desire to lose weight and or reset leptin levels, the Paleo diet is not an exclusively low carbohydrate diet. While it emphasizes carbohydrates from particular sources like vegetables, tubers, and some fruit as opposed to bread, pasta and processed carbohydrates, the amount of carbohydrates ingested can be dictated by each person’s current health and activity levels, as well as body composition goals.
Mark Sisson, author of, The Primal Blueprint states that in that past, entire civilizations lived for thousands of years on less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. For the modern day human he recommends 100-150 grams of carbohydrates for “optimal fat burning, muscle development, and effortless weight maintenance.”
Please keep in mind that ‘Paleo” is a vehicle to bring attention to and promote a diet closer to how our ancestors ate to achieve optimal health. It should not be considered and end in and of itself. It should rather be considered a sign post pointing you to the best way to adopt healthy eating habits.
Our ancestors moved occasionally in short bouts of high intensity and moved more at lower intensities. Hunting may have involved shorter bouts of intense sprinting after prey as well as carrying and moving heavy objects such as animal carcasses and materials needed for shelter. Fleeing from danger, i.e. avoiding being prey also involved moving at a high intensity for short periods.
A much greater amount of time was spent moving at a more leisurely pace when exploring, traversing terrain and gathering food. Even more time was spent simply relaxing. Constant movement implies a high demand for calories which then leads to a greater need to hunt and gather. It is just not efficient in terms of survival. Our ancestors ate in large quantity and then moved modestly in anticipation of food scarcity. As Art Devany, author of, The New Evolution Diet states, “we are all lazy over-eaters.”
It follows that there are certain movements our ancestors performed, essential to humans that we can emulate and incorporate into our modern lives. Some of these include squatting, pushing, pulling, pressing, jumping, crawling, climbing, sprinting, walking, playing and moderate hiking. The really simple modern application of ancestral movements would be to sit much less, lift heavy things (including bodyweight) utilizing basic primal movements, 2-3 times per week, sprint sometimes, walk a lot, play even more.
General Lifestyle Adaptations for Ancestral Wellness
Get some sleep. This should be well known to everyone but sleep may be at the top of the list in terms of fostering health. Experts note that our ancestors slept when it was dark and were active when it was light, maintaining strong circadian rhythms associated with deep replenishing sleep. When we do not sleep properly our body cannot release restorative hormones and carry out other functions critical to our health and well-being. So turn off the TV, computer or whatever at night and get to sleep.
Without question, our ancestral counterparts faced enormous stressors associated with survival. While intense, these stressors were not as constant as those experienced by modern humans. We were not designed to be in a continual “fight or flight” state and this can wreak havoc on our overall health. Taking steps to reduce stress is paramount to freeing your primal self. Try reducing commitments and obligations. Evaluate your possessions and get rid of things that only add stress. Create some spaciousness in your life so you can relax.
Get outside. For millions of years our human descendents spent their lives outside. While I am not advocating for nor am I willing to spend my whole life outside, it is important to be outside, in nature, more often. Some of the benefits? Vitamin D is crucial to health. One way that we obtain vitamin D is through sunlight. Unfortunately most of us do not get enough because we just don’t get outside enough. This was not a concern for ancestral humans obviously because they lived outside. So get outside more and exist in an environment you were meant for.
Use your mind. Exploring, learning, teaching and being creative to name a few have long been activities inherent to humans. It seems that any human that has ever thrived has never merely accepted knowledge passively. Important developments and maybe simply happiness, have been the reward of those who have questioned and sought to be life-long learners. Be a philosopher, love wisdom, and create something that makes sense to you.
Learn to think “evolutionarily”. I confess that I now love to think about why humans behave as they do through evolutionary terms. It is stimulating to ponder how life has changed and civilizations have formed from small tribes and relatively few people, to the super-tribes and billions of people that now exist on the planet. We are human so why not explore what “makes us tick” from an evolutionary perspective. If you are interested in this as well check out, The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris. In terms of the cultural influence of the agricultural revolution check out Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
Join a “tribe”. Social connections were critical to ancestral humans and they continue to be for us. The internet has opened up a myriad of opportunities to meet and chat with others, yet in person human interaction suffers when we become completely reliant on the “e-version” of ourselves and others. So get out of your comfort zone and surround yourself with others that hold similar interests and beliefs. Substitute unhealthy gatherings that involve unhealthy food and drink with gatherings with like-minded healthy folk (ah hem, like the Exist Anew tribe).
Excellent Resources For More Information On Ancestral Wellness And The Paleo Diet:
For expert information on ancestral living, wild food and plant taxonomy check out:
For Paleo recipe ideas check out: