Does anyone else think that today’s technology culture has shaped our lives in unsustainable ways? That the so-called “convenience” now also means that life must be faster-paced, with more on our to-do list, simply because we can now “handle” more tasks with the help of our smart devices?

Does anyone else wind up staying up later to read or watch longer into the night on a lit-up screen?

Does anyone ever actually cook a nice whole-foods-based meal anymore, or is it all take-out and processed/pasteurized/overly packaged nommage?

Does anyone outside of Chicago and New York City ever walk instead of drive a car to their destinations (even half a mile away) anymore?

 

And am I alone in noticing that, after awhile (usually on the weekends), the way we live in the name of modern efficiency catches up to us, namely with sluggishness, mopeyness, and (eep!) pudginess?

 

Between an unfriendly gym scale and this research presentation by clinical psychologist Stephen Ilardi, I had a moment of uffish thought at lunch a few months back:

 

Here’re the highlights, if you don’t have time to watch: Dr. Ilardi argues that we’re in the midst of an epidemic, and doctors are having to prescribe more and more medication to help us deal psychologically with the effects of a life that, to all the generations before us, would seem simply unnatural. He also argues that by returning to our ancient ancestral roots in the way we eat, work, and move, we’ll return to mental and physical health. (And in case you were thinking, “But wait, didn’t pre-civilization humans live a really short life?” Vallois’ 1961 theory that life was short and violent was recently disproven; so long as primitive people survived the parasites and infections rampant in childhood, they actually lived to a robust age within a the range of life expectancies today, even with all our modern science.)

Ilardi’s argument matches up with what many of us have already noticed: that our twenty-first century life has hit the human mind and body hard, in ways that thousands of years of microevolution from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle couldn’t prepare us.

The frenzied pace, the terrible, nutrient-poor, saturated-fat and sugar-laden food, and lack of daily physical effort . . . These factors really do take their toll, even on the young. With most adults in the US on prescription meds and nearly half of our population overweight or obese and dealing with the ailments that come with it, we’re essentially turning into the mobility-chair bound creatures predicted in the futuristic Pixar film WALL-E.

"WALL-E." (2008). Pixar Animation Studios.

“WALL-E.” (2008). Pixar Animation Studios. Behold, our fat future.

 

Let’s not also talk about the fact that being stressed, poorly nourished, and overweight becomes expensive quickly in terms of medical costs. In fact, it’s these combined “diseases of civilization” that are the biggest healthcare crisis we face in our world today in terms of inflating medical service demands, and with those demands, costs.

 

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to keep my medical costs down and actually enjoy life a little. . . and not wind up in a Hoveround chair.

 

So I thought about it how much civilization and its offerings actually affect my life right now.

I might have experimentally heave-ho’d my way into my pre-marriage skinny jeans and frowned at what I saw in the mirror after just two cozy years of happy marriage. A scale in my work place’s wellness center told me that it was only eight pounds’ gain since my big day as a bride—not huge, right? But then I did the math of four (4) pounds a year (4 lbs. x just 5 years = 20 lbs. . . . which makes a huge impact on a 5’4” frame).

Vanity, and health concerns, made me pause.

 

And then I remembered that I had trouble with stress-induced insomnia now and again.

 

And then I thought about the fact that depression ran in my family, and that at times, it tugged at me like a weepy child at my sleeve.

 

So I did a little reading and tried some baby steps to take myself back in time . . . to go more “native” in my thinking, as it were, by thinking about what my ancestors 500 to 1,000 years ago would have done to just live their lives. I came up with a few lifestyle modifications, and I thought I’d share these little experiments and what happened after, just to see if they encourage anybody else out there.

 

EXPERIMENT 1: Taking Modern Conveyances out of the Equation (Within Reason)

 

I quit taking elevators instead of stairs. That was a no-brainer.

Hubby and I started walking dates, instead of gabbing across our laptops in the evenings.

Ruth's grocery-getter. Glamorous, no?

Ruth’s grocery-getter. Glamorous, no?

Then I took a bigger plunge and ditched my all-American car habit during fine weather in favor of a bike commute to work. Don’t be too impressed by this – it’s less than two miles from my apartment to my office door. Sure, it takes a little extra effort some mornings to pack my work pumps in a backpack while I roll out the door wearing yoga pants and sneakers under my skirt. But it also means I don’t have to schedule in some kind of fabricated, pointless gym exercises that day, which just feel unnatural, and as Dr. Ilardi explains in that presentation, are, actually, instinctually unnatural to humans and most animals. Gee, no wonder I hate working out.

Just two months later, this little change has meant getting my booty back (and core, thighs, calves, ankles, and gas money) without having to work in the extra expense in time and fees for the gym. It’s also given me the endorphins needed to just feel more cheerful overall. And it’s frankly hilarious to see the way people respond to me, all dolled up for work and riding along on a bike in a very non-serious-biker way. Sans matchy-matchy spandex top and bottoms, I somehow manage to look like a helmet-wearing Dorothy Gale stole the Wicked Witch’s bike most days, which the old folks walking the neighborhood in the mornings find very entertaining.

 

EXPERIMENT 2: Eating Like Hunting Is Actually Hard To Do

 

I bet you thought when I wrote “hunter-gatherer” farther up in this post that I’d wind up going all “Paleo Diet” in this portion of my experiment. Nope!

I did think about it, though, since it’s a pretty big fad right now and touts all kinds of ancient-world wisdom. But I started reading more about the dietary components and soon realized that this modern-day diet currently calling itself “Paleo” has FAR more meat in it than any of our ancestors ate on a typical prehistoric day.1 In many places and in many seasons, when gatherable green food was plentiful, people didn’t expend the energy or risk the danger of hunting animals often bigger than themselves. Prehistoric hunters also didn’t catch anything to eat most days even when they tried to; based on the quantity of meat that researchers seem to think the ancients consumed, it seems like early humans hunted with considerably less hunting success than the big cats (for lions in a group, roughly 30% of capture-kill attempts actually succeed; for humans in a group, attempts vary from a 3%-30% success rate, depending on the size of game stalked, according to research like that done by Kristen Hawkes,who has published multiple studies of the Hadza hunter-gatherer people). Regardless, meat, for most ancient people, was reserved for seasonal feast times (when game was available and meat was a treat) or famine (when plant food was scarce).

But regarding the other animal product ruling the current Standard American Diet, the Paleo Diet is spot-on: dairy products, which came much later on the human timeline of edibles, were totally absent from our ancestors’ diets for millennia, and for most modern humans, are still too dense in saturated fats, casein, and lactose to be metabolized in our bodies well.

Yet in today’s Standard American Diet (aptly abbreviated as SAD), there’s meat or an animal product or byproduct at every meal. Too bad we aren’t prepared to deal with this diet physiologically—to the point where it’s killing us slowly with every excess forkful.

 

Please, consider the following (and check out the links to the sources I’ve done my best to embed; I was overrun with footnotes):

 

  1. High-levels of animal protein consumption has been recently associated with higher levels of blood-circulating IGF-1, or insulin-like growth factor, which is linked as a growth agent for multiple forms of cancer (including colon cancer, which killed my dad at 54, and breast cancer, for which I carry a mutated gene).
  2. Animal protein consumption, especially red meats and dairy, are also linked to incidence of stroke, both Type I  and Type II diabetes, and infertility in women, in addition to many other lifestyle-influenced diseases and metabolic disorders.
  3. The evidence of the deleterious health effects from meat-heavy eating is so bad that even the pocket-stuffing-corrupt USDA (which is financially backed by multiple meat-industry sources, in addition to Coca-Cola) has gone so far as to risk the wrath of their sponsors by announcing in the 2010 revised dietary guidelines that it’s time Americans cut back on meat intake, calling animal and meat products “solid fats” so as not to raise too many hackles, although their referent is clear when one reviews text closely, as well as the new “My Plate” portion guide. The upcoming 2015 guidelines are anticipated to advise even less consumption of animal products as the “My Plate” recommendation graphic evolves while lobby groups that are sick of the silly political games holding back American nutritional reform sue the USDA (check out what the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine did in 2000 and again in 2011).
  4. Cow’s milk is hormonally and nutritionally designed to take a 90-pound calf and turn it into a 400-pound animal within a year, and even low-fat dairy products (including yogurt—the fastest-growing refrigerator staple this decade) metabolize in such a fashion as to promote weight gain in humans.
  5. Roughly 75% of the adult population in our world is lactose intolerant or has some form of lactose maldigestion, with highest incidence in groups of African, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American descent (see source).   So many of us just aren’t equipped to digest the stuff, but we eat dairy anyway because it’s marketed to us at an insane rate (“Got Milk?” and “Milk Life” campaigns ring a bell, do they not?). Dairy also contains casomorphins, powerful opiates that keep us hooked on the yummy creamy, saturated-fat and hormone-laden stuff. Seriously. Go look it up. Milk contains morphine to keep babies calmly eating—and it affects humans equally as well as a little baby calf.
  6. A diet-based population study from 2009 showed that non-vegetarian eaters have the highest BMIs on average (and it’s an overweight BMI, at 28.8) when compared against ovo-lacto vegetarians (25.7), pescatarians (26.3), and vegans (23.6). Note that the vegan average is the only one within the “healthy” BMI category. (BMI standards currently dictate that a BMI between 18.5-25 is “healthy”).
  7. Lastly, consider that in 1909, the average American ate 123.9 pounds of meat per year and 3.8 pounds of cheese (which is 70% saturated fat. Seven. Zero.). In 2007, we ate 200.6 pounds of meat (mostly chicken!), and in 2005, we nommed on 31.4 pounds of cheese per year2. And with nearly 100 extra pounds of those calorie-dense animal products going into our bellies, we’re fatter than we’ve EVER been.  The USDA’s stastical summary in its 2010 “The Total Diet” report indicated that, “Currently, the average American gains about a pound a year between the ages of 20 to 60 years” (p.2).

 

The Power-Plate was created by the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine in 2009, and it reflects decades of research on diet and longevity, which revealed a plant-based diet as best. Note that the USDA's My Plate has somewhat copied it, after PCRM laid on some pressure.

“The Power Plate” was created by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine in 2009, and it reflects decades of research on diet and longevity, which revealed a plant-based diet, sans dairy, was best. Note that the USDA’s “My Plate” has somewhat copied it, after PCRM laid on some pressure.

After reading all that, I was convinced to go more and more plant-strong in my diet, eliminating more and more animal products, and spacing out my meat consumption to the point where meat and cheese are now special treats – not everyday things.

Not to get too personal, but I’ll share a few things that have happened once I made these adjustments:

  1. I’ve lost five pounds in roughly four weeks after I finally committed to this dietary experiment. (YAY!)
  2. My seemingly-perpetual tummy bloat went down after I’d gone a solid week eating vegan meals.
  3. My joints, which I never even really noticed were stiff before, loosened up, to the point where I realized I was bounding up stairs that I used to trudge upon as I made my way to work. I can’t really explain this, beyond saying that I just feel sort of weightless. Some research indicates that dairy and meat can raise inflammation in the body, so I guess being without it for a week or so made a difference.
  4. I got an energy boost overall, to the point where I felt more productive.
  5. Regularity, folks. Fiber makes a gal feel perky. (TMI?)

 

EXPERIMENT 3: Getting Rid of Synthetic Hormones

This step of my lifestyle experiment actually started far before I saw Dr. Ilardi’s presentation, but I put it last here because I was nervous about posting this controversial step. After consideration, though, I think it’s important enough to mention. It was a tough road, because it meant getting off the progesterone-based birth control I’d been on for the first year and a half of my marriage.

I didn’t take this step lightly; it was after months and months of debilitating insomnia, significant hair shedding, migraines, strange acne and weight gain that bloated my lower tummy (imagine a mini-Buddha belly), in addition to a depression so intense that I went to see a professional. My husband was all for trying something new—trying anything, really—to get back the girl he’d dated and married. I’ll continue some notes about this transition for you ladies in an upcoming rant on this subject, but suffice to say, I adopted a science-based natural form of control in January of 2013, and today I’m still not pregg-o and am feeling and looking so much more like my old, pre-pharmaceutical self. Everything is back to where it was pre-hormones, including my sleeping patterns—except for the acne. Still haven’t figured that one out. Who knows?

 

So, friends, this has been my journey back to nature and back to some older ways of living. And while it’s certainly not the mainstream lifestyle of a Millennial and still has gaps I need to modify, I’ve had no regrets!

 

 

NOTES (to keep this section small, I’ve included embedded links to most sources  in the post above. Do feel free to click into them where they appear in the text above):

  1. Researcher Vaclav Smil at Colorado State reported in “Eating Meat: Evolution, Patterns, and Consequences” (2006) that, for prehistoric peoples, “animal foods provided generally less than 15 percent of all dietary protein” (p. 607); compare this figure with the 19-35 percent animal protein-basis in the trendy Paleo Diet.
  2. Foods per capita figures from US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Presented here by Dr. Neal Barnard: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/91/5/1530S.full

 

 

 

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