My intention is for this to be a living, “work in progress” page. I’ll update this piece with new information as it becomes available, and as it influences me to adjust my working theory; my take on the subject of Physical Culture and Ancestral Wellness, my “life’s trajectory”, so to speak. My theories do not remain static, nor do I intend this page to remain so. As a consummate epistemocrat, I am forever on the prowl to uncover material that forces me to expand — or completely change, if need be — my held-to beliefs. What follows are what I consider my to be my currently held “truths”, as they relate to overall well-being and the pursuit of Ancestral Wellness and the Physical Culture “high life”.
My General Premise
1. Forget, and completely so, what you previously thought of as diet and fitness and overall well-being Gospel. Wipe the slate clean; be receptive to a completely new paradigm in nutritional well-being, Ancestral Wellness and Physical Culture.
2. Wrap your mind around this one very simple idea: agriculture is a relatively new development (within the last 10,000 to 50,000years, or so) vis-à-vis the human genome. Our bodies (and by extension, our genotype) have not evolved sufficiently, and are therefore not adequately prepared to handle, the “modern” onslaught of grain (in all of grain’s multi-varied derivatives) and of other simple carbohydrates. Our thinking may (arguably) be well-advanced from that of our stone-age ancestors, however, our bodies and brains, genetically speaking, are relatively identical to the Paleolithic, hunter-gatherer.
3. Exercise (in the pursuit of health) should be infrequent, intense, of short duration, and highly variable. Training for a specific athletic event/sport is an entirely different animal — and not necessarily a healthy one at that. And to the extent that we correlate sporting prowess to overall health and well-being is indicative to just how off-base, irrelevant — hurtful, even — mainstream ideas toward health, diet and fitness have become.
4. Following a Primal/Paleolithic/Evolutionary Fitness template, within the confines and limitations imposed by the modern, work-a-day world, is no doubt a daunting prospect — at first blush. Adherence to the Primal/Paleolithic/Evolutionary Fitness template, though, is, in practice, easy to pull-off. The aim of Theory to Practice is to chronicle, demonstrate, and lead by example, just how one does go about achieving Ancestral Wellness via a life of finely tuned, Physical Culture.
5. This process is an ever-undulating, ever-expanding journey; there is no static or defined “destination”, per se. ”Good health” must always be measured in context, and against the background of one’s goals and one’s environment. Constant adjustment and refinement must be the rule of the day and not the exception, as new scientific findings must be continually evaluated and re-evaluated in light of practical application. All things must be evaluated through prisms of an n=∞ and n=1 nature; that is to say, all “truths” carry with them a universal and an individual component. This blog, then, is more of a signpost along the path than it is “the answer”. Take from it what is useful in your own on-going journey, and make it your own.
6. Proper diet and proper exercise stimulation are the Yin and Yang of health and overall well-being. One in the absence of the other renders the overall experience lame. It’s a hackneyed sentiment but, in this case, unarguably true — the whole, here, is tremendously more powerful than the sum of its part.
So there you have it, Theory to Practice in a nutshell. I am, at my very essence, an epistemocrat – defined by Nassim Taleb (in his marvelous book, The Black Swan) — as being “someone of epistemic humility, who holds his own knowledge in greatest suspicion” (hat tip to Brent Pottenger, at Healthcare Epistemocrat, for that fine quote, and for taking the lead of expanding this idea as it applies to expression of fine Physical Culture). As such, I consider myself a consummate seeker of knowledge, but one not married to any one notion. Dogma, to me, is an anathema. The dogma is, that there is no dogma! This blog, then, is a composite of my own n=1 journey through the wilderness in search of the best that might be obtained in the wide world of Physical Culture.
A More Specific Overview
The Diet Component…
“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”
The basic concept of a Paleo-like diet is that our bodies are genetically best adapted to utilize the foods we evolved to eat, and that humans (and ergo, the human genome) evolved over a few million years as hunter-gatherers. Agriculture did not appear on the human landscape until between ten to fifty-thousand years ago. Although most reliable estimates place the appearance of agriculture at closer to the ten thousand year mark, even using the maximum fifty-thousand year estimate yields a similar outcome — not nearly enough time for our genotype to evolve sufficiently to cope with the introduction of these new, agriculturally-grown (read, grain) foodstuffs.
The most prevalent source of calories for our Paleolithic ancestors of 50,000 years ago would have been lean meat. The fatty parts would have been favored (as it offered more “bang for the buck”), however, since wild game is very lean, the average fat intake would have been relatively low. Our genes are cued to respond favorably to a much higher fat intakes, however.
Dairy, too, would not have been consumed until just a few hundred generations ago, when livestock was initially domesticated. Lactose intolerance is an extreme symptom of our genotype’s having not yet evolved to handle this novel food. I take an agnostic approach when it comes to dairy, though, as many people do tolerate it well, and (in the raw form at least) dairy does provides a multitude of healthful benefits.
Ultimately, the genes we inherited from our Paleolithic ancestors now determine what our optimum diet should consist of. These same genes — virtually identical to those of our ancestors harbored some 50,000 years ago — evolved according to the environment (including food varieties that were available to them) in which those ancient ancestors evolved. And although our ancestors did not eat just one single diet — but rather, ate various diets, depending on geography, ecologic niche, season and glaciations — these various diets did, however, share some of the following, universal characteristics:
The available carbohydrate sources were:
- Plants, leaves
- Roots and tubers
- Nuts (could be considered a fat source as well)
The available protein and fat sources were:
- Wild animals of all sorts (including muscle tissue, fat, organs, brain and marrow). However, the total amount of fat, and the fatty-acid composition of that fat, was different than that found in modern domestic animals.
- Fish and seafood
It can be argued, as well, that the carbohydrate content and load for the modern version of the fruits/berries (and to some extent, vegetables, as well) is much different that that available to our ancestors. This is a minor point of contention, though I do tend to agree. One can, however, avoid problems here by limiting the ingestion of these foods. The same can be said for opting to eat grass-fed meat when possible and where available. I am a realist, though, and will always opt for taking care of the major worries before attempting to fix the minor stuff. See my thoughts on the 80/20 rule, here.
The Exercise Component…
In general, an exercise session should be constructed such that it is consistent with the following dictates:
- it should be intense, though of short duration
- the chosen movements should be functional and/or compound in nature
- the individual components of the workout — as well as the workout itself, when considered in total — should be constantly variable.
- workout intensity and workout frequency should act as inverse variables.
- above all, try to learn to listen to the fractal rhythms of your body and adjust the four prior-mentioned points accordingly.
- there should be periods of low-intensity “play” interspersed throughout the more intense exercise outings. This can consist of virtually anything you enjoy that involves fresh air and bodily movement. Walking, for example. Light tennis. Softball. Personally, I enjoy fixed-speed and mountain biking. Partake in whatever lifts your spirit and fuels your fire.
The four rails of Ancestral Wellness
I use the term “Ancestral Wellness” as a proxy to describe the all-encompassing epigenetic inputs that influence a healthy expression of our inherent genetic code. A roadmap, if you will, toward an optimized phenotypical expression of the human experience. In the simplest of terms, our current genetic code is the result of millions of years worth of fine-tuned evolution; a code that must now attempt to express itself in an environment that is anything but what it evolved to thrive in. The aim of Ancestral Wellness is not to attempt to reclaim some fanciful “lost paradise”, but to seize the best of what modern advances in technology have availed, while simultaneously avoiding modern environmental pitfalls. In my view, Ancestral Wellness can be broken into four broad categories (or “rails”), as follows:
That we as a humanity are only now beginning to uncover and wrestle with the affects of poor diet and inadequate fitness upon our overall health is an indication of just how far we have to go, as a species, to live in proper alignment with our inherited genetic potential. And what an awesome potential it is!
In health, fitness, and Ancestral Wellness -