The increasing number of overweight, and outright obese, people in the western world has been a concern of health authorities for some time. Their efforts to promote weight loss have created a whole new world of cliches and buzzwords, which fill the mass-market magazines. Looking at a magazine such as Vogue, I even see writers competing to come up with new twists on the same tired phrases in order to boost sales. But has anyone looked at the reality behind our overweight epidemic and the real reasons why so many of us carry so many excess pounds? I want to do that here.
The real problem is that biology changes slowly. Our subspecies, homo sapiens sapiens, originated about 200,000 years ago, and our bodies are still pretty much the same as the bodies of people were back then. But back then, food was difficult to get, requiring an all-day search; and, when people found food, it was low in calories and poorly nourishing. There was no reason for us to develop an instinct limiting the human desire for food simply because, even after gathering and hunting from sunup to sundown, nobody got enough to eat.
But the world changes much more quickly than our bodies do, and has changed ever more rapidly over the past few centuries and even decades. Today, food is incredibly easy for most of us to get. It’s also insanely abundant and super-nourishing. Our bodies haven’t caught up to this reality and still assume that we’re living in the forager age, so we still have no upper limit on our desire to fill our bellies. We eat as much of the easily-obtained, excessively-nourishing food we have today as we did of the hard-to-find, poorly-nourishing food of 200,000 years ago. In fact, we often eat more, because much more is available. So we get fat.
A corollary is that we no longer have to search all over hell’s half acre for the food we need. We just go to the grocery store or restaurant. But that arduous search for hard-to-find food was what got us our exercise, in a natural and organic way, back when our species was young. Today, we are sedentary because we lack natural motivation to exercise; our food is close to hand, and we can just reach out and grab it. So, in order to maintain some level of fitness close to what our bodies are evolved for, we have to waste energy in contrived exercise for its own sake. Knowing this is the main thing that has discouraged me from exercising all my life.
Next time you see a glossy magazine with a cover screaming at you about “top 5 belly-busting tips” and “tone those abs!” think about what’s really behind the marketing hype of those headlines. It’s the fact that our retrograde bodies have not caught up to the changes in our living conditions, and we must adjust to their needs instead of, as we should, making them adjust to ours.