Why do human animals have such special eating habits?
We might be more intelligent than most other animals, but physiologically humans work in pretty similar ways to other living creatures. We have developed the tools to provide shelter, farm food and implement technology into our lives, but even over thousands of years of our brains developing and intelligence expanding our bodies haven’t really changed.
Why then in the 21st Century do most humans in developed countries eat in a way that other animals simply wouldn’t understand? In this article I challenge the idea that humans are special and I argue that our diets shouldn’t differ that much from other omnivorous animals. After all while domesticated pets are certainly an exception to the rule, most animals that live in the wild are free of the so-called diseases of civilization – modern day ailments such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cancer and autoimmunity that are rising inline with our increasingly nutrient deficient diets and sedentary lifestyles.
We explore this topic by examining 5 big ways in which human eating habits now differ to those of our friends in the animal kingdom.
#1: Humans are the only animals that use “diet” as a verb
Every single animal has a diet, but it is only humans that “diet.”
Diet has become a word associated with many negative things. Here are some of the words that I think of as associated with dieting:
- Self-loathing and insecurity
- Deadlines to lose weight before an event
- A chance for big food producers to make money
- An attempt to control a part of your life when you lose control of other aspects.
I have attempted to go on many “diets” but they never seem to last very long, because my natural desires to eat certain foods (like healthy saturated fats) eventually overpowers this controlling part of my brain that we like to refer to as “willpower.” Willpower is held up to be this really wonderful thing – those with their lives together have lots of will power, but people who can’t manage to restrain themselves are just out of control. Trying to exercise restraint and willpower when you are on a very restrictive diet is simply fighting your survival instincts, and most of the time you will eventually lose. It is animal nature to eat. We need calories from food to survive so if you try to restrict how many are going in you can end up in trouble.
There is a very big difference between the various meanings of the word diet.
Noun: 1. The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats. 2. A special course of food to which a person restricts themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons. ie: “I’m going on a diet
Verb: Restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.
While all humans do have a diet – the kind of food that they eat – I think for most of us the word is now very tied up with restrictive eating and this is a great shame. Our diets should be based upon food that isn’t all that different to what other omnivorous animals eat – plenty of plants (that doesn’t mean harvested grains); healthy and fatty cuts of meat and fish (because that’s where we get our essential saturated fatty acids) and other nutrient rich foods like fruit and nuts in moderation. These are all foods that come from nature and we eat in a fairly unprocessed manner – they are real food.
All other animals would not naturally gravitate to some of the things that we call food. Cereal out of a cardboard box – where the nutrition in the box is probably greater than the “food” itself; crisps/chips cooked in yucky vegetable oils that have been heated and reheated to dangerously high temperatures; pre-packaged biscuits and cakes that are hardened with transfats; and countless items that have been popped, puffed and processed to a state where they really are not food.
Does the idea of what you put into your body going through similar industrial machinery to a car appeal? I think the fact an animal might turn its nose up should be a good indication.
Humans have definitely lost site of what a “diet” (as in the animal definition of the word) is. Let’s try and reclaim the word. Next time you try and go on a “diet” remind yourself that like every other living being you are constantly on your diet. If it is one based around real food, then you might not need to use that other dirty diet word at all!
Just like our ancestors modern day humans are animals too. Let’s start eating and moving like them!
#2: Humans are the only animals that “exercise” rather than just move
Like we control everything we put in our mouths, humans are also the only animals that have to schedule in exercise. We slave away gyms, doing repetitive movements to try and build a specific muscle, or chip away at the fat on a certain area. Our friends in the animal kingdom on the other hand exercise everyday, but it is not planned or repetitive. Each day is different and movement is not for the sake of exercise, but for the sake of survival and getting things done. Animals move to catch food and avoid being eaten. For some animals like cheetahs this means short, fast bursts of movement and then recovery, while for other grazing type beings it is just gentle, consistent movement all day, everyday. This is how animals stay lean and healthy, it’s just part of their existence.
Once upon-a-time our ancestors did exactly the same thing. We moved to forage and catch food and also to escape from predators. Each day was different. Katie Bowman, a human bio-mechanist and author of a number of brilliant books about movement including Move Your DNA has explored ancestral movement in great depth. She explains that some days our ancestors would have walked for eight hours, but on other days might have only spent up to thirty minutes walking. This balance and variety in movement is a very healthy thing. We want to be constantly challenging our bodies to jump, sprint and lift – not let them become complacent or used to the activity we pursue.
In her book, Katie Bowman looks at “movement nutrition” from the perspective that we require a variety of “movement nutrients” to fulfill our health requirements. This means lifting and stretching, leaping and jumping in lots of different ways. It is great that many gyms are now encouraging people to get into this kind of functional movement instead of just trying to slog away on the cross-trainer for hours at a time.
Instead of feeling pressured to schedule in exercise in an air-conditioned gym environment try incorporating natural movement into your everyday life a bit more. Exercise doesn’t need to be a form of punishment for your body; it can and should be a way of showing your body some good old-fashioned TLC. At the end of the day we are animals and we want to move around in a natural and fulfilling way like our ancestors used to
Get in touch with your inner animal!
Walking is an absolutely wonderful way to move, you don’t need to run.
Play with your kids. Get into some kind of yoga or meditation to stretch your muscles in new and challenging ways. Swim and play in the water. Just do things that feel fun and different, because this is the healthiest way to move.
In part II of the articles on “Humans are animals too” we look at three more reasons that we need to get in touch with nature.