Throughout history a reality for mankind has been feast or famine. Evolution and nature have developed defences against starvation and the demise of those of us who didn’t have the reserves to carry us through periods of food shortage and famine perished and their contribution to the gene pool was ended.
Over time the survivors evolved into a human animal that stored food and energy when food was abundant, we ate well and the surplus was stored in the form of body fat. Life in earlier times was season and weather dependent, crop failures due to disease, drought and pestilence was not uncommon.
Food storage was basic and primitive unlike today with refrigeration, freezers, chillers and dehydration, canning and preserving. It is probably less than a hundred years that we have had reliable affordable adequate food supplies.
Prior to the second world war a review of photographs of the time shows a much leaner physically fit generation in the western world; jobs that involved physical manual labour were more common, motorised transport, including cars were less available; the three car family would be a rarity. So we walked more and bikes were more common; our diet included basic home cooked meals rather than the processed food options of today.
The problems seem to have arisen in the fifties with growing affluence and the gradual drop in food prices relative to incomes, the consumpion of convenience foods, fast foods and the exchange of natural fats and oils in our food for sugar and salt.
Our bodies naturally build body fat in times of plenty; nature and evolution have designed us this way. We no longer experience the periods of famine and shortage, where in the past we would have drawn on our body’s reserves metabolising fat into energy to sustain us. Diets have been developed to stimulate our body’s processes and responses by fasting for regular periods.
The reasoning around this is to create an environment that resembles the natural cycles we are designed to survive through. Fasting has some very interesting outcomes, Ghandi fasted for periods to sharpen his mind and stimulate his senses; students very often fast for a few weeks when studying for exams and the examination itself. When we are digesting food especially when we eat more than we should we become lethargic and more relaxed; this is in keeping with a more primitive man who would have engaged in the hunt, the kill and the feast, an adrenalin fuelled phase followed by a feast.
When we are hungry we are more alert, our blood supply and energy is not concentrating on digesting food, our bellies are rumbling and our survival is dependent on the next phase of food gathering; the hunt or the harvest.
This was the reality of life in an earlier time; the world we live in now is designed by man and very different to the world we evolved in.
Nature intended us to store energy and food resources within our bodies to carry us through times of food shortage and draw on those reserves, gaining weight and losing it again. In many cultures bigger is better, in our own Pacific Islands body size is an indication of affluence and status, the more food you can afford the bigger you are, the more successful hunter you are the bigger you are.
In the past this was not a problem when life included the natural cycle of feast and famine; it’s difficult to reconcile new clips of poverty that feature obese people.