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How do some people stay thin and healthy while others struggle with excess weight and metabolic disease? You might think this is a result of variations in metabolism or self-discipline, but we know by looking at hunter-gatherers societies that this assumption isn’t true.
Researchers found that the Hadza tribe of Tanzania, modern hunter-gatherers who follow a traditional lifestyle, have the same metabolic rates as people in the West. The Hazda don’t work out at the gym or eat low-fat foods, yet according to the authors of this study, the “Hazda were highly active and lean, with body fat percentages on the low end of the normal healthy range for Western populations”.
What does this mean for those of us who live in modern societies? If we look at this living example of human history, we may discover the key to good health and ideal body weight.
Hunter-Gatherers Don’t Eat Refined Foods
The main foods of the modern hunter-gatherers include meat, fruit, tubers, and honey. The Hadza diet includes approximately 33 to 41 percent meat, six to 22 percent tubers, and eight to 16 percent honey. One group consumes a substantial amount of berries, making up about one-third of their diet.
What’s missing are the cereal grains, wheat products, and refined sugars so common in today’s supermarkets. Vegetable oils and fat-free dairy products also aren’t on the menu. These industrialized products disrupt hormone balance, add to fat cells, and promote the generation of disease-causing free radicals.
Hunter-Gatherers Eat Clean, Seasonal Foods
The industrialized food system affects every type of food in the diet. Grain-fed and confined animals that are over-medicated and fed improper diets are neither natural nor healthy. Travel time, pesticide application, and chemicals used in packaging materials affect the quality of fruits and vegetables. These issues aren’t at play in hunter-gatherer societies.
Food variety also has an impact on health and weight. For the hunter-gatherer, a dinner that contains meat isn’t confined to a steak or chicken breast. Organs, fat, and bones are also used. Seasonal variety allows for changes in flavors and nutrients. Today’s Western diets contain the same foods year-round, affecting both quality and nutrition.
Hunter-Gatherers Don’t Over-Exercise
Throughout the day, Hazda walk an average of approximately three to seven miles. They don’t run marathons, lift extremely heavy weights repeatedly, or attend hour-long aerobics classes.
It is often assumed that those who exercise harder and longer enjoy better health and weight. In reality, over-exercise elevates stress hormone levels that increase body fat and cause fatigue. Mild physical activity, like walking or yoga, promotes healthy weight loss and vitality.
Hunter-Gatherers Take Time to Relax
Modern societies minimize the importance of downtime. Activity is often used as a gauge to measure a person’s importance or usefulness. This mindset has a profound impact on health and well-being.
Sleep deprivation and the reliance on stimulants like caffeine and sugar to get you through the day puts you in a continuous state of stress. Elevated stress hormones tax your adrenals, making it difficult to function, suppressing the immune system, and increasing blood glucose levels that lead to body fat and disease.
For optimal health and sustained weight loss, follow the examples set by both ancestral and modern-day hunter-gatherers. Living in a modern society makes it impossible to fully live off the land, but you can still choose the best food sources possible. Low impact exercise, plenty of sleep, and a diet free of industrialized, modern-day food inventions promotes hormone balance that reduces body fat and disease risk.
Pontzer, Herman, and Et Al. “Hunter-Gatherer Energetics and Human Obesity.” PLoS ONE (2012): n. pag. Print.