If you’ve read my last posts, “Eating like a Hunter-Gatherer in the Modern World.” and “Move like a Hunter-Gatherer in the Modern World” you’ll understand why it’s essential to look into our past to know how we should live in the world today.
Not read the previous posts? Go there now!
In this post, I will talk about fasting from food—a hot topic in health circles and even in mainstream media.
But my questions for you today are…
What can we learn about fasting by looking back at our ancient ancestors?
Can we align our modern science with historical data?
And if so, how can we mimic the Hunter-Gatherer ways to improve our health today?
Let’s dive into it.
Please note that this post is a personal exploration of the potential benefits of learning from history. By no means is it a prescription, and by no means am I a doctor. When making any changes in your life, ensure you discuss them with your doctor. Many of the situations are theorized and hard to prove, but I’ve used logic to discern the facts.
Looking at how we believe humans would have lived 10,000 years ago, do you feel that they would have been eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner? How about snacking throughout the day?
What’s to say that hunter-gatherers would have even eaten every day?
It’s relatively hard to obtain this kind of information, but we can think about the situation they may have been in, and that might bring us to a conclusion on their eating patterns.
As mentioned in the previous posts in this series, finding food would have been a continuous task. There was no jumping in the car and heading to the grocery store or driving through the local fast food joint.
Plants would have been hard to extract and not overly abundant at all times of the year. In Summer, fruits may have been ripening, while Fall would bring more ground vegetables. Winter may have been a tough time and most likely drove tribes to migrate towards warmer climates and more abundant food.
And animals, well, they’re animals; they don’t want to be eaten. So they’re going to do all they can to survive. When the weather turns for the worst, it would have only made it harder to hunt them. And if you can’t hunt, there’s no food.
Hopefully, by now, you should understand that there were most likely times where food was hard to come by, and any food obtained would have been shared and rationed.
Look at your life today. As long as you’re privileged enough to have food security, it’s likely that you have a surplus of food. You never wonder where your next meal is going to come from.
You always have enough in your fridge to throw a meal together.
You most likely have three meals a day, and you supplement that with snacks along the way.
And then, sometimes, you’ll go into all-out feast mode. Maybe when you go to a buffet or the cinema? Or perhaps just snacking on the sofa at home.
How do you feel this aligns with the past?
How are our bodies and the genes we inherited from these ancient beings reacting to this abundance of food?
To me, it’s relatively straightforward once we start looking at occurrences of chronic disease, or so-called western diseases. We know that conditions like diabetes are most likely due to an overconsumption of sugars and processed foods.
And if we look at the scientific literature, it’s becoming clear that abstaining from food every now and then is actually a good thing. It allows our body to move into cleanup mode. We are destroying the weak, broken cells (think cancer) while allowing healthy cells to survive.
It’s not just that we’re eating fewer calories; some changes allow the body to focus on repairing and healing.
Are you now convinced that we should probably fast now and then? Do you want to live the way of a Hunter-Gatherer? Maybe not exactly the same way, but we can channel their food habits every once in a while, right?
It’s simple. Abstain from food.
There are many ways to do this, and many people in the world do this day in day out. Religions still practice variations of fasting. Now that science backs it up, more people who follow science consciously skip meals for health benefits.
Talk to your doctor before you attempt a fast. There are many factors that doctors consider when treating patients, and fasting may not be one of them.
When a Hunter-Gatherer awakens, they’re probably going to go in search of food. Depending on how long it takes to find that food will determine the length of the fast. You can do this too!
Why not wait to have breakfast a little later? Or even skip breakfast altogether.
Living this way lines up well with modern-day Intermittent Fasting (IF). IF is where you only eat for a set period during the day. For example, 16-8, which means 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating. This would be like having your first meal at 10 am and your last meal at 6 pm.
Sometimes Hunter-Gatherers will have been unsuccessful on a day’s hunt, meaning that there is no food to share around. That’s when a full-day fast happens. I wouldn’t recommend doing this for your very first fast. Instead, work yourself up to something like this.
One time during the week, skip breakfast. Another week try and skip both breakfast and lunch. If you’re feeling ok and confident, you could attempt a fast for the full day, which technically turns into 36 hours fast.
One of the most important things to learn here is variation. There would have never been a set time when Hunter-Gatherers ate. Sometimes they’d have to fast, and occasionally they’d feast. That’s why I think we should do the same.
“Break”-”fast” (get it?) may have been at lunchtime somedays. And sometimes, it would have been first thing in the morning if a berry bush was nearby.
Again variation is critical. Listen to your hunger, and not just your desire. And learn to be adaptable, just like a Hunter-Gatherer.