Losing Weight the Caveman Way


 As some of you know, I’ve lost a bunch of weight in the last 3 years and really turned my fitness life around. I lost 50lbs by doing lots of exercise and eating very little.

Cave DrawingsWell, yesterday I stumbled upon a very interesting website by Art De Vany, PhD.  He is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of California, Irvine. He has been doing a great deal of research into diet and fitness and the physiological implications of our evolution from caveman to modern man.

Some of his writing is rather controversial… and candidly reading his research is, well, like reading research. But it is certainly got me thinking and I am sure I will read more of his essays.

As an endurance athlete, I am alarmed by some of his passionate views about endurance sports… but I am equally fascinated and intrigued by his research into diet and fitness.

His primary thesis is that we humans were uniquely adapted to be ruthlessly efficient hunter-gathers with incredibly high energy demands in an environment (pre-agrarian earth) with incredibly scarce resources. And in particular, the evolutionary tools that served our species so well to survive in that environment are the root cause for our alarming rates of obesity and general lack of fitness.

A large-brained, small-stomached omnivore with long maturation time living on scarce, high value nutrients and seasonal plant foods of varying quality faces a serious stochastic energy balance problem.

In his essay “Why We Get Fat” he reviews flaws in current theories on weight equilibrium (Set Point Theory and The Thrifty Gene) and suggests an alternative model “lazy over-eater” model which explains why we eat the way we do from an evolutionary perspective.

Interesting stuff.

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12 Responses to “Losing Weight the Caveman Way”

  1. halfawake Says:

    From the “Why We Get Fat” article:
    The cycling of energy balance through bursts of expenditure and intervals of hunger is a powerful signal that alters gene expression. Caloric deprivation studies seem to show chronic and acute energy deficit extends life and improves health indicators… A related point is that increasing energy expenditure through activity or exercise is more powerful in attaining a healthy body composition and mass than is decreasing energy intake. And extreme diets can be very dangerous.

    I can’t tell if he’s suggesting that we alter our diets to be less regular, or not. Or maybe he just doesn’t know.
    One thing that I didn’t see acknowledged outright in his essay is that many, many people live day to day with similar energy intakes and a ‘healthy’ diet even though they are surrounded by all this food. In other words, I’m curious about what separates those who adapt to the modern ‘high-calorie availability’ and those who do not. Is it nature or nurture?

    In any case, cool link zappoman thanks.

  2. zappoman Says:

    I was thinking about this same question last night. I think it’s a good one… certainly there are people who are “fit” by most peoples definitions who eat grains, refined sugars, legumes, etc.

    But he also says the following…

    We must make a distinction between an explanation of why an individual gets fat and another does not, versus an explanation of why all members of a species are vulnerable to obesity.1 Explaining why some individuals get fat, say the Pima, and explaining why obesity is so common are separate problems. It is the latter that I am addressing.

  3. trifrog Says:

    I’m going to read more of DeVany’s stuff. I can’t remember where else I got linked to his site recently. I think it was Brad Kearns’ Amazon.com blog? Is he also the guy that claims that as hunter-gatherers, we evolved to expend great amounts of energy catching or harvesting food (very hard workout) then sit back, eat, relax and recover until we need to do it again in several days.

  4. zappoman Says:

    Yes, DeVany definitely takes this stance in both his essays about diet/nutrition and his essays on exercise. He calls his approach “Evolutionary Fitness”. He also is pretty anti-endurance sports, which I find a little bit hard to digest. It seems to me that the hunter-gatherers were probably very similar to endurance athletes. I would suggest that our success in the pre-agrarian planet earth was probably due to our ability to run/walk long distances in order to find food.

    DeVany’s Evolutionary Fitness approach suggests that random power demands are much more like what an early man would have likely required. He suggests that something like basketball is a better analogy to a typical early-man activity profile. Where there are short bursts of intense power output surrounded by short periods of recovery. Although I could agree with this analogy for what a “kill” or the final attack and slaughter of an animal might have been like. I would suspect that these rather short duration events would probably be surrounded by hours of long distance, medium power demand, endurance activity like travel to the site of the kill and back to the safety of camp/cave/home.

    By the way, thanks for posting. I enjoy reading your site as well.

    -Brad

  5. What’s wrong with endurance training? « ZappoMan - Fitness Blog Says:

    […] I found another article out there in the blogosphere on the dangers of endurance training; or at least on the risks associated with the way most people train for endurance sports. It references DeVany’s work (which I discussed in a previous post on my blog). […]

  6. Greg Todd Says:

    Thanks! I’ve been looking for this guy, but couldn’t remember his name.

  7. etercideope Says:

    Engaging writing I will come back:)

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