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How a Caveman's Biology Affects Your Weight

Your body is utterly amazing. From the food it consumes, it derives energy and nutrients. What your body doesn't need for energy immediately, it stores as fat for later use.

The good news, biologically speaking, is that your stores of fat are great protection against an upcoming famine. Like most mammals, humans with a good layer of fat on their bodies can live for several weeks without eating. You may get restless when you haven't eaten in a few hours, but the truth is that you could live quite a while before your next meal. You would eventually feel weak and lethargic, but you could still survive.

So hooray for fat, your protection against famine! But what happens when that famine never comes? As long as you keep eating more than your body needs for fuel, the body keeps storing more fat. Today in the United States, most of us don't need to concern ourselves with the fear of not having enough food, but our biology is still quite primitive. It is very close to that of our ancient ancestors, the caveman and cavewoman. Our present-day genome, the basic human genetic code, is almost identical to that of humans who lived 40,000 years ago. Yes, we rely on cell phones and computers, automobiles and airplanes, but biologically we aren't much different from the hunter-gatherers who lived during the Stone Age.

Lean Lingo

The general term metabolism refers to all the changes occurring in digested foodstuffs in the body from their absorption until their elimination. Your basal metabolism rate is the rate of energy metabolism required to keep the body alive. As you increase your metabolic rate, getting to your ideal size is easier.

The caveman lived between the extremes of feast and famine. When he was fortunate enough to kill a large mammal, his whole family—perhaps even the whole tribe—feasted on the delicious meat. It provided high-quality protein, fats, B vitamins, and trace minerals that they needed for survival. Meat provided these in bio-accessible concentrations better than any other single food source. At other times, the lean times, the caveman ate berries, fish, and plants until he once again found more game.

During times of famine, the caveman's metabolism would slow down to conserve energy. When possible, his body would increase his fat stores by taking even the meager amount of food he did eat and storing it as fat. Why fat? Because fat is a more efficient fuel than muscle. The more fat that was stored, the longer the caveman could survive during a famine.

When he and the other members of the tribe feasted on the game meat, they were enjoying excess and abundant food. The caveman's body was clever. It knew that there could be a famine in the future, so it planned for contingencies. Any excess food eaten was stored as fat to prepare for the famine to come. The body handled the natural swings of feast and famine in elegant ways that ensured the survival of the species. Yes, too bad we don't think of these ways as elegant today!

Your biology is designed to do exactly what the caveman's did. Your body will conserve energy and store fat when it senses that it isn't getting enough food and nourishment, and your body stores fat when you overeat. Does this sound as though you are in a double bind? You add body fat if you undereat (because your body begins starvation metabolism), and you add body fat if you overeat.

The solution to the dilemma is fundamentally simple: get enough food on a day-to-day basis for energy and nutrition, but not more than enough and not less than enough.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Healthy Weight Loss © 2005 by Lucy Beale and Sandy G. Couvillon. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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