By Lynda Wallas

Eat & Exercise like your Ancestors!

If you made a pact with yourself to get fitter, stronger and leaner this year, then you may want to have a think about your caveman or nomadic ancestors as a starting point.

The theory is that our bodies are still hard wired to the old ways.
Life was not as convenient nor as consistent as it is for us nowadays. Our food intake differed from day to day, week to week, and season to season. It was famine or feast, depending on the luck of the chase or the catch. And closely linked to food, because it needed to be tracked down, our exercise was also up and down, in short, sharp bursts…. running from danger, or in the hunt, or even dancing around the campfire.

It’s hard to imagine this way of life when we simply pop down to the supermarket or to a restaurant to get our food.
It seems quite plausible that we have not yet evolved to suit the current regime; where food is abundant (overly so) and there is way more feast than famine (at least in non-impoverished countries). And if this is the case, then we need to oblige our mid-life body with some old way practises, to keep it lean and strong with the least amount of effort.

Both the 5:2 diet and the Military diet use this principle to shed pounds and maintain a healthy weight. The 5:2 diet involves dropping calories to 500 for 2 days a week, and eating normally the other days. The Military diet involves going lean for 3 days in a row, then having a feast day. I believe it is possible to convert either of these eating practises into a lifestyle choice without too much grief.
Do 2 or 3 weeks of the Military diet back to back while looking to drop some pounds, depending on how much you aim to lose. Then perhaps employ it whenever you need to do maintenance, or decide to do it 1 week every month.
3 days of low calories (including grapefruit, tuna, toast with peanut butter, and coffee…. all metabolism boosters) is followed by a feast day (pretty much whatever you like). Then knuckle down for 3 lean days again (dreaming about your next feast day undoubtedly!) This mimics the caveman way of life; days where food is a bit light on, then a successful hunt…. a big cook up and a full belly….

And the famine and feast regime is reportedly not just for maintaining a healthy weight but also for assisting with staying disease free. Our bodies can spend time on repair and maintenance activities while not primarily concerned with the process of digestion. In fact, again it seems plausible that the blight of chronic illness could be linked to no downtime with regards to digestion, since we have no trouble getting 3 meals and a couple of snacks every day, often eating to the point of what could be considered ‘feasting’ more days than not. A far cry from our ancestors eating habits.

The same goes for exercise. Many of us feel we need to do more exercise in mid-life to maintain the weight or shape we want through the years of slowing metabolism and the bodies desire to store fat around the middle.
However, it’s not particularly good for us to be spending hours on the treadmill (for example) to get the results we want; it’s not the best thing we can do for ongoing longevity as it causes wear and tear on joints and accelerates the aging process. Enter high intensity interval training (HIIT). Short workouts that maximise results through high intensity reps, followed by short rests… expect to get out of breath. Again, this mimics our ancestor’s way of life, and if indeed our bodies are still hard wired to expect (and react best to) this sort of regime, then it is worth considering for mid-life health and well-being.

I wonder if cavewomen struggled with expanding bellies in mid-life, or nomadic women battled with menopause weight gain and energy depletion….. I wonder if their consistently inconsistent food intake and short bursts of exercise meant that they had a consistent body weight and low instances of disease….. (there were, of course, other factors that were more likely to cause death in those days – things that are less likely to result in death today, but perhaps cancer and heart disease were not factors).

Anyhow, I’m enjoying dabbling in the Military diet so far this year. I actually enjoy the lean days as much as the feast days, finding it suits me to feel lighter going off to bed and waking up to a tummy grumble that makes me look very forward to breakfast. 3 days is just long enough before indulging again (also timed to ensure your body doesn’t start using muscle for energy). I mix it up a bit to ensure I can have a weekend day as an over eating day. I’m finding that my ‘whatever I feel like’ day is not a complete blowout anyhow, as I am wanting to eat some of my normal healthy choices, such as a smoothie bowl, a turmeric latte, buckwheat pancakes, or rice/quinoa with basil pesto, vegetables and protein (chicken, duck or lamb).
But I always have a couple of treats, safe in the knowledge that it needs to be a high calorie day for the weight to drop off…. bring on the almond croissant, chocolate mousse, or roast potatoes (or all 3!)
It works because it doesn’t look like restriction as far as the eye can see. You can hang in there while planning your treat day…. and more importantly you can hang in there knowing you are doing good things for your body, giving it a chance to repair and perform preventative measures that just might be keeping you free from serious illness, while also shedding a few of those extra pounds that have crept on in mid-life.

Having a simple, flexible, go-to eating practise…. along with a clever way of doing less but better targeted exercise, can give you back a heap of time for enjoying all your favourite things.
Google the 5:2 or Military diet to find out more.

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Lynda Wallas
Lynda Wallas
About me

I’ve always been interested in health and fitness…. which turned out to be a good thing when fertility treatment in my 30s took a toll on my health, leading to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and early onset menopause. More about Lynda...

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