It Isn’t Magic To Eat Like A Hunter-Gatherer

Could Stand a Cheeseburger...or 6.
Could Stand a Cheeseburger…or 6.

I am not a paleo romantic. I don’t believe life was better when we were roaming tribes. I don’t care that my ancestors had more muscle and less fat. I live in a post-modern society that values science as a means to explain the world around me and I have no intention of looking like our buddy in the picture above. So why do I recommend that a person eats very similar to a paleo diet?To elaborate, a paleo diet/caveman diet/primal diet follows the idea that our ancestors evolved to eat in a certain manner: whatever they could hunt, gather, pick, and find before the days of agriculture. If you pack all of human history into a year, we ate hunter/gatherer for 364 of 365 days. This is often the argument for eating this way, along with the notion that, since fruits were rare or citing the intake of Inuits, a paleo diet controls insulin and, since insulin “drives fat storage”, keeps calories from being indiscriminately stored as fat.

This is wrong. Or at least, it is inaccurate.

  1. There is no “1” hunter gatherer diet. Inuits eat blubber, Masai drink blood, and American Indians ate tasty, tasty bison. If your heritage is South Pacific, you ate a lot of fruit, got your fat from coconut milk, and protein from fish, all of which would never been seen by Plains Indians.
  2. Your body is redundant, and with good reason. Storing fat for the coming winter would be impossible for Inuit if there was only one mechanism for driving fat storage. I’ve discussed ASP before, showing how it stores fat in the total absence of insulin, but instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, I’ll let Conciliator, a poster on Lyle McDonald’s forum, explain it for you:

    You need to understand that there are a multitude of enzymes that are involved in triacylglycerol synthesis and lipolysis. “Insulin” is not a pathway. It’s one of several hormones that have an effect on the enzymes that comprise the actual pathways. What enzymes am I talking about? For fatty acid uptake, there’s FAT/CD36, FATP-1 to -6, and FABPpm. For fatty acid synthesis, there’s fatty acid synthase. For glucose uptake, there’s Glut1 and Glut4. For esterfication, there’s GPAT, PAP1, and DGAT1 and DGAT2. For lipolysis, there’s HSL, perilipin, and Protein kinase A.

    What “regulates all this?” It’s definitely not just “insulin”. That’s an incredibly simplistic, insulinocentric view. You know what else has an effect on these lipogenic/lipolytic enzymes besides insulin? There’s angiotensin II, the adrenergic receptor (catacholamines), FoxC2, PTP1B, and last but not least ASP.

  3. Finally, there is no metabolic effect to eating paleo, insofar as burning calories or increasing food absorption. The fact is that paleo diets up protein intake by default, and once protein is sufficient, shuffling  fat and carbs makes no difference if energy intake is consistent. Further, individuals tend to underestimate calories on a high carb diet by a substantial margin. It has also been pointed out that people on low carb diet spontaneously under-report calories, which happens when you attempt to remove an entire macronutrient and replace it with more sating alternatives.

So why do I generally follow a paleo diet and encourage my clients to do the same? For my clients, it is for the reasons I listed above: increased protein and fat lead to a spontaneous reduction in caloric intake. On top of this, most people are eating a shit-tastic western diet to begin with, so any move toward preparing food themselves whilst eating more fresh fruit and veggies is a step in the right direction. Once they’re prepping their food, a person learns what real portion sizing is, reducing their crappy food chemical consumption, and, sometimes, learn to like different foods they never considered. A nice side effect is that people seem to unlearn the notion of “clean your plate”and stop eating when satisfied.

As bizarre as it sounds, a little esoteric romanticism goes a long way in this case. Kant was right about “Grown-up idealism.” Some of my clients aren’t motivated by “eating what your great grandma recognized as food” but go hog wild for “this is what you evolved to eat.” In my line of work, I don’t care what tackles their fincy; I only care that it does. When I have  clients complaining they’re too full and losing weight, I don’t care what mythology I built to get there.

There’s nothing magic about paleo diets: increased fats and protein mean increased satity. Increased fresh ingrediants, better food prep, less processed crap. There’s no metabolic magic, no matter how low your insulin. Your body is smarter than you. Really.

10 thoughts on “It Isn’t Magic To Eat Like A Hunter-Gatherer

  1. great post. too many people give too much credit to what is working for them. everyone is different. if paleo works, use it, if weight watchers works, use it, etc. it’s amazing to me how some view paleo as the be all and end all of “dieting.” just as some view one form of training as the “all should do this one” method. lots of things work, just work hard at it.

    thanks for the post…i just discovered your blog and will look on more frequently.

  2. Hey Skyler,

    Al from the HITP list here. I didn’t know you had a blog. I’ve been flipping through some past entry’s and it’s good.


  3. @Chad,

    Thanks for checking me out. I agree that there are many approaches; I first got lean on a zone-like 30/40/30 split by, what else, reducing calories. It did feel like dieting at times vs. when I eat paleo I trend toward lower calories without thinking about it. I’ve gotten my mother lean by cycling carbs, friends lean through PSMF’s + high carb refeeds while improving their blood markers. If anything, we all should “consider” the “one” method, try it, find out what works and doesn’t work for you, and have a chat about it. That seems a bit too rational for the zealots in the industry, though!


    Glad you stumbled on me! I try to post infrequently to keep content quality high. Thanks for the comment!

  4. I can relate to the no hunger phenomenon. I spent 6 hours hiking yesterday and all I had was trail mix, nuts and Easter candy to snack on. Of course the Easter eggs had sugar in them, but for the most part, I guess you could call it the Paleo way, or whatever.

    Anyway, no hunger whatsoever. I just snacked when we stopped because I knew I needed it.

    I even begin to think of how easy it would be to keep a 1000kcal/day deficit whilst eating lean protein and filling in the rest with nuts/seeds. I will probably try it sometime.

  5. Great post. I found you through a response to you on “ondarwinstable”.

    I’m actually a little disappointed that you wrote this, since I was planning on writing something similar.

    I do eat predominantly paleo and (through a lot of trial and error) have found out that I feel better when I don’t eat grains. I think there IS some science emerging suggesting that grains and legumes do have some serious unhealthy effects in most people – but I’m not well versed enough in this to argue it. My omission of them is based purely on my own experiences.

    The fanaticism in some of the community gets to me though – people love simple solutions to complex problems.

    Well said.

  6. I’m not a ‘paleo romantic’ either. I appreciate the wonders of civilisation and what technology has brought us in terms of our ability to treat medical problems, enhance construction of buildings, ward off dangers, connect socially and share and discover and learn on a much grander scale.

    I can also appreciate the damage we have done to ourselves from the advent of agriculture through to the explosion of refined grain and sugar products within the past century. Of course hunter-gatherers had to make the most of what nature offered in their particular location, but they do have one thing in common – they didn’t eat grains (or refined sugar). Were grains readily available and all edible raw, those 364 days could have helped us evolve to digest them properly. But they weren’t, so we can’t.

    I know the science behind fat-storage, but you fail to reflect on the damage and fat-storage that IS driven by perpetually high insulin levels. They’re not saying that insulin is the only player in the fat-gain game – if anything, the argument often ignores insulin’s role in fat-storage. What some look at instead is insulin’s role in triggering the hunger response, which drives further consumption. As you say, the consistency of energy intake is vital, so if people are following their hunger sensation (or even sugar-cravings in the cases of addicts) they’re going to be taking in more calories than they need. That’s not just an issue for those trying to lose weight, but for everyone.

    I’m confused by your motivation – for someone who claims to follow a mostly-paleo diet, and who encourages others to do so for weight-loss, you seem to have posted a lot about how wrong the Paleo lifestyle is (or at least, your skewed weight-focused perception of the lifestyle and its ‘followers’). Why are you so vehement in your wish to remain un-labelled, and from where do you draw your stereotyping of paleo dieters? If you’re so special and smart and able to avoid the supposed inaccuracies of beliefs that you think others draw from the same information you have access to, then why do you assume that everyone else can’t recognise the proposed flaws?

    1. GGP (since I don’t know your real name),

      You’ve been quite busy on my blog this morning! Now let me see if I can cover all of your questions, concerns, and inquiries in one go:
      1. Agree that grains are generally rubbish and should be avoided. However, it is very hard to ignore the cultures that do consume a greater amount of grains that don’t have high rates of heart disease/obesity/type II diabetes (Japan, for instance). Those who had grains first seem best adapted to them; maybe in another couple centuries the rest of us will be as well. It might be like the Italians and Asians who are becoming more and more lactose tolerant…adapting at an extremely fast rate. You are correct though, grains are generally bad (I move clients to sprouted versions if they’re not ready to “give them up” quite yet) and people should reduce carb intake…you’re not emptying glycogen stores blogging or working a spreadsheet.

      2. Since I do view all of this from the perspective of performance and health, I view hormones under a different light. Your agreeing that insulin is a huge player, but not the only player is commendable, as so many individuals in the paleo community fear it so much that they’ll eschew fruit consumption for fear of an insulin spike. But I’ve shown in other posts that an insulin spike post-workout has been shown to increase GH output, never mind that GH isn’t the panacea it has been made out to be. Back to the point, there are individuals, or maybe their blog posts just indicate as such, that feel that no carbs/low insulin is going to solve their waistline woes; ASP stores fat more efficiently than any other hormone in a zero-insulin environment. This is important and shouldn’t be cast aside.

      3.My motivation is two-fold: what I do for me and what I recommend for clients. The latter will always be a distillation of the former that caters to their needs and goals. I seem to come from a unique perspective amount paleo individuals in that I was painfully skinny and do need a substantial amount of calories to gain muscular weight (which I’ll also accept a bit of fat gain with). This means more carbs centered around workouts. When I want to cut that fat, I go pure paleo for the reasons I mentioned: adequate protein, hunger blunting, “feels” like I’m eating tons of food(I say feels because I track the calories, an old OCD habit, and it is lower than it feels like I have eaten). Since most of my clients are coming to me for fat loss, moving them closer to paleo is ideal for all the reasons I’ve mentioned; lately I’ve just sent them Methuselah’s paleo diet video and taken any questions after that. I don’t think it is magic because grok ate it and I tell my clients such, but I like it because it gets people eating more real, sating food thus minimizing chemicals, preservatives, and giving them freedom to be social when eating out.

      So what you see on my blog is about what I’m experiencing, experimenting, and researching into. I don’t wish to be unlabeled per se; I just wish a critical eye is cast on the details and some of the mythology is removed. I’ve tried to show this in various other blog posts regarding GH and food mixing. Eating whole, real food is fantastic and a fast track to total health, especially compared to the SAD. Where I come from seems to be different than most paleo followers and that contributes to my writing.

Comments are closed.