Trauma and Distress at Diet's End

When I awoke, it was already sunny. I arose and padded across the stone floor to the lounge room. Through the ceiling-to-floor glass doors shone the sun. I slid them open and stepped onto the patio.

I turned back towards the kitchen. The wall clock showed 5 a.m.

My stomach was screaming for food. I started frying some eggs and put the Mocha coffee pot on for strong coffee.

With trembling hands, I poured the coffee, slid the eggs onto a plate and went out to the patio. The eggs and coffee calmed my stomach. The protein and fat lulled it.

Four hours later my housemates started to emerge from dreamland. They set to laying the breakfast table, piling the table with mounds of white-flour baguettes. Sitting around these odious piles of carbs, they would reach them, tear them apart and slaver them with butter and jam.

I felt awkward and withdrew. At 11 a.m. I raided the fridge for ham. At 1.30 everyone was tucking into a hearty lunch at a restaurant, I had a grilled chicken breast with no side of carbs.

My diet was finished. I shouldn't have been losing any more weight. Yet, I was.

Back from holiday, I could weigh myself; I was shocked. I needed ways to increase my calorie consumption. I started to eat yet more meat, more vegetables, more tins of sardines; the weight kept coming off.

I was failing.

There was answer an answer though. It came quickly and unexpectedly. It came during one of those errors of judgement which the Wise always counsel you against. The answer was with friends, in a pub, around a table. The answer came in glass packages containing 200 Calories each.

The answer was: beer.

The Answer

Are You Eating Too Much? Or Are You Just Lazy?

How many calories should each one of us be burning? How many calories were we evolved to burn?

And if we habitually burn under or over that genetic sweet-spot will there be health consequences?

Farm workers.

Work hard, get ripped.

One group of researchers wrote an essay about the nutrition of Victorian Englishmen:

Their levels of physical activity and hence calorific intakes were approximately twice ours.

They estimate it as follows:

Using average figures for work-related calorie consumption, men required between 280 (walking) and 440 calories (heavy yard work) per hour; with women requiring between 260 and 350 calories per hour. This gives calorific expenditure ranges during the working week of between 3,000 to 4,500 calories /day (men) and 2,750 to 3,500 (women).

What is interesting about this is that it seems to fly in the face of a study of the Hadza people of Tanzania:

We found that despite all this physical activity, the number of calories that the Hadza burned per day was indistinguishable from that of typical adults in Europe and the United States.

Therefore, far lower than that purportedly consumed by Victorians.

We think that the Hadzas' bodies have adjusted to the higher activity levels required for hunting and gathering by spending less energy elsewhere. Even for very active people, physical activity accounts for only a small portion of daily energy expenditure; most energy is spent behind the scenes on the myriad unseen tasks that keep our cells humming and our support systems working. If the Hadza‚Äôs bodies somehow manage to spend less energy in those areas, they could easily accommodate the elevated energy demands of hunting and gathering. […]

Our findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that energy expenditure is consistent across a broad range of lifestyles and cultures.

The conclusion doesn't 'feel' right. Hunter-gatherers need to do a lot more work just to eat than we do. It also does not quite sit with what the authors of the Victorian essay concluded.


Coming home from the shopping mall.

The researchers undertook their study during 11 days over the dry season. Would their results be similar if they undertook it over the wet season? And if they followed the tribesmen all year, would the results have been different? According to Wikipedia the diet and the activity of the Hadza are different during the wet season:

During the wet season, the diet is composed mostly of honey, some fruit, tubers, and occasional meat. The contribution of meat to the diet increases in the dry season, when game become concentrated around sources of water.

Perhaps most interestingly, the authors not only plotted energy expenditures against Westerners, but also against a group of Bolivian farmers. These had significantly higher energy expenditure.

To get a few more ideas about this, I had a look at "The Logistics of the Roman Army at War: 264 B.C. - A.D. 235" by Johnathon Roth. Roth considers what the energy requirements of a Roman (and therefore, as far as I am concerned, ancestral) soldier might have been.

Rations for Roman soldiers were two sextarii of grain per day, about 1.08 litres or 800 grams of wheat. Additionally, they probably ate half-pound of meat a day, around 190 calories of legumes (page 34), 100 calories worth of cheese, 1 1/2 ounces of olive oil for 360 calories. On page 39, Roth estimates they would consume, on average, 0.54 litres of wine, for around 350 calories. This all amounts to around 3390 calories/day (page 43).

On page 12, Roth calculates that an average soldier would be 66kg. Assuming 12% bodyfat, that would be 58kg of lean mass and meant the soldier would be burning 58.4 Calories/kg

I've plotted the Roman soldier (green) and a 5'6" Victorian with a BMI of 23 (yellow) on the graph provided by the Hadza study team for energy versus body mass. Both are above the trend line. In fact, the averages for all agricultural populations are above both the trend lines. That tells us something. But what?

Agricultural Populations seem to have higher energy expenditures either than us or the Hadza hunter-gatherers.

The Beginning of The Beginning

The sun was streaming through the window of the university union cafe. I was sitting in front of a cappuccino and watched as the last two bubbles of froth popped. I stared at the unappetising grey milk. A skin was already forming on top. I knew well that it was one of the worst cappuccinos in the world. Yet, my stomach was crying out in pain and tepid milk wasn't going to do it It needed food.

"I'm hungry," I muttered.

The blonde vegan opposite me grasping an alfalfa wholemeal pita wrap in her red, sore-covered, blotchy hands, nodded with a condescending smirk.

I had recently embarked upon a Pritikin-style, low fat, low protein high carb diet. I had read that it would keep me healthy, happy and allow me to live forever.

Yet, I was constantly hungry. The blonde vegan slurped her chamomile tea. I wasn't listening to what she was saying, because my stomach was in such pain. It needed food. It needed something big, it needed something calorific and it needed it instantly.

In the university students' union cafe, known for some of the worst food then available in the so-called civilised West, I espied something. It was huge, it was calorific and it was available for immediate purchase: an iced coffee scroll.

Huge, calorific and available for immediate purchase.

With that, the diet was dead.

The blonde vegan almost choked on her raw grated carrot as she saw what I was bringing back to the table. Her cold-sore ringed mouth smiled with a healthier-than-thou pity. No one ever suggested that the never-healing sores on her hands might have a nutritional cause. But, hey, she looked OK in a crop-top.

Looking good in a crop top

It was then that I learnt that there was something basically wrong with the nutrition propaganda that we were being fed. I knew that low fat, low protein, high carb diets missed the mark and badly.

Although, I had discarded the only dietary advice that was around, and didn't have anything sensible to replace it with. As a consequence, I didn't understand what I was eating and I didn't understand why.

As time passed, I put on weight. A cheese cake here, a beer there, a plate of chips, a bottle of red wine, it all adds up.

This site is about that journey. It's about what I've found out and it's about where I'm headed.