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Should you be eating like your ancestors?



Ke lapile hoo ke bileng ke thothomelang, ke bile ea tsekela (I’m so hungry and shaky, I’m even dizzy). You have encountered or at least heard someone uttering these words. Ask when last that person had the last meal and you will be shocked. In most cases, it would be just before noon, and the last meal this person had was in the morning. If you were to count the hours between meals you will be further astonished to find that it has been just 5 hours or less. Constant eating has become our way of life, in fact eating all the time is now endorsed by our medical community. We are told to eat frequently, with some snacking in between meals. How has this affected our health? It seems it has some dire consequences, affecting our health, relationship with food as well as our finances. A human being is such an amazing design. We have progressed in leaps and bounds in so many spheres of life. We have landed on the moon, harnessed the power of the sun, tamed whirling winds and conquered raging waters to our advantage. Our technological advances are beyond human comprehension, but yet we are getting sicker with each passing millennia. But looking back from where we are, homo sapiens our specie, have not changed much from what we were 2 million years ago. The diet that has ultimately shaped our destiny remains unchanged. With the rise of metabolic diseases wreaking havoc in our societies, we now know something within our “modern” food is not right. We are ingesting what is considered foreign and toxic to our well-designed body. Our eating patterns have baffled our system so much that we are no longer able to tell if we are hungry or we are just being naughty or bored. There was a time, not long time ago, that hunger was the main signal, and the only natural cue indicating that one should have some food. Today, our meals and when to eat them are highly automated by alarms and clocks. We eat even when we are not hungry. It is a norm, unfortunately, that people will carry with them extra lunch-boxes after their breakfast “just in case” one gets hungry before lunch time. Having multiple bottled liquids to “avoid dehydration” is a fashion. But we forget the most beautiful cue of all time – thirst. Why should we be drinking water while we are not thirsty? This is mind boggling. From time immemorial, we have been designed to undergo a moment of famine and feast. These two have been well synchronised in order to allow our body to be in its optimal state. Food digestion has been noted to be one of the most energy taxing processes in our body. It takes a lot of energy for the body to assimilate and process what we have eaten. During digestion, the body abandons most of its other crucial activities, putting aside enough time for it to complete the ingested food. Our ancestors were quite brilliant when it came to this department. Fasting from time to time gave them more energy than having to eat every meal that was presented like we do today. During the time one is not eating, the state of being fasted, the body starts focusing its energy on other important processes like self-cleansing. In 2016, a Japanese cell biologist, Professor Yoshinori Ohsumi, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his research on how cells recycle and renew their content in a process called autophagy. Apparently, autophagy is a biological process that occurs only when we are in the fasted state that is when we have not had a meal for some time. Our body begins what we can call a spring-clean on a cellular level. It is said that our old cells that are now not so active get eaten by newer vigorous cells to make way for the making or production of new cells. This amazing process has led most scientists to believe that it slows aging by replacing old cells with the new cells. But here is the catch, your body is only able to do this detoxification only when you have not had any meal for some hours or days. So, our ancestors knew that in order to have a healthy life, one should from time to time, engage in a prolonged fast in which the body has to rest and reset from energy consuming exercise of digestion. Even Benjamin Franklin once noted that “the best of all medicines is resting and fasting.” The majority of us are constantly on a fed state. We are always eating and therefore subject our body to what is called energy storing mode. Fasting, like Dr Jason Fung declared, allows your body to focus its efforts on using energy instead of storing it. Most of us are walking warehouses, with visceral fat hanging around our waist waiting to be spent. But alas! We never give our body a chance to spend that stored energy in the form of fat. Why is this? Because we are always assaulted by food wherever we go, all the time. We are not even aware that our metabolic and digestive systems are capable of using that stored fat as energy, but this could only be achieved if we abstain from eating for a period of time. The meal that you consume the first time you eat after a night-long-time of being fasted, is called breakfast. This is because you are now breaking the fast you have been through the whole night. It is no wonder why escalating cases of obesity are making headlines. While weight might not be a major concern for some other people, fasting has been shown to help decrease the prevalence of many metabolic syndromes such as type 2 diabetes. We should understand that fasting should not be confused with starvation, because during fasting, one is actually feasting on the fat stored all over his or her own body. Our modern times have blurred the true nature of hunger with the desire for food even if you are not hungry. We are accustomed to eating so much that, the smell of fried chicken leaves your mouth watering and your heart beating with desire. Hunger in our time has become a habit, it rises around the times that you would normally eat even if you are not hungry. We can only emancipate ourselves from food addiction the moment we realise that hunger should not be fed all the time it strikes. Notice that if you ignore your normal eating times, in most cases the hunger just goes away. Eating all the time is expensive. There was a time that eating three square meals a day was the norm. Today people eat up to six meals a day including snacking in between. We are faced with high costs on food, high costs on medication, high unemployment rate but our eating increases all the time. If more sicknesses are due to our unhealthy eating habits, why can we not lessen our eating frequency? If the metabolic diseases that leave our bank balances dry due to high costs of medication, why can we not practice frugality when it comes to spending on the food we do not need? Randomly skipping meals and varying the eating intervals helps break our current habit of feeding three to six times a day. Dr Fung advises that “rather than being hungry just because it is time to eat, we become hungry only when we are really and truly famished.” Maybe our ancestors, with their old habits and ways, knew something we do not. Maybe it is time that we eat like our ancestors did. Tšepang Ledia

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