Friday, August 3, 2012

21st Century Breakdown

21st Century Breakdown
I once was lost but never was found
I think I am losing
What's left of my mind
To the 20th century deadline
                    - Billie Joe Armstrong

What if everything you've been told about nutrition, health, and fitness was wrong? And not just marginally wrong, but almost the polar opposite of what was right? Spoiler alert: maybe it's not. But what if it is?  Hear me out.

The goal I undertook just over 2 years ago was to stop being a sod and get myself into shape, not just for me and not just for my amazing wife (who had already successfully unsodden herself).  I wanted to set a proper example for my then-infant girls. I wanted to set an example of being healthy and active with the hope that they might avoid the plight of the average American who finds themselves inactive, overweight, and unhealthy.

At the time the conventional wisdom was that I needed whip myself into shape with cardio, crank out hours in the gym every week, and support that activity with a whole-grain fueled low-fat diet.  As is the case for many (but certainly not all and many not even most), when I stuck to that plan, I saw pretty solid results. I was blessed with something genetically that kept me from getting fat, so I didn't have weight to lose, but I was certainly not in shape; I had a little belly an even less muscle tone.

I started running because it was "cheap cardio" and it was something where I could see weekly progress in both my speed and distance.  About 7 months after I started running, I ran a half-marathon in 1:40. 7 months after that I was training very well toward a 3:30 marathon and, despite blowing up on race day, I ran a sub-4:00 race. I believed that the faster I could run or the more weight I could lift (which has never been that much) had a direct correlation to how HEALTHY a human being I was. As of today, I'm not sure I'll go the grave believing that and that's not my belief as I'm writing today.

I've been bitten (and some would probably say infected) by the Paleo/Primal bug.  There are varying flavors of the concept, but the version I'm embracing is that we (human beings) have deviated too far from our very-recent ancestry in both lifestyle and diet.  As brief lesson in human pre-history, consider that the split in the genetic code we carry (vs. either extinct lineages or apes) occurred about 2 million years ago and the principles of natural selection (evolution) gave us a pretty rockin' person heading out of the Paleolithic into the Meso/Neolithic about 10,000 years ago.

Some anthropologists argue that this was the pinnacle of human health. Few anthropologists disagree that the health of the average human took a nose-dive in the Neolithic. Current studies are projecting that for the first time in recorded history the current generations of Americans are likely to have a shorter average life expectancy than subsequent generations.

I have always been a staunch believer in Science and logic as being able to provide answers to problems. As I have continued to read more about the status quo of our society and compare it to what we know (and in some cases what we presume to know) about what Humans are truly evolved to be/eat/do, I have started taking a hard look at how I'm going to choose to live my life and, with my own personal exceptions that come from living a 21st century life, I'm choosing to pursue a more ancestral path.  My hope is that I can find the time I've had today (yay vacation day!) to go more in-depth about what I'm doing and, more importantly, why I think it's right.

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