Step 8: Understand Feast vs. Famine In the Brain


Decisions Decisions
Decisions Decisions

What the Experts Say – Today over a Billion people live on planet earth and a full 15% of us could audition for the lead role in big momma’s house without a fat suit. In 1962 Dr. James Neel, an American Geneticist posited that if we looked at the habits of our foraging ancestors and the feast/famine conditions they faced we would find a possible explanation.  Neel suggested that since food was in scarce supply that the body had adopted what he called a “Thrifty Metabolism” which in effect trained itself to store excess dietary energy as body fat when food was in abundant supply. This nifty trick would have afforded us a survival advantage during periods of prolonged shortage.  Fast forward a thousand years when food (For the industrialized world) is in abundant supply everyday our foraging adapted genes would now be rendered obsolete or as he put it “Detrimental by Progress.” In other words, the caloric needs of someone eating a meal after hunting and foraging for days as opposed to shopping for it at the local Piggly Wiggly are demonstrably different, but our genes are constantly screaming at us to pack it in because in their world Ye Olde Piggly Wiggly cannot be trusted as a stable and reliable source of sustenance.  If you have children, especially teenage boys, you see it play out in front of you every day.  My boys can empty out a kitchen cabinet with more ferocity and wonton abandon than twice the number of biblical plagues. Once I asked my son why he felt that it was his God given right to have eaten a whole box of cereal, he told me flat out, “Cuz I don’t know when we will have it again.” It’s not only our genes that are working against us, but the way we think about food.  We are worried about food in the richest countries in the world and our bodies are co-signing that agreement with impunity.

How I did It – This was really hard.  I come from a large family of mostly boys, so when it came time to eat if you were slow, or late, or fell down on the way to the table, you didn’t eat.  I had to actively train myself to reject the idea that if I didn’t eat it now, it wouldn’t be there for me later.  Weird huh? Without even realizing it I had made certain shall we say agreements about the world I lived in and my relationship with food.  I was in the top 25% of American wage earners and I was subconsciously concerned about where my next meal was coming from?  How does that happen? Blame the genes.

http://groups.anthropology.northwestern.edu/lhbr/kuzawa_web_files/pdfs/Kuzawa%20-%20feast%20famine%20chapter.pdf