The diet of early hominids was mainly omnivorous; we ate fruit, leaves, seeds, nuts, flowers, bark, and insects. Around two and half million years ago, we introduced large animal meat and marrow into our diet. These foods took hours a day to chew and digest, so our bodies sent enormous amounts of energy and blood flow to our bellies to help us break these things down. Our digestive system became increasingly complex.
And then, some great storm blew in. Our best guess is that lightning caused a massive forest fire and when it was finally extinguished, much of the human diet in the area was torched. The surviving hominids took a chance, ate some animal carcasses that were smoldering and … yum! Man’s first barbecue! Early man started moving more to a carnivorous diet than an omnivorous one. Cooked meat was more easily digested than raw meat and marrow, so blood and energy was once again diverted, this time from our bellies to our brains. Since meat is a calorie and fat-dense meal rich in the nutrients needed for brain growth, the more meat we ate, the more quickly our brain grew.
Fast forward several million years and not much has changed. Humans still have to choose between their bellies or their brain. It takes an enormous amount of energy to digest our food; almost 30% of the calories we consume are being used at any point to run our digestive (and excretory) systems.
And if our diet contains inflammatory foods, it requires even more gas in our digestive tank, rerouting blood from our brain to break down food-like products that were designed in a lab. Leaving us not only bloated, but really, really stupid.
As a nutritional coach, I’ve worked with countless people to clean up their diet. I understand the science. And yet I’ve been blaming my persistent exhaustion, weight gain, and brain fog on the low-level stress of quarantine without owning up to the fact that our local “Take-Out Tuesday” has become a non-stop train of crap food and alcohol in my house.
You know what CRAP is? It stands for Carbonated beverages, Refined sugar, Artificial and Processed foods. You know, the tasty but nutrient-deficient stuff we’ve all been eating during quarantine.
Last week, I ate an entire bag of Cape Cod Jalapeno Sweet and Spicy potato chips, washed down by three White Claws. What even is a White Claw? No idea. But there is a very good chance that both of these items have several unpronounceable ingredients. And if I can’t even pronounce it, there’s a great chance my body doesn’t quite know how to digest it! Despite their deliciousness (and – to be very clear – I have those potato chips on my imagined last supper meal), they are sure to be full of preservatives, emulsifiers, and additives (sadly, nothing can be as good as those potato chips without maltodextrin). To make matters worse, I ate that CRAP late at night, so I wasn’t giving my body enough time to rest from digesting. You can probably guess how I felt after this meal too, right? If you guessed bloated, regretful, tired, and dull-witted, you win.
My body is so overloaded trying to break down these fake food products, it doesn’t have any extra energy to build clear skin, strong hair, and dense muscles. And it certainly does not have any extra blood for my brain. So I’m forgetful, foggy, tired, moody, and kind of dumb. I reread the same page in my book more often than is healthy. I walk into rooms and cannot for the life of me remember what I entered for. I struggle to get out of bed in the morning.
And I know I’m not alone in letting my wellness slide lately. The good news is that you don’t have to yard sale your whole life. Most people trying to feel better in their bodies attempt to overhaul their whole existence, tackling too many habits at once and setting themselves up for certain failure. But there is great value to be found in turning the dial just a little.
Small changes add up to a life well lived. My life – and to-do list – already feels overly full. The thought of adding one more thing feels like a Sisyphean task. So instead of adding new habits, I find intentional balance by letting go of all the things that are not for me.
For me, I broke up with late night snacks. Jalapeno chips and me? On a break.
Maybe you need to let go of a certain food too, or a bad habit, or a persistent negative thought that is keeping you stuck. What is one thing you could let go of today to find more balance?