Weight Gain: Blame Your Inner Hunter-Gatherer

Natural Man
Natural Man

There is no evidence that human beings have changed fundamentally in the last 200,000 years. Since we spent almost all of that time as hunter-gatherers, our ancestors have much to teach us about being human.

According to Jared Diamond’s The World until Yesterday, tribes were extremely interested in food. They did not have refrigerators or pantries and “daily bread” had a lot more significance for them than it has for us. They literally had to find food daily or die. If food was not found, the whole tribe, which always shared food, died.



Big butt as portable pantry
Big butt as portable pantry

Their only method of food storage was to gorge themselves when they had plenty and store it on their bodies as fat. It appears that fat was considered a sign of health, even beauty. Though we now like to quote Franklin’s “He who trades liberty for security deserves neither,” our ancestors did just that when they settled down and became farmers. But then Franklin never missed a meal, so who is he to judge?

Sigmund Freud thought humans were primarily motivated by sex, but Sigmund never missed a meal, either. Another German psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, who spent three years in a Nazi concentration camp, said “No, it’s not sex. We barely thought about sex. Our minds were filled with thoughts of food.”

In the existential quest for calories, which foods were best? Fat and sweets. Fat is somewhat rare on wild animals, but still obtainable. Sweets were available in fruits and at a much higher price, from honey bees. They loved fat and sweets for perfectly sensible reasons.

We have not changed much in 200,000 years, but the world has changed around us. Now fat and sweets are readily available. We still love them.

The world has changed around us and fat people are not considered healthy nor beautiful like they once were. This leaves us with a hunter-gatherer craving for fat and sweets and a contemporary taboo to stay away from them.

What to do? Well, we could remember when contemplating a fat, sweet food, “Oh, that’s just my inner hunter-gatherer craving that.” But let’s face it, much of the time we’re going to feed that inner hunter-gatherer. Let us not kick ourselves for honoring our ancestors.

Maybe we could make up for it by walking for 20 miles, like they did. 🙂


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