An article by Dr. Heidi Lepper, Ph.D.

Are You as Healthy as a Caveman?

"Am I as healthy as a caveman?" he asks himself while sitting with a bowl of ice cream. "Am I as healthy as a cavewoman?" she asks herself while she stands among others in a bikini. This notion has been simmering within me for a while now and I hope it finds its way to those among you who feel pressure about your weight or who feel fat in thin skin or who feel anxiety about eating.

I will admit I was struggling with food and eating and my own weight for a few years after my last son was born. I got too skinny. I got too skinny because I was moving my body a ton and not eating enough. I ate most assuredly but I did not eat enough to replace all that I used so my weight just kept getting lower and lower. It then became a game of "How low can it go?" "Can I fit into the littlest, bittiest pair of jeans?" "Will I finally come to love my legs?" But thankfully no more! I am lean and muscular most assuredly now but no longer too skinny and I have bigger jeans to prove it!

In a new and novel way, I feel prepared to talk about weight control, eating disorders, and body image. But I need you to bear with this imagery and see if it can help you. Early last summer, I was putting sunscreen on my incredibly verbal, and indeed lean, 6 year old today. He was sucking in his tummy very dramatically and it was hard for me to rub in the sunscreen so I asked him to stand still. Those of you who know him may now be smiling.

While sucking in his stomach very dramatically (and I will say it was very unattractive as it had a very emaciated appearance), he remarked: "Mom, you know if we did not have enough money to buy food this is what I would look like!" And I thought to myself "That's exactly right!" Just that morning as I was up moving my body to stay fit I thought to myself "Okay so 20,000 years ago the only time my ancestors got a lot of food or really good food was when they worked really hard for it. A long fought battle with a herd, or an extra long walk or run, or a dead sprint to catch a creature not normally caught. They expended a ton of calories and got something great! They took in extra calories because they moved their bodies more!"

Moving and Eating Are Irrevocably Tied
Twenty thousand years ago we lived vastly different lives. It is believed that for the most part we lived in small family clans and traveled within somewhat small geographic areas based upon the availability of food and water. We were lean and muscular, we had healthy body fat levels and great muscle tone. Why? Because we moved our bodies every day in search of food and we fed our bodies accordingly. It is doubtful we were actually moving for any purpose other than in search of food (okay, I suppose we also chased after potential mates and wandering children). But my point I hope is taken. If we moved our bodies more it was because we were in search of food.

We evolved a well-balanced system of moving our bodies and food intake. Simply put we were not fat because there was rarely an abundance of food. Nor did we under eat because we had to eat when food was available. Even more simply put, we maintained a healthy body weight and muscle mass and fat ratio because it was healthiest for us, and if we didn't, we died.

Mirrors, Mirror on the Cave Wall? No!
More importantly, we did not have wall mirrors or ever-present media telling us what we should look like. I think when you put into perspective the idea that we evolved in this system and our bodies today still reflect this evolutionary process you can come to terms with your body and exercise and food. You will start to listen to people when they tell you "you look great!" or perhaps even "you are too skinny!" Again, our cavemen ancestors did not evolve within a system of self-image. They did not stand in front of a mirror pinching their sides, wishing away the fat. But most assuredly they did help each other maintain healthy body weights because it was best for the family clan. They needed each other to be as healthy as possible because it was best for the community!

Universally we find individuals with muscle mass and a bit of fat the most attractive physically. Think about the bodies you find attractive. They have great muscle symmetry but are not too skinny. There are not overly exposed veins or tendons or muscle fibers showing; there is no emaciated appearance.

My young son spoke to this: He knows overly skinny physiques are not attractive, that they are a sign that one is not eating enough and he relates that to not having enough money to buy food. But growing up with mirrors and advertising telling us how we should look, our perceptions of our bodies get skewed, so we take on emotional relationships with food and exercise.

An Evolved Healthy Balance: Move More and Eat Less
"Am I a healthy caveman?," or "Am I a healthy cavewoman?," you should ask yourself now. Do you have a balanced life of physical movement and food intake, a balanced view of what your body looks like? We are vastly harder on ourselves than anyone ever is of us. If you repeatedly hear back from those around you that "You look great!" then you do! Believe what others are telling you, stop looking in the mirror. If you have to, stop buying magazines and watching television.

The basis of all diets is move more and eat less. But how many of us do this in a balanced way? A balanced body is the evolved system for all humans and when we purposely upset that balance we will get sick. And that is a warning from the body that something is wrong.

What Can I Do?
Keep this mental imagery in mind: Am I as healthy as a caveman? Am I as healthy as a cavewoman? Think about what you find attractive physically in others and listen to others! They are a better mirror, a more trusted mirror than yours. As their mirror they will tell you when you have slipped over that edge of being healthy to unhealthy in terms of your food intake to movement balance.

Talk with people who love you about how to find that healthy balance of movement and food. Learn when emotions wreak havoc on this process for you. And keep reading the things I write as all of it will help you live a more balanced life.

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Copyright © 2009 Dr. Heidi Lepper, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.