The body you want – part 1
The new evolution diet has been an enormous success. It argues that our bodies were designed for living 40,000 years ago — with a lifestyle to match
As far as our bodies are concerned, nothing much has changed since the Stone Age (Kayt Jones)
This diet is based on my decades-long study of weight, diet and health and on what life was like roughly 40,000 years ago. This is not out of nostalgia for the Stone Age, but rather an acknowledgment that, as far as our bodies are concerned, nothing much has changed since then.
Our ancestors of 40,000 years ago, the Cro-Magnons, were tall, muscular and lean. Food was often scarce. Exercise, the physical activity required to survive, was made up of heavy labour plus intense but brief “fight or flight” emergencies. Our ancestors retained their health throughout their lives, though their years were considerably fewer than ours. Modern humans carry a copy of the same genes as our Cro-Magnon ancestors. Why, then, does this same genetic material, which once expressed health and muscular leanness, now express obesity and chronic illness?
The answer is in the interaction between our genes and their surroundings — in other words, our modern, affluent society. We are genetically engineered to thrive in a different world, one where food was scarce and life was full of arduous physical activity. Hence our bodies instruct us to eat everything we can lay our hands on and exert ourselves as little as possible. In essence, we are programmed to be lazy overeaters, a perfect strategy for success thousands of years ago, but a recipe for disaster today. The human preference for sweet tastes and fat was developed in an environment where such treats were rare and signalled dense, useful energy. This once-helpful adaptation is our downfall today.
We are not living as we were built to live. Our genes were forged in an environment where activity was mandatory — you were active, or you starved, or were eaten. Regular exercise is not just something you do to improve your health and drop a few pounds. It is absolutely essential to a healthy life — as necessary as food, water and air.
We are adapted to consume a large and changing variety of foods. It is known that people who consume a varied diet experience superior health and longevity, compared to those who eat from a monotonous palette. A forager moving over the savanna in the quest for food will encounter patches of edible plants in great variety and in seasonal abundance. Foraging for animal sources offers its own rewards. One big kill may equal thousands of plants in energy.
Human metabolism is adapted to this pattern of intermittent variety in food sources and periodic fasting mixed with varying activity levels. The chronic routine of three balanced meals a day and two snacks, combined with the routine of repetitive exercise, simply does not square with how our metabolism is built to function.
There must be a periodic emptying of energy reserves through activity and intermittent hunger. Unless we do this, I don’t think it is possible to overcome the instinct to eat more calories than we burn.
Some people start the diet with low magnesium stores, which can lead to cramping, fatigue and oedema (swelling due to water retention). I suggest two to four weeks of magnesium supplements before starting and during the first month. As always, check with your doctor first.
Arthur de Vany is an economist and mathematical behavioral scientist and is professor emeritus of economics at the University of California, Irvine
The New Evolution diet, the basics
These would be foods that you (or someone else) could either pick or catch and kill.
Eat at least some food raw.
Have a salad or something uncooked once a day.
Eat a wide variety of foods.
Eat slowly and chew thoroughly.
Give your body a chance to burn off excess fat by limiting yourself to two or three meals a day.
Your diet should be one-third raw vegetables and fruit, one-third cooked vegetables and one-third meat or fish.
Use supplements to ensure sufficient nutrients, but get as much of your nutrition as possible from food.
It worked for me
Eating and exercising like our ancestors of 40,000 years ago helped Bryan Appleyard lose 2st in two months — and the weight’s stayed off
Two years ago, I was in Newport Beach, California, trying to interview Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the genius who wrote The Black Swan and predicted the banking crash, about life, the universe and the incompetence of bankers. I spent two days failing because Nassim only wanted to talk about his diet.
By the time I got home, I had spent seven weeks in America, the fattest nation on earth, and I was feeling bloated. I went on Nassim’s diet. Two weeks later and 11lb lighter, I met the then editor of The Sunday Times Magazine. He asked me why I looked 10 years younger.
“There’s this bloke in Utah — Nassim told me about him…”
Another two weeks later, and now about 17lb lighter, I was ringing the doorbell of a house just outside St George, Utah. A man dressed only in a towel answered. Arthur De Vany. He was 70 and he looked, as I later wrote, like “Superman’s slightly fitter grandad” (not, as Arthur says in his book, “like Superman’s father”).
Bryan Appleyard (Handout) I then spent several hours learning why the modern world — which means, in this context, the past 40,000 years — is making our lives miserable. A month later, and now 2st lighter, I was walking the streets like a god, regarding with disdain the sallow, creeping creatures around me.
After my article appeared, I found myself on television, telling the world about it all. This was weird. Before Arthur, my entire self-image was based on the conviction that I was the sort of person who would never go on TV to talk about diets. But I felt justified. This was a diet with real intellectual roots, not one of the mad starvation routines I used to do to stop myself looking like my increasingly waddling contemporaries.
I lost the weight, and it didn’t return as it always had before. Well, I put some back on deliberately, because, down 2st, my wife thought I looked scrawny. I hadn’t been exercising as much as I usually do, and I wasn’t building muscle mass — essential if you’re following the New Evolution Diet.
It is tricky at first. I overdid it for the first four days and felt as if I had a very bad case of flu. I had been avoiding fruit for some reason. I had a peach on day four and suddenly felt incredibly well. You have to be ruthless for a while — picking the croutons out of salads becomes an almost daily chore — and then it gets easy. It just doesn’t cross your mind to have a bun or a Weetabix. The payoff is huge, not just in lost weight, but in gained energy and mental poise.
I have lapsed since, often badly, but the weight is still off. I am fitter than I have ever been. This is because my basic diet has changed utterly.
Cheese I cannot do without — Arthur recommends using it sparingly, as a flavouring. I never touch cereals, avoid sugar, bread, pasta, potatoes and rice. I wander round supermarkets in a state of disgust.
Foods to eat
Choose highly coloured, low-starch vegetables such as spinach, cauliflower, celery, broccoli, asparagus, aubergines and dark greens (iceberg lettuce is not very green, for example).
Meat, fish and eggs
This includes virtually all flesh. Protein is very important: studies have shown that extra protein in your diet helps control your appetite. This is why a diet lacking in protein can lead to obesity— your brain will always be telling you to eat more food. Organic, grass-fed beef, lamb and pork are preferable, as are free-range chicken, turkey and other poultry. Red meat is fine, in moderation, but birds are healthier. Game, if you can find it, is very good and low in fat. Wild fish, especially salmon, is also good, but all fish are okay. Shellfish is fine — I eat a lot of crab and clams, as did our prehistoric ancestors.
These include almonds, walnuts and pecans. They do not include cashews; any “raw” cashews you buy are actually processed and they are high in carbohydrates. Neither should you eat peanuts, which are legumes, not nuts. Stay away from seeds, as they contain harmful “antinutrients”.
Fresh fruit only, no juices. Take care with your portions, as some modern fruits have been bred to contain extra sugar to make them taste sweeter. Melons are great; watermelon is excellent too as it contains the antioxidant glutathione and its precursors.
This is something of a misnomer, because the truth is that no oil is particularly beneficial. Olive oil is the only type I eat. I use it on salads and, in very small quantities, in cooking, mainly for the flavour. I take an omega-3 fish oil supplement on days when I don’t eat fish. Avoid any hydrogenated oils, or products that contain them such as margarine. They contain trans fats, which are completely alien to our bodies and harmful.
Foods to avoid
Simply stated, our bodies are not well adapted to processing grains. A grain-rich diet can result in allergic reactions, high insulin levels (type-2 diabetes is now four times more prevalent in the UK than 30 years ago), obesity and digestive disorders. By the way, sweetcorn is a grain, not a vegetable. Grains contain lectins, a group of plant proteins suspected of causing leptin resistance. After insulin, the most powerful hormone for regulating appetite, energy metabolism and reproduction is leptin. Leptin resistance is itself a cause of obesity. Bread is the ultimate poverty food — it exists only because grain is cheap, easy to grow and less perishable than other foods. It has no place in a healthy diet. The same is true of anything made with flour or other grains (rice, barley, corn).
We are the only animal that drinks milk as adults and consumes another creature’s milk. Some dairy in small amounts is acceptable (unsweetened yoghurt or cheese).
This includes potatoes, most root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, water chestnuts, turnips and radishes (although some raw carrots or beetroot in moderation are okay). It definitely includes crisps.
Bananas and any dried fruit, as they contain too much sugar.
Essential, but our daily intake is now too high.
Just because you can eat it doesn’t mean it’s food: doughnuts, biscuits, cakes, sweets, ice cream and so on.
Avoid soy beans and soy products, because they are high in lectins and phyto-oestrogens. I eat chickpeas, lentils and green beans only in moderation.
Your week one guide
Salmon — fresh with spices, smoked or canned. Eat some fresh celery and melon. Celery is a great source of fibre.
Eat a big fresh salad full of vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, green onions, artichoke hearts or palm hearts, topped with prawns, roast turkey or grilled chicken. Add half an avocado, and use olive oil with vinegar (wine or balsamic) as a dressing.
Barbecued beef or pork ribs with no sauce, with a big helping of asparagus and a romaine salad. Try to eat no later than 7pm, but if you do, have a snack: perhaps a few slices of lean turkey breast with half an avocado.
The abdominal brace. Stand tall and bend forward from the hips as you feel the erector muscles tighten in your lower back. Hold them and stand straight.
Eat an omelette (two eggs, one yolk), with well-cooked and drained bacon, fresh fruit and black coffee. Drink water as needed.
Italian, but how can you eat Italian without carbs? Find a restaurant that serves real Italian-style vegetables. Have a salad and fish, or seafood with vegetables. Drink fresh water with lemon and an espresso.
A flank steak or rump steak done on the grill — this lean cut contains ample protein. I marinate mine in a teriyaki sauce. Cut up some squash and red peppers, drop them in the marinade or drizzle olive oil over them, and cook on the grill with the steak. A glass of wine to go with it is fine.
Establish your balance in bare feet. Stand tall; settle the weight into your hips and feet just before the heels. Lift one foot: notice how much you sway. Maintain balance on the ball and heel of the foot.
Half a ham steak with two hard-boiled egg whites and cantaloupe melon, with coffee and plenty of water. Let your hunger determine the size of the portions.
Two fish tacos — fish, cabbage and salsa in a tortilla. (Tortillas contain carbs and fat, but the occasional deviation is okay.) Eat as much tortilla as you need to get the fish and cabbage into your mouth and leave the rest. Or, forget the tortilla and eat with a fork. No rice or beans. Drink water or unsweetened iced tea. A beer is okay but it will raise your insulin and tell your liver to convert the carbs into fat.
How hungry are you right now? At night I often eat only a salad with smoked salmon, red cabbage, garlic, celery, olives and avocado.
Start your day with a walk. Don’t wrap up too warm: if you feel slightly chilly your metabolism will thank you.
Four hard-boiled eggs, but cut out two of the yolks. Eat some fresh fruit.
If you have time, take a walk for lunch and find a sandwich shop that has good pastrami and coleslaw. Leave just enough bread crust to hold the contents of the sandwich. Or, throw all the bread away and just eat the fillings. Drink unsweetened iced tea or water. After you eat, continue strolling; it is a walk interrupted by food.
You will be hungry by now. It is time for a large swordfish steak with a great salad. A glass of pinot grigio goes well with this meal. Before the meal and for the whole afternoon after that salty lunch, drink plenty of water.
At work, climb a flight of stairs; drive from the hip and raise your foot high as you climb. Do some sprinting when you get home before supper — a bit of exercise before eating increases insulin sensitivity.
Friday can be a busy, stressful day. Your body will be able to handle stress better if you eat less, so have a light breakfast of nuts and fruit.
I suggest a salad of vegetables, lettuce and plenty of celery, with some chicken or seafood.
Free rein. Just make good choices: send the bread back, kill the croutons, and choose your meal wisely from vegetables, seafood and lean meat. Try not to eat carbohydrates with fat. That means you will have to skip the potatoes and gravy and just have vegetables instead.
Practise walking at home or in the office — wherever you work — while holding your new upright posture and doing the abdominal brace. Lift your heart and look over your cheekbones as you walk.
Eat your leftovers from dinner the night before, along with fresh fruit and coffee.
Smoked salmon or tuna in a salad with vegetables such as red cabbage, broccoli, tomato, cauliflower, celery, kalamata olives, fresh garlic and spring onions. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dressing, with fresh basil sprinkled on top. Use whatever appeals to you.
Skip it and don’t eat until Sunday morning. You will probably anticipate this and load up at lunch. This is okay — eventually you will randomise meal-skipping, so even you can’t anticipate the next time you’ll go hungry.
During your fasting period, take a walk at dinnertime. Activity is a signal to your metabolism to retain muscle even in the face of an energy shortage.
If you skipped dinner on Saturday, make sure you eat well on Sunday.
Fresh fruit and a scrambled egg.
A large lunch is in order. I suggest fish such as fresh salmon or tuna (grill some extra for tomorrow’s breakfast or a quick snack) over broccoli and celery drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkled with fresh garlic and Asian red chillies.
Steak Romano with grilled prawns in a garlic and lemon sauce, and asparagus and squash done on the grill. To make the sauce, melt some Romano cheese with a bit of flavoured olive oil. Grilled squash is a great substitute for chips.
Raise your insulin sensitivity before you eat. One nice way is to hug your other half and lift them carefully off the ground.
The New Evolution Diet by Professor Arthur de Vany is published by Vermillion (£12.99). To buy it for the special price of £11.69 (including p&p), call The Sunday Times Bookshop on 0845 271 2135 or go to thesundaytimes.co.uk/bookshop