The Truth About Food & Eating – Part 2
What evolutionary advantage resulted in our body’s requirement of nutritional consumption several times a day? It seems to me our cave-dwelling ancestors would’ve been safer had they only needed to leave shelter once a day to eat. Yet the fittest survivors passed along hunger cues for three daily meals. I say that’s too frequent. I’m always thinking about what I’m going to eat next.
I suppose we’re lucky. We could be like Giant Pandas who spend 50% to 75% of their waking hours foraging and eating. An adult panda maintains its healthy weight of 220 to 254 pounds eating an average 25 pounds of bamboo per day. The CDC tells us that 70.7% of American humans would not make those relative nutritional choices so imagine where we’d be if we had to eat as often as the panda. Fatter than ever, most likely.
Male penguins go eight to sixteen weeks without eating. They live off their fat while protecting the eggs, then babies, till the females come back from fishing, only then may the males go fish for themselves. Sharks can go up to three weeks between feedings. I want that. I want to have evolved to needing food roughly once a month. Then maybe it wouldn’t be on my mind so much.
Last year I read I Will Bear Witness, the abridged two-volume, 1100-page diary of Victor Klemperer. If you are a history buff I highly recommend these books as a testament to the mundane details of daily life as well as a record of the shocking events that occurred in Dresden, Germany from 1933 through 1945.
Klemperer was a Jew married to an Aryan so he managed to avoid deportation, though not harsh relentless life-threatening sanctions. Keeping the secret diary was his way of resisting by documenting daily life under Nazi rule. His writing quickly became repetitive, as diaries do, and he planned to edit his tome if the opportunity to publish had presented itself during his lifetime. Most of the time the repetition didn’t bother me.
I was irritated by how frequently he wrote about hunger and the struggle to find, salvage, cook, and prepare food, along with how it tasted and how it he felt physically afterwards. Like, ALL. THE. TIME. Oh my God, I get it – they were hungry and food was scarce or non-existent. Get on with the story!
I’d kept thinking in the face of tragedy or trauma, there were more important things to worry about than one’s stomach. The focus should be on what’s important. Like thwarting the Nazis (or in my case, playing cards with my kids) without gnawing hunger demanding attention.
I had to keep reminding myself, I was reading about real life written in real time. Unless it serves the plot, movies, novels, and even nonfiction omit vital daily details: sleeping, eliminating, eating, drinking. The four things we must do nearly every day if we are to survive. The first two requirements on that list can be improvised in any number of ways, but wits, skill, and bravery will only take one so far without water and three squares a day.
It wasn’t until the end of the diaries that I fully appreciated how grinding it must have been when just a few hours after having eaten they had to face their hunger and try to solve that problem again and again. Day after day. For years.
When my mother died in a car accident, I am ashamed to admit that once the initial shock had passed, some of my first thoughts were “Now I’ll get thin. How could I ever think about eating again?” But three hours later I was hungry and looking for food. And I hated myself for it.
So I ate. And ate and ate and ate.
Becoming conscious of the volume and content of what I’m consuming, and focusing specifically on what’s required without excess, I’m dismayed by the small amount of food we actually need. I know. This is a contradiction of my earlier wish to have hunger once a month. Okay. I either want less intense hunger so I’d be content eating small amounts of food, or the ability to satisfy the hunger I have without gaining weight.
In a culture where so many of us have endless food options available at any time, I’m humbled by how hard it is to walk away, make a healthier choice, or not reach for another cracker that’s sitting in front of me at a party.
So I guess what I really want is a much more aggressive “full” signal. Like the nozzle at a gas pump, “Clunk – your tank is full.” I couldn’t eat more and wouldn’t want to anyway.
Hunger signals must have been necessary for our ancient ancestors otherwise why were they passed on?
A little twenty-first century evolutionary assistance sure would be appreciated right about now.