Review: The New Evolution Diet by Arthur De Vany

"There is no failure, only feedback."
--Arthur De Vany

Readers, I'd like to recommend an extremely useful and insightful book to you: The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us about Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging by Art De Vany.

I'll start with the author's three central dietary and fitness principles:

1) Do not count or restrict calories.
2) Do not starve yourself, but do go hungry episodically, for brief periods.
3) Exercise less, not more, but with greater playfulness and intensity.

Interesting. Now granted, I know people who have had exceptional success counting calories. And I've seen (and have myself followed) advice to do extended exercise, particularly extended cardio workouts like distance running.

The thing is, most of us hate doing these things. Which is why a book that suggests you do neither is pretty intriguing.

Early on in his book, De Vany offers what I consider to be one of the best brief explanations I've ever read of why we humans are literally built to overeat and underexercise:

"We humans evolved when 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 to exert ourselves as little as possible.

That's right. We are, in essence, hardwired to be lazy overeaters.

This was a perfect strategy for success thousands of years ago. No human could survive in 40,000 BC unless he or she ate anytime food was available. Our ancestors knew that famine was always close at hand--feast now or suffer tomorrow. They were also careful to expend as little energy as possible, because burning more calories than absolutely necessary was a threat to survival."

In short, the human body was designed for an insecure food environment. Which is why it's so easy to get fat today, when we're constantly surrounded by an abundance of delicious, tempting and high-calorie food. And it's not like we need to chase down any of this food either! In the mechanized, modern era you can go your whole life without intense exercise. It's easy to see why obesity is our primary health problem.

Thus when De Vany turns the standard diet/fitness advice on its head, it's with full awareness of this critical concept: our bodies are not designed for the modern era. Therefore, we need to imitate--as much as is practicable in modern day-to-day life--the food and fitness environment we are designed for. This is the central thinking behind paleo living. Not just paleo eating--but paleo exercising too.

De Vany tells you to mix your exercise routine up so you won't get bored, and to challenge your body in new and different ways to avoid repetitive stress injuries. Boring, repetitive exercise isn't a recipe for getting in better shape: it's a recipe for, well, getting bored. And quitting.

And De Vany's notion of avoiding boredom extends to eating too. Just as Mother Nature never intended us to exercise on a fixed, rigid schedule, she never intended us to eat on a fixed, rigid schedule either. The human body craves--and benefits significantly from--variation and randomness.

Which is why this book calls for a widely varied diet, not some self-parodying low-carb diet of slabs of meat and bacon. Carbs aren't forbidden: they're okay in moderation--usually in the form of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables. The author also suggests experimenting with brief and intermittent periods of fasting: "just remind yourself that your ancestors endured many episodes of hunger and that your metabolism is designed to handle brief fasts."

And while junk foods like processed chips, sugary cereals and soda are generally off limits, even the author himself indulges in a once-a-month piece of cheesecake. This flexibility and allowance for enjoyment is the central strength of De Vany's eating style. As De Vany says: "We are not trying to literally live in the Ice Age, just to emulate aspects of that diet."

Finally, The New Evolution Diet offers readers striking insights and new, healthier paradigms for how to think about food, fitness and the human body. Ideas like:

1) Focusing on building muscle instead of dropping pounds.

2) Using the 80/20 Rule and other non-linear paradigms (e.g., cascade effects, butterfly effects, even outright randomness) to think about the body and how it functions.

3) Adding "kurtosis" in various forms to your life. This might mean adding significant randomness to your workout routine, or varying your diet significantly. As we mentioned before, the human body craves variation. This is the kind of stuff that can make life fun, unpredictable and--most importantly--healthier.

Readers, I strongly recommend this book. It’s rational, practical, thought-provoking and an easy read. Have a look at it and let me know what you think!

Finally, a few things I'm planning to add to my life after reading this book:

1) Add some light exercise before dinner to raise my insulin sensitivity. De Vany explains that this helps train your body to turn food into fuel rather than fat.

2) Make my exercise routines much more varied and unpredictable. I'm the kind of person who craves steady routine, so this may be a challenge for me.

3) Add a few specific foods to my diet: canned salmon and canned shellfish. Both are great sources of lean protein, vitamins, minerals and essential oils.

4) I'm going to try some small personal experiments with intermittent fasting and see what the effects are.

Share your thoughts!

Related Posts:
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Ask CK: How Do I Find Good Books To Read?
Interview with Jayson Lusk, Author of "The Food Police"
Review: Wheat Belly by William Davis

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Marcia said...

Hmm...I will have to think about reading this book. On my vacation, I read three books about nutrition/diet. What to Eat by Luise Light, Death by Food Pyramid by Denise Minger were the two new (to me) ones. I posted a brief review of What to Eat on my blog, and plan to review it more fully and the other book too. Eventually.

I have to say, I love routine, but also am a dabbler, so I like to do a lot of different things. Distance running caused major injuries. So lately I just squeeze in what I can. That means walking, swimming (though I haven't gone swimming in a month, out of town + pool closures), and this at-home workout called PiYo. (Which is both seriously kicking my butt AND strengthening my bad knee).

Not sure I'll ever really do the fasting thing. I am finding it hard to lose weight now after 40. This second baby weight (my son is two, I am 44), is stubborn stuff and I've found that I need to cut back on carbs from grains, simply because I'm not very active.

Daniel said...

Great points Marcia.

De Vany doesn't like distance running at all. He considers it a recipe for repetitive stress injuries, and essentially the opposite of his principle of adding "kurtosis" to your life.

And, yep, as I've entered my 40s I'm finding many more problems with my body when I do repetitive exercise.

I think you'll get some good value out of this book. It's a fairly quick read and not that long.


chacha1 said...

This will be no surprise coming from me, but for those looking for variable exercise that never gets repetitive, I recommend ballroom dancing.

The routine = going to class.

The variety = what you do there.

Most social ballroom classes cover three to five different dances, a little bit at a time.

Here in L.A., a social class averages about $75 for four hours (e.g. once a week for a month). Plus it's a great social & mental workout. :-)

Daniel said...

Chacha, it's a great idea!

I'd also suggest something like taking up tennis. Lots of quick, intermittent bursts of intense exercise, with some concentration and mindfulness required too.

The cost can be hilariously low: a couple of $40 racquets (they'll last for years as long as you don't throw or smash them, not that I'd know anything about that, heh), free outdoor public courts, and a few bucks for a can of balls every so often.


Marcia said...

My husband used to play tennis with a friend. As time went on, our free time got less - so his friend cut down from 2x a week to 1x a week, and Mike got cut.