For today’s Dear Mark, I’m taking three questions. First, I comment on Mick Dodge’s (the barefoot forest-living guy with the beard on the NatGeo show) claim that humans can thrive on 1000 calories a day. Is it true? Next, I discuss whether or not people need to worry about a distinct lack of appetite following exercise. Should they listen to their bodies or force down some food? And finally, how should a person who doesn’t want to lose weight go about a Primal way of eating?
A few months ago, I saw a show on National Geographic about Mick Dodge, a guy who lives as a hunter gatherer in a rainforest in Washington state. He mentioned that the human body actually needs very little food, and he’s conditioned his body to live off 1000 calories a day. Is he right? Is this because of his primal [blueprint] diet? Or is he just crazy?
There’s a difference between surviving and thriving.
I’m dubious about his claim. Is he weighing and measuring his grubs, cattails, and pine bark? Does he keep a FitDay account? Promo videos show him running barefoot through the forest, which looks like a great way to spend an afternoon but also increases his caloric expenditure and thus requirements. Plus, it’s a reality TV show. Those are notorious for stretching the truth and using selective editing to further a narrative.
Now, I’m not knocking Mick Dodge. I haven’t watched the show (just a few clips and I’ve read a couple things), but I dig his overall ethos and I suspect he’s just speaking about his own experience. I like his promotion of barefoot living – not just running. And what he says about the bare foot offering an entirely new sensory perspective on one’s surroundings is spot on. Even though we often focus on the utilitarian aspects of going barefoot – the altered loading of the lower limbs, the increased efficiency, the potential to reduce injury – the broadened sensory awareness is a huge benefit that doesn’t get enough credit. Plus, his apprentice that sometimes appears on the show – Will of Stone – came to PrimalCon Oxnard last year. Great guy, great kilt.
Let’s assume his claims are accurate, and he manages to maintain a decent physique, enough energy to run around the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, and a modicum of sanity on a daily diet of 1000 calories. Good for him, but he’s an outlier. The vast majority of published research shows that people just don’t function very well on 1000 calories a day.
Heck, the most famous caloric restriction study of all, the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, used diets of 1560 calories a day to induce starvation symptoms in adult males who had previously been eating 3200 calories a day. And they weren’t running barefoot, foraging for food, climbing trees, or lifting logs and heavy rocks while on it. They merely maintained their regular walking habit of 22 miles a week. The symptoms were severe:
They became depressed, hysterical hypochondriacs. Most of them experienced bouts of severe emotional distress, and there was even an instance of self-mutilation (a guy cut off three fingers with an axe). Interest in sex vanished (and erections grew scarce), replaced by interest in food. Metabolic rate plummeted across the board, as did body temperature.
So yes, we can technically survive on 1000 calories a day, but it isn’t going to be pretty. And doing so while living off the land would be nearly impossible for most people.
Of course, the rules change when you have hundreds of thousands of calories attached to your body and available for utilization. The severely obese can get away with ultra-low calorie intakes because they’re consuming all the calories stored in their adipose tissue. This is why an obese 27 year-old Scotsman was able to fast for 382 consecutive days, consuming nothing but water, vitamin supplements, and his own body fat. He reached his goal weight and, as of the paper’s publishing date, was able to maintain it in good health on a normal diet.
Sorry to trouble you but I’m a bit confused. I’m trying to follow my body’s signals for hunger but I’m almost never really hungry after my workout for at least a couple of hours. I know you recommend occasional post-workout fasting. My goal being fat loss, is a protein-rich PW meal crucial? Should I eat something anyway?
Thanks for taking out the time to answer this.
As long as this “not being hungry” business only happens after you work out and you’re eating a sufficient amount of food overall, go with it. The body can probably be trusted if all your ducks are in a row and you have a healthy relationship with food. And if fat loss is your primary concern, you’re on the right track. Both intense exercise and fasting increase growth hormone, and growth hormone promotes fat burning. Just don’t take things to an extreme and suppress the urge to eat (eat when hunger ensues naturally – WHEN) and things will take care of themselves.
Protein eaten immediately post-workout can help muscle recovery and promote hypertrophy, but even the importance of the post-workout “anabolic window” is exaggerated. Unless you’re looking to wring every last drop of muscle-building potential out of your body, you’ll do just fine eating protein a couple hours after.
I’m a lot like you, actually. I generally don’t get very hungry after a workout. If I’m not hungry, I don’t eat, and it’s worked out well. Others may have the opposite response to training. Efficient fat-burners tend not to be ravenous after exercising because they’ve burned more fat and spared more glucose during the workout and don’t need the immediate glycogen replenishment from dietary carbohydrates.
People just respond differently to training. There’s no one “right” way.
I am a fifty year-old woman with a long standing history of gastric disturbances which have previously been put down to irritable bowel, and now peri-menopausal hormone fluctuations plus h-pylori – both of which are causing distressing acid reflux and nausea.
I am certain that the answer lies in my diet, which has always been carb heavy – particularly as I am a “pesca/vegetarian”.
My problem is that I am very small (5ft tall, and currently just 40kg) and I lose weight at the drop of a hat. I recently started a low FODMAP diet accompanied by some tips from your web site regarding grains, but I lost 4kg (from 44 to 40) in just over a week.
Can I follow a low carb paleo style diet without losing weight? I’m scared to keep going.
Thank you for any assistance or direction you may have.
Many people can maintain their weight while eating relatively low-carb. I can. It may just be that you can’t go low-carb and maintain your weight. That’s fine, and it doesn’t mean you can’t be Primal. Although I’m a proponent of only eating and burning as much glucose as you have to in a lifetime, I don’t think carbs are evil. I’m relatively agnostic on that front. I even support up to 150 grams of carbs from starches and fruits (not even counting non-starchy green vegetable carbs) on the Primal Blueprint carb curve for weight maintenance for most people (athletes will often go even higher). I just want people to know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. My motto with carbs is basically “eat them as you need them.” For most people, that means tailoring their carbohydrate intake to their activity levels: when they train hard and long, they eat a few more carbs. For you, that may mean using your weight to determine the amount of carbs you need: when you start losing weight, you eat a few more carbs.
Besides, just because you’re on a low-FODMAP diet doesn’t mean you must eliminate carbs. Most tubers are low-FODMAP, except for something like sweet potato. Regular potatoes, bananas, white/wild rice, even some fruits are all acceptable. Review the list of foods to avoid on a low-FODMAP diet; anything else is fair game.
You’ll also have to eat enough food. I mean, that seems like it should go without saying, but you’d be surprised. Low-carb tends to reduce appetite because the foods are so nutrient dense, and because protein and fat are so filling. It’s easy to forget to eat when you’re not very hungry. Great for losing weight, not when you need to gain it. So:
- Drizzle a little extra olive oil on your salad. No, a little more than that. There you go. Just like that.
- Throw a little more potato on your plate and melt another pat of butter on it. Go on, do it. Don’t be shy.
- Flip that roast chicken carcass over. You’re not done with it. See those little tender morsels of chicken flesh there nestled on either side of the spine? Those are the oysters (not oysters, although those are good, too). Dig your index finger in and pop ‘em out. See that crispy little triangle down near the bottom? That’s the Pope’s nose, the perfect union of cartilage, fat and meat; rip it off and eat it. And you were about to throw the carcass out.
- Keep snacks on hand. Dark chocolate, nuts, jerky, bananas. If you slice and dry the bananas, you can combine all four to make the greatest trail mix in the history of human history.
That’s it for today, everyone. Be sure to leave a comment for me or, if you have some additional advice, for anyone who asked a question this week. I know they appreciate your insights. I sure do.