Average Joe and Ancestral Health

Phil Becker, New Zealander, born in Nelson, raised in Christchurch, now lives lives and works in Wellington. He is married with 3 kids, two of whom are young adults carving themselves a place in this world and a daughter aged 4 ½. An avid student of life, he considers his 52 years an apprenticeship.

I am neither medically qualified nor have an academic grounding in health. I therefore share the following from a layman’s perspective and as a basis to get to know my story, and why I get passionate (sometimes a bit evangelical) about what we as individuals, and as collective occupants of this planet, can be doing to improve the time we have here.

Eyes. Open. Roll over. Delay facing the morning. Snooze on its 3rd repeat – 6am. Have to get up, can’t delay further. Bike gear on. Make coffee with trim milk for wife and I, and then ride the 11km to work. Flat out. Shower and down a cup of rolled oats soaked in low-fat milk topped with ½ cup of Yoplait yoghurt. Muffin and flat white to get me through to lunch. From the supermarket, a large filled ham roll with mayo, orange and banana for lunch. Need the carbs since I’m riding to and from work, plus I have a long ride in the weekend. Rolled oats snack bar and another flat white to get me through to end of work. Glad to get on bike after stressful 9 hour day. Couldn’t get through all I had to do as I was nodding off – will get it done tonight. A bit late leaving so have to sprint home, legs burning on hills. Real hungry so fix dinner. Spaghetti Bolognese with low-fat mince and a new low-fat cheese I found at the supermarket. Unwind with a bit of news on TV. Two hours in front of PC catching up on work. Unwind with a bit of TV. Hit the sack about 11pm.

Rinse. Repeat.

Eyes. Open. Roll over and out of bed. Native birds calling. Still a bit dark but early morning light cracking the clouds – 5.30am. Feed the cat. Bike gear on. Brew coffee with cream for wife and I, and whole milk for daughter. Four soft boiled eggs combined with some home-made sauerkraut and leftover veg from last night, with a spoon of butter for good measure – breakfast. Ride 11km to work, feel early sunlight washing over face and body. Shower and eat breakfast. Short black from local – love the oiliness and crema. What, lunchtime already? From the supermarket, a tin of salmon and huge pre-made cabbage and kale salad with my balsamic on top, and a banana. Couple of glasses of water. Completed all tasks and fitted in a couple of urgent ones. Glad to get on bike after 9 hour day – look forward to seeing the family, no hurry, enjoying just turning the legs over. Spend time with daughter, stories and her off to bed. Hungry so fix dinner – lamb neck chops braised with cabbage, onion, tomatoes and capsicum in beef stock. Kumara mash with butter and lemon juice. Catch-up on day with wife and bed about 9.

Rinse. Repeat.

These accounts of a typical workday are worlds apart in terms of how I feel, sleep and operate through the day. These worlds are about 5 years apart. And it’s a familiar story. Despite being really active on the bike, eating whole grain and low-fat, I had got to a point where I knew I was not well. I had more body fat and less muscle than I now know to be healthy as I head into this stage of life. I had low energy and struggled to control mood and emotions and at times made poor decisions. Realising my habits were sending me on a path to a health crisis, I acted. The entry point to a new way of looking at my health was reached online with a multitude of resources, mostly nutrition based. Since then it has been a process of trying to unwind decades of knowing where every good cafe and bakery was, following what was then considered a healthy diet, recreational cycling with at times ridiculous volumes or sustained intensities, and no clue as to how to control stress. I was living in a way that many of my peers lived, but for my age I was considered fit and healthy, the yardstick being no pot gut or overhanging muffin top. However my internal yardstick told me a different story.

Purposely, I do not attach a label to the approach I now take to my health and well-being. This is largely due to wanting to be open to new learning about both my, and our, collective health. However I do reference the many generations who have gone before me and the many iterations that have therefore evolved in my gene pool. I reference the mismatch between the origins of those iterations and the environment they operated in, and the environment in which the current iteration is required to operate. I therefore try to apply an evolutionary perspective to managing my health and the many factors that influence it, be it nutrition, movement, stressors, sleep and interaction with the physical and natural environments.

The self-awareness that has developed through the change in approach to managing my health extends and reinforces a high degree of personal accountability. I have decided that if I want to maximise the quality of my remaining life then it is up to me to do so.

In applying an evolutionary approach to health, while I reference the way we evolved to eat, move and live some 100,000 years ago, I also reference more recent evolution and adaptation to our environments over, for example, the last 1000 years. This to me better accounts for the wide variety in the way people respond to different lifestyle factors such as nutrition or movement. It also allows for a simpler approach and the flexibility to explore what approaches I can take to improve the alignment between an ancient body and modern times. Taking nutrition as an example, 90% of what I eat is made up of simple whole food, minimally processed and as seasonal as possible, on the basis that that is the closest I can reasonably get to what I am best adapted to.

But I am no purist. Just recently I ate a burger, a good wholesome beef burger with beetroot and salad and a sourdough bun followed by a rum-baba with a sweet rum syrup. Both sourced from a local restaurant with a reputation for whole food and seasonal produce. They tasted fantastic and the setting, an impromptu lunch date with my wife, made it even better. These are my “10 percenters”. Those occasions that use my learning that in small doses I have developed a high tolerance to sourdough bread and some dairy. However, I also know that if I abuse that learning, there will be more than a minimal negative impact on my health.

The self-awareness that has developed through the change in approach to managing my health extends and reinforces a high degree of personal accountability. I have decided that if I want to maximise the quality of my remaining life then it is up to me to do so. Huge investment is made in the structures and arrangements we know as New Zealand’s health and social welfare systems. My goal is not to have to engage with those systems, unless it’s to repair something I have busted. And I realize that to achieve that goal it is down to me and the choices I make in life. It is up to me what goes in my mouth, it is up to me what time I go to bed and how I recover, it is up to me how I react to situations and whether I have to deal with acute stress versus chronic stress.

It is with these observations, knowledge and approaches that I have become part of the Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand, where I intend to continue my learning journey, hopefully helping open the way for others to find their way to better health and to contribute to the growing body of knowledge and momentum toward a new model for well-being.

One thought on “Average Joe and Ancestral Health

  1. Hi Jamie. Thanks for a great article. I’m 50 this year and decided to also take a hold of my life and return to where we are supposed to be, not where conventional wisdom tells us to be. This was the ‘kick in the butt’ I needed to keep motivated! Paleo and Crossfit keep me strong, healthy, happy and able to keep up with my 11yo and 12yo!

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