Ancestral Eating in the 21st Century

“If you’re going to eat like a caveman without moving like a caveman, you’re going to have a bad time.”

 Whatever you want to call it (the paleo diet, the primal blueprint, the carnivore diet, etc), this conversation around Ancestral Eating fascinates me to no end. It makes sense, after all. We are the product of millions of years of evolution, and the agricultural revolution is only 10,000 years old (look up the Neolithic Revolution). But, I’m pretty sure that our Ancestors didn’t have glyphosate and Wi-Fi to deal with, and probably didn’t even have a word for chair, let alone sit in one 8+ hours a day.

 So what’s right? Are we modern man, and need a modern diet for the 21st century? Or, should we go back to our spear throwing days and eat like a caveman (or cavewoman, sexist Omid)?

 The Holistic Perspective

We are a complex system of systems networked together by something we still don’t fully understand. That being said, we know a fair bit about the link between food and movement. You know the first law of thermodynamics, right? Energy cannot be created or destroyed in a closed system? Doesn’t ring a bell? How about calories in and calories out? Seems so simple: eat less than you burn via exercise, and magically weight loss.

 Well, turns out not all calories are the same. Nor is each individual’s genetics. Nor is the time of day, the position of the moon, the quality of the soil the food came from, etc, etc. Like I said, we are a complex system of systems, and any one of those systems can have a few thousand variables that change the equation. Calories in and Calories out sticks around like a thorn in my side because it fits onto magazine covers and click-bait titles better than the truth; that there is no simple equation that made you or I, that we are completely unique in almost every way from someone else.

 So, what does that have to do with ancestral eating? Well, one thing that often is missing from this conversation is so damn simple that it makes my head spin: WHO’s ANCESTORS?

 I could write an entire book on this topic, and there are plenty of them out there already, but let’s just simplify this a bit for now. I’m a pure bred Persian, and I’m about to marry my lovely European mixed lady. We face a dramatic challenge due to the fact that my ancestors came from a place where we had access to plants all year long, plus a history of being exposed to grains for much longer than her people. Likewise, in most European countries, the ground freezes during the winter, stopping food sources from plants, leaving her ancestors to follow and eat the roaming animals.

 And yes, this definitely leads to some challenges at the dinner table and our plates look different. More on that in a different post. For now, the takeaway is this – just like our fingerprints are unique to us, so are your ancestors to other people’s, and we shouldn’t just eat a standardized paleo diet because Dr So-and-So said to. We need to figure out what our genetic ancestors ate.

But let’s get back to that first law of thermodynamics, shall we? Energy cannot be created or destroyed in a closed system? Well, that’s assuming that we have a constant burn rate like a car: put in a certain number of gallons of gas, and go a certain number of miles based on the miles per gallon of the car. Turns out that if that were the case, we wouldn’t be here. Our ancestors often had to go days on end without food, and even if they did eat every day, consumed their calories within shorter windows of time than we do now. This simply means that we have a variable metabolism, or variable burn rate.

New research (I’ll get into it more down below) is even showing that the same number of calories eaten in a 24 hour window vs an 8 hour window have dramatically different effects on the body. In other words, people would eat the same thing they were eating before and losing weight rather than gaining ON THE SAME DIET. This is the right time for me to say that I’m not a doctor or nutritionist, and experiment safely with any new dietary changes, especially when it comes to anything that mimics a fasting environment.

Ancestral Eating to Me

1) The lowest hanging fruit to me is time restricted eating. While it’s clear that most of our ancestors would have been exposed to multiple days of fasting due to food scarcity, modern man just doesn’t have the need anymore for this. And while I can definitely go into a ton of science of why we should do a 3-5 day fast once in a while, we don’t NEED to, especially when intermittent fasting exists.

Simply eat all of your calories you normally would in a given window of time of 8-12 hours. It turns out that it takes a lot of energy to digest food, and without any breaks, our cells tend to start getting tired and over worked. Eating all the food in a window smaller than 12 hours allows our cells to clean out all the waste left over from cellular metabolism and be more efficient with breaking down new food.

2) This next one is controversial, but eat a LESS varied diet. Our ancestors didn’t have access to refrigerators and super markets. For the most part, they ate what was around them in only a few square mile radius on a daily basis. Just like our bodies adapt to perform exercise more efficiently the more we do it, the more adaptive our digestion system gets to extract the maximum amount of nutrition from a food when exposed to it repeatedly.

*Side note: we do need a small bit of variety in our diets, but this isn’t from a nutritional perspective as much as it is a psychological perspective. YMMV, as I can eat the same dang thing every day with zero care in the world.

3) Know your specific ancestry. Tests like or can help with this greatly. But if funds are limited for tests like that, simply look at the map of the world and chart where your family comes from. It gets tricky if you’re a mutt, but just take the largest percentage and eat the way they did for a month and see how you feel. This is critical information, as our ancestors really only ate what was around them, and not hundreds of miles away.

4) Like I teased with the above quote, our ancestors moved a LOT. We can’t just follow a paleo diet like some kind of panacea of health. We need to move like our ancestors did: move at low (walking intensities) for a lot of the day, never really sitting still for more than 30-60 minutes at a time, and short intense bursts of activity to simulate hunting and/or running from stuff.

5) Lastly, the obvious: avoid processed foods. There is a time to follow the better living by science approach, bio-hacking certain systems in the body for short term gain. But I prefer the phrase: there’s no such thing as a biological free lunch. Eat real food as much as possible, and when you can’t, eat the least processed thing you can.

Before I leave you for the day, I’d like to close with something I already mentioned in this post. There is nothing simple about you or I, and we are all unique complex systems of systems. Stop listening to what people tell you that you should eat, because the truth of the matter is that we have no idea. Once study of centenarians (people who live past 100) showed that they lived long lives despite their health habits (turns out most of them smoked, drank, slept like hell, and ate like shit).

What I suggest is this: that the superpower of the 21st century is awareness. Rather than listening to what people tell you you should eat, learn to be aware of what your cells want. And learning to hear the difference between psychological programming and actual self care. Once you can do that, then eating becomes another form of self expression.

I hope this information was helpful, and as always have a happy and healthy rest of your day!

Trouble Losing Weight? Diet and Exercise might not be the answer!

I’m about to say something controversial: diet and exercise are not the most important parts of losing weight. Yup, that’s right. A personal trainer saying that there are more important things involved that the very reason people hire me.

Before you run off and hire someone else, let me first use a quick analogy to make my point. When we think of our home, we often think of the color of the walls, what kind of curtains we want to use, hardwood vs carpet, etc. But to me, all that is useless if the house is built on an unstable foundation. It might look great for a while, but cracks will start to appear, and pretty soon the whole house is worthless because the roof is starting to collapse. Time to demolish and start again.

To be clear, diet and exercise ARE important. But just like the house, diet and exercise are not the foundations of health and sustained weight loss. So where do diet and exercise rank in terms of importance? Here’s the whole list.

Kettlebell Front Squat

#5 – Exercise

Without going too deep into the science, weight loss all comes down to calories. The current model is CICO (calories-in, and calories-out), where if we burn more calories than we take in, we lose weight. When it comes to calories-out, there’s two big parts.

Part 1 is what we call our basic metabolic rate. Think about BMR as the calories the body would use even if we were in a coma. The challenge is, according to the US department of Agriculture, the daily recommendation for calorie intake is anywhere from 2,000 to 2,600 calories. So, to make up the difference between BMR and what we eat on a daily basis, exercise and movement is needed to drive up the number of calories burned.  

Easy example: 2,200 calories in from food, BMR of 1,100. I’ve got 1,100 calories left to ‘burn’ through exercise, or the leftover calories will be stored as fat.

#4 – Nutrition

Shrimp and Grapefruit

Following the same logic as above, nutrition is the calories-in portion of our equation. If we eat more calories than we burn through BMR and exercise, the body stores the extra calories for future use. Great news if it’s 500+ years ago when we would sometimes have to go days without eating. Bad news when our refrigerators are stocked, and the nearest grocery store or restaurant is only a few blocks away.

So, to balance that equation, take in less calories through food. If we keep the same BMR from above at 1,100, but only take in 1,700 calories through food, I’d only have to ‘burn’ 600 extra calories through movement to maintain weight.


And this is where most people stop. Eat less, move more, making calories-in less than calories-out, and we lose weight. Right? Well, for some people. The next three points are where things get tricky and quite frankly frustrating to think about. Because the next three points are where I find most people fail to lose the weight they want. Before I list them, I need to make one point clear, and that’s about what we’re made of.

You are the product of 37 trillion cells coming together to make up one big body. What’s even cooler is that those cells don’t stay the same through your life. Just like we need to replace batteries in our electronics, when a cell has burned as many calories as it can, it gets replaced by a new cell.

The problem is lifestyle gets in the way of that replication process. And that’s where our next 3 factors come in.


#3 – Sleep

Omid Sleeping

It makes sense that WHAT we eat is just as important as how much we eat. If we want a healthy body, we need to eat things that will support building better cells. Veggies and good quality fats are imperative to that process just as protein is vital for building muscle cells. But it’s when our head hits the pillow that the process of healing and rebuilding cells takes place.

The vast majority of human beings need anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but it’s more than the amount of time between the sheets. Sleep is more about the quality of recovery we get. Think about it this way: we all know that stress is bad for us. Cortisol is what we call a catabolic hormone; a hormone that breaks things down. Sleep produces what we call anabolic hormones; hormones that are coupled with rebuilding processes. If we don’t sleep enough, or worse off, we’re still stressed from bad food and too much screen time, the body never gets rid of enough cortisol, and the cells don’t grow back right.

Let me be clear on this point. Sleep is critical for the cells to replicate well. If we don’t sleep well or enough, the cells that grow are not as strong as the previous cells. Those new cells now are less capable of burning calories efficiently, and therefore we’re handicapping the calories-out part of the equation. I can’t stress this enough, so I’ll say it again: Sleep trumps exercise!

#2 – Hydration

Water Glass

Ever heard the expression ‘burning calories?’ Well, to burn something is to take it through a chemical reaction. Every single cell inside your body is electro-chemical, and water is the number one thing those cells need to maintain every single function. Think about it this way: the body can survive up to ten days without food, but only 2-3 days without water.

You can eat the best diet in the world, but the cells in the gut need water to properly break down the food. You can do the best weight based workout ever, and sleep 9 hours, but the cells need water to get rid of all the waste from the muscles breaking down. You can even meditate for an hour every day, but without water, the adrenals get stressed out and produce cortisol at alarming rates.

The number one challenge to water is this: getting too little water (dehydration) and getting too much water (hyponatremia) both feel the same! It’s all about getting the amount of water you take in to balance your sodium levels. The rule of thumb is this: 0.5oz of water per pound of body weight. But keep in mind, everyone is different, and that fluctuates depending on your diet and activity level.

#1 – Respiration


Everyone breathes. Period. The body can go a few days without water, but if you stopped breathing, you’d be brain damaged within only 4 minutes, and dead within 10. Yet with little exception, everyone fails to breathe WELL. This point is massively important because every cell in the body respires just as we do. When a cell takes a breath, it brings in fresh resources and calories to do a job, and then excretes the waste products left over. (Fun fact, when we talk about burning calories, the biggest waste product is carbon dioxide that leaves us via the lungs. That’s right, if you want to lose weight, breathe more!)

I want you to think about your breath as the accelerator pedal in the car, and the respiration of the cells as the speed (mph). When you want to get up to a faster speed, you apply more acceleration by pushing down on the pedal. But once you get to the desired speed, you can’t just stop applying the accelerator; otherwise the car will slow down bit by bit. Cell respiration is your speedometer, and the frequency of your breath is the gas pedal. When we breathe poorly, it’s like starving the engine of gas, so the whole thing slows down. Every cell in the body respires less, and a whole host of things gets produced less effectively: hormones, neurotransmitters, ATP, carbon dioxide, and even calories don’t get burned at the same rate!

You can have the best diet and exercise regiment ever created, but if you’re not breathing well outside of sessions, the body is slowly going through asphyxiation from the inside out. The good news is that just like that gas pedal, you don’t need to deep breathe every second of every day. About once an hour, stand up and take a few full breathes to keep the ‘speed’ of the cells up.

The last thing I want to mention about the respiratory system is that because oxygen is the highest priority to our survival (remember, dead in 10 minutes without it), it is thus intertwined with a ton of other systems we have. I could write a book on that topic alone, so for the purpose of this post I’ll be brief and only list a few examples:

            The Muscular System: Take a big breath in, and notice what shape your body takes, or what movements happen. Then breathe out, and I mean ALL the way out. Every ounce of air out, and see what shape your body takes. It’s more than just the diaphragm, but the whole muscular system moves with the breath.

            The Digestive System: When we take a full breath, the diaphragm pushes down on the digestive system, moving around the internal organs almost like a massage. This helps squeeze and push not only food through the system, but helps stimulate the secretion of digestive enzymes to help break down the food.

            The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS): This is the branch of the nervous system coupled with rest and digestion. Without going into too much detail, think of the difference in how you breathe when you’re truly relaxed, vs. how you breathe during sympathetic nervous system arousal (running away from a tiger).

            The Immune System: Oxygen manipulation is one of the primary ways the immune system combats foreign invaders. New research and treatments are now looking into the effects of using ozone as therapy for cancers and even joint pain!


house of cards

I’d like to start to close out this post by expanding on the house analogy from before. The foundation of our house, as said before, is respiration, water, and sleep. Those create a stable floor that we can then build our walls of diet and exercise on. But the challenge isn’t that the foundation starts cracked. It’s that when we start to see results from starting slow and learning the basics, we tend to skip over some of our foundational habits. Getting to the gym is more important than sleep. Lifting a heavier weight is more important than breathing properly. Pretty soon our foundation is getting corroded from bad habits, and the value of our house is dropping little by little.

What’s worse, and I say this from years of experience as a coach, is that people are all too quick to make up excuses for foundation problems. “I’m just old, that’s why my back hurts,” instead of realizing that respiration is one of the prime movers of the spine. Or, “I’m just stressed because my boss yelled at me,” instead of realizing too little water stresses out the adrenal glands.

If you ever find yourself in a state of sub-optimal health, start with the foundation of your house first. Or, if you haven’t the faintest idea on how to fix the issue, hire someone like me to train not just your muscles, but the whole body from the inside out. Because remember, you are 37 trillion cells, and every one of them need training to stay healthy.