The way of life changed considerably during human evolution. When our species appeared on Earth, humans were hunters and gatherers and had to work hard for their food. It was common to move from place to place, looking for provisions and shelter. Also, food preserving was precarious (canned food was not available!), and they never knew when they would be able to find fresh supplies. These tough conditions contributed to an important body adaptation: any energy consumed but not promptly used was stored, mostly as fat. This was a fundamental factor that guaranteed the survival of our species. So fat used to have a vital function to us – it was supposed to save us from famine.

Mankind slowly learned to produce their food through horticulture and animal husbandry. This meant that we no longer needed to walk around, looking for provisions. We settled down, creating small villages around the crops. But there was still a lot of hard work to be done. Tools were rudimentary, and most tasks required endurance and strength. Food production gave us some control of our food supplies, meaning that people were less likely to die from famine. With that, population started to boom.

At some point, men invented machines capable of producing goods in large scale (the industrial revolution), which reduced the price of goods and made supplies more affordable. It also lessened the work that needed to be done by men.

As time passed, technological advances started to affect various activities of daily living. The automobile was invented to improve transportation. Small appliances were systematically introduced into our houses, making household chores easier. The radio and the television arrived to brighten up our leisure time. And progress never stops. More and more devices are introduced into our lives every day. Video-games, computers, cell-phones, smart-phones… What will come next?

We are now in the information era, where a good part of the work is done behind a desk and computer screen. Household chores are mostly done by machines (washer and drier, dishwasher, vacuum-cleaning robot­), and even our leisure-time activities (or should I say “inactivities”) are related to some kind of technology (television, video-games, computers).

All this progress sure makes our lives easier and helps us save a ton of time. But at what cost? Our current way of life is taking a big toll on our health. Cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and many types of cancers are all chronic diseases caused by our carefree lifestyle options.

Can you see what has happened? In the past, humans had to hunt, collect food, walk from place to place, and fight for survival. Energy needs were very high, while the food supply was limited. The human body learned to survive by storing energy as fat. Then, at some point, we gained control over food, making it abundant. At the same time, we created ways to make daily tasks easier, and our energy demand plummeted. This situation just got more pronounced over time. So now, we are consuming way more energy than we actually need, but our body has not yet adapted to this new scenario. We are still storing extra energy as fat. Thus, we have the so-called “obesity epidemic” that we face today.

But is fat the real villain? For many years we’ve been told that fat is evil, that it is the culprit for most modern ailments. Since then, we’ve been trying every diet, drug and procedure to get thinner in the name of health. The problem is that these strategies are not working. Most people have a hard time sustaining weight loss over time, and weight cycling seems to cause more harm than fat itself.[1] On the other hand, all supposed benefits of weight loss (lower cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose) seem to be more related to the lifestyle changes adopted (regular exercise and better eating pattern) than to the few pounds lost. Which makes me wonder: aren’t we fighting the wrong enemy?[2]

The modern environment favors sedentary behaviors. Eating habits also changed a lot during the past century. Food became more affordable and abundant, portion sizes became larger, and highly processed foods were introduced to our diet. Now, we are eating more and exercising less, which contributes to our expanding waistlines. But the obsession in pursuing a lean body doesn’t allow us to surrender to our body’s “weaknesses,” so we punish ourselves for accumulating fat.[3] Now, add to that stress and sleep deprivation, and you have a modern axiom. These factors combined are contributing to several problems we see today: a number of chronic diseases, eating disorders and other body abuses, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

The bottom line is that our poor lifestyle choices are killing us. Therefore, we need to take charge of our lives and reverse this situation. The future of mankind lies in our own hands.

[1] Studies suggest that losing and regaining weight repeatedly (weight cycling) increases the risk of developing certain diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes. It also contributes to feelings of failure and can lead to depression.

[2] For more information on this subject, read “The Obesity Myth,” by Paul Campos.

[3] Punishments include starving through a fad diet, compulsive exercising, and abusing of weight loss drugs, among others.