A recent Washington Post article explored the notion of looking to the animal kingdom for answers that might help to address human health issues. For example, the article noted that jaguars have a high rate of breast cancer, while dairy cows have a low rate of this disease. Believe it or not, grasshoppers apparently binge (eat), koalas can get sexually transmitted disease, wallabies are susceptible to drug addiction, and zebras have an incidence of heart attacks.
Highlighted in the discussion, was the 2012 book Zoobiquity, co-authored by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, a researcher currently involved in a project that looks at the connection between the health of humans and the animal kingdom. Ms. Horowitz discussed the prevalence of obesity in the patient population in her practice and like most practitioners, would typically discuss the foods they were choosing, how much or little exercise they were engaged in, their emotional state and how it guided their eating patterns, and other individual and personal issues. She took note of the fact that when veterinarians deal with an overweight animal patient, who more than likely gains too much weight because of what their owners or handlers are feeding them, or how much exercise the owner or handler exposes them to, the solution lies directly with the “environment” created by humans. The Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, had a situation where the grizzly bears were apparently becoming obese, thanks to a diet of processed dog food, ground beef, loaves of bread, supermarket oranges, bananas, iceberg lettuce and mangoes. The zoo vets decided that the bears’ weight gain was mostly occurring because they were out-of-sync with the environment provided in captivity. The new diet criteria was based more closely on the food these bears would find in their native Canadian Rockies – kale, peppers, celery, heirloom apples (all providing significant fibrous fiber), whole fish and whole rabbits, which forced the grizzlies to work harder to dissemble the food in order to eat. They also did away with scheduled feedings, hid the food and added debris to food piles, so the bears would have to work harder to forage for the food. The net result? The bears lost hundreds of pounds over one year.
How to apply the lesson learned to humans? Ms. Horowitz isn’t knocking the notion of stocking up with a week’s worth of food, or buying organic. But she suggests that not having too much on hand can help individuals who struggle with binge eating. She also values seasonal, local and less processed, ahead of organic, when deciding how to spend money on food and how to prioritize food selections. Heirloom varieties of fruit and vegetables are far more nutritious and less caloric (less sugar, more fiber) than produce bred specifically to have a long shelf life. Heirloom produce also encourage healthier intestinal flora in your gut. Using lean meats on the bone, mixed in bean stews can also force us to work harder to access the meat. Even food preparation, which requires moving around the kitchen, washing, cutting, opening and closing cabinet doors and utensil drawers, burns more calories than buying ready-made processed foods.
Finally, the researcher suggests, and I concur, that avoiding boredom, anxiety or loneliness or other mood swings, or refraining from turning to food as a coping mechanism for these moments, can help you avoid insidious weight gain. A recent Stanford study suggests that you change diet and exercise at the same time. Unlike the animals caged in a zoo, you can seize the moment now!!
Published On: April 24, 2013