I’ve just spent a week in Kruger National Park, South Africa.
It was an amazing experience and I was lucky enough to see the ‘Big 5’ – elephants, lions, buffalo, rhinos…and even the allusive leopard (make that ‘Big 6!).
It’s hard not to feel insignificant in the presence of these majestic animals as they go about their lives.
Lives which are on knife edge everyday.
Their sense of survival – their primal urge to make it through each and every day – is palpable.
Their entire being is inherently tuned to be alert, to hunt, to sleep in safety in a world where, quite literally, every day could be their last and only the strong survive.
Curiously, I got thinking about their diet.
Elephants, giraffes and zebras – herbivores – eat all day. Heads down with jaws scissoring, they pick and pull their flora of choice, occasionally scanning, with flickering ears, for any signs of immediate danger.
Lions, leopards and hyenas – carnivores – eat once a week, if they’re lucky. They lie in dry creek beds to escape the ticks, sleeping 18 hours a day with short bursts of activity when the hunt is on.
Bar none, all of these incredible creatures – individually designed impeccably for survival – were lean and strong, despite their variance in size.
The herbivore’s food source is readily available, give or take drought, yet their eating obsession is a necessity in order to accumulate the required protein from green matter.
Alternatively, the carnivore’s meal is far more allusive yet, when taken, provides a rich source of nutrients and satiety to get them through to the next kill.
Interestingly, a typical hunt goes no more than 30 minutes – any longer and our leopard begins to favour the law of diminishing returns. It’s simply not worth expediting energy when the payoff is not guaranteed.
In the wild there’s no such thing as exercise to ‘burn’ excess calories when there’s nothing excess to burn. In fact, getting away with limited movement – especially in the middle of the day – is a requirement for survival.
Sadly not all animals I saw were walking in lock-step with their genetic foundations.
I watched a cheeky baboon one morning close to our hotel room as he soccered in his path a bread roll stolen from a rubbish bin. He walked, favouring one side, like a listing galleon, clearly in pain. His bloated stomach a result of too much of a good thing.
You see, animals and humans only become diseased when they depart from their natural food source – foods which are foreign to their evolutionary past.
So we fatten cows with grain and humans with Coca Cola.
Stuff which our bodies never signed up for.
Sugar and grain-laden fare flood the body with glucose for immediate energy – energy which pools into body fat as we sit for 8 hours a day.
As humans we need essential protein and fat in order to function. We get these from meat, fish, fowl, leafy vegetables, dairy, eggs, nuts and seeds.
But there is no such thing as essential carbohydrate.
In fact you could never throw down another morsel of bread, pasta, rice, sweet fruit, potatoes or sugar in your entire life yet still survive, and in most cases thrive.
There’s a lot to learn from the ways of the wild.
And returning to the foods which have made humans flourish is a good place to start.