Diet and Exercise Evolution: Adaptation (part II) -- Examples and Practical Advice
Understanding the theory of adaptation (see previous article, Adaptation I) will give
you the tools to evaluate your diet and daily routine. If you have any question about
whether something is good for you, always examine both the immediate
effects and the adaptation effects equally. This article will look at
various examples of adaptation and practical advice based on this important theory.
Is walking for a long time a good way of losing weight? Look at it this way: the
direct effect is that calories are burnt over that period, and you will by using your fat
stores for fuel because it is aerobic exercise. So that's a positive: you're burning
calories, and as long as you don't eat too much food, you're losing weight. But what
will be the adaptation? You're telling your body that you will need to walk
for a long amount of time to find food. So, how will your body adapt to make you a
better walker? Expending energy faster? Burning fat easily? NO WAY. If you need
to walk through the savanna for a long time, you want your body to conserve as
much energy (fat) as possible and retain as much water as possible. This is
the opposite of your goal, you will not lose weight in the long-term, so it is not an
What about high-intensity exercise? The immediate effect is to burn calories in your
blood, but there isn't enough time to start burning fat. Your muscles may burn with
lactic acid, and you can't keep it up for very long. That isn't too good, because you
won't burn as many calories as you did walking. But is the adaptation going in the
correct direction? Your body will try to make you a better runner by making
calories available to you at a moment's notice to fuel your run (burning fat faster),
and will try to get rid of the fat that is slowing you down. This is a great
The best advice regarding exercise for weight loss in accordance with adaptation is
this: warm up by doing a fast walk for 10-15 minutes, so that your body goes into
a fat-burning mode. Then, turn up the intensity as high as you can and speed
through the next 10-15 minutes. This can be running, climbing stairs, bicycling or
whatever activity you like. I recommend a stationary bike because the risk
of falling or hurting your joints is minimized. If you do this before breakfast, you're
also training your body to use stored energy (fat) instead of energy from food in
If You Could Be an Animal...
If your physique could resemble an animal's, which animal would you choose? Try
to ignore symbolism, and just pick an animal whose body composition you'd like to
approach. Many men would choose a lion and many women would choose a
gazelle. These animals have adapted to get the bodies they have, and their
adaptation, like yours, is based on how they behave day to day. So how do
these animals behave? We can't compare their diets, because a gazelle is a
herbivore, a lion is a carnivore, and humans are omnivores. However, we can look
at their exercise needs.
A lion, to get food, has to sprint for up to 5 minutes until it grabs its prey,
which is usually pretty big. When it does, it wrestles with it for up to 10
minutes, flexing all its muscles and changing positions, putting all its force against
the other animal that is resisting with all its might. This builds muscular strength
and size and eliminates body fat.
A gazelle spends a lot of time eating, but each mouthful is tiny. It takes a
long time to eat, and never gorges. When the grass all around it is bare, it bounces
off to another place to find food or water. The gazelle is highly alert because it is
vulnerable to attack, and often twitches or fidgets to make sure it can
escape quickly. When it is attacked, it runs (bounces) incredibly fast for up to 20
minutes until it is safely out of danger. This activity makes it long and slender as an
adaptation to its environment.
Don't be a house cat. Many cats are overweight because their
environment doesn't challenge them to run to catch food (or avoid being caught),
and sleep or lie around for 18 hours a day. If you have a desk-job, and then watch
TV on the couch, that is exactly what you are doing.
Should you eat only three meals a day and avoid snacking to lose weight? Well, you
will be consuming fewer calories, so that's a plus. However, the bigger effect is this:
your body will think food is rare and that you may starve. If you go 5 or 6
hours between meals, or if you skip breakfast and go 16 hours or so without food,
what else could your body possibly conclude? Your brain can't tell your cells "don't
worry, we're trying to lose weight," because your intentions don't mean anything to
your organs. Your organs react and adapt to the stimuli presented to them. So they
think that you're in the desert. How do you survive in the desert? Like a
camel: Conserve as much food in your body as possible (fat), slow your metabolism
to prolong your life (so you'll feel tired a lot), and retain as much water as possible.
What about the opposite? What if you eat small portions every two hours and drink
water all the time? Your body will think that you're in a place where there is food
whenever you need it, like a jungle full of fruit trees and other easily furnished food
to eat. What is the reaction? Hooray! Better to speed up the metabolism, so that
the stomach is finished digesting the previous meal before the next one comes; no
need to store fat that is just leeching circulation and water; and get rid of any
excess water in the system, because fresh water is constantly coming in. This is in
line with your weight loss goals, so this is the route to take.
Calories: Eat less or burn more?
The final effect of your body's great adaptation potential is the question of which is
more effective: eating fewer calories or burning more calories with exercise? Let's
look at these two propositions in terms of adaptation.
If you first remove a significant number of calories from your diet, you will feel less
energetic (because calories are energy), therefore, you won't feel like exercising, and
you won't be able to exercise for as long. On the other hand, if you start exercising
more each day, it will make you hungrier (because your body knows it's not getting
enough calories to support this new activity), but as long as you try to keep your
eating habits the same and pay attention to satiety by eating foods that make you
feel full, you'll feel great, your endurance will improve and your overall health will
keep getting better. At that point, if you reduce the calories in your diet, then you
will be able to cope with slightly less energy, because your body will already be
more efficient at using that energy to fuel your exercise.
To conclude, in terms of exercise: warm up to get the circulation going with a fast
walk for about 20 minutes, then do a high intensity activity for about 10 minutes.
The best to do that is before breakfast. In terms of diet: try to reduce your calories
overall, but divide them among small meals all day. Never eat a big meal, but snack
every hour or two on something healthy. Also, drink as much water as you possibly
can all day. These practices are optimized for your body's natural reactions, so that
you will be training your body to lose weight. And whenever you hear diet advice,
try to look past the immediate effects and look at it from the perspective of
David McCormick is the founder of Weightless Products. His Mr. Weightless site is
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