6

votes

Are we genetically primed overeaters?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created February 04, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Art De Vany calls humans lazy overeaters. I'm not asking about the lazy, but about the overeating bit.

Initially this makes sense: We (well, us in the so called west) live in a period of continuous over abundance of food. Our hunter gatherer ancestors did not. They had feast and famine cycles. So it would be logical to have genes that make us eat all we can get our hands on. Because you never know what will come tomorrow. And this mindset leads to problems in our time. The answer is intermittent fasting and insulin control through low carb diet.

At least this is how I understand this seemingly plausible hypothesis.

Now is it true? Are we genetically primed to overeat?

The answer could be given from different perspectives:

Was there food shortage in the paleolithic? Please cite evidence. Anthropological literature talks frequently about the amount of work vs leisure time. HGs typically had quite a lot of free time. This could imply that there was no food shortage. Also, I recall Robert Sapolski saying that baboons also only need a few hours a day to eat enough. The rest of the time is social activity (and struggle for the lower ranked).

Setpoint theory and satiety. If eating within a paleo (not faileo) diet, do people overeat? Even if they eat lots of carbohydrates? My understanding is that we don't.

Neolithic foods on the contrary, are like supranormal stimuli (from wikipedia: "A supernormal stimulus or superstimulus is an exaggerated version of a stimulus to which there is an existing response tendency, or any stimulus that elicits a response more strongly than the stimulus for which it evolved"). We can't help being attracted to them, even to the point it kills us, or seriously decreases our darwinian survival. Our body does not know how to handle them. Again, this is how I understand it.

Any thoughts, ideas, science?

Thanks!

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19235)

on February 05, 2011
at 12:36 PM

I agree, many other places would have more stable food supplies.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on February 05, 2011
at 11:56 AM

Yes, but Head Smashed In and other places weren't so tough to live in.

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on February 05, 2011
at 10:41 AM

Eva, although I agree with most you say, my question was also about the regulation that 'nature' could provide. Natural selection could lead to a setpoint mechanism. But if there was food shortage, that could have been the regulatory mechanism of nature. But again, this seems not to be the case. Thanks for your input.

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on February 04, 2011
at 07:08 PM

Travis, your answer remembers me of the statement I have read a few times that in periods of abundance, animals do not get fat, but they procreate. The opposite is very logical (energy shortage, no procreation), so that would be plausible. Maybe this is one of the reasons why paleo-ers have rapported to have more sex (see other hacks)??

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on February 04, 2011
at 05:10 PM

Matthew, thanks! The answer probably is quite nuanced: e.g. Europe vs Africa, seasons, ice age, ...

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19235)

on February 04, 2011
at 04:04 PM

What if you are too lazy to overeat?

F910318b9aa27b91bcf7881f39b9eabe

(1164)

on February 04, 2011
at 03:27 PM

Me like this question :P

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on February 04, 2011
at 02:05 PM

Thank you. That was my impression too.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on February 04, 2011
at 01:54 PM

I know that whether or not there was shortage is still being debated in the anthropological community. Based on my own reading, I would say that there were many situations were it has been proved that there wasn't a shortage at all.

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4 Answers

4
0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19235)

on February 04, 2011
at 03:58 PM

Was there food shortage in the paleolithic?

I expect that food shortages did occur.

Prevalence and the duration of linear enamel hypoplasia: a comparative study of Neandertals and Inuit foragers.

The following is the press release about that study. You have to ignore some of the anti-neanderthal prejudice at the begining.

NEANDERTHAL LIFE NO TOUGHER THAN THAT OF ???MODERN??? INUITS

Guatelli-Steinberg has spent the last decade investigating tiny defects -- linear enamel hypoplasia -- in tooth enamel from primates, modern and early humans. These defects serve as markers of periods during early childhood when food was scarce and nutrition was low.

These tiny horizontal lines and grooves in tooth enamel form when the body faces either a systemic illness or a severely deficient diet. In essence, they are reminders of times when the body???s normal process of forming tooth enamel during childhood simply shut down for a period of time.

???Looking at these fossilized teeth, you can easily see these defects that showed Neanderthals periodically struggled nutritionally,??? she said.

Guatelli-Steinberg counted perikymata within linear enamel hypoplasias, and was able to gauge how long these episodes of physiological stress lasted. The perikymata showed that periods of up to three months of starvation for both the Neanderthals and the Inuit were not uncommon.

Ice age Europe or the arctic were tough places to live in the past.

The rest of your question needs more thought to answer.

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on February 04, 2011
at 05:10 PM

Matthew, thanks! The answer probably is quite nuanced: e.g. Europe vs Africa, seasons, ice age, ...

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on February 05, 2011
at 11:56 AM

Yes, but Head Smashed In and other places weren't so tough to live in.

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19235)

on February 05, 2011
at 12:36 PM

I agree, many other places would have more stable food supplies.

3
Medium avatar

on February 04, 2011
at 06:36 PM

In the absence of fructose and in the presence of appreciable saturated fat intake and resistance training, overeating results in muscle anabolism, not lipogenesis. As such, the concept of "overeating" is flawed. All animals attempt to eat as much as possible. It's not overeating, it's eating.

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on February 04, 2011
at 07:08 PM

Travis, your answer remembers me of the statement I have read a few times that in periods of abundance, animals do not get fat, but they procreate. The opposite is very logical (energy shortage, no procreation), so that would be plausible. Maybe this is one of the reasons why paleo-ers have rapported to have more sex (see other hacks)??

1
62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on February 05, 2011
at 06:15 AM

If so, why do we work more now but are fatter? If it's just laziness and overabundance, we had that 40 years ago as well. In fact, the average american worked less hours then than now and women mostly stayed at home which is a very short distance from the fridge. Yet we are MUCH fatter now than our parents were. I say, it is mostly the food that is causing weight gain. Yes, I do agree it is likely in our nature to gain a few pounds of flab as we age and if we have lots of food, but I do not believe it is in our nature to have giant tons of flab just because food is around. All other wild animals when eating their natural food do not gain unhealthy levels of fat even if there is tons of food. What they do instead is reproduce more and/or play around more. Why would humans be so lame as to be the only animal that does not have natural healthful set point weight limits already installed? Is nature really so dumb as to not have accounted for potential long periods of happy life and plentiful food supply? I think not!

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on February 05, 2011
at 10:41 AM

Eva, although I agree with most you say, my question was also about the regulation that 'nature' could provide. Natural selection could lead to a setpoint mechanism. But if there was food shortage, that could have been the regulatory mechanism of nature. But again, this seems not to be the case. Thanks for your input.

1
2507b557331c8a674bc81197531e609a

(4994)

on February 04, 2011
at 03:49 PM

I believe that we would have over consumed pre hibernation, at the end of summer when fruit was of abundance. Problem is we don't hiberbate these days so over consumption = big fat bellies :D

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