Pop Quiz: What do excess body fat, heart burn, constipation, eczema, insomnia, and depression have in common?

Answer: They are all “common” health woes today that were anything but “normal” through most of our evolutionary history. And they are all caused―or at least worsened―by poor food and lifestyle choices.

Common But Not Normal

So many people now suffer from these conditions that most of us just accept them unavoidable facets of modern life. But it is critical to understand that problems with weight, digestion, skin, sleep, cognition, etc. are not normal, no matter how common they are in our modern society.

A Pill for Every Ill?

Thanks to ubiquitous advertising from pharmaceutical companies, most people assume that the solution to these chronic maladies is simply popping a pill. Yes, prescriptions and over the counter drugs can help supress or eliminate symptoms, but the problem is that they don’t address root causes.

What are the Root Causes?

If asked to explain the root cause of common modern health issues like obesity, heart burn, etc. most people (including both laymen and professionals) will usually chalk things up to “bad genes”. Genetics certainly do play a role, but the good news is that epigenetics, the turning on and off of genes based on environmental signals, is far more important. Though we can’t change the genetic code we are born with, we can make important changes to how our genes are expressed through changing how we eat, move, sleep, and manage stress.

As my man Chris Kresser puts it:

“Genes load the gun. Lifestyle pulls the trigger.”

A Better Solution

All of these “common but not normal” conditions stem from a mismatch between our ancient genes and modern lifestyles. Instead of seeking a temporary, symptom-masking solution, you can instead address the actual root causes and find greater long-term improvement by better aligning your diet and lifestyle with what your genes are programmed to expect:

  • Eat a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory, species-appropriate diet full of lots of plants, ample fat, animal protein (protein from animals and seafood is far more bioavailable than that from plants), nuts and seeds (if you tolerate them), and small amounts of fruit when in season.
  • Get lots of low-impact movement each day (e.g. walking) and do occasional, short, high-intensity efforts like weightlifting and sprints. Daily “cardio” sessions are not necessary nor particularly good for weight loss, well-being, or overall health.
  • Get at least 8 hours of deep, restorative sleep in a cool, quiet, dark room. If your schedule and lifestyle allows, avoid waking up to an alarm clock. If you struggle to fall asleep, try to minimize your exposure to blue light (television, computers, mobile devices, house lights, etc.) after dark by wearing orange glasses, installing F.lux on your computer (which automatically changes the brightness and color of your display based on the date, time, and latitude), turning on Night Shift on your iOS device or installing Twilight on Android devices, and committing to powering down all devices at least an hour before bed.