Can Programmers Learn From Cavemen?

January 24, 2011

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You know David Attenborough, right?

He’s the friendly old guy who does voiceover for the nature docs shown on the BBC and Discovery Network every year.

Have you ever considered what he’d say if he had to voiceover a day in your life?

Here’s my effort, taken from my Uni days:

“Our subject is male, aged approximately twenty-one…

He sleeps… It’s the weekend but he won’t stir until midday when the sun shines through the curtains. Then… he wakes, scratches himself and heads out in search of food, opening the cupboard door to grab cereal which he’ll eat – and eat – and eat.

Finally he’s done, bloated but happy…

He turns on the laptop where emails and RSS feeds will be checked… Eventually he’ll work, writing some code and fixing bugs… Snacks, coffee, Coca-Cola… A bowl of pasta for dinner… Then more snacks, more code, some TV and finally bed…”

“This is the student in its natural habitat.”

OK, maybe a slight exaggeration – but it left me with all the hallmarks of a ‘skinny-fat’ man; weak arms, bloated stomach, chubby face.

Who can be bothered counting calories?

Fed up and confused with my appearance, I knew something had to give but I absolutely did not want to diet. Honestly, is there anything more depressing than the thought of diets?

Just the word makes me sad.

Firstly, I love food. Basically, all types. It’s not only delicious, it’s a great social tool – I love eating with friends and family.

Secondly, I don’t want to obsess about calories. I want to eat the food I enjoy – as often enough as it takes to make me satisfied – without worrying about getting fat.

The recommended diet put forward by ‘the powers that be’ just didn’t seem to be working. I exercised as often as I could and ate lots of carbs to top up my energy. It struck me that it’s hard to imagine Cavemen worrying about diets – and history suggests they were far stronger and leaner than we are today.

Further research backed up my suspicion.

Enter Caveman

For two million years, our ancestors knew it was a case of ‘Survival of the Fitness’.

Either he ate or he was eaten.

His life was pretty straight-forward. Hunt some prey, gather some berries, run away from a tiger… You know, the usually.

It’s hard to imagine but stone-age man was likely far stronger and healthier than we are today. Here’s why:

1) He needed to be strong and quick enough to avoid danger and capture his dinner. Running and jumping are useful skills when a woolly mammoth has you in it’s sights.

2) His daily food intake featured lots of plants and animals – natural resources that were not highly processed like much of the food we eat today.

3) He spent most of his time wandering about – whether he was hunting, foraging, scouting or migrating. He was constantly active and not cooped up in an office eating his packed lunch.

So can these funny looking fellas teach us anything?

They can – but a lot of our ancestors’ usefulness stops around 10,000 years ago.

Why 10,000 years ago?

Well it was around this time that man discovered agriculture… and agriculture made us lazy!

  • We no longer needed to track and hunt prey.
  • We always knew where the next meal was coming from.

To put it simply, we got soft!

Evolution ground to a halt.

Despite this, our DNA hasn’t changed. We’re still basically the same species.

Is there anything we can learn from Cavemen?

Two million years of evolution must have revealed some truths. Let’s compare the life of Mr. Caveman with a regular, present day programmer.

Mr. Caveman Vs Jim the Programmer

Jim’s an honest dude who basically just wants to be happy.

  • He knows he should be ‘eating healthy’ but it kinda seems like a lot of effort
  • He thinks there’s more important things to do than spend two hours every day than slogging himself to death on the treadmill.
  • He’s exactly like I was about twelve months ago.


Jim the Programmer
Jim’s no cook but he’s no slob either. He takes his health seriously and tries to do the right things.

  • He eats bread or cereal for breakfast, washed down with a couple of glasses of Orange Juice.
  • He works long hours in a demanding environment so he often eats at his desk.
  • He’s not big on fast food and knows it’s important to prepare his meals before hand so he’ll guzzle down a tub of pasta and sauce at lunch.
  • He drinks Lucozade or Gatorade, basically anything other than Coca-Cola because it’s full of sugar.
  • He usually finishes late so he’ll call in at Subway on his way home – though only for the salad option.

Jim’s diet can basically be surmised as:

  • A lot of meat of varying qualities
  • Excessively processed carbs like pasta, cereal and bread.
  • Insufficient nutritious foods such as fruit and vegetables.
  • Large quantities of liquid calories

Mr. Caveman
Mr. Caveman had a tough life but his main problems centred around finding the next meal and avoiding being eaten rather than worrying about rent and who to vote for in X Factor.

His diet was made up of natural sources such as:

  • Plants
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Animals

He was strong and lean, capable of travelling long distances by food, lifting heavy things and out-sprinting danger.

What we can learn from Mr. Caveman:
Mr. Caveman’s diet differed greatly from the food thought of today as ‘conventional wisdom’. Without grains to rely on such as bread and pasta, our ancestors acquired their proteins, carbohydrates, fats and other nutrients from natural sources.

This lack of grains was a good thing. Grains have long been pushed on us as ‘healthy foods’ – only grains stimulate an excessive release of insulin and they’re far less nutritious than vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and food we can find in animals.

“A diet emphasising grains inhibits fat metabolism, precludes us from eating more nutritious plant and animal foods and also paves the way for serious disease.”

-The Primal Blueprint, Mark Sisson

Insulin is a hormone that transports nutrients from the blood around the body. When we need energy and there is an excessive amount of insulin in the bloodstream it blocks the release of stored body fat, meaning we get fat and stay fat, regardless of exercise.

For further explanation, see the following video:

Two of Gary Taubes’ books also delve into this subject:

There are huge lists established regarding primal eating. Pick the foods you like and eat more of them.


Jim the Programmer

Jim knows it’s important to stay health and in-shape so he tries to get to the gym when he can.

  • He’ll do a few miles on the treadmill – nothing that’ll break world-records but he’s steady enough.
  • He thinks exercise is kinda time-consuming – who has time to do this for two hours every single day?
  • He tried walking to work – but now it’s cold outside and there’s a bus that goes door to door.

Mr. Caveman

Mr. Caveman didn’t bother with exercise – not in the sense of setting time aside to ‘go for a run’.

  • He’d walk around from gathering to gathering, climbing obstacles and jumping clearings.
  • He’d carry the carcasses of his latest kill
  • He’d sprint occasionally, either to capture food or run away from danger! Damn sabre-tooth tigers!

What we can learn from Mr. Caveman

  • Walk lots. Move frequently.
  • Don’t stress about ‘exercise’ – find activities you enjoy.
  • Sprint every so often – Go all out for 8-60 seconds once a week or whenever you’re feeling good.
  • Lift heavy things – whether it’s bags of shopping or weights in the gym.
  • Stretch – especially if you’re sat in a chair all day hunched over the keyboard.

How to ‘Go Primal’

  • Walk more.
  • Stock up on the lean meat, vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts on your next trip to the grocery store.
  • Make changes slowly – Substitute these foods into your daily intake but do so in a manageable way. This is a way of life, not a crash diet.
  • Run fast
  • Remember the 80-20 rule. Perfection is impossible, aim to stick to these foods for about 80% of the time (and be honest!)
  • Lift heavy things
  • See how these foods affect your body and your mood.
  • Experiment. Try new foods, keep the things you like and ditch the things you don’t like.

Caveman Links


Online Resources

The Wrap-up

I’ve been making the slow transition towards Caveman living over the course of about four months. I started by cutting out the amount of rice, pasta and bread I ate and began to eat lots of veggies and fruit. I eat more fish, more chicken and the occasional steak. As I said, I’m getting there – slowly.

My basic goal is just to be happy with the food I eat. As I said above, I love food and the ‘Primal’ way of life appeals to the logical side of my brain. Two million years is a huge amount of test data.

Food no longer bothers me in the way it did and I’m more relaxed about the occasional indulgence. I’ve started to crave healthy, nutrition food and I’m weaned myself off the pastas, breads and treats that I used to eat so often.

I’d like to finish by stressing how much more important diet is than exercise.

If you want to exercise, exercise. If you want to play sports, play sports. There are a world full of activities out there for you to discover and enjoy. The food you eat will account for 80-90% of your results and eating real foods will encourage your mood to get out and try new things.

I’ve committed to staying active and eating real foods, the foods man has been eating through history.

If you manage to do that too, you’ve basically cracked it!

Has Primal Living worked for you or are you happy with the food pyramid? Can we learn anything from Cavemen?

Thanks for reading!

This site is intended to provide health & fitness advice for web developers, designers, programmers, software developers and any other regular computer users. You can subscribe to Fitness Hack updates using RSS or email. You can also follow my own mission to lose fat, get strong and run fast on Twitter.

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Photo by Lord Jim

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