A Paleo Diet for the Mind

Photo by Julia Caesar
Photo by Julia Caesar
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The Challenge: Obesity and psychological disorders have been on the rise for decades

The Science: Learning from our Neanderthalian ancestors might bring a cure

The Solution: Move, sleep, love, eat well, and spend time in the sunshine!

Mankind is a smart bunch. We’ve learned how to build skyscrapers as high as mountains, we can travel to any place on this globe in a day’s length, and have access to all the knowledge in the world via small devices in our pockets made of plastic and some microchips. That’s impressive and utterly admirable. Yet, some upsides of modern life seem to take a toll on our bodies and minds. In most Western societies, the level of obese people is growing steadily, as is the pervasiveness of psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety. Is this the price our society has to pay for the comforts of modern life?

Turning to a more “primitive” lifestyle?

We´re smarter than Neanderthalians. But being smart does not routinely lead to making smart decisions. Let´s look at their way of life: They lived in tribes with close bonds between all members. They toiled hard, but when they had enough food to sustain the tribe, they relaxed, played, and created art. Men hunted in small groups. When doing so, they walked a double-digit mileage per day. While chasing prey they focused on their immediate surroundings: smells, sounds, animal tracks.

When they returned home, shared their game with everybody. Women also walked long distances several time per week, searching for fruits and nuts. Some stayed home to take care of the offspring. Otherwise, they created tools, pottery, and clothing. Whenever possible, everybody slept long, especially in winter. They also took naps over the course of the day when the environment was save.

Let’s take this narration and transfer it to modern language. Here are people who:

Depression and anxiety as the body´s warning sign

Compare this to what most Westerners are doing:

  • We eat too much food we don´t have to struggle for, while sitting too much and walking too little.
  • We work insane hours, yet don´t sleep and play enough, spending too much time alone or among people we don´t really care about.
  • We get lost in cyberspace instead of staying with what´s at hand, focusing too much on ourselves instead of promoting a common good.

Put in simple terms, I think this is what our bodies are trying to tell us:

“Man, you’re doing this all wrong, spending your time doing strange things. I don’t feel safe in these places you’re taking me. And where are all the people I love? But I can’t explain this to you with words. That’s why I make you miserable, it´s my wake-up call.”

Let me close by saying I don’t argue we should return to an aboriginal lifestyle. I’m a city-boy, I like my work at the office, going out for dinner, having a grocery store and a hospital close by. But I try to take care of my body and soul, working out, creating meaning by helping people live more significant lives; and ever since being married and having kids, I stay home a lot. I guess, as ever so often, it comes down to finding the right balance.

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Nico Rose
Dr. Nico Rose is a German organizational psychologist. Recently, he was part of the 9th cohort of Penn´s Master of Applied Positive Psychology program (MAPP). In his day job, he´s Head of Employer Branding at Bertelsmann, Europe´s premier media corporation. Additionally, he works as a management coach and university lecturer. Nico has authored +40 professional articles and is a frequent interview partner for German magazines and online publications. Earlier, he worked for L’Oréal´s German branch. In 2012, his book “Lizenz zur Zufriedenheit” (License for Satisfaction) was published.
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