Home Paleo diet Why these zoo gorillas have it better than we do

Why these zoo gorillas have it better than we do



Gorillas Go Green: Apes Shed Pounds While Doubling Calories on Leafy Diet, Researcher Finds

These Gorillas are treated better than we are. They have zoo-keepers that care about them getting the diet that best suits their genetic makeup. And spending time – foraging that is close to their wild lifestyle. When these gorillas were switched from the zoo diet (high calorie, starch sugar and nutrients) to a diet similar to that which they got in the wild the following changes were noted:

They lost about 65lbs, even thought they now consumed more calories… In addition to dropping weight and becoming active feeders, the gorillas also dropped a habit seen only in zoo gorillas, a habit that literally turned patrons away. Whether to taste sugar again and again, or to take up time not spent foraging or because large amounts of sugar and starch didn’t sit well; on the old diet, the gorillas would repeatedly spit up and then eat what they’d just spit up.

One concept I stress to clients is the importance of creating an internal structure, i.e a rule base with respect to our diet. We have somehow got to believing that we can just “listen to our body” our body will know what is good for us. It is fine to just eat what we feel like as long as we eat some healthy food.  Actually I think this idea is nuts.

The world that that we evolved in no longer exists. The world we evolved in had a rigid  external structure that made us work for food, and it had food that supported our health, and a lack of addictive toxic foods. To illustrate this lets look at the zoo analogy. This was coined so succinctly by Erwen Le Corre http://movnat.com/philosophy/the-zoo/

I ask people in my seminar to imagine we are in Zoo, a Zoo where human animals have been taken out of their natural habitat and put into a new habitat, with ignorant zookeepers looking after us.

Each morning we are woken up by a loud obnoxious noise, rather than the sun gently caressing our closed eyelids bringing us into awareness of a new day. Our hearts pump wildly and stress hormones flood our body with the intrusion into our interrupted sleep, the stress hormones continue to flow as we imagine the tasks looming in front of us.

After dousing our bodies with chlorinated water, we paint even more chemicals on our skin to decorate it, we wrap tight things around our bodies to make then the right shape and put strange uncomfortable extensions on our feet.

Oh and then we get fed, (no need to work physically for food) – and the food, it is delicious! It bears no resemblance to the wild food in our natural habitat, but boy does it taste good, and what’s more the variety is huge, there is an unbelievable range to choose from. We notice strange uncomfortable feelings in our gut when we eat it. We also notice there are some foods that we just can’t stop eating, delicious sweet fizzy stuff we can’t stop drinking. We also notice our bodies don’t seem to that great, we are all sick, bloated, fat, but at least these zookeepers know what tastes good to us (and we are informed by the authorities that it is good for us). They look after us well in this respect, and anyway if we get sick the zookeepers have really good chemicals that help make us feel better.

We move around with mechanical assistance. We have wonderful and beautiful and comfortable housing, with constant entertainment on a variety of screens. We can be comfortably lazy. What’s more we can keep watching and interacting with these entertaining screens and keep eating well past sun down as there are bright lights can be kept on for as long as we like. Ah bliss.

Humans are geared up for survival, and one of those survival mechanisms is that we expend the least amount of energy for the maximum amount of nutrient dense food. In our new zoo, we don’t have to do physical work for an unnaturally large choice of abundant calorie dense (and often nutrient poor) food.

This is why we need a structure for eating and living. Left to our own natural drives, being happy and cruising along, just eating what feels good just won’t cut it if you want to be lean and healthy, avoid ill health and becoming decrepit as you age. The structure that we as human animals had in a hunter gatherer environment, the one that regulated our diet, exercise, sleep, sunlight and community no longer exists. Our only option in this crazy zoo of ours is to create an internal structure. The people who will survive this crazy zoo are those that live by their internal rules, rules for food quality and quantity. Structure for physical activity, sleep, sunlight exposure and other things that give us the well-being of a “wild” human.

Yes you do need to worry, what is more this attitude was shown to be most effective for long term health. I worry, I take responsibility, I am concerned about what I eat, getting enough exercise, sleeping and not getting too stressed out. You would not believe how many times I hear this – “Oh it’s okay for you – you’re really little / fit / slim”… Know why?  because I worry, I care, I put in the effort. It’s no fluke. You are your own zoo-keeper.

And just to back this all up – here is a really interesting article from Science Daily. (That wonderful Paleo Guy – Jamie wrote about this and posted it some time back – it’s worth a read)

Keys to Long Life? Not What You Might Expect

ScienceDaily (Mar. 12, 2011) — Cheer up. Stop worrying. Don’t work so hard. Good advice for a long life? As it turns out, no. In a groundbreaking study of personality as a predictor of longevity, University of California, Riverside researchers found just the opposite.

It’s surprising just how often common assumptions — by both scientists and the media — are wrong,” said Howard S. Friedman, distinguished professor of psychology who led the 20-year study.

Friedman and Leslie R. Martin , a 1996 UCR alumna (Ph.D.) and staff researchers, have published those findings in “The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study” (Hudson Street Press, March 2011).

Friedman and Martin examined, refined and supplemented data gathered by the late Stanford University psychologist Louis Terman and subsequent researchers on more than 1,500 bright children who were about 10 years old when they were first studied in 1921. “Probably our most amazing finding was that personality characteristics and social relations from childhood can predict one’s risk of dying decades later,” Friedman concluded.

The Longevity Project, as the study became known, followed the children through their lives, collecting information that included family histories and relationships, teacher and parent ratings of personality, hobbies, pet ownership, job success, education levels, military service and numerous other details.

“When we started, we were frustrated with the state of research about individual differences, stress, health and longevity,” Friedman recalled. “It was clear that some people were more prone to disease, took longer to recover, or died sooner, while others of the same age were able to thrive. All sorts of explanations were being proposed — anxiety, lack of exercise, nerve-racking careers, risk-taking, lack of religion, unsociability, disintegrating social groups, pessimism, poor access to medical care, and Type A behavior patterns.” But none were well-studied over the long term. That is, none followed people step-by-step throughout their lives.

When Friedman and Martin began their research in 1991, they planned to spend six months examining predictors of health and longevity among the Terman participants.

But the project continued over the next two decades — funded in part by the National Institute on Aging — and the team eventually involved more than 100 graduate and undergraduate students who tracked down death certificates, evaluated interviews, and analyzed tens of thousands of pages of information about the Terman participants through the years.

“We came to a new understanding about happiness and health,” said Martin, now a psychology professor at La Sierra University in Riverside. “One of the findings that really astounds people, including us, is that the Longevity Project participants who were the most cheerful and had the best sense of humor as kids lived shorter lives, on average, than those who were less cheerful and joking. It was the most prudent and persistent individuals who stayed healthiest and lived the longest.”

Part of the explanation lies in health behaviors — the cheerful, happy-go-lucky kids tended to take more risks with their health across the years, Friedman noted. While an optimistic approach can be helpful in a crisis, “we found that as a general life-orientation, too much of a sense that ‘everything will be just fine’ can be dangerous because it can lead one to be careless about things that are important to health and long life. Prudence and persistence, however, led to a lot of important benefits for many years. It turns out that happiness is not a root cause of good health. Instead, happiness and health go together because they have common roots.”

Many of the UCR findings fly in the face of conventional wisdom. For example:

  • Marriage may be good for men’s health, but doesn’t really matter for women. Steadily married men — those who remained in long-term marriages — were likely to live to age 70 and beyond; fewer than one-third of divorced men were likely to live to 70; and men who never married outlived those who remarried and significantly outlived those who divorced — but they did not live as long as married men.
  • Being divorced is much less harmful to women’s health. Women who divorced and did not remarry lived nearly as long as those who were steadily married.
  • “Don’t work too hard, don’t stress,” doesn’t work as advice for good health and long life. Terman subjects who were the most involved and committed to their jobs did the best. Continually productive men and women lived much longer than their more laid-back comrades.
  • Starting formal schooling too early — being in first grade before age 6 — is a risk factor for earlier mortality. Having sufficient playtime and being able to relate to classmates is very important for children.
  • Playing with pets is not associated with longer life. Pets may sometimes improve well-being, but they are not a substitute for friends.
  • Combat veterans are less likely to live long lives, but surprisingly the psychological stress of war itself is not necessarily a major health threat. Rather, it is a cascade of unhealthy patterns that sometimes follows. Those who find meaning in a traumatic experience and are able to reestablish a sense of security about the world are usually the ones who return to a healthy pathway.
  • People who feel loved and cared for report a better sense of well-being, but it doesn’t help them live longer. The clearest health benefit of social relationships comes from being involved with and helping others. The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become — healthy or unhealthy.

It’s never too late to choose a healthier path, Friedman and Martin said. The first step is to throw away the lists and stop worrying about worrying.

“Some of the minutiae of what people think will help us lead long, healthy lives, such as worrying about the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the foods we eat, actually are red herrings, distracting us from the major pathways,” Friedman said. “When we recognize the long-term healthy and unhealthy patterns in ourselves, we can begin to maximize the healthy patterns.”

“Thinking of making changes as taking ‘steps’ is a great strategy,” Martin advised. “You can’t change major things about yourself overnight. But making small changes, and repeating those steps, can eventually create that path to longer life.”


  1. Really interesting Julieanne – thank you!
    I must admit, being new to this, that all the in-depth information is a bit daunting.
    I decided to ‘just do it’ and read as much as I can along the way.
    I’m really lucky that my GP (Murray Shaw) not only recommended this way of eating, but is positively enthusiastic about patients who take responsibility for their own health and well-being. He is a gem.

  2. It is fantastic to hear of Doctors who are promoting the Paleo diet.
    Re starting paleo eating – just do it is the best way to go. You are welcome to ask questions – or join in a forum like Robb Wolf’s to ask questions from a crowd and hopefully a few experts. http://robbwolf.com/forum/

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