Ancient Healing Strategies for Modern Times
Many today are stuck in a state of weight-loss resistance, wherein they cannot lose weight, regardless of perfect diet and regular exercise. They also often suffer from low energy and dysregulated blood sugar and hormones. Through much research and personal experimentation, I’ve figured out a diet and lifestyle strategy that makes all the difference in optimizing hormones, blood sugar levels and promotes healthy weight-loss and weight maintenance. The ancient healing strategy is called Diet Variation, or feast/famine cycles, and is based upon the lifestyle and dietary habits of our ancestors. I’ve been using it with clients who have been unable to lose weight for years, with remarkable success. Moreover, the Diet Variation has also helped me to get leaner, balance my hormones and increase my energy more than ever before. Curious to learn more about these ancient healing strategies? Read on, and check out CHTV Episode 157: Diet Variation and Ancient Healing Strategies on the topic here.
Ancient Healing Strategies
Last winter, I was in Wyoming and loved digging into the history of this amazing place and studying the American Indians, buffalo herds and native cultures. In fact, part of my multi-therapeutic approach (MTA) in working with clients incorporates these ancient healing strategies and diets.
Many ancient cultures, including the American Indians, followed patterns of fasting and feasting according to the availability of foods. Their feeding patterns brought natural balance and well-being to these tribes until the intervention of modern day diets were introduced.
In the last few years, I have done research uncovering scientific facts that substantiate why these cultures and their diets worked so well. Now, in our modern society where diseases run rampant, many natural practitioners and doctors are closely investigating our ancestors eating habits finding ways to reverse chronic symptoms and suffering.
Jackson Hole Trip – Ancient Healing Strategies
In 10,000 BC, a Paleo Indian culture was established in the Great Plains of Wyoming. These Indians were nomadic and lived in caves, following the buffalo herds and used stone weapons. It wasn’t until 7,000 BC that they built shelters and in 1,000 AD they had permanent homes.
These Indian tribes, such as the Cheyenne, lived strong healthy lives until the white men came to Wyoming in 1742. As we infiltrated their land, we started the process of devastating their cultural habits and wiping out their foods sources.
By the 1870’s, the Americans deliberately wiped out the herds of buffalo to get rid of the Indians. In 1876, the war with the American Indians started, and the US Army tried to get rid of their food supply. It is no surprise that the health of these people fell apart, as they were easy targets for diabetes and other chronic diseases never present in ancient times.
Feast & Famine: A Way of Life
Delving into the literature about their diets has been an illuminating experience. Obviously, they didn’t have grocery stores that provided foods of all kinds 24/7. They were forced to follow the seasons of food availability and as a result, their cells thrived with health and energy. For example, in the winter the tribes would subsist on fats: especially the organ fat from the kidneys, liver and gut – and would give their dogs the muscle meat! What they cherished most was the highest saturated fat.
Other tribes, known as the Sheep Eaters of Wyoming, lived high in the mountains and adapted their diet by eating bighorn sheep as their mainstay for winter survival. And believe me, these sheep were hard to hunt. As they became fat adapted (their cells could efficiently burn fat for energy), their endurance increased and they were able to chase down herds without a problem. The fat adaption gave them the stamina to hunt aggressively.
Jackson Hole Trip – Ancient Healing Strategies
In the summer, indigenous tribes would eat roots and berries, prickly pears, tepary beans, wolfberries, mesquite pods, mustard seeds, cholla blossoms, acorn squashes, pumpkins and a variety of gourds (a much higher carbohydrate diet). These proved to be very beneficial because the mesquite pods, acorns and the acorn powder were a type of resistant starch, that proved very important for their gut microbiome (healthy balance in the gut) to prevent diabetes and insulin resistance.
Resistant starch passes through the intestines and ferments in the colon, producing short-chained fatty acids that we need to produce energy in our bodies. In fact, this is true today: we need resistant starch in our diets. Examples of resistant starch include legumes, green bananas and plantains, potatoes, oats and rice. As an aside, because of the amount of the sun they were exposed to in the summer, their Vitamin D levels would rise, making them more insulin and hormone sensitive.
Preparation of Game
Samuel Hearne, an explorer in 1768, wrote an article about the preparation of caribou among the indigenous tribes around the Hudson Bay area in Canada: “Of all the dishes cooked by the Indians, a beeatee, as it is called in their language, is certainly the most delicious that can be prepared from a deer only, without any other ingredient. It is a kind of haggis, made with the blood, a good quantity of fat shred small, some of the tenderest of the flesh, together with the heart and lungs cut, or more commonly torn into small shivers; all of which is put into the stomach and toasted by being suspended before the fire on a string. . . . it is certainly a most delicious morsel, even without pepper, salt or any other seasoning.” As Hearne noted elsewhere, community members tended to select only the fattiest parts of the animal, or nutrient-dense organ meats, throwing the rest away….”1
Weston Price Observations
In the book “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” written by Weston A. Price, he suggested that similar practices were maintained during the early twentieth century among communities living inside the Rocky Mountain Range in far Northern Canada, “…They cycled between the summer cultivation of starches and fruits and far greater reliance on fats from animals (particularly organ meats and marrow) during winter…the successful nutrition for nine months of the year was largely limited to wild game, chiefly moose and caribou.
During the summer months the Indians were able to use growing plants. During the winter some use was made of bark and buds of trees. I found the Indians putting great emphasis upon the eating of the organs of the animals, including the wall of parts of the digestive tract…These Indians obtain their fat-soluble vitamins and also most of their minerals from the organs of the animals. An important part of the nutrition of the children consisted in various preparations of bone marrow, both as a substitute for milk and as a special dietary ration.”2
Sustainable Long Hunts
Were these dietary practices of feast and famine able to sustain the male hunters during long hours of chasing prey? Absolutely. The Coahuiltecan tribe, located in Texas, were studied by the Spanish colonizer Cabeza de Vaca for 8 years starting in 1538. He observed “…During winter they hunted buffalo, deer, and javelin, while during the summer and fall they were sustained by fish, plants, and starches such as the mesquite bean. In what has been described as a “feast or famine economy,” animal-based diets in winter would thus give way to gorging thanks to “the ripening of fruit, or tuna, of the prickly pears [which] typically meant days of feasting until the fruit ran out.”
During the winter period of hunting for animal proteins and fats, de Vaca noted the ability of Coahuiltecans to maintain aerobic activity for long periods of time: “The men could run after a deer for an entire day without resting and without apparent fatigue. . . one man near seven feet in stature. . . runs down a buffalo on foot and slays it with his knife or lance, as he runs by its side.”3
Food Sources Diminished
Unfortunately, as food sources changed or weren’t available, the Indians started developing diabetes because their diet switched from low carbohydrate meals to a more maize centered diet. And with the lack of resistant starch from acorns, etc, and the inability to switch back and forth from the winter feasting on fat and saturated fat to the summer time feasting, this led to the reliance of more European grains. As a result, nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, iron, antioxidants of A, C and E, phytochemicals and bioflavonoids found in the plants and beans consumed by these indigenous cultures were greatly diminished.4 Also, the over-reliance on maize increased iron deficiency and a greater susceptibility to infection.5 The depletion of wild game and an over-reliance on maize became so challenging for the Ancient Pueblo Indians that they became turkey farmers to alter their nutritional intake, thus increasing iron, protein and B12 into their diets.6
Gary Paul Nabhan, an ethnobotanist from Arizona, performed studies on the Pima Indians on behalf of the Native Seeds/SEARCH Foundation. He researched the difference between the starches naturally cultivated and gathered which created a lower insulin response, and their more recent diet of newer strains of maize and white potatoes, which increased higher levels of insulin production. When healthy non-diabetic subjects were fed 6 foods that were eaten before European influence such as mesquite pods, acorns lima beans, yellow and white tepary beans and a traditional strain of corn, the subjects showed lower blood sugar levels. Also in the study, it was found that prior to contact with European influence, the Pimas consumed grain-like seeds of psyllium (AKA plantago) that has also been linked to lowering fasting blood sugar levels. And finally, the berries traditionally used by Native Americans can be associated with the regulation of lipids (cholesterol, etc) and regulating blood sugar markers.7
Jackson Hole Trip – Ancient Healing Strategies
What we Have Learned
If we look at the last half-century, it has caused stark changes in lifestyle that departs from seasonal food availability. In these modern times, we are constantly in a “feast” environment, or food abundance, which I believe causes an increased risk for certain diseases including cancer. But how can we incorporate these ancient healing strategies into our daily lives? I have been using these ancient healing strategies to help the most challenged clients, and have found that when they break out of their modern-day patterns of munching food all day long, they start to thrive.
Why did dietary restrictions, fasts, and forced, seasonal diet variation (feast/famine cycles) promote health in indigenous cultures? Science indicate that the body thrives on using fat for fuel instead of glucose as our energy source. The body also thrives on periods of fasting, where we give the digestive system a rest, giving our body a chance to do some house cleaning as it gobbles up unwanted debris (autophagy). This can be accomplished by restricting food intake for periods of time: whether it is intermittent fasting, 24 hours fasting (dinner to dinner) or a block fast such as 4 consecutive days per month.
Variation is a Must
Even if we do not have indigenous tribes in our family line, all our ancestors, no matter where they lived, experienced times of abundant foods and times of different and narrower choices. Just because we now have choices that seem to span every food group at any time, that doesn’t mean that is a blessing for health. Our bodies are genetically programmed to adapt to periods of feast and famine.
Switching back and forth from a low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet (low carb, moderate protein and high healthy fat) to my Cellular Healing diet, has proven very efficacious for many with weight-loss resistance, insulin resistance and various chronic illnesses. In addition, adding days of fasting has helped greatly. This is diet variation at its best.
Mix it Up
Let’s say that we are following a ketogenic diet for many months or years. Although cells can derive fuel from fat, at some point, the body might say, “This is my fuel and I want to conserve it because I want to survive.” From genetic ancestral ties, the body instinctually knows that famine cycles can come at any time. So it may decide that it wants to hold on to its source of precious fat. One of the things the body will do in this case is block the insulin receptors (this is not insulin resistance). As a result, the body stores fat.
Here is where following ancient healing strategies and feasting patterns are so beneficial. When we add in a few feasting days (eating 100-150 grams of healthy carbohydrates daily) in the mix of following a ketogenic diet, we remind the body that it is not starving and it’s OK to burn fat. It then becomes an efficient fat burner again.
Since implementing Diet Variation (feast/famine cycles) with clients and my own family, I’ve learned some tips for readers to test for themselves. My 5-1-1 Rule is a great place to start, which means 5 days of the week you follow a lower carb or ketogenic-style diet, 1 day of the week you do a 24 hour fast (dinner to dinner) and the remaining day of the week you do a feast day, eating plenty of healthy carbs. The feast day reminds your body that there is no need to hang on to excess fat stores. It has worked like magic for many who were unable to lose weight.
The 5-1-1 rule can and should be modified on a regular basis in terms of fasting and feasting days, always dependent on the person and condition. For some, a 4-2-1 Rule works well, for others a 2-2-3 Rule. The magic is in the variation, which involves shifting meal timing and rotating foods and healthy fats.
Specifically, I’ve found that taking 7 feast days a month is very important for regulating hormones and supporting thyroid function. For women, this means feasting during your period week, or perhaps starting a few days before the period starts depending on the length of your cycle. The feasting days’ function to increase insulin, used in many hormone conversions like T4 to T3. Many clients who suffered from hormone dyregulation have begun using these ancient healing strategies and have observed increased energy, weight-loss and better mood. . . perhaps from eating more of their favorite foods too!
Magic in Adaptation
Still, what works for one may not work for others. Many of my thyroid clients and those with adrenal fatigue seem to do better with 2-3 feasting days within their ketogenic or Cellular Healing diets. For feasting days, healthy carb ideas include sweet potatoes, berries, beets, carrots, peas and more legumes. Even treats with raw honey or maple syrup and some ancient grains are delectable and fine for some of us to eat every once in awhile.
Bottom line: your diet must sustainable for long-term success. Incorporate healthy, delicious and satisfying recipes from Meredith Dykstra, C.H.C., our very own healthy chef whiz, like keto lemon cheesecake or a flatbread pizza. And if you are someone with food addictions, it is best to give yourself planned days of higher carbs to not be tempted to cheat. By following these variation suggestions, we are eating like our ancient relatives which will start to change the health of your gut microbiome.
What Diet is Right for Me?
How do you know what diet is right for you? For some, 3 days of carb feasting works when following a ketogenic diet, and for others, doing the keto diet and adding only 1 day of fasting or feasting is beneficial. Currently, I fast 2-3 days a week (from dinner to dinner) and then enjoy 2 feasting days in between. I have also incorporated eating seasonally. In the summer, I eat 100 gms of carbs on average daily, and in winter, I follow a ketogenic diet. However, I am now experimenting with a keto diet for 2 weeks and then out of ketosis for 1 week. Stay tuned for results!
All in all, there is magic in adaptation and variation because it optimizes our hormonal responses (insulin, leptin to burn fat for energy, thyroid hormones, sex hormones, etc.). Eating all the time is detrimental to our health. Don’t eat less, eat less often. Let’s follow these ancient healing strategies and thrive with well-being and radiant energy.