Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall is one-part tale of how a ragtag band of Greeks and British misfits kidnapped a German general in WWII, and one-part manifesto on the health benefits of moving naturally and fueling your body on fat. Hero in this case means one thing: “be fit to be useful,” MovNat (movement naturale) founder Erwin Le Corre’s mantra. MovNat, which is increasing in popularity around the country, involves acting like a human being in a natural environment. Ideally, it re-creates scenarios like running across logs while carrying a small child.
Moving naturally means training your body to respond well in any given situation, and fat fueling means you can go for hours, even days, on literally nothing but your own fat stores, while keeping a clear head and light feet. Hence why that ragtag band of kidnappers could haul the Nazi General around in seemingly impossible conditions.
Your body stores about 2,000 calories from sugar and roughly 140,000 (give or take) from fat — and burning sugar always comes first, until the crash that gives you tunnel vision and makes you prone to injury. I experienced sugar burnout during a recent Iceland hike, when, coming down the trail at my usual quick-paced trot, trying to hurry through the boinking haze, I slid on loose gravel and sprawled, bruising my face and knee in the process.
“Skillful marketing has made carbohydrate consumption a religion among athletes,” McDougall quotes Dr. Tim Noakes, formerly the “High Priest of Carb Loading,” who for many years advised everyone to load up on carbs to fuel their athletic endeavors, until he abruptly switched his stance after digging into the research. “The same foods Noakes had assured people would make them stronger and faster were a slow-acting poison making them fatter, weaker, and more prone to heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and dementia.” Noakes went on to co-write The Real Meal Revolution and write Waterlogged, a treatise against energy drinks and water poisoning.
McDougall notes that throughout history, people, and particularly warriors, have eaten a lot of meat, the fattier the better. But in 1977, the US started pushing grain consumption as the base of a healthy diet. “Soon after, America’s obesity rate shot up and hasn’t stopped.” The switch was supposed to prevent heart disease, but instead, medical procedures for heart disease quintupled from 1.2 million to 5.4 million annually.
A big part of the obesity epidemic is related to insulin. “Simple carbs are absorbed too fast; your cells get their fill and the rest is turned into fat before your insulin has a chance to dissipate. The still-active insulin in your bloodstream goes looking for more sugar, which makes you feel hungry. So, you chow another donut, starting the whole process all over again. Enough years of this abuse and your cells can become insulin resistant.” However, if you fuel your body with good fat instead, you provide yourself with slow-burning energy.