I can sum up my TV viewing like this—too much cable news, Reds baseball, occasional re-runs of The Big Bang Theory, watching The Walking Dead with my wife (we all make sacrifices), and somewhat regular viewing of Naked and Afraid. Analyze that list however you want.
If you’re not familiar with Naked and Afraid, it’s a show where a man and woman are dropped off in in a remote area with a machete and one personal item and asked to survive for 21 days. The survivalists struggle physically and emotionally as they try to brave the elements without food, plumbing and clothing.
I admit that it’s a highly produced show brimming with butt crack, blurred-out private parts and bleeped-out foul language. Nevertheless, I like the show because it is on-screen mental toughness that reminds me of how much more difficult life could be. I’m especially drawn to the lessons that contrast our society’s challenges with diet. Here are a few of my take-aways.
Appreciate Clean Water
I often hear individuals talk about what they drink as a source of pleasure rather than a secret to survival. On more than one occasion, people have told me that they don’t like water. Huh? I am fairly open-minded, but this one is hard to understand. I get it that treated municipal water can sometimes have a not-so-great taste. But all water? To me that’s like saying, I really can’t stand the smell of plain air. Unless someone can show me scientific data to suggest otherwise, disliking water is something we learn based on preferences for sweeter alternatives like soda or juice. I’m guessing that three weeks of drinking gritty boiled water from an elephant bath in Africa would make us fully appreciate a glass of water straight from our tap.
Food is Fuel
Soon into the three weeks (or 40 days for those in Naked and Afraid XL) the survivalists begin talking about how they are hungry and lack energy. They hunt, fish, trap, and gather anything that will provide fuel to help them feel better. Otherwise they won’t be able to gather water, collect firewood, or build and maintain shelter. Not once have I heard any of the survivalists say, “that just doesn’t sound good” when presented with food. Nobody is holding out for a cheeseburger and fries.
When We Eat Few Calories, We Lose Weight
It is common for me to see a food journal or hear people say, I’m not losing weight because I eat too little. This is a common misconception. Although our metabolism slows when we cut calories and lose weight, nobody is starvation-proof. Just like on the TV show, people lose at different rates when they restrict calories, but nobody “shuts down” their metabolism entirely. Diet-related research shows that people often lack awareness, are poor historians, or have an inaccurate perception of what and how much they eat. So those who believe they are eating very few calories and not losing weight are usually consuming much more than they think. And, OK, some people know what they are doing but simply lie about it, usually to avoid embarrassment or ridicule. As a side note to professionals who treat those who are overweight—if you want clients to be more honest, supportive and gentle approaches work much better than authoritarian ones.
Be Thankful for Food
When the famished survivalists catch fish, spear a snake, or roast a rodent over their fire, they are grateful. They often thank the animal for providing them nourishment. If the partner provided the meal, the other person shows their appreciation. Our lives are so full of highly processed foods, that require almost no work on our part, that we often forget about the farmer, the picker, the processor, or the animal that was once living. Eating for the right reasons and in appropriate amounts respects all those involved with putting food on our plates.