of Bison antiquus in Mark Mullins’s living room looks like
something Conan the Barbarian might wear to make a fashion statement. To picture this extinct animal, imagine an
American bison— 2,000 pounds of pissed-off, top-heavy
bovine capable of hitting 30 miles an hour on a flat stretch of
prairie—and add about 500 pounds and longer horns. Then
amp up the intimidation factor by several times.
Now picture humans roaming the plains of Paleolithic
era North America 15,000 years ago, people just like us in
nearly every way except for the fact that they haven’t gotten
around to inventing much of the stuff we now eat, wear,
operate, or live in. You or I wouldn’t approach a Bison antiquus armed with anything less than a bazooka, but the first
people to populate North America tracked, killed, and consumed the beasts using nothing more than simple tools, like
pointy sticks and flaked stones.
“It was their ability to outsmart these megamammals
that allowed humans to successfully kill the animals, which
were so much stronger,” Mullins says. “People understood
the animals’ movements and behavior.”
Mullins is 40 years old, slim, and obviously fit. He’s been
collecting spear points, arrowheads, and other ancient tools
since he was a teenager. His home in Colorado Springs
houses one of the world’s largest private collections of arti-
facts from the Ice Age, a period that ended about 10,000
years ago. He’s spent his life working to piece together the
story of the people who once populated our hemisphere.
And yet I’m surprised to learn that Mullins is a recent
convert to the paleo diet, a system of eating that’s based on
foods that would have been available to our ancient ancestors before the invention of agriculture.
“I just went to what I thought these people ate,” he tells
me, adding that in the 2 years since he and his wife, Marisa,
made the switch, he’s lost 70 pounds. So now he might be
too much of a lightweight to tackle a ton of raging bison.
But the surprise isn’t so much that Mullins follows the
ancestral diet but that he waited so long to go paleo.
EVOLUTION OF A DIET
he name “paleo diet” was coined by
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., a professor of
health and exercise science at Colorado
State University in Fort Collins, where
I meet with him the day after I met with
Mullins. Cordain shows me a wall of file
cabinets packed with studies on various
aspects of the diet, which today goes by many names, from
“caveman diet” to “ancestral nutrition” (the preferred
generic) to “evolutionary nutrition” (a term used in some
published research). They all describe the same concept.
“Seventy percent of the typical U. S. diet is foods that our
Stone Age ancestors wouldn’t have consumed,” Cordain
says. According to him, these include grains, dairy, peas and
beans, processed oils, added sugars, and alcohol. “What
we’ve tried to do is replace these calories with real foods—
fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood.” (And although some
paleo advocates don’t like to admit it, research suggests that
early humans were processing and eating wild grains many
thousands of years before they actually figured out how to
grow them as crops.)
The diet took a while to reach its current level of popularity, and you can see why. In a world in which most of us have
grown up to think of whole grains, dairy, and beans as vital
parts of a healthy diet, Cordain and his like-minded compatriots had a hard time convincing the rest of us that we
should give up those foods.
The whole thing started with a 1985 study published in
the New England Journal of Medicine. Titled “Paleolithic
Nutrition: A Consideration of its Nature and Current
Implications,” the paper argued that the human genome,
which has evolved over millions of years, simply hasn’t had
enough time to adjust to foods like grains, dairy, and beans
(not to mention candy corn and Cheez Whiz), which were
not staples in the human diet before the advent of agri-
cavemen were never ironmen. long,
steady-pace endurance exercise
is a bad idea, says mark sisson,
author of THE PRIMAL BLUEPRINT.
“that takes a devastating toll
on the body,” he says. “none of our
ancestors would’ve done that.”
instead, try sisson’s four-tier plan,
from the pages of CAVEMEN’S HEALTH.
“walking is the quintessential human movement,” sisson says. start
at 2 hours a week, with
a goal of 3 to 5. other low-intensity cardio activities
that keep your heart rate
at 55 to 75 percent of
your max (220 minus your
age) will also work.
sisson suggests two
weekly total-body workouts. says ben bergeron,
owner of crossfit new
england: “humans run,
jump, lunge, and squat.
they respond better to
those moves than to lateral raises.” see the workout poster to get started.
our ancestors sometimes
had to run for their lives.
today we hardly ever
push ourselves that hard,
even though doing so can
boost metabolism. try
10 minutes of sprints
(varying your duration and
rest) and 10 minutes of
most of us quit playing
sports when the boss
disbanded the softball
league. without sports,
we lose vital human
movement skills, like the
ability to throw accurately
or change directions at
full speed. any sport will
do, sisson says. —L.S.
Food styling: Victoria Granof/Stockland Martel, prop styling: Matthew Gleason; illustrations by FRANCESCO MUZZI