One of the most fundamental Darwinian implications of the recognition that we’re fundamentally Stone Agers from a physiological point of view is that we are mismatched to contemporary conditions and would benefit from adjusting our way of living so that it more closely resembles that of our distant, naturally living ancestors. A wealth of scientific data support this idea, much of which I’ve relayed and talked about here on the site, including as part of reviews of new studies, a research overview, opinion-based pieces, and interviews with leading evolution-oriented medical experts. For today’s interview, I’m shifting focus, away from the theory of ancestral living towards the practicalities and realities of it…
From theory to practise: What’s it like to live ancestrally in the modern world?
In addition to outlining the theoretical and scientific basis and justification for evolution-informed, natural living, I’ve talked about many of my own experiences, as well as shared a couple of client testimonials, here on the site. Subjective narratives have certainly taken a back seat to science though. Basically, if you’re looking for anecdotal reports, certain other sites and forums pack a lot more muscle than this one. That’s not to say that I think it’s completely irrelevant to discuss or hear about how other people besides the participants of controlled studies respond to evolution-based lifestyle measures though. A theory that looks perfect on paper but doesn’t really produce anything beneficial when it’s applied in the real world isn’t much use; hence, it’s important to not get so caught up in theory that one loses sight of reality.
This brings us over to the interview you’ve come to read, which is concerned with the actual experience of ancestral living. By nature, this experience is going to vary from person to person depending on factors such as genetics, health status and history, and the applied methods. Additionally, one has to account for the fact that not everyone interprets things the same way. Hence, one person’s perceptions and outcomes aren’t necessarily going to translate over to others. That said, I do think the outlook of Alessio Angeleri – today’s interview subject – is worth paying attention to, in particular because he’s a seasoned traveler, in that he has a long history with the ancestral health thing. His personal results probably fall somewhere close to the higher end of the spectrum going from poor outcomes to good ones; however, there’s no reason to think that he’s a lot more responsive than the average Joe or Jen.
I got to know Alessio several years back through this site. I quickly took notice of him, as he was commenting on a lot of the stuff I put out, showing a particularly enthusiastic, passionate attitude. After some time, we got to talking more and more and connect via messages, which made me realise that we’re quite like-minded, and also got me in touch with other Italian evolutionary health devotees. After some time, on my request, he started helping out a bit with the practicalities of running this site, something I’ve greatly appreciated.
That was a little backstory. Now, let’s get into the interview…
1. Quite a few people involved in the ancestral health community probably recognize your name and know a bit about you, at least in Italy, where you reside. Personally, I also feel I have a pretty good understanding of who you are and what you stand for. That said, there’s a lot I don’t know, and most readers probably know even less. For that reason, it would be great if you could tell us a bit about yourself, focusing particularly on your health and fitness background.
Health and fitness has been a passion of mine since I was very young. At the age of 16, I decided to start weight training, having clear models in mind: the famous bodybuilders of the 80’s like Frank Zane, Mike Mentzer and others. I devoured all the material I could find about bodybuilding, diet and supplementation. While I was studying engineering, I also started to manage a supplement store in my city.
Since then, I’ve never stopped studying and experimenting on myself, always trying to figure out what to do to improve my knowledge and skills. I ended up in my early 20’s with an overall good shape, despite my suboptimal genetics for gaining mass and strength (I’m naturally tall and thin). But despite my imposing physique, I didn’t feel so good: I was often fatigued, with brain fog, and it was difficult for me to stay focused while studying. After a meal, I was always tired and nervous.
When I was 24, I lost both my parents: my dad got pancreatic cancer while my mother had a fatal stroke. I still had to complete my graduation and ended up gaining a worrying amount of fat, especially on my belly. My father was a real health model according to mainstream guidelines, being an endurance athlete, eating a lot of pasta with extra-virgin olive oil, some fruit and veggies, very little meat. But despite that, he ended up with a striking cancer that consumed him in just a few months. What was going on? Were those guidelines actually reliable? Why was I getting fat while eating an allegedly healthy high-carb diet rich in whole grains?
Since I’m curious and a truth seeker by nature, I had to dig into the matter…
2. How did you first become interested in evolutionary health and medicine? Can you remember what made you initially realise that evolutionary science constitutes a powerful tool for discerning what it takes to produce a healthy, robust human?
During my research, I came upon an Italian bodybuilder who promotes high-intensity training and an evolutionary approach. I went to visit him. What he told me made perfect sense to me, so I decided to learn about the evolutionary paradigm. Through him, I met another major promoter of ancestral health here in Italy who opened me up to the whole lifestyle – the diet, exercise strategy, and so forth.
The evolutionary mismatch concept captured my mind. Suddenly, all the the experiences I’d had so far started to make complete sense. If you apply the evolutionary template to all aspects of your life, everything starts to get clear. I came to recognize that almost all of the stuff I’d seen promoted as ‘healthy’ was in fact a far cry from that. We humans evolved and lived most of our existence in an environment very different from the modern one, so it’s not surprising that we’re currently faced with skyrocketing disease rates.
The important thing to learn, is that if a thing is apparently false, it will be discredited sooner or later. That said, a half-truth is the worst thing on earth, because most people won’t recognize its fallacy. Unfortunately, our ill society is living on half-truths. These keep people in their comfort zones and are set up as straw-men against natural living.
My ‘career’ in this field improved further a while later, when I met my colleague/friend/big brother Angelo, through his amazing blog www.evolutamente.it. He’s really a pioneer in this field, starting out almost 20 years ago through a mail exchange with the ‘giant’ Dr. Loren Cordain. I began working with him for his blog, then we wrote a book together and published a paper in the Evolutionary Health Journal.
After talking about diet and exercise for a while, as engineers, we recognized that there are a plethora of other aspects of evolutionary mismatch that are mostly overlooked. Now we basically have a brand new job, as ‘light trainers’, teaching people how to optimize their light exposure and minimize electromagnetic pollution. We apply protocols for circadian reset to our clients, with a striking success rate.
Another amazing thing for me has been meeting you Eirik. I mean this sincerely… not as flatter. I’ve actually appreciated your work since the very beginning and feel really like-minded with you, so it’s a great honor to have the chance to cooperate with your project.
As a coach, I’ve really evolved into an evolutionary trainer. Together with one of our good friends, a strength athlete and coach, we’ve created an evolutionary training protocol that mixes all the necessary ingredients to match the hunter-gatherer fitness levels. These skills go far beyond a muscular body, which more often than not isn’t matched by superb health.
We also funded the ‘SIMNE’ (Italian Society for Evolutionary Nutrition and Medicine), which was born to spread our lifestyle all around our country. There are doctors, biologists, personal trainers, engineers… Together we work to help people improve their health and performance.
3. What aspects of the field are you particularly interested in? Have these interests changed over time?
Well, I started with diet and exercise like many others in the field, which I still consider pillars of health. A healthy diet and physical activity is only going to get you so far though. To get the full benefits, one has to adhere to a real, 360 degrees, evolutionary template.
We’ve faced a drift of the ancestral movement, and this always happens because of personal and financial interests. Many people recognized a huge marketing potential and started to push savage supplementation (products that they sell of course), ‘paleo’ sweets and cakes and other products that have little to nothing to do with the actual diet of our hunter-gatherer forebears. These products, which are very similar to the conventional processed ‘junk food’ you can find on the shelves of supermarkets, keep people in their comfort zone: “you can be healthy without changing your old habits, you just have to buy my products (at a crazy price of course)”. This not only disrupts people’s health, but is problematic to our community as a whole, because when people end up with bad health outcomes, they blame the whole ancestral paradigm, and not the fake products they are pushed to consume. I’m concerned with counteracting this baleful trend.
Lately, being an engineer, I started to dig into biophysics, a deeper layer essential to explain biochemistry. The amazing thing is that everything is merging, and all the pieces of the puzzle fit perfectly with our template. As you use to say, it’s kinda looking at the forest instead of the single tree.
4. The evolutionary health concept may be said to represent a starter kit for healthy living, in that it holds a number of basic instructions and strategies pertaining to diet, physical activity, sleep, microbial stimulation, sun exposure, environmental renovation, socialization, and more. The techniques can be accessed by the individual, who may adapt them to suit his needs, desires, and schedule. Given the room for customization, people are invariably going to differ somewhat in their approach. What’s yours? If you could provide a general overview, that would be great.
I usually start with what makes the most sense to me from a logical standpoint, and then I tinker things as I progress on the basis of my experiences. Theory is amazing, but practice is the ultimate proof. I found that, talking about diet, I really do well with a lot of high-quality grass-fed meat, wild-caught seafood, and veggies. I eat some tubers, and a little fruit and honey.
Very little supplementation is needed. Not only is taking a lot of supplements useless, but it may be detrimental, destabilizing the microbiome, with all the consequences that brings with it. If we follow nature’s rules, we don’t need tons of supplements.
With our clients, things change a bit, since we can’t make dietary programs as engineers. We tend to just refer them to like-minded practitioners, books, articles, and of course well-referenced blogs like yours. When working with clients, we focus on reconnecting with nature and exercising, with lifestyle protocols, tools (blue-blocking and filtering glasses, photobiomodulation, etc.) and training programs. We created our Evolutionary fitness program for this purpose, but we tailor it according to the features and goals of the individual. It would be crazy to recommend the exact same things to everyone.
We advocate strength training, earthing, clever sun exposure, and circadian rhythm reset, emphasizing that you can eat and train perfectly, but if you use your smartphone in the late evening, spend almost all of your time indoors, don’t connect yourself with nature (and so on and so forth), you will end up with huge problems.
5. In the modern world, it’s not necessarily practical or enjoyable to be 100% compliant with evolutionary, hunter-gatherer based diet and lifestyle principles, as our environment and culture differ markedly from those of the distant past. What compromises, if any, have you made? To what degree do you stick with the diet, physical activity routine, and so forth?
I think that the more aspects of the entire lifestyle you stick with, the greater your chances are of getting away with ‘cheating’. Relaxing moments with friends, sun exposure, connection with nature… It’ll all make you less prone to the damage of some sporadic cheating. So, though I try to do my best to stick to good habits, when I feel particularly well, I do occasionally indulge, assuming a more relaxed attitude towards ‘forbidden’ foods. Always with home-made products though. Never with mass-produced junk. If you’re sick (for example suffering from an autoimmune disease), you have far less room to cheat in my opinion.
Certain health gurus are quick to point out that some of the traditional populations in Weston Price’s report seem to have done well while consuming some grains, milk, legumes, etc. In my opinion, it makes more sense to say that they were healthy ‘despite’ those things than ‘thanks’ to them. As I see it, their good health would be expected to largely result from the rest of their lifestyle, which compensates (at least in part), for some ‘sub-optimal’ food consumption.
The take-home message, for me, is that our template should be perceived and presented as a natural way of living. Unfortunately, in our modern society, what’s normal often isn’t natural.
6. What kind of benefits have you noticed as a result of adhering to that strategy of living? Do you feel that it’s made a significant difference with respects to your mood, concentration, sleep quality, and/or other major aspects of your life? The times when you’ve strayed from the path, for example by eating a lot of junk food, what has been the most noticeable impacts on your body and psyche?
My mood and physical performance are really sensitive to junk food and bad habits, so I have to stick as much as possible to the evolutionary template, which makes me feel stronger, with a sharper mind and increased levels of empathy.
Aside from healthy food and physical activity, circadian rhythms and connection with nature play a huge role in my health and well-being.
7. What do you feel has provided the greatest advantages? Is there anything in particular, such as a dietary instigation, exercise, or sleep practise, that you feel has worked particularly well?
Not one thing in particular comes to mind. I think it’s more a matter of synergy between all the variables 🙂
8. Have you experienced any downsides or major challenges, for example related to your health, energy levels, headspace, and/or social life? If so, please describe them, as well as any measures you may have taken to address them.
The biggest hurdle is social resistance. As with anything else that falls outside the box, the evolutionary template, which challenges a number of common, deeply rooted beliefs, is by many perceived as odd, perhaps naïve. What makes me really upset is when health practitioners, biologists, and the like who embrace and spread this template are discredited by the establishment. We have friends working with us who’ve been threatened by their professional orders and even risk to lose their jobs because of their ‘heretical’ behavior. Picking a fight with big business is certainly a huge challenge.
I just do what feels right for me though, and keep going my way.
9. Over the years, you’ve probably talked to quite a few other people who prescribe to a similar health & fitness ideology as you, or at least have given some of the principles inherent to that system a try. Perhaps you’ve even inspired friends or family to give the ancestral health approach a shot. What is your general impression of how these individuals have responded to the program? Have you noticed any patterns with respects to its workability for different subsets of people and/or the acclaims or complaints that people make?
I’ve seen sick, smart people who are very motivated to getting better respond well. People who aren’t as motivated though often ‘fall off the wagon’ before long. Many lack the awareness, strength (It feels far easier to seek the ‘magic pill’ than to carry out a lifestyle overhaul), and/or social/family support required to make a big leap. Athletes and coaches often manage to stick with the program though, as their minds are already accustomed to disciplined, target-oriented living.
10. If someone came up to you and asked if you could give him five tips for living a better, healthier life, what advice would you offer? Assume that the individual in question is middle-aged and doesn’t suffer from any major diseases.
- Eat a real ‘paleo’ diet that fits with our genetics, epigenetics and microbiome
- Exercise properly
- Reconnect with nature: earthing, proper light exposure, meditation, etc.
- Seek a real circadian reset (that includes light and electromagnetic pollution management)
- Leave room for socialization, studying and questioning everything around you, keeping your mind open
11. If the same individual proceeded to ask you if you could share a couple of good resources – videos, scientific papers, blog or newspaper articles, books, etc. – that could help him familiarize himself with the evolutionary health approach, what recommendations would you offer?
For English speakers, of course Darwinian Medicine!! Dr. Cordain’s books are a good source, but your blog is very comprehensive and adds the aspects mentioned earlier. And of course, I can’t miss our blog www.evolutamente.it, which in addition to offering a lot of Italian content features some amazing articles for international audiences from our great colleague Doris Loh.
On the other hand, I would advice people to stay away from influencers with nauseating marketing campaigns: you can easily recognize them, because they don’t have an ethical approach. Their websites may come across as appealing, but under the glossy exterior, there’s a lot of dishonesty and falsity (a while back Dr. Cordain also warned against ‘charismatic bloggers’).
12. Within the ancestral health community, there’s much talk about diet, physical activity, sunlight, sleep, and the human microbiome, to name a few key issues. Looking beyond the common topics of discussion, is there anything in particular that you feel deserves more attention than it’s getting? For example a health concept or strategy of living that you feel has been overlooked or underestimated.
Yes. I believe light exposure (and electromagnetism in general) deserves much more attention, since it literally shaped life on Earth. The light spectrum of smartphones, TVs, laptops, etc. differs markedly from that of the sun, with a peak in the blue portion that destroys our circadian rhythms, triggers oxidative stress, macular degeneration, and other issues. While with food we are talking about a mismatch of 10k years (the advent of agriculture), here we are talking about an abrupt change in something that’s been stably present for billions of years, since the first cell on earth. Talking about light, every part of the solar spectrum is essential for life.
Radiofrequencies used for communications and electricity in our homes contribute in an important way to the skyrocketing rates of modern diseases. Our devices operate in the middle of the so-called ‘biological window’, so it’s crazy and inconceivable to overlook their impact on animals and plants. Microbes are especially sensitive to electromagnetic waves, which can contribute to triggering dysbiosis of the skin and intestine.
13. The common roads to ancestral living are arduous, straining both the body and the psyche, in the sense that one doesn’t just wake up one day, fully rested, and suddenly come upon and embrace the evolutionary approach to life. Rather, my impression is that many, if not most, people who discover and enter this area of the world of health and medicine do so on the wave of a difficult, even sometimes nightmarish, diet and health background. Some have a long history of health problems behind them, often partly or largely because of previous injurious diet and lifestyle decisions and practises. Many, including myself, undoubtedly also make several less than optimal decisions even after they’ve recognized the importance of evolution as it relates to health and disease, in part because there’s a lot of less-than-great information out there. This leads me over to my inquiry… What mistakes have you made along the way? What pitfalls in particular would you warn others against?
I think the biggest mistake I’ve made is thinking that a good diet would fix all my problems. As we as a society have moved farther away from nature, a number of new mismatch threats have entered our world. It’s impossible to completely eschew all of these threats; however, that doesn’t mean that we should just give up, using it as an excuse to stick with our old habits with fingers crossed that nothing bad will happen.
My experience has taught me that we should try to be open-minded as much as possible, avoiding to think that we have already arrived at the finish line. Also, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. We are humans with our strength and weaknesses, and we have to learn to forgive our own and other people’s mistakes. We can make great leaps if we find like-minded people to walk with, and hopefully, have an impact also on others outside our little world.
14. Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m really grateful for this chance! It’s really wonderful to find people like you around the world to make this movement grow and attack the diseases and desperation that spread across the world head on. We renew our invitation to have you as a special guest in one of our events here in Italy.
Thank you very much!