We have had a small colony of feral cats for 11 years. When four adolescent siblings appeared on our terrace one fine day, we fed them. They were truly feral and were too old to be domesticated. To make a long story short, after a few litters were produced clandestinely, we eventually caught, spayed or altered them all, and the population stabilized at six adults. We set out food for them twice a day, though we still can’t touch or even get close to any of them.
And every year, as winter approaches in our temperate climate (upstate New York), I’ve observed that our small feral cat colony knows it’s time to fatten up for the long winter ahead. Their appetites seem insatiable. Ordinarily cats know not to overeat. If they are full, they leave food on the plate. But their appetites change when they sense they will need fat reserves to survive a long winter when they “think” they will have to depend on “the hunt.”
Gary Taubes describes this mammalian behavior in “Good Calories – Bad Calories” (pg. 294). It’s an example, he says, of hormonal control of feeding behavior, just as human growth hormones account for the appetites of children. On a good diet, children don’t normally get fat; they get plump briefly and then they grow. They get taller very quickly. And when cold weather is coming, cats eat voraciously to fatten up for winter. It’s a hormonal thing.
The temporary fat that cats put on provides insulation from the cold as well as body fat energy reserves. Of course, these cats don’t “know” why they have rapacious appetites as the days get shorter and colder. Their unconscious brains function autonomically regulating homeostasis on a daily and seasonal basis. Their hormones “tell” them to eat. It’s a survival behavior. When spring comes, and the fat reserves are depleted, their eating behavior will return to “normal.” They will need to be lean again to have the agility to hunt. “Fat cats” don’t get the “early bird.”
What can we learn from these observations? Well, we’re mammals too, and it’s only been 500 generations or so (10,000 years) since we learned to grow food as crops and then harvest and store them for winter. This was at the beginning of the Neolithic Age. The time before that is referred to as the Paleolithic Era, hence what is known today as Paleo dieting. But in today’s world, we live in an environment of abundance in the food supply. Our modern lifestyle allows us to shop at the local super market rather than “hunt and gather” or grow our own food.
The market is filled with a cornucopia of foods all year long, many of them “processed,” which means they have already been “partially digested”! White flour milled from whole grain is a perfect example, as are fruit juices and smoothies. Even fruits, which are primarily sucrose, fructose and glucose – all simple sugars, with a little fiber and pectin – have all been hybridized to make them even sweeter (and larger) than they ever were in ancestral times.
The result: When processed carbs dominate our diet, we eat every day like winter is about to descend at any minute. The same autonomic control system that tells the feral cat to prepare for winter, tells us to “overeat.” Not the same mechanism, but the same effect because, for us, there will be no seasonal change in our food supply.
The alternative to feast and famine is the way we were designed to eat. Our bodies were designed to be for a period in a condition of mild ketosis after a meal is digested. It is a natural state. Food wasn’t always abundant. The cycle then was: feed, digest and absorb, then fast, repeated maybe once or twice a day, if we were lucky.
The feral cat colony feeding frenzy is being driven by the onset of winter. Feeding of the human mammalian colony is now being driven by an over dependence on boxed, bagged, and “predigested” processed foods that we have come to overly rely on “for our convenience.” It is also with the blessing and encouragement of our government whose misguided advice is still being driven by 60 years of bad science, among other things. The “corrupt bargain” of government funding, well-meaning but overreaching “big government” “fat cats” who want to tell us what we should eat, and the influence of Agribusiness and Big Pharma that profit from it.As individuals in society we need to learn to think for ourselves and recognize what is really in our best interest.