When I look back at photos of my great-grandparents or even great-great-grandparents, I’m struck by something amazing: they all appear fit. None of them were overweight or struggling with obesity. Only when a few of my ancestors reached past the age of 70 did any of them gain appreciable weight, notably my great-great-grandmother, but outside of her, everyone appeared trim and fit. As for longevity, each of them lived well past 70 years old with very few exceptions. How is that possible when there were no 24 hour fitness gyms available?
Some people mistakenly believe that our ancestors were thin because life was harder then. They posit that everyone was in a day-to-day struggle to survive, eking out an existence through manual labor. However, this is patently wrong in the case of my own family. The vast majority of them were teachers, engineers, officers, chauffeurs, and even a royal guard. None of these people did what could be considered heavy labor. My great-grandfather was a forest ranger, and sure, that entailed a lot of walking, but that’s not enough to keep a man thin. There has to be another reason.
Oh, that’s right. There is another reason: the diet. What did my ancestors eat that is so different than the diet of people today? If my grandmother’s memories serve as any indication as to the makeup of my ancestor’s diet, and if she is to be trusted (and why not?), then meals consisted of 100% home-cooked meals made with 1/4 meat, 3/4 vegetables, and a side serving of bread. There were no desserts, as these were reserved solely for holidays and very special occasions. The occasional snack only took place when doing something that required a lot more energy than normal; cutting some wood, for example, would warrant eating a peach or a plum (or two).
Aside from athletes, most people before the World Wars didn’t exercise for the sake of fitness. The only exercise they got was from walking (which, admittedly, they did likely do a lot more of than we do today) and any tasks requiring physical labor, but to think that everyone was a subsistence farmer or working incredibly hard to merely survive is completely wrong and misses the most important lesson: it’s the diet, dummy.