Micro, Mini, Mega
OPTIMAL FORAGING THEORY
Optimal Foraging Theory (OFT) predicts the evolution of the supermarket, takeaways,
microwaveable food, home food deliveries (even easier with apps), and whatever
calorie delivery system comes next.
OFT is a model which describes the decision that animals make when foraging and
hunting for food. In the wild environment it is critical to the survival of every animal
because whilst eating provides the feeder with energy, it is important that the energy
required to get it is minimised. The relative benefit is maximised. There are several
variables which impact on the decisions made, most of them relating to the constraints
of the environment. What’s the cost of searching or hunting for the food? How long
does it take to get it? What are the chances of success? Admittedly, OFT has been
criticised, because the environment, social and other factors which impact on an
animal affect its behaviour to such an extent that “optimisation” is unproveable. Let’s
leave that for now and ask, ‘if I had the choice, and no constraints, would I spend half
a day hunting an antelope or looking for tubers, given that I’m unsure of success with
either?’ A group of hunter-gatherers could of course do both, minimising risk of
OFT describes an ecological heuristic which modernity has turned against us. We’ve
got what we wished for – easy calories for less and less effort (apps, home deliveries,
etc) and little danger (unless your delivery person is a murderous psychopath). OFT
gives us an idea that whether humans are facultative carnivores, omnivores or meat-
based omnivores, we no longer have the same critical decisions to make regarding
energy cost vs energy gained under the constraints of the environment (and non-
energy related factors).
1. It seems natural for us to overeat. We are hardwired for fat storage, due to an
evolutionary environment of scarcity and possible starvation (there are competing fat
storage theories which I won’t discuss right now).
2. Ease of access to food allows us to eat as much as we like, whenever we like. We
have no environmental constraints.
3. We don’t need to consider nutrition. A human in the wild would never choose to be
vegan, they would eventually die. Only circumstances would force a non-animal diet.
4. The supermarket dynamic means omnivory is expanded to include a wider range of
food - there is no opportunity cost of choosing to eat biscuits over steak. We can eat
steak whenever we like. So, we move further from a nutritionally suitable base diet.
5. Hunger (the search for food) drove a major part of human behaviour. The modern
ease of hunger fulfillment means behaviour has changed. We have more free time.
Wild: Obtain calories via the least amount of calorie expenditure.
Wild: The environment dictates what we need to do to get calories
Wild: A dynamic tension between the two
Modern: Obtain calories via the least amount of calorie expenditure
Modern: The environment supplies everything we need in abundance
Modern: No need to be physically active
This is why exercise is hard for many people. Expending energy for no reason is the
opposite of how we evolved. A fundamental driver of human activity has been taken
out of the equation by human ingenuity. Whereas we used to have to find food, the
food now finds us. The popular science fiction series, Star Trek, showed a machine
which, on demand, created food out of thin air. If that ever happens, and it’s
affordable – we are done for.
No living creature in the history of the world has had a default setting of physical
comfort. If all you want is physical comfort you are denying the wild realities of life.
Comfort and conserving energy certainly have their place, but modern life wants to
domesticate you with its labour-saving ethos and access to abundant food. We now
have to do the reverse of what we are hardwired to do. We have to purposely earn our
calories because the environment no longer forces us to do it. We need to manufacture
effort in order to simulate the conditions we would have faced in the wild.
The Lévy flight foraging hypothesis is used to describe an animal (and human) model
of foraging behaviour. When animals can’t find food, they abandon Brownian Motion,
the random motion seen in gas molecules, for Lévy flight - a mix of long trajectories
and short, random movements.
Source: Wikipedia: Lévy flight
An animal searching for food in an area must decide when it’s favourable to leave. In
any area it becomes harder to find food/prey as time goes on. Maybe due to depletion
of food sources, or if prey have taken evasive action and left the area. Remember
when you picked blackberries? You find clumps of brambles, pick what you can, then
move on to find another clump. This is a simple interpretation, but you get the idea.
Research shows that birds and other animals follow paths that have been modeled
using Lévy flight, when searching for food.
Studies show a near identical optimal search strategy arises in a wide variety of
environments, provided the target density is sparse and the searcher’s information is
restricted to its close vicinity. This suggesting (to an extent) an evolutionary over an
emergent origin of animal foraging view, i.e. Lévy Flight is robust with respect to
large changes in habitat. However, deviations from Lévy can take place in plentiful
ecosystems, where locomotion truncation is very frequent due to high encounter rates
(easy calories, supermarkets, the high street, pizza deliveries, etc).
Reintroducing scarcity (fasting, calorie restriction), overfeeding, a naturalistic supply
of food, the energy cost to get it (physical activity) and other evolutionary/wild
dynamics (including food type) – means we can go a long way to combating the
chronic diseases of civilisation.
Note: A recent news article, ‘India tiger on “longest walk ever” for mate and prey’
highlighted the tiger’s five month 1300kilometre search pattern – remarkably similar
to the Lévy Flight model:
MICRO, MINI AND MEGA CHALLENGES
Modernity, technology, the combustion engine (banned by 2050), mass food
production, (including storage and preservation), efficient food distribution systems
and highly palatable processed foods (designed to be addictive), combined with our
wild hard-wiring has resulted in practically all our modern chronic illnesses. The
result of an environmental mismatch.
I am not saying there are no benefits to human progress, of course there are – huge
benefits. Arguably, life is easier for us than ever in human history. But it is up to you
to take the many good things and protect yourself from the downsides. This means
reintroducing the dynamics of the wild environment - the idea that you shouldn’t get
calories without physical effort.
I have used the models of OFT and Lévy flight (sort of) in the General Health
Framework (fully described elsewhere):
- Daily low-level activity
- Random mini & micro-challenges
- Occasional mega-challenges
If you do want to be systemically fit, the idea that putting all your effort into the gym,
track or sport, is itself a product of modernity. Don’t be a dummy. Daily activity -
walking the dog, housework, park with the kids, an evening stroll, cycling to work,
and so on, must be the baseline, i.e. usual activity either for chores, for pleasure,
whatever. My view is that people who don’t do much of this low-level activity
probably don’t do much of any type of physical exercise. High street gym strength
trainers who do nothing outside the gym are generally overweight individuals who
want to get strong – a form of health delusion.
Micro Challenges (Brownian Motion)
Make your normal life just a little harder. Micro challenges are an everyday two-
fingers up to the environment which is trying to make you soft. They should be as
normal as having a coffee. In a sense they’re not ‘challenges’ but a default attitude to
life. It means ignoring the modernistic structure which saves you energy. By ignoring
I mean recognising the small things which make physical life too easy for you, and
choosing to turn them down.
People are generally unaware there’s an infrastructure of ease enveloping them. Or, if
they are aware, they accept it and like it – it’s seductive. “Why would anyone
purposely make life difficult for themselves? What does it matter if I use automatic
doors, not push doors? Anyone who has an issue with that must be a nutcase!”
Here’s the reason.
It is easier to stop a boulder rolling down a hill at the top than halfway down. The
‘boulder’ is ill health, chronic conditions, premature aging and infirmity due to
participating in the lifestyle, and way of eating, which people view as normal.
The nature of insidious things is they start small, hardly noticed – that’s why they’re
so dangerous. I value my health and personal sovereignty (which cannot be had
without health), so I choose to hold back the boulder for as long as possible. Even if
these micro things aren’t physically of great benefit, they are symbolically. Nature
doesn’t make life easy for the wild animal. Choose to be a wild animal. Once you let
in the idea that the environment should bring you ease, your slow health demise starts
If you only have the physical activity mindset when you’re in the gym or when you’re
playing sport, you will end up the same as everyone else. At some point in life you
will play less sport and go to the gym less. I guarantee it. Your health attitude has to
permeate your entire life – don’t be the weekend warrior numbskull. You need a wild
attitude in your normal life. That’s the everyday attitude. It’s not about being
obsessive, but who should be in control? You or an outside agency? If you have no
physical and health self-pride in your normal life, you will gradually turn to crap. This
is entirely logical because the default environment is constantly pushing junk and ease
I can’t be prescriptive about the sort of micro challenges you should adopt, but here
are a few ideas (some are blocking out things that make life too easy; others inject a
small amount of ‘wildness’, and are fun – well, I think they are):
- Never use lifts (elevators)
- If there’s a choice, use push doors not automatic ones
- Use baskets not shopping trolleys
- Get off the bus, one stop early
- Refuse junk food freebies
- Cut the hedge/grass with a manual cutter
- Wear trainers, not shoes
- Jump off/over a wall
- Run for the bus
- Run up stairs
- Jump over a ditch
- Climb a tree
- Race a dog
- For short trips, use a bike or walk
- Pick up thick sticks – see if you can snap them
- Jump up to (see if you can) touch high things
There are dozens of small things you can change or do. I am not asking you to be
obsessive – just have fun and reject or introduce what you like. We all need comfort,
there is no need to make life unyieldingly hard, but don’t let your life be too
Mini Challenges (Introducing Lévy Flight)
Adding in occasional harder stuff.
Everyday low-level activity and micro-shit are all well and good, but we should
introduce some more exacting challenges. This works the heart and muscles more. It
increases physical and psychological toughness.
When I was a teenager I would go out on my bike and cycle as hard as humanly
possible for a few miles, taking in a hill or two. Maybe I’d do this once a week
(cycling was my usual method of transport). Other times, mostly on a Sunday
morning, I’d cycle thirty or forty miles, without any water or money to buy food – just
get out and go. These are the sort of things you lose as you get older. I believe we
need to reintroduce them.
The less physically vibrant your life, the more uncomfortable occasional challenges
become – until you stop doing them entirely. That’s a sign that your physical
deterioration is taking hold. Fight it. Don’t accept it. Be bloody minded in refusing to
succumb. Your ability to run deteriorates before your ability to walk. Then your
ability to walk goes. Walking speed is an indicator of risk of functional decline and
mortality in older adults. This is a general way all physical abilities degrade – the
‘extremes’ go first, then the normal gets harder.
For mini challenges we should add in some sort of resistance work (especially
involving the legs), high heart rates, and a necessary aerobic component over and
above everyday activity. The hard aerobic work can be covered by five-mile fast
cycles, running a mile or two, ten minutes on the ergometer, swimming ten lengths of
the a pool, etc. We challenge our anaerobic and lactic/acidosis system by doing
relatively short, sharp, activities. For health (not sports) it should be applied in
minimum effective dose (MED) or more, i.e. every now and then.
- 300 high knees (running on the spot)
- Fast 5-mile cycle
- Climb a rock face
- Cycle downhill as fast as possible
- Sprint races on the beach
- 100 continuous air squats x 3
- 1000 press-ups in a day
- Learn to do a handstand
- Run a fast mile twice a week for 6 weeks
- 3 sets of 15 clap push-ups
- 20 tree branch chin-ups
Mini challenges are limited only by your imagination. They can also involve heat,
cold, some sort of physical or psychological tolerance test. They are mostly non-gym.
They vary in nature and intensity. There is no need to do them every day.
Mega Challenges (Lévy Flight & Prolonged Stress)
These are fun. Try to do one at least one a year.
Like a prolonged fast (say ten days plus) is good but may have some immediate
‘downsides’, i.e. some muscle degradation; prolonged exercise may have some acute
negative effects; muscle soreness, strains, systemic fatigue, inflammation, oxidative
damage and dehydration, but is good – as long as it is not too often. This is the idea of
occasional ‘destruction’, the one-off storm – the mass senolytic or autophagic process
of rubbish clearance. No doubt some damage is done to healthy cells but that will
result in new healthy growth. Coppicing rejuvenates the Hazel tree and keeps it
Apart from health, why would you choose to do a mega challenge?
1/ Because you can; 2/ To prove to yourself that you can; 3/ Self pride; 4/ Self
knowledge; 4/ Life enhancement; 5/ To experience the oceanic; 6/ A dedication to the
vastness and beauty of life; 7/ Because one day you’ll die.
New life comes from destroying the old one and recreating another. You cannot create
a new you without rejecting some part of the old you. As one door opens another
closes. All growth comes from destruction. Health comes via the process of
destroying, recycling, and creating something new – either a better version or in a
different form. The process of destruction and creation can be terrifying but it’s how
the universe created you. A mega challenge is the mirror of this destruction and
- Cycle 180+ miles
- 15-mile open water swim
- 10,000 push-ups in a day
- Walk 100 miles in 5 days
- Don’t sit up or lie down for 24 hours
- Climb a snow mountain
- Trek for a month in the Himalayas
- Learn to free dive
- Dig (turn over the topsoil) a one-hectare field
Again, there are a zillion mega-challenges you can do. There are mega-mega
challenges like sailing the world or running across the US. Do something, either on
your own or with others.
In the immortal words of Mahatma Ghandi, “choose life”- ok, he didn’t really say
that, but you know what I mean. A mega challenge is the celebration of life by
implementing a sort of physical death. Testing your limits.
Good luck, and thank you for reading