Why Don’t Wild Animals Get Fat?

by Darrin on October 28, 2010

When was the last time you saw an obese orangutan? Or a llama with love handles?

Wild animals are experts at keeping in damned good shape without ever forcing themselves to eat less and exercise more. How can they succeed at a chore that most of us find so difficult?

Lazy, Lazy Lions

Sleeping LionThe standard explanation is that all animals must work extremely hard to get food that is relatively low in calorie density.


Lions lounge for 20 hours a day, with a couple hours to walk around, hunt down dinner, and chow down to their heart’s content on high-calorie zebra meat.

Cue the Barry White Music…

In animals, increases or decreases in the availability of food don’t lead to weight gain or loss, they lead to more or fewer offspring.

In other words, when wild animals have easy access to food, they don’t get fat, they get freaky!

The lack of observed fluctuation in body composition of animals throughout periods of feast and famine suggest that, instead of trying to acquire as big of a caloric surplus as possible, they live in equilibrium with their environment, weathering times of both feast and famine with their health and fitness intact.

Chubby Walruses and Fat Cats

Fat CatYes, some animals, such as walruses, appear to us to be “fat.” But the extra adipose tissue they carry around allow them to thrive in their native environment, which happens to be very cold.

In addition, these so-called “fat” animals never exhibit problems with degenerative diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, which pop up whenever we humans become overweight.

The only time you ever see animals that are naturally lean become obese is when they are domesticated, tamed, or live nearby humans and eat what they throw away. (See: the fat cat phenomenon.)

Write This Down…

In their native environments, animals are naturally healthy and fit. Through times of both famine and plenty, they display a remarkable ability to stay at a healthy body composition without ever needing to consciously alter their eating or excercise habits.

The sheer willpower we humans are told to use to eat less and exercise more never comes into play in their case.

When animals get out of shape, it’s due to a change in the environment they have evolved to thrive in, NOT an inherent mechanism to accumulate as much of an energy surplus as possible.

Are Humans the Lone Exception?

And yet, so many people believe that humans are the one exception in the animal kingdom. That we are genetically programmed to be as lazy and gluttonous as possible, and the only way to get lean and fit is to fight nature at every turn for the rest of our lives, cutting calories and exercising like a maniac.

In the next installment on this series on willpower and fitness, I will show you how the conventional wisdom of a “thrifty gene” in humans is completely bogus. Stay tuned!


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