Lessons Learned From Naked and Afraid

David Soto Jr.

In the summer of 2016, I put my Vanlife on hold and stayed with an old Air Force buddy in Colorado Springs. We spent most of that summer drinking beer, fishing, and watching TV. The article below is a result of all that TV watching.


Not living on the road cut into my reading but I more than made up with it with plenty of time to watch TV. My time on the boob tube was limited to 5 channels, History Channel, National Geographic Channel, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, and TBS. (Hey how else am I going to get my Family Guy and Seinfeld reruns in?) Of all the shows on these channels, Naked and Afraid seems to be my fave. And, it’s not just because they don’t blur out the butts either. As a proponent of Ancestral Health, Naked and Afraid reinforces a lot of what I believe when it comes to my health and wellness.

A calorie restrictive diet is not the best option for weight loss.

I think it’s funny to say that I would go on Naked and Afraid just for the weight loss. 99% of the participants on this show lose weight during their 21-day challenge. Some lose a significant amount, sometimes up to 30 or 40 pounds. So how does this prove calorie restriction is not the best option? Well, it’s the “Before and After” pics at the end of the show. Have you seen them? They are not like the “Before and Afters” you see on you see on weight loss product websites or TV commercials, where the after picture is a super lean, muscular, “fit looking” person. The people on Naked and Afraid look rough.

“Wow, you lost 30 pounds! But why are you still fat?”

The thin people look emaciated, not fit. But we’re not talking about them. The people who had an excess of adipose tissue, or “chubby,” are the ones that prove my point. Do you know what a chubby person looks like after losing 20+ pounds in twenty-one days? They look chubby. Yeah, they are smaller but still chubby. Twenty-one days of nearly starving did not yield them six pack abs or any of the aesthetically pleasing features we all hope to gain when going on any weight loss or fitness program.

So here is the thing. We can use a lot of sciencey words like Gluconeogenesis and Autophagy. But let’s take a common sense look at this. Your body is designed to be efficient. It adapts to its environment so that it doesn’t waste energy.

An excellent example of this is people’s messed up toes. The foot adapts the environment it spends the most time in. For most people, that is in shoes. If you spend a lot of time in pointy-toed shoes, your body will make adjustments so that it’s no longer wasting energy resisting and conform to the shape of the shoe. Same goes for sitting, btw.

When your body’s environment is such that there is not sufficient food or energy, it adapts. Fat is energy. The fat around your hips and gut is stored energy. Stored energy does not require energy to maintain it; you see because it is energy. Do you know what does require energy? MUSCLE!

Because it’s so efficient, in a calorie restricted situation, your body will reduce the amount of lean muscle you have so that it requires less energy to maintain it.

When you see these before and after pics, the people look smaller but are still chubby versions of their previous self. They don’t necessarily look lean. The reason for this is because most of the weight that they lost was muscle.

Being physically fit is essential to your survival.

In the least, you should be able to walk to safety. Doing dumbbell curls with 50s makes for impressive biceps, but it’s utterly useless if you are so out of shape you can’t walk. A lot of people blow off walking because there is no walking in Crossfit but have you ever walked at a higher elevation? Uphill? Over lose gravel or rocks? It’s exhausting.

There are no sidewalks in the wild. So, if you are not in good overall shape these walks through the jungle or woods are going to quickly elevate your heart rate. Once your heart rate gets up there, you start to burn your glycogen (sugar). When your glycogen stores are empty, they will need to be replaced. But if you can’t find food, they will remain empty. So the next day when you go to gather wood or fortify your shelter, you won’t have the energy. If you were in better shape, your heart rate would not spike so high thus not using all your glycogen, saving some to gather food or water the next day.

Being a vegan is not natural for humans.

Blah blah, blah. I know there are all kinds of arguments for being a vegetarian or vegan. Oh, and there is that one guy who is old as dirt but doesn’t look it and credits being a vegetarian for his youthful appearance. Like everything else, there is an exception to the rule. In most cases, you can tell a vegan by their gray, wrinkled, saggy skin not by how young they look.

Anyway, I try to make decisions in my life based on what is the most natural. I judge what is natural by a couple of different factors. One is, would I thrive in a survival scenario with or without it? Stuff crust pizza, I could go without it. Ability to walk or run for miles upon miles would be pretty helpful. Water, that’s an important one. That being said, if you’re out in the wild, could you survive by without meat?

On almost every episode, the contestants complain of their lack of protein. They say how they crave it, how they can feel their body wanting protein. When they do finally get some meat, they immediately feel better. This doesn’t mean a vegetarian couldn’t survive out there, though.

Of all the episodes I saw (Up to 2016), there were only two vegetarians. One couldn’t take it and ate a piece of lizard or something before her 21 days were up. The other made it through a 21-day challenge and then a more extended 40-day one. OK, so the 21-day challenge. Congratulations! I’ll give her credit for sticking with it, but I don’t think she could have kept it up. Also in that episode, she harvested a frog for her partner to eat. To me, this proves that she could see that her partner wasn’t going to make it without meat. She saw first hand that a person could not survive without protein. It just wasn’t her in this case.

Ahh, you say. What about the 40-day challenge? She made it through that one. Agreed but the only reason she was able to be a vegetarian the entire time was that the others were not. If the others hadn’t of successfully harvest animals, she would have had to share what they had foraged, limiting the amount of her already restricted calories to even less.

I don’t think a person could forage enough to sustain themselves in the long term. In fact, in the history of the world, that’s a pretty long time, no one has.

Humility is a necessity of life.

I am pretty good identifying the signs of an insecure person having been at varying levels of insecurity myself for decades. One of them is the inability to say, “I don’t know.” People are afraid to admit they don’t know something because they are scared of how it will make them look. What they aren’t aware of is how bad they look when they say they know something that they obviously don’t.

Someone on the show really said, “Yeah, I know how to do (whatever), I just wanted to see how you do it.” You’ve heard this before, from children and lousy tv sitcoms. Can you believe that there are people in this world that do this? Let me tell you they are a pain in the ass to work with, and in a survival situation, it can be detrimental.

On the show, when the partners of these problematic people confront them, the response is surprising. Most of them admit to their poor behavior and turn things around. They start being of value. They gather firewood, find some food, or help fortify the shelter. The ones who don’t find the strength to admit they were wrong, end up making matters worse and usually tap out.

Again, I think a survival situation is the best way to gauge if something is necessary for humans. And in this survival situation the people who admitted that they didn’t know something, who knew when they were wrong or who asked for help not only survived but they thrived.

There is no such thing as picky eaters.

You’re just not hungry enough.

Being a proponent of the paleo diet, I come across all kinds of excuses as to why people don’t want to eat this way. One of the most popular is, “I’m a picky eater.” I hate this statement with a passion. A close second is, “I don’t like the taste of water.” People are so used to the garbage they eat that when they encounter actual food, they reject it.

I know people who don’t like the tastes of wild game, fish, or even grass-fed beef. These people would not survive in the wild much less the 21 days required to complete the show. Or would they?

It’s a rare thing to see people on the show turn their nose to something “gross.” In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen anybody refuse to eat something except the vegetarians.

You know why? Because they were hungry. HUNGRY! These people are eating worms for Christ’s sake. I am not a picky eater, but I am not about to run out to the garden and harvest and hand full of worms for dinner.

[2019 update: I have now seen one person refuse to eat. She got grossed out and got sick watching her partner eat stingray. I do believe that later she was able to get some down, when she got hungry enough.]

If you are starving, not only will you cease to be a picky eater, but the food will also taste delicious. If you are hungry enough, you will eat a wildebeest steak that was killed down by a mucky pond while taking a shit an hour ago, and the last thing you will say will be, “Meh, it’s a little gamy.”

People roll their eyes in orgasmic bliss upon their first bite of lizard, snake, or even skunk as if it came from their favorite barbecue joint. All without a grain of salt or pepper. [2019 update: I have seen one guy complain about something needing salt. He did it in two different episodes.]

David Soto Jr.

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David is a retired U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant who didn’t realize until reaching his forties that he was a writer. Books available at https://amzn.to/2Ye0yWd

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