My favourite works of fiction, the pieces I return to again and again to escape from the stresses and the anxieties of mortgage payments, social media bombardment and noisy police sirens, are invariably the long and multi-volume tales of Epic Fantasy novels (usually lent or given to me by my father @calmgrove.) You know the general plotline – young protagonist gets plucked from obscurity to fulfil their destiny on a long quest of hardship across many and varied lands while meeting wise folk who support them in discovering their unique powers and challenging the entire balance of the (fictional) world they live in. (Apologies for that ridiculously long sentence there!)
I have realised recently that my love of these books have actually helped shape many of my health philosophies! This may seem odd – I am qualified in nutritional therapy after all – but, when you finish laughing (it’s ok, I don’t mind) please hear me out…
Our heroes (both female and male; and generally at least part human) do not acquire their powers without a significant amount of multi-terrain and multi-climate walking, climbing and riding; while carrying heavy packs, learning to wield swords or crossbows; bathing in icy lakes, sleeping on the ground, and spending many hours in direct sunlight without sunblock. Find me better ways to build muscle, stamina and immunity and I’ll eat my (wizards) hat! Air conditioned gyms have nothing on the training conditions on mountains, and in broiling deserts, swamps, forests and underground caves!
If you want to develop a strong, athletic physique with superhuman stamina worthy of taking any voyage of hardship across the varied landscapes of Tolkien‘s infamous Middle Earth, Croggon‘s utterly brilliant Pellinor or any other fantabulous worlds dreamed up by the likes of Le Guin, McKillip or Eddings then Katy Bowman of Nutritious Movement, Erwan Le Corre of MovNat, Wim Hof of the Wim Hof Method and Mark Sisson of marksdailyapple have all written eloquently and extensively on the benefits of all things outdoorsy-and-becoming-superhuman. I am a huge fan of all these health pioneers, albeit largely from the comfort of my sofa. And if I had to go on a legendary quest I would totally seek each of these wise teachers out for my training!
But my area of expertise is that of nutrition. What do our heroes eat on their extreme expeditions when they aren’t on an HGF (human-growth-factor) stimulating fast and missing out on both first and second breakfasts? They stop at good inns for herb-infused rich stews of meat and vegetables or bad inns for stews of collagen-rich gristly meat and vegetables – Paleo enthusiasts eat your (organic and pasture raised) hearts out! Kindly allies, from kings to farmers treat our weary travellers to (sourdough) bread with fresh salted butter and fragrant raw honey served with creamy raw goats milk. Artisanal produced beer and wine flows aplenty All the phytonutrient, probiotic and enzyme rich simple rustic fare you could wish for.
Every time our protagonists reach ports or fishing villages they get to top up their omega 3s with fresh grilled and salted fish stuffed with leafy herbs and citrus fruit slices; and at most other towns they fill their travelling packs with protein-rich dried meat, handfuls of (non GMO) grain and beans (for making soup on hastily assembled campfires obvs) and black bread (probably rye sourdough.) En route through woods they supplement with foraged nuts and berries or bring down small game to appease their hunger and requirements for essential A, D and K2 vitamins.
Even the desserts served in desert tents are super healthy – I think you can take it as read that the (seasonal) fruit will not have been heavily sprayed with glycophosphate or the sweetmeats fried in hydrogenated vegetable fats and drowned in high fructose corn syrups… Everything sings of fresh, organic, pesticide-free and un-processed fare; and I have yet to read of a quester packing tubs of protein shakes, cartons of low fat margarines, shrink-wrapped iceberg lettuces, tetra-packs of soya milk or blister packs of budget multivitamins? That would be weird right?
And do our travellers stress about the lack of wifi connection or bemoan missing their latest legal-thriller series while they sing ballads and tell of thousand year old prophesies by a crackling fire? Do they wish for fire-retardant sprayed armchairs, plastic kettles, mass produced artwork and laminate floors when they stay in stone castles filled with rough-hewn oak, hand-blown glass and crafted precious metals; finely illustrated books of leather and parchment; tapestry lined walls, scented linen sheets and fur rugs. Do we pity them their few-and-far-between hot baths filled with herbs, salts and essential oils when we daily lather up with the sulphate ridden contents of plastic bottles behind our nylon shower curtains; or feel relief that we have access to acrylic jumpers and lycra leggings over the made-to-measure sumptuous silks, supple leathers and rich velvets that are laid out for the adventurer before a feast of exquisitely roasted meats and vegetables? I am inclined to think not.
And I know that however much we sympathise with the hardships of that monumental rite-of passage-traveller – the long periods of training, trudging, starvation, fighting, despair, frustration, loneliness and near-death experiences – there are many of us that suspect that this epic-fantasy boot-camp lifestyle might just be worthwhile if those trials shaped us into lean, invincible, sword and magic wielding warriors who are destined to have many-versed musical sagas sung about us for all eternity.
I think there is a health and lifestyle book to be written here. Hell, I’d buy it! But, in the meantime I reckon that many health questions can be simplified into “would (insert your favourite Epic Fantasy Hero here) eat, do or have it?” Ask yourself next time you are unsure about your next diet, fitness or lifestyle purchase or decision and see if you come up with a better option. Let me know…
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