It seems like I get into conversations about the number of calories that people burn through in survival situations on a fairly regular basis. The normal line of thinking is that since survival situations are active and stressful situations, you need to plan on eating at least twice as many calories per day than what you consume on a regular basis.
For the most part, this line of thinking comes from two places: Wilderness survival and high stress situations. Neither of these are necessarily applicable to urban survival situations and here’s why…
In most of the wilderness survival situations I’ve been in, I’ve had to work a lot. Building shelters, gathering wood, carrying and/or pumping water, gathering food or hunting, and hiking to improve the survivability of my situation. Sometimes I’ve been lucky and found places where everything was easy and I could relax some, but for the most part there’s a lot of work involved and caloric needs are higher.
Urban survival is different…especially for a prepper during a short term survival situation. You’ve got a shelter (home, vehicle, etc.), and you should have food, water, and fuel stored up to last you through short to medium term disasters.
Even if there’s violence in your area, the periods of time when you’re going to be in high intensity fighting will be separated by periods of relative calm.
In a longer term survival situation, you’re going to want to try to conserve your provisions as much as possible and try to find local food, water and fuel from sources that will get replenished. You might replenish these items from your own well, rain catchment system, or garden; you can trade skills or items for them; or (worst case) you can hunt and gather like you would in a wilderness situation.
There’s a good chance that you’ll be using SOME additional calories, but probably not 2-3 times as much. The reasoning for this is fairly simple…if you’ve got a desk job and don’t do physical labor for 8-12 hours a day now, the chances of flipping a switch and being able to suddenly do it in a survival situation is unlikely. More than likely, if you’re in this situation, you’ll be doing intense physical work in bursts rather than all day long. You’ll probably also gradually increase your activity level, which will improve the quality of your sleep, your use of calories while exercising, and overall health and your caloric needs will go up some, but you probably won’t need to eat as many additional calories as you think (more on this in a minute).
If you already workout regularly, do extended hikes or physical activity on the weekends, or do physical labor on a daily basis, then your body is used to a higher activity level and won’t be burning THAT many more calories.
The other factor here is that while it’s almost a given that intense work needs to be done in survival situations, when you’ve got an urban survival situation where there is a group of people involved, that intense physical work should be done by those most able to do it and not spread out among everyone. Not only will the intense work get done faster if only the most physical people do it, but it will free up others to accomplish tasks that aren’t as physically demanding.
What about stress?
A person under extreme stress can burn 3-4 times more calories per day than when they’re not under stress. There’s a logical line of thought that says if you currently burn 1,500 calories per day, you should plan on eating 4,500-6,000 calories per day in a stressful survival situation. When I first read this and realized that our food supply would only last ¼ as long as what I’d planned, I was very deflated. Fortunately, this isn’t quite accurate.
The confusion exists because of multiple uses for the word “stress.” In this case, the fact that a post disaster survival situation may be full of stressors doesn’t necessarily mean that they will cause a biological stress response in the body. Even if the stress of survival causes extreme biological stress, if you keep your stress level maxed out (burning 4000-6000 calories per day) you’re probably going to break down psychologically before you run out of food.
This is important. Actually it’s vital. I’ll try to cover it in as accurate but non-technical of a way as I can and encourage people to comment below with more technical explanations.
One of the indicators of when someone is under biological stress is that their adrenaline and cortisol levels go up. This causes blood sugar levels to rise, pulse rates and blood pressure to go up, capillaries in the hands and feet to get smaller, and the digestive, reproductive, and cell re-growth systems to slow down, and less melatonin production and release.
These are all good things for fighting and fleeing, but fighting and fleeing are temporary activities—not a continual state. In very simple terms, our bodies are designed to hunt, fight/kill/flee, eat, sleep, repeat. The key here is that the body is designed to operate at multiple stress levels—not always sleeping and eating and not always with adrenaline and cortisol levels maxed out. Intense activity & stress levels need to be balanced with intense rest in order to be sustainable.
If you keep your adrenaline and cortisol levels maxed out, it’s called chronic stress and it causes a few bad things happen, namely:
1. When adrenaline and cortisol levels are high, less (or no) melatonin is released and it’s harder to fall asleep and you don’t get as much regenerative sleep. This means that your mind doesn’t have time to work through the events of the day and your brain doesn’t have the time it needs to replace and regulate critical brain chemicals. This affects mood, reaction time, and your ability to make good decisions.
2. If you use adrenaline, cortisol, or other brain chemicals faster than your body produces them, you run out and crash.
3. Your digestive system isn’t as efficient at extracting nutrients from your food at the same time that your caloric needs are shooting through the roof.
4. Your memory gets worse.
5. Your ability to handle additional stress goes down.
6. Heart attacks, strokes, & aneurysms.
(Chronic stress also causes heart disease, cancer, and problems with other internal systems, but in a survival situation the above consequences may have terminal consequences in a matter of seconds, minutes, or days while heart disease and cancer are longer term issues.)
What’s all of this mean? It means that you shouldn’t expect to be able to operate with the maxed out adrenaline and cortisol levels that would necessitate a 4,000-6,000 calorie diet caused by stress for an extended period of time. If for no other reason, you’ve got to get your stress level down on a regular basis so that you can properly digest food, get regenerative sleep, heal, and grow healthy new tissue.
It also means that it’s critical that you become proficient at only putting your body into a maxed out adrenaline and cortisol state when you’re currently in a fight or flight situation. Any time other than that, you will need to use prayer, goals, exercise, laughter, sleep, positive mental attitude and any other tools you’ve got to keep the stressful situations around you from causing an excessive stress response in your body.
One way that you can become proficient at controlling your stress levels is to simply develop the discipline of categorizing stressors in your life by whether or not you can control them. Once you’ve done this, you simply have to forget about the stressors that you don’t have any control over. Then, develop and execute a plan of action for the stressors that you do have control over.
Earlier I said that physical activity might cause you to burn additional calories but that you won’t necessarily have to eat more. Here’s why—a pound of fat has approximately 3,500 calories. In 2007, Gallup reported that the average American is 17 pounds more than ideal. In 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported it as 23 pounds. You should be able to ballpark if you have weight you could lose, and if so, how much. If you burn 500 extra calories per day, which is ½-1 hour of intense work/exercise, 17 pounds of fat will last you almost 4 months and 23 pounds will last more than 5 months.
As an aside, you may be asking why I picked 500 calories per day rather than 1,000 or 2,000 calories? Because your body has a defense mechanism that kicks in when you burn between 500 and 1,000 fat calories per day. In short, the body panics, thinks that you’re starving, and tries to replace the fat. There are ways to trick this system, but they’re beyond the scope of this article.
So, what’s the point of this article?
There are actually two groups of people I am writing to. The first group is those people who are discouraged because of how much food it takes to feed a family in a survival situation when you take the increased caloric needs from work and stress into account. If you’re part of this group, I want to encourage you to start putting away food, regardless of how long you think it might last.
In short, aim for having as much food on hand as you can without losing food to spoilage. If you get 6 months of food put away and an EMP hits the next day and you burn through it in a month, that’s a month you wouldn’t have had if you hadn’t stored food. If you put away what you think is 2 months of food, assuming increased caloric needs, and your diet stays the same then you’ll end up with bonus food. Either way, you’re better off taking action.
The other group that I’m writing to is preppers in general. I’m not sure if you caught the full importance of this article or not, but your ability to handle stress effectively and your ability to help others in your group handle stress can double or triple the length of time that you can survive with a given amount of food. That means less money spent on food, less space required for storing food, and less of a load if you have to relocate. This is truly a survival force multiplier and I want to encourage you to consciously develop this skill/discipline every chance you get.
Was the Japanese Earthquake Predicted…and the next major earthquake too?
Yes, no, and maybe. There was a warning from Russian scientists saying that there would be massive earthquakes within a 14 day window in early March, but the expectation was that it would happen along the New Madrid fault line. The reason for the prediction is very interesting…
There’s a comet (some think a dwarf star) called Elenin that is going through our galaxy this year. Incidentally the last 3 times that Elenin, the sun, and the Earth lined up, we had major earthquakes—Chile, New Zeland, and Japan. It’s looking like they’ll line up again around September 25th.
People are going absolutely nuts about this. Speculation ranges from claims that the Earth will cease to support life in September to speculation that Elenin doesn’t even exist, and everything in between.
What do I think? I think that Elenin is something that I don’t have any control over, so I’m not going to worry about it. That’s not a flippant answer, and it’s a little more involved than it may sound on the surface.
We’re good with God, so if it is an extinction level event, we’re set. Since our preparedness plan is based on the fundamentals of survival, preparedness, and self reliance and not on panicing about the current “hip” disaster scenario, we’re ready.
We’re going to make daily progress in our preparations between now and then, embrace life, and be at peace as September rolls around. If there are major disruptions in the grid and the supply chain, we’re ready. If it’s a non-event other than some beautiful nights of star gazing, we’re ready for that too.
I will make one caveat. We are tossing around the idea of being away from major fault lines during that time. I am not sold on the need to do this right now, but we will be evaluating news about Elenin with that possibility in mind.
There are two things that I do see happening as we get closer to September 25th. First, if this gets any major media exposure I predict that there will be a run on preparedness items by the masses…so get yours earlier rather than later. Second, as this gets more and more exposure and people start talking about the possibilities, it’s going to help you identify others who are actively prepping and identify those who are newbie preppers who you might decide you want to mentor.
This week we had another reminder of how important it is to not depend solely on internet communication. On Wednesday, I sent out an email telling you about how to set up a hydroponic gardening system for growing your own food in a survival situation. The email company that we use is one of the most dependable in the industry…but they had a glitch that kept literally thousands of you from getting to see the information when you clicked on the link. If you missed it, please go to http://www.lamplightersociety.org/hydroponic-garden/ I started doing hydroponic gardening almost a decade ago and it’s amazingly powerful. Tom’s got some great information that will save you from making MANY of the mistakes that I have.
What are your thoughts on increased caloric needs, managing stress, Elenin, and hydroponics? Share your ideas by commenting below.
Until next week, God bless and stay safe!