Why Do We Eat?

 Yesterday I had nothing to eat for dinner. I left home after lunch to go to work and only when I was far enough to not be able to return, I realized that I forgot to bring my food. As I wouldn’t be home before 22:30 I decided to skip dinner. When I woke up today I decided to not eat until midday to complete a 24 hour fast. Well, it turned out to be 22 hours, because I had to little concentration working. However, there did arise a fundamental question in me. Why do we eat?

Food Culture

In the Netherlands it’s common to eat bread for breakfast, a warm meal for lunch or dinner, and the other meal bread again. In Spain it’s common to eat a light breakfast accompanied by coffee, or sometimes a small glass of beer, lunch will be extensive, and only around 22:00 a light dinner is served. In Italy breakfast is usually a cup of coffee and a sweet pastry and in Brazil breakfast isn’t much either. Everything revolves around the lunch. In Indonesia it’s not uncommon to eat fried rice for breakfast, and for lunch, and for dinner – honestly though, I don’t remember exactly, that was what I preferred at least.

nasi

My point being, that in none of all these countries I visited anybody was eating their food because otherwise the decision to not eat, would be the last one they ever made. It seems to me that eating is more a behavioral pattern than an outright necessity in most of the cases.

Not only habitual factors play a role, but also social factors. When you would otherwise not have eaten, you are going to eat something because your friend asked you to.

From this perspective it makes a lot of sense what I mentioned in my previous blog about your ultimate personal diet guide, that the best way of eating is the one that you can adhere to. As you know now, diet is a behavioral pattern, where eating only is the final step.

So now that we have established that perhaps we mostly eat because it’s time to eat, what do we actually need?

Not Eating

In an article on the Scientific American about not eating there is substantial evidence for people to be able to survive 40 days of starvation, however this all depends with how much muscles or excess body fat you start losing weight. Mahatma Gandhi went on a hunger strike of 21 days when he was already a skinny man, and above 70 years of age. By the same token, there is a remarkable story of a Scotsman named Angus Barbieri that fasted for 382 days. He started when he was carrying around 209kg (!) of bodyweight though, he finally stopped his fast when he weighed 86kg.

Then in Autobiography of a Yogi, a book written by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1946, aimed to enlighten the west with the science of Yoga. In there he provides anecdotal evidence of a yogi that doesn’t eat at all through applying a certain yoga technique, she proved her ability various times by staying in closed quarters and observation for up to 30 days. Nowadays, equally there are people that claim to be living on little to no food as well.

When food is broken down it gets converted into ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), this is essential for cells and our body to function. However, theoretically there seems to be a way to generate ATP without food.

This might make all your bs-sensors to go on red-alert. As this is entirely understandable, to me it shows that as soon as you stop looking at food as something that is preventing you from dying, there is an opportunity to look for different ways to live.

My Fast

As I went into my spontaneous fast of only 22 hours, I quickly realized that my mind started playing tricks on me. What? You are not going to give yourself food? What if you are hungry when you sleep? What if you can’t do it? My mind did what it is good at, trying to stay comfortable.

I ate at midday, and went to bed without feeling hungry. When I was in bed I felt a little hungry, but totally manageable. After falling asleep, I only managed to get around 6 hours of sleep in. When I woke up however, I was more awake than usual. I felt light, and during my morning routine I noticed how little stiffness I experienced as opposed to other days. Later on, I started working on my computer and felt my concentration being slightly reduced. Overtime this increased, together with slight dizziness. After eating I went for a 4km walk which felt very light to begin with, but was quite hard at the end.

unhappy-plate

These are all normal symptoms, and you should take them into consideration before you start a fast. For more information on fasting do your research well, here is an article about the fasting mimicking diet, which might be more accessible for most people. This diet makes your body believe you are fasting, while you are still eating something.

The Science Behind not Eating

Fasting has been shown to reverse age related declines in stem-cell function, by stimulating it’s regenerative capacity. Then, a fasting-like diet, that means eating so little your body perceives it as fasting, combined with chemo-therapy was 50% more effective than chemo-therapy alone. By the same token, fasting 72 hours before chemotherapy reduced the toxicity of the treatment. In a small observational study they found that three man were able to reverse type 2 diabetes by fasting 24 hours every other day.

I believe it’s important to realize through which lens you are viewing the act of eating. Are you comparing it to deeply wired cultural beliefs, all the bogus being thrown at you by the media and social media, or by what your friends think? Probably all play their role in how you eat. Nevertheless, eating is essential to survive, but how much, to what ends, when, how often, and what can totally differ.

It’s important to realize through which lens you are viewing the act of eating.

The Body as a System of Balance

I see the body as a system of balance where there is a lot more going on than food or calories in, and exercise or calories out. Sleep, water intake, stress, beliefs, the people with whom you eat, and the way you cook all play their role. At the same time, when you eat your body needs to digest and has no (less) time to take care of regenerative processes, like regenerating damage related to aging or cleaning up cancerous cells.

The bottom line is, that we usually eat because it’s time to eat. If we eat because of what we need, a totally different equation evolves.

Underneath a video by Wim “The Iceman” Hof, explaining why he eats only one time a day. If he eats at the same time every day, he fasts for 24 hours, always.

The Ultimate Guide to Your Personal Diet

On your quest for your best diet you will encounter low carb, high protein, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, keto, nutritional balancing, high fat, eggs, no eggs, and alcohol; yes or no? Then, to eat healthy, should you avoid night shade vegetables, dairy, gluten, and red meat? And what about the heavy metals in salmon and tuna; good, or not? If there is one area where there is a lot of contradictory information available, it’s in the field of dieting and nutrition. The everlasting search for the optimal diet seems to take you from left to right and back again. However, let me give you the best tip regarding the ultimate diet right now: the best diet doesn’t exist.

Yes, you heard that right, the optimal diet doesn’t exist. This means that there is no one best diet for everybody. However, there is an optimal diet for you. The question is however, how do you figure this out?

This blog is based on what I have learned from over ten years of personal research. This started for me as a teenager trying to reduce fat and increase muscle mass. This led me down the path of defining everything by its protein contents, at the same time only focusing on muscle and fat. Nowadays, I aim to feel good all throughout the day, perform well both cognitively and physically, and look for sustainable ways to live. Interestingly, barely anything that I believed at the start has made it to my current lifestyle. Nevertheless, over time I have come to understand quite well what works for me. In this light, I hope I can shed some light on the direction you could take in figuring out your optimal personal diet.

The Garbage That Nobody Should Eat

Before I continue providing information on how to figure out your personal diet, there are a couple of things that every single person should avoid. This might be the moment you tell me: “I have a friend that can eat anything he wants, it doesn’t do anything to him.” Well, in reality, he is not. The fact that you don’t see it, and he doesn’t feel it, doesn’t mean there are no detrimental effects.

Processed food of any kind, fried, packaged, ready-to-microwave is not food. These are products. As a rule of thumb, everything you are not buying the way it came out of the ground or of the animal, is not food. It’s best to avoid these foods all together, but depending on your situation there could be a place for pasta, chocolate, or fries. Every now and then.

burger

Then what about sugar? No, fruits do not equal processed sugar. When you eat fruit you eat unprocessed sugar together with fiber, which gets digested the way it should be. However, processed sugar of any kind, in your coffee, in cake, cookies, or ice cream, is all far from being processed by your body in a nice way. What happens exactly is beyond the scope of this blog, but more about that here.

Processed foods and processed sugar often come together. A good rule of thumb on processed foods; anything with more than 4 ingredients, put it back. Anything with ingredients you don’t know, leave it be.

If you have cut the above out of your diet, you have made the biggest health gain already. Now, you are eating a diet based on whole foods. What follows, is just some tweaking to reach the full potential of your diet.

How Do You Decide What is Best for You?

The best diet for you is the diet that you can adhere to. It has been proven time and time again that it is not the diet itself that makes people lose weight. What is more important, is if somebody can adhere to his or her diet choice over a longer period. The only result you get from switching between diets is nothing. This also holds true for the people that are trying to gain weight. Therefore, it is all the more important to choose the form of eating that allows you to eat consequently as healthy as possible.

The next important factor to maintaining your optimal diet is, that of all the information coming your way, you should know its context. Where is the information coming from? Is it scientific research, your friend that read something, or is it your nutritionist giving you advise? In all cases, again, context. Who did the scientific research, how was it done, how many people participated? Where did your friend read about nutrition, is he or she able to tell you the full picture? And your nutritionist, what education did he or she have, and what are his or her personal beliefs and experiences?

The Life Your Food Had

Another thing that I believe to be very important is how your food was treated before it ended up on your plate. This could be the way the animal lived before it was slaughtered, but also from what source your fresh produce comes. The antibiotics that are put into the bodies of animals, the stress they experience living in closed environments, will all end up in that piece of meat on your plate. This also holds true for fruits and vegetables, that more often than not are covered in pesticides and could be imported from across the globe.

I believe it best to eat foods that grew as close to your home as possible and as little processed as possible.

cows
Disputed Foods

So far I have mentioned the foods you should definitely not eat. However, there are a lot of foods that are heavily disputed. This became beautifully clear in a recent debate between Dr. Joel Kahn, a vegan heat doctor, and Chris Kresser, specialist in functional medicine, on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. Both Doctors are well read scientists but have opposing opinions based on scientific research.

The first one of the three disputed foods I will cover is alcohol. Alcohol, usually spoken about in the form of wine, is it good or not? As I mentioned in an earlier blog on the people that live the longest on earth, there is reason to believe that a glass or two of wine per day will do little damage. However, alcohol does disrupt sleep quality and is potentially very destructive if you are out of balance already.

Second, is meat consumption. Is meat consumption bad, or good? I think in this case it’s important to know, processed meat is carcinogenic, that means it’s just as bad as smoking. So leave the hot dogs, shoarma, and sausages be. If you have access to organic meat though, from as humanely possible raised animals, you should be fine. As long as you eat in moderation.

The third and final food I will get into is dairy. Again, just like meat I think it’s important to consider how did the animal live, where did it live, and to what extent was the dairy processed before it enters your body. It’s also important to consider that a giant percentage of the population is intolerant to dairy. In Eastern Asia 90-100% are intolerant, and in Africa 70-90%. In North Eastern Europe people seem to have less trouble with lactose. There, up to 73.7% of the people have the LCT gene that makes you tolerant to lactose.

milk
Dynamic Diet

I think that it’s important to realize that diet is a dynamic phenomenon. Your dietary requirements change over time as a consequence of aging and other lifestyle factors. The clue above all is therefore, to test things yourself. What works for you? To test foods optimally you should adhere to a change for 30 days to get at least some meaningful feedback from your body.

If you want to make a process like this easier, you could use either food trackers like myfitnesspal or Cronometer. You could also use the scale to see if you are gaining or losing weight, or use a centimeter to measure your waist. If you are not sure how certain foods make you feel, a diary might be a better solution. You could create scales from one to ten for your mood, level of bloating, or sleepiness, and track this for 30 days. After you’ll be able to correlate what you eat with how you feel pretty well.

More Important Than Diet

If it comes to what the most important building blocks are of your health, diet is among the most important. However, there are two things that are definitely more powerful, one of which is a good night sleep. A good 8 hours per sleep per night all by itself can help you lose weight, increase your focus, and make you a smarter human being.

Second thing is fasting. Call it intermittent fasting, time-restricted eating, or just not eating for a prolonged period of time. This simple act has amazing benefits. A daily fast between 12-16 hours will help you stay lean and regulate blood sugar. A prolonged fast a couple of times a year, raging from 24 hours to three days for example, helps your body repair old damage and increases the excretion of stem cells. These cells can form into any other cell and are therefore very valuable in regenerative processes.

Take Home Messages

To close this all down, here are the take home messages:

  1. Eliminate processed foods and processed sugar from your diet
  2. Try different things to figure out what’s best for you. Use diet trackers, diaries, and other measurements to generate objective findings
  3. If your body is out of balance, it could be useful to eliminate possible allergens like gluten, lactose, or night shade vegetables. That could be reintroduced later on.
  4. Generate an eating style that fits both your lifestyle and schedule
  5. Do not eat for 12-16 hours a day
  6. Sleep 8 hours a night
  7. Realizing step 1-6 above you already reached 80-90% of your diets potential
  8. Only after you managed to do the above, you can think about optimizing your diet to reach specific goals

This post was in response to a request of a client of mine. I hope it was useful to help you find a direction in discovering what your optimal diet looks like.

How Your Perception of Time is Limiting You and How To Change It

It’s new to me, how much politics is influencing my thinking the previous weeks. These Brazilian elections have provoked me to research more than I ever did for Dutch elections. I have been trying to understand on a more fundamental level how, from my perspective, a destructive force is helped into power by the public. In an earlier blog I explored why long term solutions in politics are unattractive, but also how our perceived discomfort in certain situations forces us in the direction of short term solutions. Politicians are well aware of this discomfort and capitalize on this to gain popularity. However, not only in politics, but also in healthcare, business, and our private lives is this a relevant topic. I realized that a common provoker of this discomfort is an inadequate perception of time.

Our perception of time is on the one side bench-marked to the world around us, how is time culturally perceived, what is early, what is late, and where is the future and where is the past (more on that below). Secondly, I personally belief the most relevant aspect of time perception; the speed of our thoughts and emotions and the intensity with which we experience them.

Cultural Perception of Time

The first one, our cultural perception of time, has one common denominator across all cultures. Every culture uses a time-in-space metaphor. this means that all over the world people describe time related to space. However, it depends on where you live, which space-metaphor is used. In western society the future is in front of us and the past behind us. In Ayrana (native people from the Andes), the passed is in front (that what can be seen) and the future behind. The Yupno people from Papua New Guinea and the Tzeltal from Mexico think of the passed as being down hill, and the future uphill.

Culture also largely defines how you behave related to time. Where in Germany and Switzerland on time, means arriving exactly at the agreed time, because they see compartmentalization as the surest route to efficiency. In the Netherlands you can be a couple of minutes later and still be on time, nevertheless the Dutch otherwise relate to time in a similar way as Germans and the Swiss. In Brazil I have come to understand time as it’s 9 o’clock until it’s 10 o’clock. Even more “creative” with the clock they are in Colombia. I was recently told by two Colombians that agreeing to meet at 2 o’clock is okay, showing up at that time is foolish. Don’t come before 4.

colombian-street

Another significant difference, is if time is perceived as linear or cyclical. In my very first post on this blog I proposed a different perspective to time, and I explained my adoption of a more cyclical view. In western society this is novel, because time is generally perceived as progressing linearly. In eastern cultures though, the Japanese and the Chinese have always perceived time as progressing cyclical.

Subjective Perception of Time

Second then, the speed of our thoughts and emotions play a significant role as well. As our perception of time on the one hand is influenced by our external environment (culture, society), it is also subject to our internal environment. Are you feeling good or bad, are you doing something you like, or something you hate. The way you experience time in these cases can be totally different. That boring school assignment seems to take ages, where watching an exciting movie can pass by in seconds. Then again, once we are in severe pain it seems like time lasts forever.

alexander-michl-724529-unsplash

Now that we are familiar with what influences our perception of time, the moment is right to become familiar with how long things objectively take. I believe this to be of essential importance because we usually adhere to our perception of time, forgetting that there is actually a lot known about the objective duration of things.

Objective Times

Underneath is a list of objective times as I have come to understand them from literature on history and medicine plus my own experience:

objective-times

When you read this list, it is important to consider that thoughts and emotions are the only things on there, that are not in someway or another limited by time and space. At the same time they are the portal through which we experience everything else.

I believe that most discomfort and hardship that we experience comes from two things. First, to be unaware of, or failing to accept how we are objectively progressing in time. This could be failing to comprehend the time that is needed for a political situation to change or a fractured bone to heal.

Cause and Effect Can Be Hard to Connect

Second, very often cause and effect are not closely related in time and space. The burger you started eating weekly at age 25 might be the initiation of the behavior that led to your diabetes at age 45. Similarly when I start eating beans instead of beef I instantly reduce my carbon footprint. This might help turn around climate change in 15 years, saving thousands of lives of people living on islands that would have run under water otherwise. It is hard to see these connections, if not impossible. However, if you accept the possibility, there is a lot in life that you can influence from this moment on.

beans

When you accept the possibility that your actions can have consequences that you have no way to experience or connect with each other – that leaves you with the challenge to accept that as long as you live on earth there are certain time frames you cannot evade. I often try to raise awareness to this fact with my clients. The mind jumps from past to future, and back again within seconds. However, our body acts more like a plant, and adheres to a slower and gradual time frame.

Where the objective time frame of the body, often with the support of a skilled healthcare practitioner, can be understood and experienced first hand, changes in environment, culture and politics are harder to experience objectively. As things go, they do not hurt us directly like a bone fracture does, and there are less people taking the time to explain this phenomena in full. Also because the systems underlying these changes are often very complex and hard to understand.

Nevertheless, in our private lives, in politics, in your business or regarding your personal health, there is a very simple thing you can do to deal with all the discomfort from the tension between how you experience time, and the time it takes for things to happen. Read all about that in the second part of this blog on SMART goals here.

Why You Should Sleep Well Every Night

AMAZING BREAKTHROUGH!

Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?

Matthew Walker. Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams

We tend to know more about things that aren’t part of our body than the things that are. Hammers, cars, politics and economics are usually better understood than what is going on inside of us. Interestingly, there is little education and mainstream information available on the thing that every single human (hopefully) spends one third of their life on. I am wondering therefore, how much do you know about sleep?

Before I started reading Matthew Walkers´ best-seller Why We Sleep, I knew that it was important to sleep between 7.5 to 8.5 hours a night. I knew that screens from laptops, telephones, and tablets radiated blue light that mingles with your circadian rhythm (wakefulness rhythm). This is a natural part of our life that is influenced by sunlight but doesn’t depend on it. Also, I had recently come to believe that “night-owls” (late sleepers) didn’t exist. They were just people that ignored their sleep impulse earlier in the evening.

Before I bought the book I was trying to optimize my sleep for a while already. I keep my phone away at night, and I engage in little demanding activities. Preferably I eat early so that I don’t go to bed on the verge of explosion and I aim to go to bed at the same time to stay in my rhythm. Let’s see what remained of that after reading Why We Sleep?

Waking Up in the Morning

To figure that out, let’s go through a day of sleep. Are you with me? 06:00 BEEP – BEEP – BEEP. Wake up, you get out of bed after falling asleep at 23:00. Did you sleep enough? Regardless of how you feel, you didn’t. Every human being needs around 8 hours of sleep each night. After a couple of days sleeping 7 hours, only one hour less, you perform like you didn’t sleep an entire night. How crazy is that.

When you come into the kitchen you pore yourself a cup of coffee – why? Because you like it, or because you can’t wake up otherwise? If it’s the latter, you are sleeping too little. Coffee increases your wakefulness, but it doesn’t decrease your sleepiness. It also stays in your system for a long time and modifies your sleep quality, unless you are a genetic outlaw. Which you are probably not.

Time to get into the car to work. Hopefully you are awake now, because there are more car accidents happening in the U.S. as a consequence of drowsy driving, than of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs together.

Sleep is Your Solution

When you fall into your desk chair, and you login to you computer your brain starts to make weird noises. Still this issue you can’t find a solution to. Why haven’t you found a solution? First question that should follow after: did I sleep enough?

dreamcatchers

During our REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, or our dream sleep, our brain becomes highly active. It starts reorganizing, activating, and connecting neurons. New knowledge gets transferred from your short-term memory to your long-term memory and your brain integrates this new knowledge with what already was. If you sleep well, this sleep feature greatly increases your creativity and the probability that you solve that issue at work.

For lunch you eat a big sandwich and talk to some colleagues. After you feel sleepy. You always eat to much for lunch. That could be, however you are also experiencing a natural dip in wakefulness under influence of your circadian rhythm. The best thing to do right now is to lie down and do a nap. Humans are biphasic sleepers (two times per day) even though this is not recognized in today’s (western) society. From now on you never have to feel guilty again for napping during the (preferably early) afternoon.

Let’s say you did nap, and you return to your computer. All of a sudden you find the solution to that everlasting problem. I told you sleep would help you..

Getting Ready to Sleep

When you arrive home in the evening you crash into the couch and get out your phone. Finally time to binge on social media and check what your friends are up to. Don’t do that too long because the bluelight coming out there reduces your sleep quality. At the very least install Twilight on your Android and F.lux on your computer to filter this light out, if you must use them at all. Better read a book, or talk to the person(s) you live with.

If you did that well you will get sleepy. During the day the hormone adenosine has been accumulating in your brain, creating an ever bigger sleep pressure. At the same time your wakefulness has been reducing. Depending on what type of person you are, the rhythm in which this happens is different. If you are an early sleeper this would be around 21:30, when you are a late-sleeper around midnight, and if you are in between around 22:30.

Sleep-model

School Times

Interestingly, children around 15-16 years old usually get sleepy later than their parents. A significant amount of time that should be honored according to Matthew Walker, also a UC-Berkely Professor. Early school times have disastrous effects on the development of the brains of our children. Later starting times have been shown to result in an increase of SAT score of 200 on average. Finally I understand, why I would fall asleep every single time I sat down in the bus to high school.

You made it to bed. As soon as you really fall asleep your sleep pressure is going down and your brain starts doing some valuable maintenance. It cuts away what is not being used, it clears out plaque that might turn in to dementia later on and it processes emotional experiences.

The Power of Sleep

Emerging from this research renaissance is an unequivocal message: sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day—Mother Nature’s best effort yet at contra-death.

Matthew Walker. Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams

Why We Sleep has immensely increased my believe in the value of sleep, and how it all by itself can counter a lot of the issues thatmost of us encounter in our everyday life. Be it from feeling depressed, to diabetes to our performance on the soccer field. Sleep is the basis for everything to thrive upon. The single most important thing you can do according to the book is go to sleep at the same time and get up at the same time. Also during the weekends.

Oh and yes, read the book yourself. If you are going to read one book on health this year, or in your entire lifetime, read this one. Otherwise as well.

Getting Sick? 3 Ways To Know, and 3 Ways to Fix It

One moment or another, all of us get sick. How you deal with it, depends on where you are from, how you were raised, and what medical knowledge is available in your environment. Sometimes it is useful to consult a healthcare professional. However, in most cases you can easily figure out what is going on by yourself.

This does not mean you will be able to diagnose yourself, but it will enable you to make better decisions. A diagnose is the nature of your illness identified through the symptoms you suffer from, and it is actually not necessary for a successful treatment. As things go, the symptoms are not the reason you are getting sick or injured, that is usually something else.

Underneath you will find three tips to consider when you feel off, and three ways to deal with it. Hopefully this will support you to make better decisions in painful and uncomfortable situations.

1. Elevated Heart Rate

A lot of people nowadays use heart rate monitors to track their fitness. This way you can get a better idea with which intensity you should train and how quickly your heart recovers. But not only can you use it to track your fitness, you can also track your rest. This way you will get a better idea when you are getting sick or when you are over-training.

restingheartrate
Monitoring resting heart rate

Before you are getting sick your resting heart rate might be off already. You can measure this right after you wake up in the morning. If you are wearing any form of heart rate monitor, you can check the designated screen, otherwise you have to do a timed count (count your heartbeat for 15 seconds and multiply this number by 4). This method is less reliable though. After a week or two you will have a solid idea of what your resting heart rate is.

Then, when you notice that your heartbeat is around 5 beats less or more than normal, you know something is going on.

2. Weird Gut Feeling

Feeling full in moments you didn’t eat a lot, you can’t really say whether you are full, or when you have an out of the ordinary appetite might indicate there is something going on under the hood. The gut does not have the capacity to tell you what is going on in words, but it can communicate with feelings.

Around 80% of our immune system is situated in the gut. When you get these uncommon sensations might indicate you need to take it easy for a day or two. Your immune system might be busy fighting off some bacteria. Important to consider is that stress has a significant impact on gut function as well.

3. Consider the Past

A little while ago I arrived at the home of a client of mine. He told me that since two days his shoulder had started to hurt a lot. There were some plates and screws in there to help heal a recent fracture. He believed these were now the cause of his problems even though the 5 months before they weren’t. I found this weird and started to ask what he did yesterday; nothing. The day before; nothing. Really, you didn’t do anything out of the ordinary? Aaah yes, he had helped a family member in the garden.

How easy we forget what we did yesterday or the day before. Blinded by our pain and discomfort we start assuming and diminish important parts of information. However, your feeling sick or pain is always a consequence of what went on before.

Before might be yesterday, it might also be half a year ago when you took antibiotics, and it might mean that car accident you had as a child. It doesn’t matter if it is physical or mental, both can have an equal impact on how you feel today. Therefore, the stress from the previous weeks is just as relevant as a childhood trauma, and your strenuous work-out yesterday just as relevant as the moment you fell off your bike 2 years ago.

Here are three tips to help you deal with the above.

1. Rest

This tip couldn’t be more cliche, still it is often overlooked in any health issue. If you sleep too little your immune system weakens, your concentration is reduced, and the body has a diminished capacity to deal with stress. However, when you sleep between 7.5 and 8.5 hours the chances that small issues will become big ones decreases. Your body will have sufficient time to repair daily damage and recover from hard work. If you maintain a regular sleep rhythm (go to bed the same time, and get up at the same time) your body will quickly go in to god-mode. If your body would be a personality by itself, it would be that person that never wants to do something new, and always does things at the same time. It loves rhythm.

2. Kill-the-Cold-Cocktail

gingertea
Ginger tea with lemon. Add chili flakes, honey, cinnamon and curcumin and you are ready to take down any cold

The first response of the immune system to damage of whatever sort, be it a virus, a bacteria, or a fall on your knee, is inflammation. The amount of anti-inflammatory drugs prescribed feeds the assumption that inflammation is bad. It is not, without it there would be no healing possible.

However, it might be useful to support your body kill that common cold or bacteria that is undermining your gut. A well set cup of tea might be a good way to go.

Throw two liters of water with a thumb of ginger, some chili flakes, and cinnamon (stick) in a pan and make tea out of it. Add some honey, lime or lemon, and curcumin when you fill your cup, and you have your natural inflammation killer.

 

3. Respond To The Why

To respond to what makes you sick means dealing with the symptoms. Oftentimes this means taking a pill or two. However, when you respond to the why, your way of dealing with disease or injury will be entirely different.

What makes you sick is a headache, but why you have a headache, is because you drank too little. What injured you, might be a soccer opponent, but why you are injured might be because your core musculature is weak.

If you manage to consider your past, as I mentioned before, you can figure out why you are sick. As a consequence you will understand your problem better, which allows you to make the right decision with more confidence.

Usual why’s to consider in any problem are; reduced water intake, lack of fresh air, too little sleep, bad nutrition, lack of, or too much movement, and distress. If you manage to keep these five parts of your life in check you will steer clear of plenty issues.

How To Tweak Your Environment To Live Longer and Healthier

The critical information derived from studying the Blue Zones is that not one of the people living in these places was actively trying to get old. It is their environment that provokes a lifestyle that has amazing longevity as a consequence. However, you, me and the rest of the 99.9% of the world population, do not live there.

According to statistics published by the United Nations in 2015, 54% of the world population lives in an urban environment. In more developed regions this is actually 78.3%. This means that your habitat most likely consists of concrete, noise, pollution, and hopefully a park a couple of blocks away.

At the same time, the current state of affairs about health revolve around signing up for

rowingmachine
90% of the people have quit 3 years after joining a gym

a gym membership and starting a new diet. According to health trends, that is what a healthy lifestyle consists of. Nevertheless, none of these work in the long term. In the United States 90% of the people starting a diet will have quit after 7 months tops. Similarly, of all the people that signed up for a gym membership, 90% quit within three years.

Interestingly we tend to look for a solution with the same means that we have created the problem initially. First, we construct buildings, chairs, and cubicles to sit in. Then, when problems occur, we solve them not by getting rid of the chairs and buildings, but by designating another building to move the body.

Another example of this phenomenon is the rise in traffic. Every year there are cheaper cars available. Therefore, an increasing amount of people buy one. Between the years 2000 and 2014 almost 55 million cars were sold worldwide. Then in 2017 alone, 79 million cars were sold worldwide. Consequently, the roads are ever fuller with more people stuck in traffic. The solution for this problem? Build more roads.

Both in the case of going to the gym to solve the sedentary lifestyle, and the problems occurring from increased car possession, there is nobody questioning the presence of buildings, cubicles, chairs, and cars by itself. We are so far down the rabbit hole that our biases, the entangled economic interests, and governmental policies keep us there.

I believe that roads are not the solution for our traffic issues, just like gym memberships are not a fix for our sedentary lifestyle.

Now we know that we cannot necessarily trust our urban, work, and home environment by itself to be provocative of a healthy lifestyle. It is up to you however, to make changes within and around that will induce positive lifestyle choices. As learned from the Blue Zones, one habit will not do the trick, however a variety of habits together will.

Underneath I sum up tips that I have given to my clients as well as incorporated in my own life. I divide them as follows; internal environment (mindset, physical capacity), external environment (home, work), and social environment (family, friends).

External Environment

balconyplants
Add more plants to your home

  • Park further from work, get off the bus earlier, and use the toilet farthest away from you
  • Reorganize your house for it to be more inviting to move; hang a bar in the living room (to hang on), lay out an exercise mat, or put a fitness ball in sight. Once it’s there it is more likely you will use it
  • Put more plants in your house
  • Buy more fruits and vegetables, once they are there it is more likely you will eat them
Internal Environment
  • Sleep longer (sleep around 8 hours)
  • Take 15 minutes of quite time every day (without phone, laptop etc.)
  • Drink sufficient water
Social Environment
  • If you are ready to change something about yourself, talk about it, this way friends and family can support you

    stairs
    The stairs I walk down/hang every day
  • Join an online community for support in your lifestyle change, a strength training forum, a runners forum, or track your activities with myfitnesspal, Strava, or something equal, and exchange

Above is a list of mostly minor and little glamorous interventions. However, these basics will positively influence your life. The most recent ones I incorporated myself are: 20 minute daily meditation, hanging from the stairs I walk down, walk everything within 1 kilometer from my house, and I revalued the way the living room was furnished. There seemed to be space to do yoga after all.

Why Your Nose Is Your Toe

The quality of healthcare nowadays, has progressed to a level that specialists are able to fix every fracture, they can reconnect nerves, and they are able to connect a new heart, liver, or kidney in to your body. Concentrating for years on a single body part has allowed for impressive feats in their specific area. The problem is however, that the body itself does not reason with body parts or medical specialization.

Was it not for thousands of years of research, cutting into corpses (both dead and alive), and drawing the results on to paper, or we would not have known what we know now. As things go, our body did not come into being with names on all of it’s parts as we have defined them today.

Researchers have found papyrus from ancient Egypt, dating back to 1600BC. They showed that the Egyptians had identified certain organs and hormonal glands. Later on the Greek did their part naming for example the Achilles Tendon after a greek hero who was the fastest runner. As a baby his mother made him invulnerable by dipping him by his achilles into the Styx river. Later in war, he was killed by a poisonous arrow. It struck him in the only vulnerable place in his body, his achilles.

bodyworldsdissection

Over the course of history a variety of people from ancient Greece, to Leonardi da Vinci, to a belgian man named Andreas Vesalius have made significant contributions to human anatomy.

The history of anatomy and the naming of our body is very intriguing, however it still is a model based on observation. Over time every muscle, bone, ligament, nerve, organ, and layer of skin has been described with a function and name. Just like we have divided the world by countries, and we have given random groups of stars names. These models are great facilitators when it comes to communicating about these subjects with regard to where and when.

Nevertheless, the world itself does not think of itself as a collection of countries. There is not a part of nature that decides to create an earthquake in Haiti, rather the earthquake happens in a place we call Haiti. The same goes for the body. The body itself does not purposefully create pain in

bodyparts
The body itself does not think of itself as a collection of parts

it’s knee, rather it expresses symptoms in a location that we call the knee.

In the case of countries we have given governments authority to make decisions in “their” parts of the earth, where in the case of the body there is a specialist who helps you govern a specific a body area. These divisions are such an inherent part of our society, that we have based our entire thought structure around it.

Divisions and models are great tools to understand. At the same time though, it is easy to mistake them for reality. As a consequence, for example, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is often received with skepticism in the west. TCM is a holistic approach that sees health and disease on a continuum. Our organism is seen as a system of balance. It has a vital energy called “qi”, that needs to circulate freely along lines called “meridians”.

The idea the Chinese have developed of the body over the previous 5000 years might seem weird, when compared to what was developed in Europe. Nevertheless, upon itself it makes total sense. Still, just like in western medicine it is a way of modeling the body. Neither body parts nor meridians were formed by the body itself.

Regardless if we model the body or not, I believe it does respond in predictable ways. A punch in your stomach will provoke pain, and a fall on your elbow will result in a bruise. At the same time sitting for long times, while feeling stressed, and drinking little water might provoke back pain and digestion issues.

When I think of the body as a collection of parts these logical responses can be confusing. However, when I perceive the body as a unity responding in a predictable way, a lot of everyday worries can be put to rest.

When I perceive the body as a unity responding in a predictable way, a lot of everyday worries can be put to rest.

We tend to experience the biggest discomfort when we do not understand what we are feeling. However, when you understand that your nose and toe are just as much your body, as your stomach and liver. As well as that the body responds in a logical manner, you can stop pretending that stressing and bad food is not affecting you. Where on the contrary, your newly initiated habit of working out two times a week, will positively affect a lot more than the size of your muscles.

How To Live Long and Free From Disease

In these places, people do headstands, walk large distances in mountainous terrain, take care of their gardens, drive cars, do yoga, herd sheep, fish daily, take care of their farms, and assist with heart surgery. All at the age of 90, or sometimes even over 100 years old.

In his book “The Blue Zones”, Dan Buettner describes the areas in the world where people live the longest and free of disease. So far there have been 5 locations identified as Blue Zones: Okinawa (Japan), Ikaria (Greece), Sardinia (Italy), the Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica), and Loma Linda (US).

Longevity hotspots
Longevity hot spots around the world

Blue Zones were named by demographers initially collecting data from the Barbagian region in Sardinia. In a previous blog I already mentioned them, and my fascination for the knowledge derived from studying these communities. So much, that I decided to name a category on this blog after them. To me it seems that the key to health and happiness lies in what a lot of these places express. At the same time, there is a connection with everything I find interesting about health, body, mind and behavior. What is most appealing of all however, is that the factors that seem to contribute to longevity, are far from rocket science.

Even tough, these Blue Zones are located thousands of kilometers apart from each other, they have nine distinct features in common:

1. Move

I played soccer until the age of 18, than I went to the gym 4 to 5 times a week. After, I started rock climbing weekly while doing yoga, hiking and running in between. Nowadays, I have less opportunities to climb, but still I run, go to the gym and do yoga.

What do Blue Zoners do? They just move, they usually do not go to the gym or play tennis. Rather, their physical activity is inherent to their daily lives. They walk during their work, to friends, or to get groceries. Sometimes they cover distances of more than 5 kilometers by foot, just to get to a market. Because of this, they burn up to 5 times as many calories in non-exercise based activity, and seem to live 7-10 years longer than average.

This reminds me of when I started working. My life changed from a medium sedentary (student) lifestyle, to walking, standing and showing exercises to clients all day. The result? I lost 3 kilos of body weight without even being aware of it.

2. Purpose

Do you know your purpose? Do you know why you are waking up every morning? What gives you energy, regardless of the amount of effort you have to put in?

It seems that the Blue Zoners know this. It might be fishing, taking care of their loved ones, or training for a sports event. More over, these people are able to tell you what their purpose is. To be able to both live purposefully, and express it, increases life expectancy with 7 years more, than somebody who cannot.

3. Stress management

Concluding my last period of travelling I wrote down a couple of things I wanted to change in my life. One of them was introducing a moment in the day where I would take time to do nothing. It evolved in to 20 minutes of meditation after I wake up. Sometimes I manage to take a moment in the afternoon as well.

During this time there is space to reflect, relax, and breath deeply. The Blue Zoners have their own versions of this. It may be enjoying a happy hour with friends, taking a daily nap in the case of the Ikarians, or taking a moment to remember their ancestors in the case of the Okinawans.

4. Eat plants

Almost a year ago, I changed my diet to be entirely plant-based. I do not find any hardship maintaining it, and feel great and cannot recommend it enough.

Vegetables and Fruits

However, statistics show that diets don’t work. 90% of the people that start a new diet have quit before the 7 month mark.

Why did my change last? I believe that I was quickly able to adapt this new lifestyle. Blue Zoners eat a largely plant based diet as well. Not because they feel like it is better than eating another diet, it is just inherent to their lifestyle. The majority of their calories come from vegetables, nuts, and legumes. These foods are rich in antioxidants that help reduce the aging process going on in all of us.

5. Alcohol in moderation

I quit alcohol a while ago, every now and then I would have a glass of wine. I would mostly notice it’s effects soon. Usually though, I would feel bad right away.

The Blue Zoners nevertheless, seem to be going well on a glass or two per day. Being it wine or sake. The advantage the Sardinians for exam[ple, have over me, is that their wine is made from the grapes that grow in their own garden. Where what is available to me, is highly industrialized. On the other hand there are the 7th day Adventists of Loma Linda that abstain entirely from alcohol for religious reasons.

6. Eat in moderation

How I love my plates stacked over the top with food. Oats, loaded with fruits, nuts and seeds, or a plate of rices with beans and vegetables so high I cannot see the wall in front

Plant based meal
I like my plate full

of me.

It seems this is not what I should do if I want to make it to a hundred. The so called 80% rule, seems the way to go. Okinawans even have an adage for it (something they say before they start to eat their meal)

hara hachi bu (eat until you are 80% full)

7. Put your loved ones first

Here I am, for a couple of years already at least a 1000km away from my family and best friends. If that wasn’t enough, there is now over 14000km between us. This does not mean however, that I do not feel connected to them. Nevertheless, Blue Zoners tend to this subject a little different.

They usually live in communities with most of their family around, and take care of each other, regardless of the physical condition. Nursing homes, senior center, and assisted living facilities, hold little meaning in their societies.

8. Stay connected

Are you running from home, to the bus, to work, and back again. Day in day out only with the occasional stop at the supermarket, a restaurant, or a sports club?

It looks like there are more efficient ways to getting old and avoiding disease. Staying connected both physically and spiritually seems to do great things. The Blue Zoners are generally part of a faith-based community. People who take this seriously and engage 4 times a month, seem to live between 4 and 14 years longer.

9. Surround yourself with the right people

I have been lucky to have been supported by my friends and family in countless ways. Most of that I only realized after it happened. The fact they did however, allowed me to stay strong when it came to making lifestyle changes, or pursuing my dreams.

Longevity seems to be better achievable as well, when you are not alone. Surrounding yourself with people that engage in similar behavior makes it easier for you to do the same. At the same time, securing strong relationships in times of hardship.

And then?

You can tie any of these factors to longevity and build an interesting story around each one. That’s what the $20 billion diet industry and $21 billion health club industry do in their effort to convince us that if we take the right pill, eat the right food, or do the right workout, we’ll be healthier, lose weight, and live longer. But these strategies don’t work.

…The big aha for me is how the agents of longevity reinforce each other for the long therm.

Dan Buettner

What I find most fascinating about the knowledge derived from these Blue Zones, is that none of the people living there were trying to implement them in to their life. They usually had, or were still living hard lives. They do not necessarily have access to vitamin pills, gyms, and nutrition coaches. Rather, they are just living according to the opportunities and limitations of their environment.

However, in our work hard, play hard society nowadays there seems little space for moderation, enjoying the moment, and being with loved ones. Nevertheless, these things all seem to be key in living long and healthy.

Now if you, like me, and most of the people live in cities, where the air quality is bad, where there are always cars racing around you, where the greenest thing is the plant in your windowsill, and the sky counts 3 stars because there is so much light pollution. What do you do?

Hit the subscribe button down below, and stay tuned for more content on how to use this, and other knowledge part of your lifestyle. Regardless of where you live.

 

Further reading:
Buettner, Dan. The Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest (p. 293). National Geographic Society.
Dan Buettner @ TedMed 2011

 

Superhuman

For a while already, I have been fascinated by the so called Blue Zones. Places like Okinawa in Japan, and the island of Sardinia in Italy. Here, people live the longest, with very little years fighting of diseases. The life these people live, seems to be the contrary of what is generally perceived as important in western culture.

Our culture mandates the importance of work, engagement, money, to spend it on the next big thing afterwards. We are developing a better computer and phone every day. There are cameras that can watch straight through our body and there are chips we can put under our skin monitoring everything that goes on in our bodies.

We admire the quickest athlete, the fearless soldier, the innovative businessman and the confident leader. At the same time, there are people fascinated by eternal life, looking for possibilities to freeze their dead body, so it can be revived later on. With exoskeletons we might be able to walk forever as long as our neurological system is intact, and we have created the first piece of meat from a petry-dish already.

Not long and we could be called super humans, but to what end? Does one really live a more fulfilling life than somebody who does not engage with all these activities? If you feel like your purpose is figuring out the next step in human innovation, go ahead. However, is what we perceive as innovation, truly innovation?

This eagerness in developing us as humans, has already been catching up with us. Pollution, hours spend in heavy traffic and depression are on the rise. However, there are some communities that seem to have been living the solution without doing any of the above.

Perks of these communities are; people tend to have a sense of purpose, they eat a largely plant-based diet, have strong relationships, sleep enough, do low intensity exercise over long periods, and they are part of a spiritual or faith-based society. At this point I wonder therefore, why do we pursue the fully chipped superhuman, when one can have equal results without all the superfluous effort?

I believe it to be a matter of perspective. What does eternal life really mean? We experience so many sick years nowadays, that when I manage to live to a hundred without getting chronically ill, that could be perceived as eternal already. The idea that we can outsmart nature is another core concept I could only believe if I blind my eyes forever. Plants and trees survived Chernobyl, we did not. We might kill all the animals, including ourselves, but there will always be this tiny being, adapted to the conditions we have created, here after re-evolving in to something new.

Lost in the process of going forward, becoming a “better” self, developing and innovating, it is very easy to forget what already is. The idea of what a superhuman is, you can define for yourself. I can see sunsets kilometers away, I can train my brain to do the most complicated formulas or understand 7 languages at the same time, I can hear an insane amount of frequencies, sense the smallest piece of sand, I can experience connections that are invisible, I can laugh, and I can walk up straight for up to 110 years. I ask therefore, am I not a super human already?

There Is Nothing Wrong With Your Body

I have recently been reflecting a lot on how I view body, mind and soul. And most of all, what is considered normal and what is not in this regard. Consecutively, I started reflecting on how I come to my decision in any health-related situation. The main thing I do, I realized, is that I always look for the why? behind my current state of mind and body. This thought process always evaluates how I felt the days before, what I ate, how I exercised, how I slept and what kind of stress is influencing me at this moment. Answering all these questions often lead me to seeing why I feel a certain way and make it easier to (not) respond accordingly after.

Most importantly though, by answering all these questions for myself I come to a logical conclusion. Therefore, the way I am feeling is reasonable and normal given the circumstances. When I drink too little during the day, the headache at night is a reasonable consequence. When I drink enough during the day, but I slept too little the night before, a headache at night is also reasonable. The origin and consequence here are quite easy to find.

However, when I increase the time span and the factors in play it gets harder to see the origin and consequence of how I am feeling. For example, I am 50 years old, I sat the majority of my life working a desk-job with medium to high stress levels, and I eat a lot of low quality processed food. After, I get diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease, is this reasonable? Or, when I play 3 soccer matches in one week and I tear one of my calf muscles, is this normal?

Yes, I believe this is all normal. Put any given person in the same situation with the same life and history and their bodies will most likely respond the same. So when I fracture my upper leg, when I have a headache, when I sub luxate my shoulder or when I get diagnosed Type 2 Diabetes, Heat Disease or COPD is there anything wrong with my body?

No, nothing is wrong with my body. My body is responding in a logical and reasonable way to how I treat it. The moment I should be worried though, is when I can hold my hand in a fire without hurting it or when I can run for 40 hours at sprint speed. In any case, the awareness of this interaction is probably also why, I realized, I have such little problems with experiencing pain (I wrote about this here). Seeing these connections makes me aware of which behavior led to which feeling, and it allows me to accept and deal with the situation without feeling lost. Above all, viewing things this way, means that when I change the way I treat my body for the better, it will respond appropriately.

There are times though, when it gets really hard to see how things are connected. There might be too many things going on in my life and too many thoughts in my head. Recently, I experienced a severe headache unrelated to dehydration or sleep. Also, I had recently been sick but I had been feeling better a lot already. More over, there were other physical and mental factors at play that made me confused and unable to find the reason for my headache.

In these cases, it is great there is a healthcare system at most people’s disposal to aid in circumstances like these. The problem is though, that the most sought after health care professional generally treats symptoms, not origins. Next to that, to look for the why? behind any given problem is not a common thing. In this process we tend to be afraid when something is wrong and we want it fixed as soon as possible. Luckily, in this situation there is always a doctor willing to prescribe medication. Nevertheless, is this the solution for our problem?

Instead of prescribing medication, asking a couple of times why? will go a long way. Usually the origin of any given problem is quite obvious once there is somebody helping you putting your behavior in to perspective. Still, from my point of view, it is more the way our healthcare system is set up, what leads to the inefficient way of treating problems, than it is how the individual healthcare provider works. However, I believe that regardless of whatever healthcare system I am subject to, my independence is key. I know what is best for my body, as soon as I become aware of it.

Therefore, to be the director in everything regarding my body is important. We should not blindly belief anybody that makes decisions about our health. Rather, we should put everything to the test, educate ourselves, practice awareness and always ask for multiple opinions. In the meantime, always keeping the two core beliefs in mind. Being that the way I take care of my body has logical consequences, and these consequences are therefore normal. After all, nobody but me has to live with my body all my life.