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.

How Culture Alters Your Brain

A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.

Mahatma Gandhi

With it’s many aspects culture might seem like a fixed upon itself standing phenomenon. It is not what it looks like though. Culture would not exist without our collective belief. To grow up in a certain place you become part of a culture, not because you chose this, but because everybody in your environment is living this way. If you want it or not, your entire life is interconnected with this creation.

Another way to look at it, is to imagine you are a mirror and culture is a giant painting. The more you walk in front of it, the more will stick to your mirror. You become increasingly a reflection of the paining, and eventually it does not matter anymore if the painting is around or not, for you to reflect it.

However, if your parents have different values than the world around you and raise you their way, conflict can occur. I both experienced this with clients who fled their country as a consequence of political instability, but also when I was traveling myself.

In this case the way I was brought up did not fit my new environment and consequently made me question both the (new) world around me, just as much reflecting on where I come from. I remember when I went to Palestine for an internship. I found it intensely annoying when there were moments I literally had nothing to do until the moment I had to do everything at once. This felt so inefficient and did not agree with the idea of time and planning that I grew up with. Similarly, I now live in Brazil where time also has a different meaning, and to make an appointment doesn’t necessarily mean that you made it.

In the following research you can see how profoundly culture affects our brain. Researchers found fascinating differences between native Chinese, and native English speakers. They looked at what parts of the brain showed activity when native Chinese speakers solved the same mathematical formula as native English speakers. They found that when the Chinese solved the formula there was more activity in the areas connected with visual and movement information. Whereas in the case of the English speakers, there was more activity in the sound and language areas. An explanation might be that in the Chinese language there is more emphasis on images and writing, and in the English language more on language processing and verbal information.

Thus, it seems that culture literally affects the way we are programmed. Nevertheless, at the same time it cannot exist without our collective belief. This does mean then, that culture can change. Since it is the result of many people believing it, it will only change when a tipping point is reached. When one person stops believing the status quo, nothing will happen. When one fourth of the population starts perceiving it’s culture differently, things are bound to shift.

This rigidity can be found in the way women still receive less salary than man in western Europe. Even though, it is generally accepted that there is no reason for them to be payed unequally. This form of underpayment is a consequence of beliefs held tens of years ago. Nowadays, the majority of people belief differently, still the fact that this idea was a basic part of yesterdays culture makes it hard to erase within a decade. Only when the old generation of beliefs disappear, new ideas can settle in.

Another example of this are (old) taboos like having sex before marriage, or not marrying at all, even though you are together with somebody for a long time. In Bolivia for example, I was told that these are taboos, where in the Netherlands both are perceived as normal. As a consequence, somebody thinking about not marrying in Bolivia might feel ashamed or frustrated, where in the Netherlands a person contemplating the same thought might experience nothing different than when he or she thinks of coffee.

saltflats
The amazing salt flats in Uyuni, Bolivia. Also the country, where it is a taboo not to marry when you stay together with someone.

I believe it important to know that the connections between our thoughts, emotions, behavior, and culture are inevitable. Or like Mahatma Gandhi said: “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” Then, when you are aware of the subjectivity of culture, you have the opportunity to revalue any concept that is part of it.

The 3 Most Important Things I Learned in 27 Years

Here I am, 27 years and three days old and I am taking a moment to reflect. What the hell am I doing with my life? This year was the first time that I celebrated my birthday in the winter, and in the month of the crazy dog. A couple of interesting novelties that I didn’t see coming if you would have asked me one year ago.

So what did I learn in 27 years roaming around on this planet? I experienced a variety of cultures, people, and situations that shaped me into who I am today. In the meantime I think I have come to know a wide ranging amount of perspectives. Underneath I sum up three things I learned from those.

1. I laugh when I don’t understand

I remember when I was 12 years old, standing in the center of our village next to a green telephone booth with a glass door. Already out of function, partially due to me and my teammates’ efforts. The brick stone streets deserted and the cobblestones on the side quite slippery. A slight mist and temperatures far below zero. Me and my 3 teammates were waiting for another to come with a family member to drive us to a nearby village. We would play an indoor soccer tournament there, if our legs would still be functioning when we would get there anyway.

When our blood pressure was so low we could barely move our legs, a dark colored sedan came creeping up the street. Slowly because there could be a thin layer of ice on that is usually hard to see. When it freezes, it melts and then it freezes again over a short period of time, black ice might occur. Or ijzel as we call that in the Netherlands. Every bike, truck and car drivers’ nightmare. Government officials work all night to throw salt on the streets to make the ice melt. Not in our village though.

When the last of my teammates threw the door shut, off we went. More or less motivated for what was coming because I wasn’t really sure we would win any game. We creeped down another brick street, passing the protestant church up the hill on the right, the butcher on the left with it’s curtains down behind the windows, and later the bungalow village house on the right. Nobody in the streets. Leaving the village we changed from brick to asphalt, still driving like a snail. The sister of one of my teammates who was driving seemed quite tense. Past the soccer field on the left, and around the corner. Swoosh no ice. Softly braking we came to a crossing surrounded by trees. Right turn, accelerating slowly, big oak trees on both

beukenlaan
Space for one and half car (photo taken in Autumn)

sides of the road, and space for one and half car. Always nice when you encounter a car driving the other direction here. Between the trees we could see frozen grass fields and an occasional house in the distance. One more turn, and over the white wooden bridge we would come to the next crossing to turn on to the big road that was the main entry to our village.

Were it not that the turn before the bridge, our driver turned the steering wheel to the right. Without success. Straight we went. BOOM! Lucky there was a wooden fence or we would have ended up in the canal. We opened the doors, stepped on to the street. Our driver started crying, my teammates looked shocked out of there eyes, and I, I couldn’t stop laughing for 20 minutes.

Now before you think I am some sadistic freak, a shock response can come in many forms. After this event I ended up in another car accident not that long ago. I totally saw this one coming, but again, I was quite lyrical after the accident. I couldn’t believe what had happened.

Now this not only applies to accidents like this. I am bound to laugh when I feel uncomfortable, or when something is out of my field of comprehension (for that moment). These defense mechanisms are normal because the body and mind love structure, routine and preferably not too much novelty.  Now when I laugh, somebody else might get quiet, frustrated, bossy, feel insulted, or be judgmental. The clue here is that your defense mechanism might kick in without conscious attention, just like mine, that of a strangers, or that of your friends’. When you understand this, you can be both more accepting towards your own behavior as well as others’.

2. I learn easily, but only under the right conditions

A couple of years later, I was addicted to computer games and I tried to shoot people in the head all day. In between I indulged on grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and I gained quite a bit of weight as a consequence. Also, I rather didn’t go to school. My parents were figuring out how to motivate me. They would pull of my blanket when I was trying to sleep in on school days. It didn’t work I’m telling you, I just went downstairs to get my blanket and slept some more. When I finally got up, I didn’t waste time to hop in front of my computer screen and start shooting heady’s again.

I did hate school then, unbelievable, and my German teacher I hated the most. I tried to provoke her every class, trying to put as much of my frustration as possible on to her. All that time, she was just trying her best with a class full of very hard-to-please teenagers. Anyway, when I was at school at least. I remember one time my team-leader scheduled a meeting with me and my mother. He showed a statistic of my absence. May, 30 days absent. I didn’t go to school for a month. I was surprised because from my perspective I hadn’t been absent for that long.

May, 30 days absent. I didn’t go to school for a month. I was surprised because from my perspective I hadn’t been absent for that long.

He and many others would often say, you just have to try a little harder, we know you have the qualities to get your grades. I couldn’t care less.

Flash forward to Physical Therapy school. I am that guy sitting in the front, raising his hand all the time trying to give the right answer. One time I got a 7 (out of 10). Jesus, was I disappointed, I should have had a 9!

Over time I have come to understand that I am an easy learner, but only under the right conditions. When I am motivated I am a sponge and suck up every piece of  information. I was lucky to choose the right bachelor program, after choosing the wrong one the year before. I had quit that one after 6 weeks.

Our school system is very limited, when it comes to providing the individual with what they need to know. Both in the subjects that are taught and the way it is done. Definitely when it comes to traditional high school education in the Netherlands. It’s a disaster, you only learn how to function within a materialistic society even though most of our experience is determined by the metaphysical. The system only works for the person that can bring up empathy for his teachers, is disciplined, and has himself figured out. However, which boy has all these things by the age of 15?

Now if something like that is your last memory of school and has left you with the idea you can’t learn, or schoolbooks are not for you, stop and think again. The latter might be true, but everybody can learn. The divisions made in schools do not resemble natural division, and only more or less, work within the society that was created by our forefathers. This does not mean however, that when you cannot read a book you do not understand what is written in there.

This does not mean however, that when you cannot read a book you do not understand what is written in there

There are a million ways to learn, but only one is being propagated during traditional education. Luckily nowadays, more and more people are becoming aware of this, plus all the information in the world is available online. The only thing for you to do, is to figure out what the right learning conditions are for you.

3. Bad people don’t exist

In the aforementioned chaos of my teenage years somewhere along the line an interest for the Middle-East was born. At the time wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were taking place and Israel and Palestine remained a reoccurring theme on the news as well.

A natural indignation to not believing what I was being told by mediums like the 8 o’clock news, partially ingrained by my parents, I was doubting the validity of what was being shown. The Middle-East; a breeding-ground for terrorists where nobody could be trusted.

This image was spread with such force it basically dehumanized the entire region and allowed for nonhuman interventions.

thewall2
The wall between Israel and Palestine, this photo was taken from the Palestinian side. Are the people within this wall bad? And are the people that put up this wall bad?

At that time I read a couple of interesting books by former Dutch news reporter Joris Luyendijk. In A Good Man Sometimes Beats His Wife he wrote about the western perspective on Egyptian culture, and in They’re Just Like People (People Like Us in the US) he wrote about his experiences as a news reporter in the Middle East.

The thing I remember most profoundly about the second book is how he as a reporter barely ever saw the site of what he was reporting about. He always had to call to press agencies like Reuters and then create a story based on all the information he could gather from other people. In the end he would have 2 minutes to talk on the 8 o’clock news. So I was wondering, how well does that piece of information represent what really happened?

As the universe would have it I had the opportunity together with a friend to do an internship in Palestine a couple of years later. I couldn’t have been more excited to finally get to see things with my own eyes.

And what do you think happened? Nothing! People kind and forthcoming beyond believe and I never felt unsafe in all of the 11 weeks that I lived and worked there.

And what do you think happened? Nothing! People kind and forthcoming beyond believe

kindtaxidriver
This “supposed” bad person, who was also a taxi driver, went out of his way to give us a 2 hour tour of Bethlehem’s’ surrounding areas.

and I never felt unsafe in all of the 11 weeks that I lived and worked there. The scariest thing I experienced was the interim supervisor of the physical therapy department having an occasional anger attack. For reasons I did not understand, he would make a lot of arm movements, walk really quick, all the while shouting in Arabic to everybody he passed by.

Over the course of my life I have hung out with labeled terrorists, drug addicts, rich kids, poor people, well educated people, and people shaped by life. Not one of them I considered as a bad person, even when that person would (have) engaged in stealing, vandalism or dealing drugs.

As things go every single one of us is shaped by the accumulation of our life experiences. There are always moments where we can influence our decisions, but not everybody was dealt the same cards. Politicians, the traditional media, and corporations do their best to divide the world in to good and bad, smart and dumb, and quick and slow, only to capitalize on this division after.

The truth is though, that when you hit your child, when you bully other people, when you steal, when others call you a terrorist, or when you are addicted to drugs, you are not a bad person. Life is too complicated to divide into two sides.

Even though we are the accumulation of our experiences, we are not the experiences themselves.

Even though we are the accumulation of our experiences, we are not the experiences themselves. You define who you are, and how you manifest yourself in the world, good and bad is not part of that equation.