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.