November, what a beautiful month this was. The first time in half a year that I didn’t post a blog two weeks in a row. I was on holiday and finally visited the North-East of Brazil. This region has been recommended to me non-stop over the previous one and a half years. There, temperatures allow for non-stop flip-flopping, shorts, and no shirt. Coconuts cheaper than water, fruits I had never heard of before, and cashew nuts as fresh as water after being dehydrated for days. This does mean however, that I only published two blogs this month. Underneath you will find the usual monthly recap of both of them.
In this blog post I aimed to find common features of three on the surface very distinct topics. I like to view at things from a perspective of cohesion and similarity. Because I believe that deep down all things are the same.
This also goes for Buddhism, business and your belly. All of them thrive on philosophies that the whole cannot function if its’ parts are not in optimal condition. In Buddhism it’s about aligning your thoughts and emotions with what you do, in business it’s about letting every single employee thrive so that the whole company thrives as a consequence. And when it comes to your belly it is about aligning what you do with your mouth to let your body profit as a consequence.
I did a spontaneous fast for 24 hours. I can’t remember when was the last time I didn’t eat anything for that long. This made me wonder about the role of food in our lives, and if it’s that necessary at all?
I realized that eating for most of us is more a habit, a form of behavior if you will, than it is necessity. There are even people that claim to eat so little they should be starving to death, while at the same time there are people that eat so much they are eating themselves to death. So really, 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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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).
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
Sleep longer (sleep around 8 hours)
Take 15 minutes of quite time every day (without phone, laptop etc.)
Drink sufficient water
If you are ready to change something about yourself, talk about it, this way friends and family can support you
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.
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.
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
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.