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Love Your Enemies: Why We Shouldn’t Avoid Hunger, Germs, and Hard work

When I was growing up in China, we used to eat only two meals a day.

The first thing adults and children did in the morning was to go to work and school, respectively. The first meal was served from 9 to 10, after which we would return to our duties. The second meal wasn’t until the late afternoon. In winter, it was common only to eat one meal a day.

I started eating three meals a day in my early teens. However, eating a meal first thing in the morning wasn’t part of my morning routine until after I graduated from college.

Snacks entered my life as a luxury while in my twenties. In my thirties, after moving to the U.S., food was more readily available to me than I had ever experienced before. Hunger could be satisfied at any moment with fast food, instant meals, or sugary drinks.

What do you think happened?

I gained weight and developed hypertension in my early forties. My blood pressure fluctuated as I wrestled with my condition for quite some time.

The crazy part is that when food became readily available to me at all times, my sense of hunger changed dramatically. I felt compelled to eat more and more. The sooner I ate after beginning to feel the first pangs of desire, the stronger my urge to eat became next time.

I knew I had to do something. I learned about the concept of fasting with the help of several books. In the summer of 2016, I started eating two meals within a short time each. It was just like how I ate back in China when there wasn’t enough to eat!

My weight loss was visible within a short period, and my blood pressure returned to normal without as rigorous exercise as before.

Another benefit is that I tamed my hunger. The urge to eat has become less demanding. After four weeks of taking my meals within a window of 8 hours, I took a blood test at my yearly checkup. Compared with the results from a year ago, it was much better: blood glucose becomes lower; total lipids and LDL were more moderate; the HDL became higher.

But most importantly, I felt better, both mentally and physically. In my research, some publications indicated that fasting strengthens immunity and memory.

Our bodies function better under the duress of hunger.

For humans, eating three meals a day was not considered the norm until very recently in history. One or two meals a day was the common practice not so long ago.

Human beings evolved while enduring severe conditions, like finding food in harsh climates.

In Chapter three (titled “Being Human, Becoming Human: Survival of the Adaptable”) of What Does it Mean to be Human, authors Rick Potts and Chris Sloan wrote, “One of the basic principles of biology, therefore, is that adaptations emerge as organisms face the ongoing tests of survival in their surroundings—finding food, avoiding predators, attracting mates, warding off the cold, and locating shelter.”

An observation about evolution. Anything that life cannot avoid will become a necessary condition for survival.

Our bodies have evolved to switch back and forth between hunger and satisfaction, and yet our society has developed to the point where we can eat any time we want. People in the United States don’t have hunger, but they’re not healthy. The Center for Disease Control reports that 100 million people in the United States have diabetes, and that number is increasing by 1.5 million new diagnoses per year.

Humanity has been fighting against having food shortages since the beginning of time. Now the goal of having enough has been reached in some parts of the world. We know now that being hungry is a necessary component of a healthy life.

The body evolved to deal with hunger. Metabolism functions under hunger extract stored energy and prepares the body to use those energies—constant satisfaction without hunger parks the mechanisms dealing with hunger. The related genes in the relevant organs are not used for a long time and eventually will retire (through chemical modification) and became difficult to restart when needed. This process is how the feeding desire can be fed stronger and stronger with constant satisfaction. Eventually, a person can faint away due to hypoglycemia while having the energy stored within.

Fast with purpose. Instant satisfaction or the complete removal of hunger halts the molecular machinery for metabolism in starvation and may cause it to malfunction. Your body will work better if you let yourself be hungry for a little while longer.

We don’t have to work as hard as our ancestors did, but our bodies evolved for regular work.

Imagine having to milk a cow before you can have a glass of milk, churn that milk to get a little bit of butter, use a wooden plow to get a plot of land ready to plant, or reaping wheat with a scythe.

In modern society, people can choose to live a life free from the kind of hard work that was necessary for our ancestors. You don’t have to go out and hunt. You can order a pizza.

Machines relieve us from hard labor. Cars help us travel far without walking. We don’t have to vacuum, because the Roomba will do it for us.

However, our bodies have evolved to withstand hardships and strain. Even technology has eliminated the need for hard work if you get rid of those conditions entirely, or you’ll be sick all the time.

Here’s a non-human example: Think of the organisms that live in a hot spring. If you take those organisms out of the hot environment, they cannot survive. They have evolved to withstand the heat, and if they are away from the heat, they will die.

A sedentary lifestyle is common but deadly for humans. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., killing 840,768 people in 2016.

Then how about exercise? Can it replace physical labor? Not really, at least not as good. Work is not only physical movement but also one with expected results. Exercise is mainly a physical movement without immediate visible results. Lacking rewards is why most people cannot maintain regular exercise for an extended period.

Embrace a healthy level of hard work in your life.  Which will you choose, bringing your body to work on a bicycle or cutting grass with a sickle or something else?

Here’s why you should stop trying to live a germ-free life.

Contact with germs, good or bad, is inevitable. The situation has been real for human beings since we began to exist, but luckily our immune systems help us survive in a world full of germs.

Advances in medicine, personal hygiene, and household cleaning products have led us to believe that it’s possible (and desirable) to wipe out all the germs in our environment. But our bodies are designed to live with bacteria. Killing them off doesn’t guarantee that you will be healthy.

It opens the door for other health problems like allergies.

Here’s how my battle with germs led to a terrible case of allergies.

I have been living in the U.S. for over 20 years and spent most of my time here without suffering from any allergies. People told me, “You’re safe if you don’t have it within the first five years.” And I was safe until my 18th spring here.

My allergies began during a retreat one evening in March of 2014. I started tearing up during a talk. When I went outside, more tears arose, accompanied by sneezing and a tightness in my chest. I realized the pollen from the surrounding trees caused me to tear. The most challenging symptom of my allergies was the congestion of my nose during the night. Many nights became sleepless ones. And even worse, my allergies grew from seasonal to yearlong.

I looked into what might be the cause of the allergies. My surroundings had remained relatively unchanged, so it must have been something inside me that was different. My genes were not to blame. My food, mostly home-cooked Chinese food, had changed very little.

The most drastic change I had made was concerning my oral hygiene. After ignoring advice from my dentist for many years, I finally started flossing daily in 2013. I was also using mouthwash and scraping my tongue. In January of 2014, I finally got an A+ at my dental checkup.

Another contributing factor was the antibiotics I used in the winter of 2013-2014 to combat a lasting cough. The combination of excessive oral hygiene and antibiotics had profoundly changed my oral microbiome.

Around that time, research about links between oral microbiome and allergies were gradually emerging.

Beyond my personal story, there is an observed association between allergies and oral hygiene at a societal level. For example, this chart (right) shows an association between allergies and oral hygienists in the U.S. I used the number of oral hygienists in the U.S. to indicate a level of public oral hygiene. Asthma is representative of allergic diseases. This data was publicly available at the NIH and Department of Labor. The association between the two data sets is highly significant.

During my research, while developing AllerPops, I found that oral microbiota produces metabolites, including but not limited to the short-chain fatty acids that influence the function of multiple biologic systems and organs, such as the immune system. The absence or severe reduction of the relevant bacteria may cause the immune system to malfunction, resulting in oversensitivity to allergens.

Evidence has further suggested that promoting healthy oral microbiota with prebiotic may allow the immune system to function healthily with minimal to no response to allergens.

Furthermore, because the mouth connects to the lungs, healthy oral microbiota may lead to a healthy response not only to allergic rhinitis but also to relevant diseases affecting the lungs, such as asthma.

Similar relationships exist between the immune system and microbes in other parts of the body. For example, research has found taking fewer showers are associated with fewer skin allergies.

Maintaining sufficient probiotics in the gut, airway, and other relevant locations with the right prebiotic are likely the key to treating medical conditions such as allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases. Before we have every answer, one doesn’t need to go to extreme lengths to maintain personal hygiene. While researchers are trying to define the proper degree of hygiene practices, common sense can apply in many situations. For example, one should shower less frequently upon observing dry or itchy skin after prolonged showers.

Humankind has been fighting against hunger, dirtiness, and hard labor. And there’s one more necessary element to living a healthy life that I want to mention.

Having a Deeper Purpose

Human beings don’t have to put nearly as much energy into survival as they have in the past. If you don’t have to worry about surviving, you need to find some religious, spiritual, or ethical purpose—an objective of your mind. Otherwise, life can be too mundane, seem pointless, and your mental health will suffer.

Historically, the primary purpose of man has been to survive. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, other goals are secondary to survival and are related to different levels of human needs, from physical to social to mental. The pursuit of self-actualization satisfies the highest demand of the human soul.

I want to emphasize that we should not worry about the conflict between faith and science because they are two separate ways to perceive the world. The man knows the world through two processes, sense and imagination. In reality, the two always apply together to observe the physical world. Science mostly relies on the senses to prove a hypothesis derived from a limited imagination based on what is known. Religious belief is mostly imagination (faith) with the limited support of the senses. Historically, religion facilitated the development of vision and led to the birth of scientific hypotheses. In a sense, faith is the father of science.

Faith is the basis of a healthy and abundant life, the result of evolutionary selection. In ancient times, religion was a simple explanation for environmental phenomena. Among the uncontrollable, faith gave people something to grasp.

Do we still need faith nowadays?

If you do not think that science has enabled you to understand and to control everything, if you are not sure what your tomorrow will be like, faith can still provide an anchor. Just as Mark Twain put it in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, “Earthly pleasure cannot satisfy the longings of the soul!”

In summary

In evolution, there is a phenomenon in which anything inevitable for life will eventually solidify into a necessity. All four things – bacteria, hunger, labor, and faith are necessary for human wellness.

If anything, take these messages with you: starvation can kill you, but fasting will make you healthier. Pathogens can sicken you, but most bacteria make you more formidable. Hard labor can break your back, but daily physical work makes you stronger. Superstition can make you a fool, but faith will give you hope.

So embrace these four things: fasting, bacteria, exercise, and faith. Then apply them according to your own needs and balance them with their “ideal” conditions, fullness, clean, rest, and freedom. They will elevate you to a healthier and happier life, and one rich with mental, physical, and emotional accomplishments.

It’s a simple change in lifestyle that doesn’t cost anything but requires a bit of discipline.