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 to only 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 US, 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! I also developed hypertension in my early forties and my blood pressure fluctuated as I wrestled with my condition for quite some time.
The crazy part is that when food became easily 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 hunger, 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 from several books. In the summer of 2016, I started eating two meals within a short period of 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 of time and my blood pressure returned to normal without as rigorous excise as before.
Another benefit is that my hunger has been tamed. 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 improved: blood glucose was reduced; total lipids and LDL were lower; the HDL became higher.
But most importantly, I felt better both mentally and physically. In my research, some publications indicated that fasting actually strengthens immunity and memory.
Our bodies were built to function under the duress of hunger
For humans, eating three meals a day was not considered the norm until very recently in history. In fact, one or two meals a day was the common practice not so long ago.
Human beings evolved while enduring difficult 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.
Mankind has been fighting against having food shortages since the beginning of time. Now that the goal of having enough has been reached in some parts of the world, it’s clear that being hungry is a necessary component to a healthy life.
The body is built to deal with hunger. Metabolism functions under hunger extract stored energy and prepare body to use those energy. Constant satisfaction without hunger parks the functions dealing hunger. The related genes in relevant organ are not used for a long time and eventually will be covered by dust (through chemical modification) and became difficult to restart when needed. This is how the feeling hunger 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 machine for metabolism in hunger 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 are designed for it
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 just order a pizza.
We have machines that help us complete our work. We don’t have to walk, because we have cars. 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 completely 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, they cannot survive. They have evolved to withstand the heat, and if they are removed 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 excise? Can it replace physical labor? Not really, at least not as good. Labor is not only physical movement but also one with an expected results. Excise is mainly a physical movement without immediate visible results. This is why most people cannot maintain regular excise for long period of time.
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…
Here’s why you should stop trying to live a germ-free life.
Contact with germs, good or bad, is inevitable. This has been true 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 germs. Killing them off doesn’t guarantee that you will be healthy.
In fact, 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 5 years.” And I was safe until my 18th spring here.
My allergies began during a retreat one evening in the 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 my tears were caused by the pollen from the surrounding trees. The most difficult 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 changed my oral microbiome in a profound way.
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 the number of oral hygienists in the U.S. The number of oral hygienists in the US is used to indicate a level of public oral hygiene. Asthma is the representative of allergic diseases. This data was publicly available at the NIH and Department of Labor. The association of the two data sets is highly significant.
During my own research, while developing AllerPops, I found that oral microbiota produce metabolites, including but not limited to the short chain fatty acid, that influence the function of multiple biologic systems and organs, such as the immune system. Absence or severe reduction of the relevant bacteria may cause the immune system to malfunction, possibly by causing an oversensitivity to allergens.
Evidence has further suggested that promoting healthy oral microbiota with certain substances may allow the immune system to function in a healthy manner with a healthy response to allergens.
Furthermore, because the mouth is connected to the lungs, healthy oral microbiota may lead to a healthy response not only to allergic rhinitis but also 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 less skin allergies.
It is not necessary for one to go to extreme lengths to maintain personal hygiene. While researchers are trying to define the proper degree of hygiene practices, common sense can be applied in many situations. For example, one should shower less frequently upon observing dry or itchy skin after prolonged showers.
Mankind 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 kind of religious, spiritual or ethical purpose. An objective for your mind. Otherwise life can be too materialistic, seem pointless, and your mental health will suffer.
Historically, the main purpose for man has been to survive. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, other purposes 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 need of the human soul.
I want to emphasize that we should not worry about conflict between faith and science, because they are two separate ways to perceive the world. Man knows the world through two processes, sense and imagination. In reality, the two are always applied together in order to perceive 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 imagination and led to the birth of scientific hypotheses. In a sense, it can be said that religion is the father of science.
Faith is the basis of a healthy and abundant life, the result of evolutionary selection. In ancient times, faith was a simple explanation for environmental phenomena. Among the uncontrollable, faith gave people something to grasp onto.
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 certain 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 evolution, there is a phenomenon in which anything inevitable to life will eventually solidify into 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 frequent 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.