A Facebook friend of mine recently posted something to the effect that, in order to achieve optimum health, people need to learn to be hungry. That is, they need to accept temporary hunger as a natural and even beneficial state.
The thought stuck with me. I tossed it around for a couple weeks and eventually realized that I believe my friend is onto something with regard not only to hunger, but other physical states as well. Modern society seems determined to disconnect us from the world, with its attendant unpleasantness, as much as possible.
We have vehicles to minimize the obstacles of terrain and distance; convenience stores, refrigerators, and plastic wrappers to ensure immediate access to food; heavily padded furniture, floors, and shoes to minimize our contact with natural surfaces. We have high-tech clothing and HVAC systems and insulated homes to shield us from weather’s whims; machines to dig our holes and raise our beams; drugs to quell the unpleasant side effects of our own immune systems hard at work.
I’m not saying we should all go live in the woods. I like my automatic dishwasher and flush toilet as much as the next guy. I’m just saying that, given the extraordinary ability of our bodies to adapt to adverse conditions, perhaps we would be healthier if we actually asked our bodies to deal with more discomfort than our modern environment strictly requires.
Which leads me back to hunger. Just because food is available on every corner doesn’t mean we are best adapted for a lifetime of full bellies. Even if we take Chik-fil-A and Peanut M&M’s out of the equation, and assume a squeaky-clean paleo diet, we still don’t need to nosh constantly. Like many paleos, I have discovered the unique pleasure (yes, pleasure) of hunger. (I’m talking intermittent fasting, people, not anorexia or Auschwitz.) It’s a kind of fasting that comes naturally when you really start listening to your body. I talked about appropriate IF in this post.
But hunger is only one form of healthful discomfort. What about physical effort? I once read a Fitness Black Book article hypothesizing that fitness levels tend to correspond with pain tolerance. That is, elite athletes have an unusually strong ability to push through pain (not injury, ideally) while unfit people are prone to “wimping out.” Interestingly, exercise may increase pain tolerance over time. Even if you’re the type that hates physical effort, whether it be occasional white-buffalo-in-the-sky hill sprints or 1RM tests under the bar, it seems you can improve your feelings about exercise by doing more of it. You can certainly improve your health.
How about temperature? I’ve mused lately over a series of posts at Critical MAS, in which the author experiments with cold exposure and its role in improving leanness, adaptability to stress, and more. It’s interesting stuff, particularly since the nights are dropping into the 50′s now and I’m sleeping with the windows open, waking to invigorating chill, choosing to head outside with fewer layers than would keep me perfectly cozy. Doing so encourages physical activity and, over time, broadens my comfort zone. I behave similarly in the heat of summer, eschewing air conditioning in favor of letting my body experience the seasons in all their (ahem) glory.
There are other things. I choose to sleep on an unusually hard surface. I often avoid backrests in favor of core-enhanced posture. I delay dinner for an hour or two while I do the farm chores and take an evening run. I carry a box of tissue instead of swilling Dayquil.
It’s nothing major. Certainly nothing dangerous. And as discomfort goes, it feels surprisingly good.
You see, physiological benefit notwithstanding, we stand to gain mental and emotional fortitude by bearing up under — even seeking out and embracing – discomfort. Call it “building character” ala Calvin and Hobbes, if you will, but it seems to me that improving our ability to deal with stressors makes us stronger. And I really like being strong.
Just something to think about.
PBC Day 5
Fuel: Coffee with heavy cream. Eggs over easy, bacon, spaghetti squash fried in bacon fat, blackberries. Coconut cream concentrate. Tomato-cucumber salad topped with cotija, oil, vinegar, and dill. Ground lamb and onion cooked in coconut milk with garam masala; sweet potato roasted in coconut oil. Chardonnay. Apple with almond butter. (And wow, that apple did me in. Waaaay too much sugar. I went to bed early, feeling as though I’d eaten a pint of Tin Roof Sundae. Ugh. I haven’t eaten a whole apple in so long that I’d fogotten how they affect me!)
Workout: Barefoot trail run. I also rode 16 miles on two horses and generally kept moving most of the day.