Lessons from a Houseplant: Part II- Food
In “Lessons from a Houseplant: Part I”, we looked at why outdoor plants are stronger and more adaptable than houseplants. We then applied this idea to human beings using some basic tenants of biology. We looked at why our culture is set up to encourage us to be weak houseplants and how it’s affecting our health and our ability to adapt to stressful circumstances.
Throughout the next couple of weeks, we’ll look at some specific ways in which we can get up and “get outside”, and stop being weak little houseplants. We’ll release a series of posts, each one designed to look at one specific aspect of life that we, and our plant friends, have in common. We’ll address how we can create controlled stress in each area that will force us to adapt and grow, ultimately making us a stronger and healthier person. The only way to become stronger and more adaptable is to be put outside of our comfort zone and forced to find a way to adapt. It’s not easy, but if we put in the time and the effort, there will be a large pay off for us, both physically and mentally.
Before we get into specifics, please keep in mind that many of these practices that will be mentioned can be done in an unhealthy way and we are presenting them only as theoretical ideas, not as a prescription or plan of any kind (see our medical disclaimer at the bottom of the page if you have any questions). It’s imperative that anytime you’re outside of your comfort zone you are more cognizant and aware of how you’re feeling and what’s going on inside your body and if you ever think that what you’re doing doesn’t feel right, or feels unhealthy, then you stop it. Taking an indoor plant and putting it outside puts a huge amount of stress on the plant and forces the plant to either adapt or die… While it may not be as black-and-white of a process with us humans, it’s still incredibly important to know your body and use discretion.
Another quick point that’s worth making is that the best way to move a houseplant outside is to slowly acclimate it to the new conditions instead of just putting it out there and seeing what happens. The same goes for us as well. Especially when just starting out, a small dose or a short amount of time outside of our comfort zone is easier to handle than long periods. If training yourself to adapt to temperature, don’t start by sitting in a 180 F sauna for an hour. Your body isn’t ready for it and you won’t appreciate the outcome. As we become more adaptable and get further along with these practices, we will develop a better sense of how the body is doing and we’ll know when to push ourselves and when to stop.
Now that we got all of that out of the way, let’s talk about how to turn yourself into a strong and adaptable superhuman. In this post we’ll look specifically at food and diet and how they can be manipulated to keep our body working at its best.
Houseplants pretty much always have the same access to nutrients in the soil, unless we fertilize them. The soil for outdoor plants is always changing and evolving. The Earth is continually renewing and recirculating nutrients. Death and decay bring new nutrients to the soil while water can wash away, or bring new, nutrients to an area. The point is that the amount and types of food for outdoor plants is always changing. We can create this same environment for ourselves.
While we all know that a varied diet is important, we oftentimes still get into a routine with our food. The more variety we have the better. We have a better chance of getting the nutrients that we need and are less likely to develop deficiencies/toxicities. Our gut microbiome has to adapt to be able to process a wide variety of foods which leads to an overall healthier gut and digestion.
We also need to occasionally boost our diet with a condensed dose of nutrients. This patches the holes in our diet and ensures that we have everything that we need biochemically to be strong and healthy. The big 4 of these nutrients are omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, probiotics, and a good multivitamin, but your “soil” may have a different makeup and require different nutrients. For the athlete, zinc, magnesium and calcium may also be important. Think of this as your dose of Miracle-Gro.
It’s also good to vary up the amount of food that we eat. Unless on a strict weight loss/gain diet, we should vary up how much we eat at our meals and how often we eat. One of the best practices that one can have is fasting. I personally take a whole day off from eating at least once a month. For a solid 24-36 hours, I will only consume water. This is a great way for us to allow our digestive system to rest and recover, take a little bit of metabolic stress off of our bodies, and force our bodies to become better at regulating blood sugar. There’s even some evidence showing that fasting can rebuild and strengthen the immune system.
Fasting also mentally changes our relationship to food. We can get away from seeing eating as a chore, or a reward, and gain a valuable appreciation for the food that we eat. It no longer is simply a part of our routine and by gaining a new perspective on food, we can develop a healthier relationship with it.
Throughout a 36-hour fast, the body and mind go through many different stages. Energy levels go up and down and hunger signals become intense and then fade away. Learning to recognize these things and work with them is incredibly important to us both physically and mentally. It gives us the opportunity to work on maintaining mental sharpness even though our blood sugar levels are not consistent. It also gives us a chance to work on not eating even though our stomach and brain are telling us that we need to.
For many people, making the right decisions concerning their diet can be one of the most challenging things that they face… and for good reason. The intensity of our biological signals surrounding food and the drive to eat is naturally very strong, and then on top of that, we oftentimes make poor lifestyle choices that make us have an extra strong desire to eat, and eat the wrong kinds of foods. Learning to have conscious mastery over our thoughts and actions, even when in challenging scenarios, can translate to mental strength in almost any area of life.
Now you certainly don’t have to do a 36 hour water cleanse. There are many other forms of fasting to try, and I’d suggest that you try a variety of different fasting methods (again, gaining adaptability from undergoing a variety of challenging experiences).
Also, I have to emphasize that fasting should only be used to reset the body and mind, not to try to lose weight (unless using intermittent fasting or a program designed to healthily, and slowly, lose body fat). Fasting does not mean starving yourself, it should only be done occasionally (on days when no workout or intense physical activity is planned) and should not interfere with you getting the necessary nutrients. If you do plan on doing a 24-36 hour fast, it should be done during a time when you can just rest and aren’t overly stressed or busy.
Give some of these methods a try and let us know how they work for you. I’d love to hear about what your experiences have been with fasting, or varying up the amount and types of food that you consume. Much of challenging our bodies and minds revolves around experimentation, and learning from the experiences of others can help guide us down the right path.
Stay tuned for our next post in which we’ll look at our relationship to sunlight and sleep…
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