I’m finding increasingly beneficial to violate quality habits from time to time. Mix safe and reliable customs (which generally yield profound results), with something degenerate on an occasional basis. This goes beyond something simply riskier and more potent, with rewards hidden on the tail end of the distribution. I refer to compromising actions even (no chance of rewards local to that round), provided bounded pitfalls.
I appeal to such de-cleansing in pursuit of ultimately strengthening the overall system. Nassim Taleb refers to this approach as introducing the (necessary) local fragilities (and harm) for a globally strengthened and anti-fragile system. Let’s now proceed to something less abstract. Let me demonstrate one of my fragile “systems”.
I exercise several habits:
Intermittent fasting. This has been a huge game changer. I don’t consume calories beyond an 8-hour eating window per day, and typically shorter, as short as 6 hours. I’ve been at this for at least 3 months.
The only (severe) challenge to the lifestyle is consuming enough calories for my thin and energy consuming frame. Otherwise, I’ve felt tremendous benefits, some physical, but mostly cognitive. Beyond the academic benefits, I’ve desired for my mornings to be as physically and psychologically uninhibiting as manageable. Historically, I’ve been dependent and emotionally fragile to not only breakfast first thing, but to frequent meals throughout the day. That’s no longer the case.
I typically don’t eat (intake the first calories) until some time after noon (or after 13:30 on occasion), in spite of waking up 5:00-6:00. That’s opportunity for an honest day’s work before the first meal.
Funny. The first time I watched Blade Runner: 2049, I took humor in officer K’s remark in the first act: “I prefer to keep an empty stomach until the hard part of the day is over.” Taking such a statement seriously did not fit within my imaginative palate.
Now, I more or less live that lifestyle. Many days I even perform the heavy exercise hours before that first meal, in a totally fasted state, with no detriment to muscle growth.
Note, I do consume one to two small cups of pure black coffee throughout the morning (the first two-three hours after wakeup), even one of which suffices to domesticate any stomach growling. Although for those first 2-4 hours of waking up, my thought of food is as prevalent as thought of winter sleet.
The coffee effect, I’ve noted, is completely different in a fasted state than after a meal. It functions with such greater impact on an empty stomach. Here too, I completely redesigned how I drink coffee. Previously I’ve implored and assured to only consume coffee after a meal. Now, most of all coffee drinking (with exceptions) takes place in a fasted state.
Concerning travel, the ability to arrive at a destination and not need to anticipate breakfast or shopping has become such a relief. Even a day prior, as the flight crew passed around the s*** breakfast on the flight to Brazil (sometime around 5AM), I felt a sickening revulsion for the prospect. Ultimately, my body merely signalled that I had eaten last night and wouldn’t be hungry for at least another 7 hours. Why would someone eat at night? And yet… historically, the mere scent of breakfast along the isles evoked a severe case of fake hunger and rendered me about as clear-headed as a bitchy pet around the dinner table.
Low carbohydrates. This is nothing novel. I’ve gradually decreased my carbohydrate intake over the last 20 years. I refrain from most sources of significant sugar. I eat nothing considered “dessert”, virtually ever. Not that other foods and recepies may not contain sugar in their content, but I cringe at anything sweet I can actually taste, irrespective of where that sweetness originates. I’ve only written off a few sweet fruit I enjoy among apples, bananas or oranges. Sincerely, I would rather eat a raw lemon in it’s entirety if not for the odontological issues that’s known to cause. (Even the euphoria experimented from the mouthful of heavy citric acid doesn’t entirely feel right).
Now, about 7 months prior I eliminated further of the remaining staples considered most compromising, mostly among rice or grainy dishes. I primarily aimed to minimize the high glicemic-index carbohadrates that cause insulin spikes, and harness greater cognitive benefits. Again, these practices lend quiet naturally to anyone attempting to drop weight, but prove challenging for thin people. And yet, thin people are as much victims to insulin and poor body chemistry as anyone else.
Daily, body weight exercise. I’ve felt far less emotional instability from daily lower-impact exercises of at least 30 minutes, than from 3-4 day a week higher intensity workouts. I fully acknowledge having compromised the musculoskeletal strengthening benefits of barbells and dumbells. This question of longevity I still need to address.
Caffeine early in the day.
Some of the above are nothing new and sound natural. Others you may consider more cutting edge. But there’s a factor of commonality between all. Whenever I’m in conditions that violate the above habits, all fragilities I’ve worked to eradicate turn against me. Let’s explore.
- When incidentally subjected to carb-rich foods that especially tread on the fasting window: severe insulin spikes (manifested as notable energy drops), even beyond the historical levels.
- The need to take naps even when otherwise well rested.
- Fall in productivity
- Defensiveness and debatism.
- Until recently, never in my wildest fantasies did I imagine that lack of ice-cold water from the shower nozzle may trigger an inner complaint.
One fragility has become exchanged for another. There exist, however, preventive measures:
Schedule occasional disturbances. For example, one day per week to eat whatever you desire is not unheard of throughout restricted eating systems.
I’ve previously held a severe misconception concerning this tactic. I considered it a measure of humility for the not-easily disciplined. However, it turns out to have (as I suspect) the low-dose of poison type of effect - that of strengthening the physical and emotional reaction to occasional degeneratives. I suspect it only works for low stressors (within some confines), and severely doubt that a recovering smoker would gain any second-order benefits from a “cigarette Friday”.
Incorporate heavy workouts from time to time to harness some of those skeletal longevity benefits, and yet limit the frequency to minimize the wear and tear. Now this directly follows Taleb’s domain-independent barbell strategy. However, within the domain of exercise, it takes form in conducting a light, low impact routine most of the time, but really going heavy (within some bound) on occasion. Having too cleansed of a system creates vulnerability to stressors.
My “heavy” days could probably increase in frequency. I’ve gone on a 3-mile run perhaps once a month in spite of years of zero running from knee and lower-back issues. I occasionally perform weighted squats. This week I found myself in the gym entertaining dumbells and the row machine. A few days later I still feel the soreness.
This approach entirely counteracts my previous mindset - if you don’t conduct a health routine frequently, why bother.
Violating the holy 8-hour calory-consuming window one day per week will not eliminate the long-term benefits. It might, however, actually make me a bit more humble with company. I need to work on my humbleness anyway.
Can I imagine eating plain awful degenerate foods on some scheduled basis? No. Disgusting. However, maybe a portion of rice or potatoes, late-in-the-day caffeine, or beyond-the-norm alcohol content once in a couple of weeks may serve to minimize the impact of unpredictable disturbances. Or maybe not. Don’t appeal to me for medical advice.
Open question: where does one draw the line between principles and humility?
Questions, comments? Connect.