Its not what you think. The Escape Artist has not gone mad and turned into a daytrader, timeshare salesman or internet scammer. Getting rich slowly is easy. Unfortunately, there is no reliable, legal way to get rich quickly (with the possible exception of running a hedge fund).
No, what I am talking about is fasting. As in skipping the occasional meal or two. I stole this idea from Arthur de Vany who is a great advocate of leading a more natural life in all aspects of diet, exercise and lifestyle.
Most of us in the West live like battery hens or lab rats. As part of this, we are protected from predators, from the weather and we are overfed with (often artificial) food. On balance, this beats starving in a cave during the Ice Age but it has unfortunately had the side effect of making us as soft as shite.
As MMM would say: to achieve greatness, you must first acknowledge that you suck. So here is my confession. I am able to do press-ups, run 10 miles or cycle 100 miles easily enough but I fully acknowledge that I am a wimp compared to 1) anyone in the Parachute Regiment or 2) anyone else in the Armed Forces or 3) in the Police or 4) anyone that actually does real manual work for a living or 5) anyone who lived in the UK in any century before the twentieth or 6) anyone who lives in a Third World Country or 7) is a member of any species other than homo sapiens.
So its time to toughen up, cupcake. One way to achieve this is to lead a more natural life and that means a little more challenge. However not all challenges are equally good. The best challenge does not come from playing Call of Duty on the XBox with the difficulty setting turned up. The best challenges come from overcoming obstacles that our ancestors would have dealt with.
We evolved in challenging natural environments. Imagine living as a hunter gatherer on the African Savannah or as a caveman in France during the Ice Age. So our ancestors learnt to get pleasure from solving their problems….getting food, building a shelter, finding friends, conceiving and raising children, escaping a predator. Evolution rewards the skills, activities and experiences that increase our incidence in the gene pool. The most rewarding stuff is solving the problems that we would have encountered in the natural environment.
So we need to find ways to make life a little bit harder, a little bit more natural and a little bit more volatile. I am a believer in experimentation and bio-hacking but I realised recently that I had never once in 44 years on this planet gone a full day without eating food (except when ill which was not my choice so doesn’t really count). This called for the 1 Day Fasting Experiment. So I ate nothing between going to bed on Friday and waking up on Sunday morning.
I got up on Saturday as the sun started to rise. Since busting out of the Prison Camp earlier this year, The Escape Artist has not required the services of an alarm clock. I then went out mountain biking with a group of local guys. I think of this a bit like replicating the environment of paleolithic hunting – an early morning start, a group experience, a mix of guys co-operating surrounded by beautiful countryside.
I get a lot of value from this. I get to hang out with guys who do not all work in Finance or Law, who have normal lives. I get to discover new trails and new aspects to the countryside around where I live, all part of the benefit of living a more local life.
On my return from this, my normal policy would be to reward myself for the exercise with a slap up late breakfast or brunch. But, as this was the day of the Fasting Experiment, I replicated the experience of an unsuccessful hunt with no subsequent protein feast.
Hunting wild animals and living as a hunter gatherer would have been an irregular type of gig with a large degree of volatility in the outcomes. Sometimes you would have got lucky and caught an antelope. Othertimes you would have struck out and gone hungry or been forced to eat like Bear Grylls when he’s scraping the bottom of the food chain.
De Vany points out that almost every living creature through history would have gone hungry now and again. It seems intuitive that our bodies are likely well evolved to periods of fasting and that responding to intermittent fasting is embedded in our metabolism.
What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. To use Taleb’s phraseology, as living creatures, we humans are anti-fragile. Antifragility is just the opposite of fragility: it means that a certain amount of disorder or volatility actually strengthens you. Volatility in your food intake is just one example of this. It is more natural (hence probably better for you) to experience a degree of feast and famine rather than always have 3 regular meals a day and a monotonous daily intake of 3,000 calories.
One phrase that I’ve heard people misuse is that your body is like an engine…you first have to put fuel in for it to work. But if you think about our ancestral environment, we hunted to be able to eat….we did not eat to be able to hunt. Our bodies are infinitely more complex than an engine. We have millions of cells and other organisms inside us and incredibly complex feedback mechanisms honed over millions of years of evolution.
It seems entirely plausible to me that fasting has non-obvious health benefits and that insufficient variety in our diets could be bad for us. De Vany argues that when we experience an environment of abundance our bodies focus on cell growth. When we experience an environment of scarcity, signals triggered by hunger tell our cells to focus on repair rather than new growth. So periodic fasting prompts cells to fix themselves and so is a way to slow ageing.
According to De Vany, during times of plentiful nutrition, the most effective way for DNA to propagate itself is through reproduction, since there is enough energy out there to support offspring. When there is no excess, DNA is best served by not reproducing….low levels of food (especially carbohydrate) signal that it is in the DNA’s interest to preserve itself through gene repair and cell maintenance.
There is no need to email me telling me that I’m not an expert in biology and nutritional science. I already know that. Here’s the thing: I don’t need to know the scientific detail to understand its possible that fasting could have physical benefits. I just need to understand that evolution is a powerful process and that we are well adapted to the environmental conditions that applied throughout most of our history.
Even though its plausible to me that fasting has physical benefits, it may be that the mental and spiritual benefits of fasting are even more powerful. Fasting reminds us of the need for a certain amount of mental toughness. It reminds us of a more natural world, before shopping malls, convenience food and carbohydrate based profit maximisation. If you can get used to the idea of skipping the odd meal, you will not go to pieces when deprived of chicken nuggets and chips for more than 3 hours. You are then less likely to be a forced buyer of convenience foods with a sucker premium priced in.
Fasting helps us avoid becoming like the obese jellybaby humans in Wall-E, driving around in electric chairs sucking on a sugary drink through a straw. Fasting also encourages gratitude when the fast is broken and food is appreciated so much more.
Fasting reminds us that our evolutionary automatic programming can be manually over-ridden. We can use our pre-frontal cortex to override the ancient reptilian parts of our brain that govern greed and the acquisition of food and other “stuff”. It is not a big leap from being able to go a few hours without the instant gratification of food, to being able to resist pissing your money away on consumer nonsense. If you can rewire your basic factory settings in this way, you will get rich over time with certainty.
The fasting experience itself was surprisingly easy. I continued to function just fine – throughout most of Saturday I felt sharp and alert. I drank liquids (tea, coffee, water) which distracted from the feeling of hunger. I went to bed slightly early on the Saturday night (and I slept well) so that the fasting would go on whilst asleep – no willpower required.
On waking on Sunday morning, I felt normal – and not much hungrier than any other day. Like many things in life, the anticipation of fasting for a full day was much scarier than the actual experience. This is why we should spend more time experimenting and less time inventing excuses.
In future, I plan to continue to skip the odd meal once or twice a week and maybe a full day a few times a year. Nothing too difficult.
Some people who do not get the whole FI thing may now be reading this article and thinking:
That’s it. This is the proof we’ve been waiting for. We knew he could never have earned enough to be able to quit work. He is now forced to starve himself in order to save money!
Errr, no. After my day of “deprivation”, normal service was resumed this morning when I ate like a King. I breakfasted (literally) on great natural food that had been grown for me by servants of the capitalist economy then delivered to me by a man in a motorised white chariot…which, if you think about it, is the height of decadent luxury.