Why you should get cold, think about dying, and starve yourself regularly
Part 1: Neglecting the Wild Beast
We as homo sapiens have been on Earth for 200,000 odd years. The past century forced us to adapt in ways that we’ve never needed to in our ancestral past. During prehistory, we’ve lived as hunters and gathers. Our mind and body are shaped under these conditions. The modern era of recorded history is a pin-drop in time relative to this evolutionary past. If the existence of homo sapiens is spanned across a day, our modern era would exist from 11:17pm to midnight.
During that last 43 minutes, 99% of all technological progress resides. This is the time of urbanization, deforestation, pollution, monoculture farms, GMOs, working 9–5, LED light bulbs, plastic production, Facebook, Netflix, Tinder, and our current way of living. With each passing change, our body — perfected for the pre-historic era — is forced to adapt, compensate, and survive in scenarios that distance us from our evolutionary design. We no longer walk on grass barefoot, embrace the elements of nature, or face the need to hunt. We are sedated and forced to live in the cages of urban dwellings — far removed from nature. As wild animals, we are captured, subdued, and unconsciously desire freedom.
When compared, homo sapiens are no different from other animals in that we evolved to survive in the wild. Common to all apex predators, we are primed for the hunt, savage in nature, and desire to rise amongst the pack. We have an enlarged cerebral cortex. With it, we’ve covered up our primal instincts and replaced them with more “intellectual pursuits” that deny our intuition. Like a caged wolf, our inner “wild beast” wreaks havoc when suppressed. This is expressed through the proliferation of mental and physical illnesses that are only common in the “civilized world”. Autoimmune diseases, psychological disorders, obesity, and cancer are all forms of self-bodily-mutilation; they are an expression of boredom and discontent by the animal within.
Part 2: Understanding the Wild Beast
Think of your immune system as a muscle:
As the common saying goes: “if you do not use it- you will lose it”. The same sense applies in all the ways that you’ve distanced your body from nature. If you do not expose yourself to perceivably life-threatening situations, then your body loses its ability to process stress productively. If you do not expose yourself to the cold, your body loses its ability to rapidly generate heat. And if you do not expose your body to hunger, then it loses the ability to process your fat storage into energy. Thus, chronic anxiety, poor immune health, and obesity plague first-world economies.
Think of your immune system as a wild animal:
Anyone that has ever owned a dog can attest that the best way to tame it is by tiring it out before training it. If the dog is neglected for too long, it will go on a rampage to destroy everything — and at worst — attack its host. This too applies to our immune system (your inner animal). Historically, this inner animal kept us alive, but in the modern age – a time of safety and resource abundance – it is slowly killing us.
This inner animal is the personified energy that has kept us warm amidst subfreezing temperatures, protected us from virus and bacterial threats, provided us with the fight or flight instinct to survive predatorial attacks, and adjusted our biochemistry to survive during mild-starvation. In the modern sense of the word: it is the symbiotic dance between our autonomic nervous system and immune system response. The former is a composite of bodily functions in connection with your “fight or flight” response, and the latter is responsible for your body’s overall health.
Part 3: Harnessing the Wild Beast Energy Within
Why it is good to get cold
Never in history have we lived with such a mild temperature variation. As men who are historically hunters, we’ve often needed to stalk prey at 40* to -40*C. Today, we rarely venture beyond the temperature range of 16° to 26°C — we live with air conditioning and heating and are wrapped with synthetic clothes that protect us from extreme cold. Certain bodily functions are now rendered useless when we no longer need to adjust for the 80*C temperature variation of the past.
For one, we still carry fat around our waistlines but it is now unused, and therefore piles up. When your body experiences intense temperature drops (ie: hunting during winter bareback wrapped partially with animal pelt), our body can regulate temperature through non-shivering thermogenesis. This process rapidly converts energy stored in fat cells into heat through the use of brown adipose tissue.
Cold exposure is the direct and natural external stimuli to signal to our autonomic nervous system to produce brown adipose tissue. In modern-day living, our body no longer produces this type of fat because we are no longer exposed to extreme temperatures. The autonomic nervous system also regulates blood pressure and the rate of breathing. When you are exposed to cold frequently, you train your veins to dilate in order to carry warmth throughout your body. With experience, you learn to regulate your breathing in order to enter into non-shivering thermogenesis where your body converts stored fat to heat. Exercising your autonomic nervous system in this way primes your parasympathetic response to prevent autoimmune disorders and improve your immunity to fight external ailments.
When I first read about cold exposure popularized by Wim Hoff, I first thought, ‘who in their right mind would want to suffer in the iced cold water?’. I soon experimented with his technique out of curiosity, wanting to experience the benefits for myself. I also took on this challenge in order to prime my default psychology to embrace discomfort. As an entrepreneur, I often face less than ideal circumstances that require a “steel spirit” to overcome. Embracing the cold helps me cultivate my inner fire.
It took a week of cold exposure for my body to prime itself to embrace extreme temperature drops without shivering. I started by jumping into a pool of water while working remotely during Jan last year in Tenerife, Spain. The pool was 14* and I dreaded having to go in. I started by going for a morning dip — but that did not last for long. I realized that my core body temperature was highest at about 12 pm daily, soI would go for a swim before lunch. Once I came back home to Toronto, Canada, I practiced cold showers for the remainder of the year and jumped into lakes whenever I was in the wilderness.
During these practices, I learned that cold exposure provides a sense of euphoria that I could only otherwise get from a multi-hour long mountain hike, bike touring, or long-distance running. This is the feeling of the “Flow State” or “runner’s high” as it is often called. To maximize this feeling, it is important to get your head wet the moment you embrace the cold. This is most effectively done by dipping your head beneath the water. This process activates the “mammalian dive response” which triggers serotonin to be released into the bloodstream and activates our primal state of being. This is basically a way to “get high on your own supplies”.
Why you should think about dying every day
Another issue with modern-day living is that we are sensitive to trivial issues and respond in the same way as if we are facing a life-or-death crisis. Whenever we are stuck in traffic and scream at the driver cutting us off, lose sleep because of a looming project deadline, or feel inadequate after being passed for a promotion, we are secreting cortisol at peak levels — similar to a hunter’s response when attacked by a predator. Given that the aforementioned inconveniences happen daily, we are in a constant state of stress. Living in such a state breeds mental illness. Never in history has there been more cases of clinical depression than we have today. We are truly living in the most luxurious time in history, but the majority suffer on an emotional and spiritual at an unprecedented level.
The philosophic exploration of stoicism helps modify thinking in order to separate real danger from mediocre inconveniences. This is a practice that I ground myself with. Whenever I deviate from stoic principles, I would regress to living in stress. By practicing stoicism, you learn to separate circumstances that are controllable and uncontrollable — and thereby destressing from factors outside of immediate control. Learn to visualize worst-case scenarios and of yourselves and those around you dying. This form of mental exposure is often used in behavior therapy to produce two outcomes. For one, you will cherish what you already have without the need for more. For another, you train your conditional response in case the worst happens. You learn to stabilize and separate your ego from inevitable realities through the process of change that otherwise generates suffering.
My own exploration of death brought me suffering and freedom. In the former, I realized that I did not live in a loving way that best served the ones that I care about most. Often, I ask myself, ‘would I regret it if my parents/ cousin/ grandparents/ friancé/ or friends died’? More times than not, I would answer with a shameful ‘yes’. This suffering is healthy because it is born from misaligned actions. Living in congruency with love alleviates the pain. When suffering connects with what’s in our control, we can simply change our actions in order to liberate ourselves from it. It is a healthy motivator. In response, I made changes to alleviate this pain and improved my relationships significantly. This is the truest form of liberation — when one lives their life making their best decisions without regret. Suffering thusly begets freedom.
During my own journey with death, I’ve realized that there were so many things unsaid between my father and I. As a society, we suppress the emotional connection between men, and I would surely regret not being able to connect with him in that capacity before death. And so, I spent 6 months drafting up a 10-page letter of all the things I wish to have communicated to him growing up.
In the past, my relationship with my mom had been crippled by our polarizing communication styles. I communicated the facts and she communicated her feelings. We lived on different planes of existence and could not appreciate nor respect the views of the other. And so, we felt unloved. Meditating on this and our eventual death, I learned to put my ego aside and bridge our dialogues with love first. Now, if any point of contention ever arises in our discussions, I will first default to say “I love you” to ground our discussion on the care that we have for one another.
Why you should starve yourself
We used to stock prey as biologically designed hunters. Oftentimes, we spend days tracking a herd of caribou for the “right moment” to strike. We need patience, cunning, and a body that can stave off hunger. In the past, when we do not eat, our body changes its metabolic state to “ketosis” — a process whereby the body converts fat into energy.
In today’s world, we no longer need to starve ourselves. Even in the poorest regions, we have access to Coca-Cola, chips, and other foods high in trans fat, GMO, and toxins that have been introduced to our diet in the past decades. Most processed foods are high in trans-fat, have chemical additives that heightens biotoxicity, and are largely made of GMO grains which convert directly into glycogen storage (I challenge you to find any processed food that does not contain corn or its various chemical byproducts). Your body can only contain a limited amount of glycogen and all the excess is converted into fat. In a time when we no longer experience mild-starvation, this fat builds up and results in our obesity epidemic.
During periods where we do not consume food for multiple days, you will use up your glycogen storage, transfer your metabolic state back to deep ketosis, and enter into a state called autophagy: a bodily recycling process, whereby your body digests all the damaged (and pre-cancerous) cells into raw energy. This, perhaps historically, was our body’s natural defense against cancer, as periods of long-term fasting were common as hunters. As we no longer fast — this defense is disabled.
I’ve rebooted this defense system through the practice of 16-hour intermittent fasting, weekly 24-hour fasts, and monthly 3–5 day water fasts. Fasting is a trial and error practice — you might faint if you don’t do it right. There were days when I couldn’t even stand up and reach for water, but I kept on learning and researching and testing new tactics until hunger is no longer debilitating.
Here are the key lessons I’ve learned on fasting:
- Start slow. Begin skipping breakfast, then lunch and dinner. Eventually, work your way up to a 1–2 day fast. Approach your first 3 day fast as an actual event. Try not to plan anything mentally or physically demanding during the 2–3rd days.
- Try not to drive on your 2nd or 3rd day when starting out as you may be cognitively impaired to do so.
- Get moving on your first day of fasting. Try going on a 2–4 hour hike in order to deplete your body’s glycogen storage by day 1. The goal is to transition your dependency on sugar (glycogen) to fats (ketones). The feeling of grogginess only lasts during this transition period.
- The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Your body will get used to transitioning routinely.
- To aid your transition, supplement with a tablespoon of exogenous ketones into your coffee. I prefer Brain Octane Oil — which is a form of MCT Oil derived from coconuts that provides 6 times more ketones into your bloodstream than any other known source.
- Supplement with 3g of EAA
- You should not need any ketone supplements (MCT oil) by the end of the 2nd day and your 3rd day, as your body would then be fully adapted to converting your body fat into ketones thereafter.
The goal is to reach a state when your stomach is empty but your body is optimally fueled with ketones broken down from body fat and your heart is full of gratitude for life, food, and the abundance around you. You can take a deeper dive into fasting here.
In these ways, I’ve learned to simulate ancestral conditions in the modern world. No longer do we need to risk dying from cold, predators, and starvation. However, we should not neglect our body’s survival responses that have kept us alive as a species. It is important to find ways to cultivate our wild beast tendencies with modern methodologies so we do not afflict self-harm. With this, I hope that you too can harness your internal lifeforce towards more productive outlets.