Intermittent Fasting: The Perfect Stoic Exercise
This is a guest post from one of our contributors and a good friend of mine, Siim Land. Siim is a best-selling author and high-performance coach who has a mission of empowering others and hacking the human body. Siim holds an encyclopedia of knowledge on ketosis, fasting, productivity and anything else which helps you reach your potential in his brain. Be sure to check out and subscribe to his channel to show your support.
Why Fasting Is The Perfect Stoic Exercise
Our modern lives are full of constant stimulation.
• High sugary, salty and fatty foods are making our palate more oppressed.
• Social media, smartphones and the Internet give us instant gratification and disturb our attention spans.
• The fast pace of life demands fast food, fast cars, a whole lot of stress and anxiety.
That’s how the majority of society is living and it reflects in the obesity rates as there are now more people who are overweight than those who are not.
But it’s not being obese or diabetic that’s the issue here.
The problem is that in the advent of comfort and abundance in the Western world, we’re teaching ourselves to lose some of the positive qualities of human nature, like the ability to think for ourselves, focus on a single thing at a time, having patience, self-control and going for the delayed return.
A Hedonic Downfall?
In an environment that doesn’t challenge us the same way it used to, it’s too easy to fall into a Hedonistic pit and get lost in between binging on McDonald’s while watching Netflix.
Will Durant – a famous historian – said: “A nation is born stoic, and dies epicurean.”
How true is that in history?
Great nations like Ancient Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, the French Monarchy of Louis XIV all fell into a trap of excess glamour and comfort. As the people got richer, they became softer and thus more vulnerable to foreign invaders or upheavals – they were the victims of their own hedonic downfall.
As we know, the lessons of history tend to repeat themselves and human nature is stubborn to change.
That’s why creating instances of deliberate discomfort and a voluntary challenge is so important.
In fact, it can be said that facing adversity, overcoming obstacles and experiencing suffering is an essential component to a meaningful human experience.
I’m not saying that we want to have unnecessary pain and turmoil in our lives. Instead, those uncomfortable and adverse situations help us to put things into perspective.
If we were to constantly dwell on the positive side of life, we’d not only get too soft but most probably obese, or at least we’d drown into other distractions.
Seeking challenges and voluntarily facing them is a huge part of Stoicism. In principal, this philosophy claims that there are
• Things we cannot control at all
• Things we can control 100%
• Things we can control only to a certain extent
We cannot control the weather or a random SHTF event (sh#t hit the fan type of disaster like 9/11 or WW1), but what we can control entirely is our response to those events.
Your Perception Is Key
There’s a saying often attributed to Gautama Buddha: „Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.“
It means you can’t control the way your body reacts to physical stimuli i.e. exercising, getting hungry or feeling cold but what you can do is change your perception of it.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, as is suffering – you can feel misery in any situation and you can simultaneously transcend it anywhere as well.
That’s exactly how Viktor Frankl managed to survive all those years in Nazi concentration camps. Even though he was in physical pain most of the time, his mindset shifted his entire perspective on the experience, leading to personal fulfilment and meaning.
Intermittent Fasting Is Just So Stoic
A Stoic practice should promote and develop equanimity in the face of adversity.
What it basically entails is restricting your daily eating window within a certain time frame, during which you consume no calories.
The health benefits of fasting are profound, starting from improved fat loss, lower blood sugar, better cholesterol levels, reduction in triglycerides and ending cellular detoxification.
The cognitive benefits of fasting are also immense:
• You get hungry, which is uncomfortable. Not to the point of intense pain, but it’s still unbearable for some who are used to eating very frequently.
• It develops discipline and willpower – you’re not going to eat because you haven’t reached your eating window yet...
• You can reconceptualize hunger. Instead of seeing it as dreadful and something to avoid, you realize that it’s not that bad and that the other benefits are incredibly good for you.
• You’ll be more productive. Food is a major distraction for people – but I can’t finish my thesis because I have to grab lunch…because I only ate a hefty breakfast and it’s been 5 hours already…
• You’re forced to become more mindful. Fasting allows you to get off the constant ride of stimulation our society is on. Your taste buds get a break from the bombardment of food which allows you to distance yourself from other similar attractions.
Not Just Fasting From Food…
Even though I’m talking about abstaining from food here, the same principle of fasting can and should be applied to other forms of pleasure in modern life.
Things like social media, caffeine, the Internet, central heating (brrr), a comfy bed, leisure time and other forms of amusement. Yet again, not for the sake of nihilistic suffering but for some stoic conditioning against pain and discomfort.
Even though I love what technology is allowing us to do, most of us don’t realize that our smartphones and gadgets are slowly making us too fragile.
Of course, imagine the world in a few centuries when we’ve immersed ourselves with our AI, creating the ultimate singularity, but right now we’re very much walking-talking apes that are still influenced by our primal psychology to a large extent.
You shouldn’t trust the signals and urges your reptilian brain is giving you because it has teamed up with your monkey mind and together they’re hardwired to make you take the path of least resistance, which more often than not leads to obesity or procrastination.
That’s why you as a conscious human being need to practice enough self-awareness, so you could hone your senses, become more mindful and live according to virtue.
Use Fasting as a Stoic Exercise
I’m not overweight or sick – in fact, I’m very lean and physically active. But still, I practice intermittent fasting.
At this point, abstaining from food or other hedonic pleasures has become primarily a stoic exercise – to stop myself from being stimulated by food because that’s the least I can do to bring some more deliberate discomfort into my life, right?
Following certain eating windows – I do one meal a day ala Warrior Diet style – is a great way to develop simple disciplines and routined habits that allow me to be healthier, more mindful and consistent. Hell…it makes me about 200% more productive at the same time, so it’s truly a life-hack.
This video explains the important difference between intermittent fasting and eating less:
We’re not living in such an environment as the savannah anymore and our modern lives are full of constant stimulation. Although food is abundant, one should ask: Do I need to do intermittent fasting?
There are a ton of health benefits to fasting and caloric restriction, such as better biomarkers, improved insulin sensitivity, and increased longevity. But the mental benefits of fasting are equally as cultivating – more self-control, self-discipline, a better understanding of your cravings and a more mindfulness. If not for health, then you should do intermittent fasting as a stoic practice.
Deliberately facing adversity and overcoming challenges conditions you to handle them better in the future.
The same applies to intermittent fasting – it makes you stronger both physically and mentally.