Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Sustainability. The buzzword of recent years. Many of us associate the idea of sustainability with carbon footprints, global warming, transportation and energy consumption. But sustainability is more than just a mere discussion about polluting nations, renewable energy sources and veganism. There's more to it, particularly on the....individual level.
We often talk about everyday habits we can adopt to be more sustainable in our day to day living. We emphasise the importance of education and awareness, with the hopes of a collective change in human behavior. The key to operating as a functional society lies with none other than the power of its people. Sustainability isn’t too different.
With all the technological advancements and development that the 21st century has given us, it's also taking away the connection we have with our roots. We've programmed ourselves such that we make subconscious decisions every day, simply because they're 'routine' and habitual. Our ancestors back in the Upper Palaeolithic period spent their time hunting food for days, sometimes weeks. Their anthropomorphic characteristics proved to be a genetic advantage when it came to the laws of the jungle. Eventually, Homo sapiens prevailed at the top of nature’s food chain. To be fair, our great great great...something ancestors didn't have the internet, or high paying jobs to focus on. Surviving out in the wild and looking after their tribe and families, was their full time job.
We humans tell ourselves that we've lived sustainably. For some of us however, the past 20 years has made life too easy. Exercising or even moving around, is now a hobby for those who take out time out of their seemingly busy lives. Food, that is nature's gift intended to help us flourish, became nothing more than a task….an afterthought. We passionately discuss the impact of global warming and climate change on online forums, as if we’re the ones at the forefront of policy making. From a global perspective, these issues are undoubtedly paramount. On a more grounded level however, there is another approach we can take towards sustainability. One that we don't quite talk about too often.
It’s about time that we finally open our minds to the true potential of our physiology. Sustainability… it starts with us.
Background: Our Guest
The contents of this post are based on the podcast we had with our guest- Ritesh Shaiwal, founder of Easy Human. Social media and website links, along with the sources used to cite information will be listed in the references section.
Note: The points covered in the podcast have been briefly summarised in this blog post in the form of an interview. For the full experience, listen to the podcast. It's long, but has all the contextual information and stories. We recommend listening to it in parts, rather than all at once.
Ritesh started his journey as a personal trainer working for Fitness First in India, before following his passion to open up his own cafe and fitness ‘lab’ in Mumbai. His feats include scaling the Everest base camp in 2016, representing India in Sylvester Stallone’s Netflix reality show production ‘The Ultimate Beastmaster’, and most recently completing the Iron Man triathlon.
"I grew up in a small town in India- Bihar, Patna. I pursued journalism before working for Fitness First as personal trainer. After about a decade, I was asked to manage the business in New Delhi and Mumbai. As the business manager for Fitness First, I helped establish three clubs in Mumbai.
In 2017, I and my team started Easy Human. As someone who always prefers personal interaction over that of social media, I realised that technology can be a beautiful way to reach out and inspire people. Our philosophy resonated with the notion that we must give something to society, rather than simply provide a health club. We wanted to take a holistic approach to well-being. That's why Easy Human consists of three elements- food, fitness and lab."
The palaeolithic era can be argued as the time when humans as a species, was at its fittest. The entire backdrop of the Easy Human menu is based on palaeolithic eating (grain-free, dairy-free and pulse-free), without compromising on taste or nutrition. Many of us adopt a stereotypical notion that a healthy meal must constitute a salad, or a chicken breast with some vegetables.
A good example is this blueberry cheesecake which happens to be a paleo dessert, containing cashew cheese while being devoid of any refined sugars. With other desserts as well, Easy Human uses natural sources of sugar like jaggery, honey or maple syrup.
"Altering the way I look at food not only changed my physical characteristics, but also my state of mind. By eating foods that were healthy as well as delicious, I no longer felt the need to consume junk food.
When people ask me for a suitable diet plan, I think about what might work for them specifically, rather than adopt a 'one size fits all approach'. The benefits of approaching food in this manner can only be realised by those who experience it themselves. The key to any eating regime is sustainability.There are two ways to alter the physiological response within a human's mind, body and soul. First, the food that you eat which is the information you feed through your mouth. Second, the vibrations that you create within your body in the form of movement, dance, yoga, anything. My approach is to understand the individual's psychology, change their perception of food, and then have them experience it."
Movement and Flow
A lot of organisations these days stress the importance of an active work environment. Today, a large majority of people spend their time sitting and working at a desk with limited movement and activity. Sitting for prolonged periods of time has been shown to cause poor posture, digestion problems, stiff muscles and tightness, compression in the hips, and so on. It is important to note however, that these don't just pertain to our parents, or to those who have full time jobs. This applies to everyone.
A study was conducted by a group of researchers at The World Health Organisation (WHO), which by the way, should be taken with a grain of salt given how they’ve been handling ‘recent events’. The team analysed survey results that included around 1.6 million adolescents from over 140 different countries in 2001 and then in 2016. They found that 81% of the adolescents did not meet WHO’s requirements of having at least an hour of physical activity every day. There was also a difference in genders where 78% of boys failed to hit the daily recommended target, versus 85% of girls.
"Movement plays an important role in initiating that very experience. The generalised notion of exercise need not be confined to the walls of a gym. Movement is more holistic than that.
The concept of movement goes beyond that of conventional exercise. As we evolved into Homo sapiens, we went through a transition from being quadrupedal animals to bipedal humans. So then why don't we use our palms to move around anymore?
Like many of the skills we possess in our lives, movement is no different. It's a skill that needs to be practiced, yielding long term results."
When we were children, we didn't have access to smartphones back then were encouraged to go out into the playground and...well play. We would go into the sandbox, slides, swings, etc. and just explore whatever we can do with our bodies. Sam Harris recently mentioned in one of his podcasts about facing your own fears: 'The act of being still, embracing your own thoughts rather than distracting yourself in this situation, is one of the hardest things one can do.'
The Power of Food
No discussion about sustainability is complete without food. Yet, the internet is full of myths and misconceptions surrounding food and nutrition. Today, a vast majority of Gen Z individuals and millennials, seem to have a good idea about different macronutrients in foods, carbs, fats and protein. Over the years I’ve learned the importance of organic foods and food sourcing. These elements, along with having local and responsible growth of food is paramount when it comes to sustainability and well-being.
Organic vs. Non-Organic
Organic farming involves the growth and production of agricultural foods, without the use of synthetic chemicals such as fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).
With livestock, this includes keeping poultry chickens out in the open, rather than in tightly packed cages and coops. The term used is pasture-raised free range chicken, or eggs. This essentially means that the chickens are fed non-GMO grains or food, and are raised in an ethical manner, in the absence of growth inducing drugs, steroids, antibiotics or hormones. This also applies to red meat and cattle. The industrialisation of the dairy industry in the 1950s resulted in manufacturers housing cows in large warehouses, injecting them with hormones and antibiotics to increase milk production. Cows are naturally meant to roam freely and feed on grass. Therefore, organic, grass-fed red meat and dairy is what is desirable for us.
All these chemicals have high concentrations of nitrates, sulphur, and bacteria that are toxic to our bodies, even potentially carcinogenic. There are two terms in biology known as bioaccumulation, and biomagnification. In a nutshell, the synthetic chemicals that a plant or an animal is fed or injected with, builds up over time. As we consume it, the chemicals stored within the food ends up in our systems as well, which can be detrimental to our well-being. The toxins in these foods affect our energy levels, further leading to lethargy, tiredness, forgetfulness and brain fog to name a few.
"Sometimes, the answer lies in simplicity. Excess information kills. Back to when we were hunters and gatherers, we used to hunt animals out in the wild, gather fruits, berries and vegetables, procuring them from nature itself. There was no factory-made food that was filled with processed ingredients. Similarly, the idea of macronutrients did not affect our decisions back then. So I find it unnecessary to obsess over a new diet trend, be it ketogenic, vegan or paleo. The need of the hour is that of simplicity in eating, i.e. starting with locally sourced food. That way there is no question of excluding people from different economic backgrounds. If someone is unable to afford organic foods, an ideal starting point would be locally grown, whole foods.
Secondly, with organic food it is important to understand what goes on inside our bodies. When we consume chemical containing processed foods, our intestine and digestive system is forced to work more than required. This is because these foods are not naturally occurring substances, therefore our body must use more energy to digest and break them down. Eventually, this leads to some of those conditions you mentioned earlier.
As our society progresses, people will become more aware and educated about organic foods, labels and sourcing. This will result in a tendency to be over-critical when it comes to the authenticity of the source; particularly the various stages the food goes through before reaching the final consumer. That is something the organic food manufacturers should bear in mind as organic farming can be an expensive affair, particularly in Asian countries."
The Saturated Fat Myth
Over the past few years, people have started to realise the benefits of fats, and usually opt for unsaturated sources of fat such as peanut butter, avocados, olive oil, etc. At the same time, saturated fat sources such as red meat and full fat dairy is considered to be unhealthy. A large amount of credit for this of course, goes to the food manufacturing companies.
In the 1960s, when the food industry was starting to commercialise, food manufacturers with products containing high amounts of sugar found a way to sell more products. These companies propagated the idea that consuming high amounts of fat, specifically saturated fat, is linked with heart disease, high cholesterol, blood pressure and obesity. They used observational studies that involved people who ate certain foods such as processed red meats, hamburgers and hot dogs, with high rates of the aforementioned conditions.
The caveat however, is that the research didn’t account for any other habits the individuals may have such as smoking, drinking or drug abuse. Furthermore, the relationship between the two variables was found to be a correlation, not a causation. For the next 50 years, these companies proceeded to sell low fat, high sugar products in the name of being healthy. The result? A spike in obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Good sources of saturated fats such as coconut oil, ghee or clarified butter, grass-fed red meat and dairy have been shown to increase levels of High Density Lipoprotein (HDL), or the good cholesterol in our bodies.
"The simplest way to eat and live life is to understand what is best suited for the human intestine. Our digestive systems are built in the same way. While there might be some differences in the response mechanism between individuals, but the structure remains mostly the same. That's how we start. The next step is to identify what food groups are best suited for our intestine. That is what we're seeing, people are beginning to realise that the human intestine responds well to fatty foods.
With food intake, the proportion of different food groups also largely depends on occupation and lifestyle. An endurance athlete who is training for a marathon would need to consume carbohydrates, so the proportion would increase. It is important that we as humans consume what is good for the intestine, and see how our bodies respond to those foods. From there, we can move onto deciding what food groups to consume, and in what proportions.
For the majority of people who live a regular lifestyle with no vigorous physical activity, the first step is to get a solid understanding of food. Is sugar bad for us? Is excess fat bad for us? It depends.
Striving for Longevity
As mentioned earlier, there are two driving forces that alter physiological response- the food that we eat and the vibrations that we create. If thought about deeply, it's not hard to see how these connect with the idea of sustainability and longevity.
"We feed ourselves through our mouth and the way we vibrate, because they help us channel our energy and our chakras. Once we can channel our chakras more effectively, we will have better self-control over ourselves and be able to realise our true potential. Whether it's completing a marathon, speaking out in public, whatever it may be. It all boils down to the roots- eat healthy, and exercise. With this discussion, we are able activating human thought about life. We are sharing this belief that life is a holistic journey, and therefore give something valuable back to society."
Life and death, both are inevitable phenomenons, but the journey between them is in our hands. Living sustainably is not a privilege, it's a choice.
Make your choice. For your life now, and tomorrow.
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We offer our sincere gratitude to today's guest- Ritesh Shaiwal, founder of Easy Human cafe. Check out:
Easy Human- https://easyhuman.com
Ritesh Shaiwal: https://www.instagram.com/ritesh.shaiwal/