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The Ü-plan diet

‘At the beginning of August he decided on yet another new dietary experiment. Though not invaded by tourists to the extent of Maloja, the dining room at Sils's Alpenrose still had over a hundred people dining at the table d'hôte, among them many children. Nietzsche decided, on account of both the noise and the ‘dangerous’ nature of the food, that he was ‘too tender an animal to take his fodder with the masses’.

‘He decided to eat lunch half an hour before the rush and, abandoning the set menu, concocted a comprehensive regimen: every day for lunch, beefsteak with spinach, followed by a large omelette with apple jam; in the evenings, a few slices of ham with two egg yolks and two bread rolls.

‘For the mornings, he decided to replace his five a.m. cup of tea with unsweetened cocoa (van Houten's Dutch cocoa was his preferred brand, though later on he decided to experiment with the Swiss Sprügli). Then, after an hour's further sleep, he rose, dressed, had a cup of tea, and began work.

‘Unsurprisingly, this appalling, fruit-less and almost vegetable-less diet made no visible improvement to his health. And then he made it even worse by giving up the spinach at lunchtime and replacing the steak with ham, following the by now (unsurprisingly) deceased Dr. Wiel's ‘ham cure’ for diseases of the stomach.’

Julian Young. A Philosophical Biography, Friedrich Nietzsche (pp. 455-456). Cambridge University Press.

Nietzsche loved food. Throughout his life he wrote to his mother asking her to send him German sausage, biscuits and cake. His letters are full of references to the quality of the food at the various boarding houses at which he lodged during his highly productive itinerant years. When in Turin in the 1880s, he became a connoisseur of gelato, a foodstuff that he called an expression of the highest culture. But despite the importance of food in his life, his dietary experiments, which were relentless, leave much to be desired.

Nietzsche frequently referenced the process of digestion as a metaphor for both culture and philosophy. He considered the processes of experiencing and interpreting experience or knowledge analogous to digestion. An inability to ‘process’ these to one’s benefit and move on constituted a kind of indigestion.

Conversely, he thought poor digestion impaired one’s emotional, intellectual and creative powers. He even went so far as to attribute philosophical blunders among renowned thinkers to dyspepsia or other physiological malfunctions.

‘The slightest sluggishness of the intestines is entirely sufficient … to turn a genius into something mediocre.’ Ecce Homo

In previous posts (The Moral Laboratory, A Life More Nietzschean and Your Enemy is Your Friend) we experimented with a new kind of Nietzschean morality – something we labeled ‘pragmatic morality’. Good and Bad in this morality are determined by the extent to which any aspect of our life moves our personal projects forward towards successful completion. Having already examined exercise, work and socialising with others, we continue our thought experiment by looking at sweet sustenance itself - food.

Food as sustenance is plainly an essential means for all human beings to achieve, well, just about anything at all! Without adequate nourishment, no creative project can be seen through to completion. In fact, to refer to Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs once again, it is only when the bare needs that keep body and soul together are met that we can even begin to think of cultural advancement. Prehistoric man, like most wild animals, found that the greater part of his waking hours was consumed simply sourcing food.

So yes, food is a prerequisite for our greater aspirations. But food is so much more than this - it is an inalienable component of the good life. Sure, we want a balanced diet to keep us strong and healthy, but no less importantly, we want to savour the pleasures of the table. So, maybe we have identified two practical functions: sustenance and sensual pleasure.

The first concern, when considering food as sustenance - as fuel - is how can it be optimised to support peak performance? There is no shortage of good research in this area. Most of us are well aware that a diet should be diverse but the larger part of our intake must be vegetables and fruit in order to provide us with plenty of essential nutrients and fibre.

In recent times, the benefits of a high fat diet have been reconsidered, having been almost anathema for decades. The conventional wisdom was that fat was bad and led to obesity and diseases associated with excess weight. However, there is now some good evidence that it is in fact sugars that should be avoided, including and especially carbohydrates, as they constitute the bulk of our diets – this means bread, potatoes, pasta, rice and starchy grains of all kinds.

It is probably no accident that these staples, the core of our diets, are the cheapest foodstuffs available. This gives testament to our relatively impoverished past, when only a tiny, tiny minority of the population enjoyed the copious bounty that can now be procured from just about any supermarket. Their quick and cheap energy benefits notwithstanding, the sugars in these foods stimulate the release of insulin in the blood, apparently, which causes the body’s tissues to lay down fat cells.

The erratic modulation of blood insulin, caused by a sugar-rich diet, also plays havoc with our energy levels, making our moods and motivation unpredictable - not ideal for those wishing to achieve at the highest levels. A diet high in fats and largely plant-based is recommended as an alternative, with the body purportedly ‘learning’ to burn fat for its energy instead of relying on volatile and short-action sugars.

There can be no question that one’s diet affects one’s physical performance (consider that no one has a stricter diet than a professional athlete) but what some people do not realise is that diet has a profound impact on mental performance too. From the work colleague who gets snarky when they miss lunch, to our whole modern education system, where it has been convincingly proven that children who are fed a healthy lunch enjoy significantly improved academic attainment. Insufficient hydration has also been linked to decreased cognitive performance.

We should recall that, for Nietzsche, the body comes first and the mind, the emotions, the consciousness itself - these are all subsidiary to pure physiology.

‘The body, gestures, diet, physiology, everything else follows from this.’ Twilight of the Idols

If we are to enjoy Nietzsche’s ‘Great Health’ – the rarefied quasi-spiritual state of vivacity, flourishing and positivity towards all existence - we should care, firstly and foremostly, for the body. This, at bottom, means an excellent diet.

‘We premature births of an as yet unproven future need for a new goal also a new means — namely, a new health, stronger, more seasoned, tougher, more audacious, and joyous than any previous health.’ The Gay Science

The virtues of optimised fuel aside, we must remember that food is sensuality; it is ritual, celebration and reward. The preparation of food, in particular, can be an exquisitely meaningful exercise and an act of reverence.

‘The noble soul has reverence for itself.’ Beyond Good and Evil

There are few acts more self-reverential than making a delicious, healthy meal just for one’s self. Most people I know say they ‘cannot be bothered’ to cook when they are alone but it is obvious here that the implicit message is ‘I do not matter as much as other people’. Why should we make special efforts for all and sundry but not for ourselves? Are we to be the ones of least consideration? This reeks of the conventional morality Nietzsche rages against – the sacrifice of one’s own interests, the abrogation of one’s own needs, in favour of just about everyone else.

But surely a healthy egoism says ‘I am important too’. Indeed, would it be so unreasonable to claim that one’s own needs must be met first? Is this not, in fact, the natural state of woman/man, when all metaphysical fantasies are rejected? So goes Nietzsche’s thinking.

Whatever the case, there is great pleasure to be had in carefully preparing and serving a special meal for one’s self alone – particularly when it is luxurious, containing expensive or specially procured ingredients; especially when it is extremely nutritious. And even more so, when it is actively consecrated to one’s sacred purpose – the realisation of one’s great projects!

Nietzsche found it impossible to achieve the optimum diet, but he experimented and adjusted constantly, looking for the perfect formula. In the same way, we need to carefully consider what in our diet helps and what hinders. It is useful to observe the effects of diet on your moods and make changes based on these observations.

There is no question that overeating makes the mind sluggish and dull. Equally, excessive hunger may lead to poor decision-making and emotional imbalance (though it must be acknowledged that, historically speaking, some have claimed that hunger keens their senses). The body craves routines so it is a good idea to establish one, taking the same kinds and quantities of food at the same times each day. Finally, drink plenty of water too.

We must conclude that the best regimen is to eat healthy, eat light, enjoy your food (which means being hungry before you eat – an endorsement of frugality) and cook for yourself with reverence and respect.

Always remember:

‘My brothers, the spirit is a stomach!’ Thus Spoke Zarathustra

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