on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

Breaking up with food

I have an obsession with food. I didn’t know how much mental energy I spend thinking about food, until I attempted to go on a juice diet.

Twice, in two weeks.

The motivation

I want to have a body that feels completely alive. There is so much I want to do and I acknowledge there will always be external challenges and obstacles, but at the very least I should remove internal obstacles. I want my energy levels to be able to match the level of desire I have in the things I want to accomplish. I can aspire and ideate all day long but unless I have the energy reserve to carry them through during tough times, they are all cheap.

I know how transient life can be, and all I want to do is to maximize every single waking moment, that every second can compound to a butterfly effect. That is difficult to do on a consistent basis if I spend precious energy of my body trying to overcome a sugar crash because I did not have the mental discipline to avoid eating that amazing buttered rice or that Specialty’s cookie.

Experimenting with a liquid diet

I have tried to be on various different diets before but they all required a precious resource — the mental energy required to make a decision whether a type of food belongs in or out. In addition to that, once I start masticating food, my mind starts craving for the food I cannot have.

Being on a liquid diet may be extreme, but simple enough to follow. No solid food, no thinking about what to eat or not, just drink your chosen liquid for x number of days. I wanted to know how dependent I was on solid food to feel nourished.

Liquids can pack an equivalent amount of calories compared to solid food, so I can remove all excuses of being malnourished on a diet.

Using food as a crutch

I was also hoping that if my body can adjust to having liquid as food, and my mind can rewire itself to believe that digesting liquids can be fulfilling, perhaps I would stop using solid food as a crutch.

I use food as a crutch for a lot of things. I eat when I am bored, stressed, happy, unhappy. I think that is okay if I am able to choose what type of food to eat when I am experiencing that multitude of emotions. My mind wants to believe that I need a giant cheesecake when I have done a hard day’s of work. It gets difficult when stressful periods are precisely the times when I need to be properly nourished — sugar crashes perpetuates more sugar crashes. The last thing you want while embarking on challenging work is to experience energy fluctuations. It is so mind-boggling simple to understand, yet so difficult to implement.

The power of my will

Apart from health and energy reasons, perhaps the most important reason is that I wanted to engage in a battle with my own will.

I have had friends who went on similar diets before, and previously I would always tell them there was no way I could do the same. I loved eating too much and I depended on eating as a stress-equalizer.

I really wanted to learn about myself. How far can I go in the pursuit of my own ideals? Could I really walk the talk? Could I truly be the change that I want?

Attempt One

Eliminating inconveniences is key

I decided to purchase a three-day juice cleanse online, because it would be unrealistic to expect myself to buy the right groceries and make my own juices while trying to mentally will myself to stop craving for solid food.

I went on Yelp, did a bunch of research, and I ended up with Project Juice. At this point I cannot help but put on my designer’s hat — having a good user experience is imperative to purchasing decisions. Project Juice made it easy for me to order what I wanted and deliver when and where I wanted. They also had delivery times which were considerate of a work day, so my juices were delivered on a Friday morning at 7.30am.

photo of project juice bottles

Food takes up time and space

I know that I think about food a lot, but I didn’t know how much I actually thought about it until my attempt to stop eating. I spend so much energy thinking about what to eat, anticipating what I was going to eat, and all of that became painfully obvious when I no longer had opportunities to eat. I could no longer have that rush of excitement I have when I browse online menus or that giddy anticipation when I prepare to eat.

I suppose people don’t notice this much, but when you stop eating, you magically have all that extra hours in your day. That amount of time we take to cook, to dress, to decide, to eat, to digest, to travel — all for food.

And there was failure

I managed to last twenty-four hours without solid food. I was setting myself up for failure, actually. I had rented a car for two weeks at the same time I was trying to do a juice diet, because I wanted to explore more of San Francisco. I was researching on great outdoor spots to explore on Foursquare when all these delicious-looking food spots popped up. It was impossible for me to reconcile mentally to explore while on a liquid diet and giving up opportunities to explore restaurants I never had the chance to go to, without a car.

The point when I gave up and had Soondobu for lunch, it wasn’t because I was desperately hungry, it was because I was mentally greedy for new food experiences.

photo of korean food: soondobu

Attempt Two

When failure became motivation for a new attempt

I could have simply given up. Yet somehow the experience of failing the first time gave me confidence to attempt this for the second time. I understood how and why I failed, and I re-evaluated my motivation for doing this experiment.

I knew that failing the first time was not because I was hungry. It was because I was greedy. The two emotions can be mistaken as the same thing, but it makes a world of difference while trying to parse them.

Honestly, I could not take it lying down that I had failed. It was necessary for me to believe that I could succeed. If I could not even stop eating solid food for three days, what are the chances I could go on exponentially more difficult challenges later in life?

And there was success

The second time around, I synthesized all the factors which were contributing to my failure and tried to eliminate them. I was done with exploring, so I can no longer use exploration as an excuse.

For the first attempt there were difficult juices to ingest, I had a particular aversion for beets and ginger, so this time around I designed my own menu of liquids, with more servings of almond milk than juices. I reminded myself it wasn’t so much of the cleanse I wanted to do, but rather the elimination of the dependency on solid food as well as the test of my will.

On my first day of the second attempt, I went on a long walk with a friend at Crissy Fields, followed by a two-hour hike with friends. In total I walked about ten miles without the sustenance of solid food. It was difficult, but more manageable than I thought it would be.

Not thinking about food becomes easier when you have views like this one.

I was slightly worried when the friend I was with wanted to get dinner take-out, but he chose this healthy wrap place where I found the menu very much unappealing, that made it much easier for me to stick to my juices.

I learned something important on that first day:

  • I spend a lot more energy thinking about food if I am alone. Walking with my friends was a great distraction.
  • It is a fallacy that the lack of solid food would make me feel weak during physical activity.
  • It is important to pre-empt the people I was with, that I was on a liquid diet. I was very lucky because they were mindful of my diet and it made it much easier. It would be extremely challenging if the people I was out with ate dimsum in front of me, for example. Or thought of it as their personal challenge to get me to give up mine.
  • The success of day one was crucial for me to finish day two and three. I kept reminding myself that I walked ten miles on my first day and it would be silly of me to break the experiment due to a moment of weakness since I had a great start.

The day after completing the experiment

The amount of elation and pride I had felt was incredible. Previously I could not even convince myself to stay off carbohydrates for one day, much less not eat at all for three. I was also proud of myself that I was willing to try again even though I had failed my first attempt.

It felt to me like, if I could will myself not to eat for three days, I could will myself to do anything. I had learned how important it was for me to set myself up with the right conditions and the right mindset. The second attempt succeeded because I knew what to expect and how to react.

This was originally an experiment to rethink the way I thought about food, but it ended up being a lesson in how I can impose my will. Instead of re-establishing the relationship with my food, it re-established the relationship with my mind.

I didn’t feel hungry the day I was finally allowed to eat again. I probably could have continued being on liquids if I truly wanted to. But I started eating because I could.

One week later

I am back to eating normally again. It took me about two days to get back into the swing of digesting food. I am cautious of going too extreme and impacting my body’s ability to digest food negatively.

Did it reset my relationship with food? Not really, there is no fairytale ending to this story and to me, I think this is the most important part of it all. There is no short-term fixes if we want sustainable change. Tricking my mind into making certain choices out of will and making choices because I desire to make them, are two very different things.

Just a couple of years ago, I was that person who ordered my cappuccinos with extra vanilla syrup. Today I no longer have sweeteners in my coffee. It is not because I am restricting myself, it is because I had actually developed an aversion to it. That is another story to tell, but I have had enough change in my taste palette to know that it is possible to make long-lasting changes in my diet out of desire, not out of restriction.

Would I do this again? I would. It wouldn’t be as an attempt as a diet fix, but for me it had a lot more value as a type of meditation or a mental exercise. It had made me learn a lot about myself.

That to me, is the point of experiments.

Originally published on Medium

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