21 Days Without Food: Week 2 Update (With Photos)

“Hey, Jesus! Don’t these stones look like a … sandwich?”

The Gospels say that to prepare for his public ministry, Jesus went without food for forty days. During that time, he was tempted by the devil with promises of glory, fame, and invincibility.

I am also going on an extended period without food, to show that by harnessing the powers of the mind, ordinary people like us can achieve extraordinary things. I’ve now been fourteen days without food, and I can say that like Jesus, I have also endured three temptations:

  • Popcorn
  • Ramen soup
  • Eggplant parmesan

The first, popcorn, was brought in by a co-worker who was unwittingly munching loudly near me. Your sense of smell is greatly heightened without food, so the overpowering aroma of the corn, combined with the audible crackling of the kernels as she chewed, was nearly too much for me. Using the techniques of mind hacking, which I’ll explain in a moment, I resisted.

The second temptation, ramen, is a personal favorite. I am not talking about that store-bought instant ramen: I am talking about the real deal. Miso broth, nori, scallions, wood ear mushrooms, chunks of tofu, an egg on top. Maybe some tempura-battered veggies on the side, getting all nice and soggy in the soup. This may not sound appetizing, but I assure you it is. In my current state, however, pizza served in a dumpster sounds kind of appetizing.

The final temptation, eggplant parm … well, that speaks for itself.

But in case it doesn’t, here’s a photo. (Courtesy Tom Noe via Flickr)

Jesus Was a Mind Hacker

No matter what your belief system, the story of Jesus is instructive. As he is tempted with these various offers, he responds with a quote from the prophets. The devil tempts him to turn stone to bread to relieve his hunger, and he comes back with a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Clearly Jesus had prepared himself with these positive “thought loops.” He had girded himself with mental reinforcements. He knew the temptations would come, and he had positive comebacks ready to fire.

When you are trying to accomplish some big goal, or change some personal habit, do you have these mental reinforcements? When your brain tells you, “You can’t do this,” or “The odds are insurmountable,” or “The technology doesn’t exist yet,” do you listen, or do you have a comeback?

I have been heavily relying on these mind hacks, or mental techniques, as I’ve been going through two weeks without food. They’ve been essential. I laid out a number of these in my Week 1 update, but here are a few additional hacks that have helped.

Mind Hack: Imagine the Goal

Some years ago, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. Training for that marathon was similar in many ways to this experiment. As you’re doing those grueling training runs, you have to invent a lot of mental games to keep your mind busy. I already talked about focusing on how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go. Another hack is to imagine the goal.

When I was training, I would imagine crossing the finish line, an actual U.S. Marine putting the medal around my neck, being wrapped in a space blanket, and eating a banana. I would picture the glory, feel the accomplishment, and enjoy the satisfaction, before it ever happened. You can get a lot of mileage (so to speak) out of just doing this mental exercise as you’re running.

That has been a useful mind hack during this experiment: think of the story I will have to tell.

If you’re trying to accomplish some big dream, it helps to picture yourself accomplishing that dream. How will you feel? What will your life be like? How will things be changed for the better? It’s inspiring, and it works.

Mind Hack: Be Vigilant in Your Thoughts

The temptation to think about food is overpowering. Your mind, knowing that you’re running out of stored fuel, wants to dwell on nothing else. Every time you see food, smell food, hear people talking about food, it’s like a magnet.

I’ve read stories of other people who have tried to go without food. Some of them spend hours per day just browsing pictures and recipes of food on Pinterest. So far, in spite of my opening paragraphs above, I have managed to resist that temptation by being vigilant in my thoughts.

Courtesy Tony Webster via Flickr

The idea is to constantly be watching the mind, on alert for when it might get into trouble. It’s like watching young kids toddle around the room, so they don’t hit their head on a coffee table or fall down the stairs. Whenever your mind gets too near the stairs, you’ve got to gently redirect it to the center of the room, onto something else.

This requires what we might call mindfulness, but I think of it as being vigilant. You’ve got to watch for those stray thoughts (I could eat this crumb of cornbread, and no one would ever know), and instantly redirect them. There should be no emotion with this — we don’t need to be afraid or worried about these thoughts — just gently redirect them, since the mind doesn’t know any better.

How many of our plans are sabotaged by our own thoughts of worry and self-doubt? Whatever you’re trying to accomplish or change in your life, be vigilant about the thoughts that tell you that you won’t succeed. Get those thoughts away from the coffee table.

Mind Hack: Stay Away from KFC

If you’re trying to stay away from food, it helps to stay away from food. You can’t get away from it completely, but you can avoid grocery stores, restaurants, and buffets. Nothing good will come from that.

This seems like common sense, but how many of us, when trying to make some large-scale change, still put ourselves in temptation’s way?

  • If you’re trying to lose weight, you can’t have the problem food in the house.
  • If you’re trying to quit drinking, you can’t go out with your friends to the bar and drink club soda.
  • If you’re trying to build a business, you can’t be surrounded by people who drag you down.

I’ve talked about the research that shows these things drain your willpower battery, until eventually you crack. You are responsible for crafting an environment that helps you achieve your goals! No one else can do it for you. Ask yourself:

  • Are the people around me supportive?
  • Do they know what I’m trying to achieve?
  • Have I communicated my goals, so I can get help?

On the flip side:

  • Have I removed temptations that will stand in my way, as much as possible?
  • Am I vigilant about my own fears, uncertainties, and doubts?
  • Do I have positive mental loops that will help me when these arise?

Gird yourself with the positive; eliminate the negative.

Starting photo, Week 1, and Week 2. I’ve gone from 150 to 129 pounds.

The Lesson of Jesus

We’re all in the wilderness, being tempted every day by things that keep us from accomplishing our goals and making the world better. But we can use these mind hacks to gird ourselves against these temptations:

  • For the temptation of popcorn, I got myself out of the room.
  • For the temptation of ramen, I am vigilant in my fantasies about soup.
  • For the temptation of eggplant parm … well, I simply say, “All in good time, my stomach. All in good time.”

Watch for the negative thought loops, and be ready to reprogram them with the positive. That’s food for thought.

Sir John Hargrave is the author of Mind Hacking: How to Change Your Mind for Good in 21 Days, now available worldwide.