21 Days Without Food: Week 3 Update (With Photos)

I’ve lived on nothing but this for three weeks. (Courtesy Cindee Snider Re via Flickr)

It is not often you’re awakened by your skull crushing into tile.

All I remember is a blinding flash of pain in the side of my head, jolting me to consciousness. I screamed “OW!” and my wife came running to my side. For a moment, I was completely disoriented. Everything around me seemed alien, with no point of reference for who I was.

Talk about a rude awakening.

Then, in a flash, it came back to me. It was the middle of the night, and I had left my bed to go to the bathroom. I stood up too quickly, walked to the bathroom, and fainted.

I had no one to blame but myself — and, of course, eating no food for 20 days. (If you haven’t already read them, you should check out my previous updates on this experiment.)

As I lay on the floor, my head throbbing, I remembered the medical literature had claimed the biggest danger of going without food was the possibility of head injury from fainting. They warned me!

When your body goes without food for an extended period of time, your blood pressure lowers, and you get a “head rush” whenever you stand up from a sitting position. It’s especially bad when you’re in bed: you have to gradually move from reclining, to sitting, to standing, to walking. This must be what it’s like every day for the elderly.

I’ve tried to be so careful, but I was in a bad mood because I couldn’t sleep, so I jumped out of bed, briefly saw a beautiful kaleidoscopic pattern, then blacked out.

Rubbing my jaw, I got back in bed, where I spent the rest of the night shivering and freezing. Physically, this was the low-water mark of my 21-day experiment, but I’ll explain some of the other changes my body went through — and then how I managed to push through using the mental techniques of mind hacking.

Starting photo, Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3.

Constant Cold

As your body loses its protective layer of fat, you are perpetually cold — particularly if you’re trying this in the middle of winter in New England. At night, I huddle under layers of covers on top of my heated mattress pad. During the day, I stand over the heat register, wearing three layers of clothing and a winter hat, trying to stay warm as I make conference calls.

Fitful Sleep

For reasons medical science does not understand, the body does not want to sleep while going without food. (Then again, medical science does not understand why we need sleep at all.) It’s as if our earliest ancestors knew they were supposed to be out hunting for food, so the brain is hardwired to wake us up at 4:00 am, when the deer might be out.

Because of my regular concentration exercises, I sleep like the narcoleptic: I can usually fall asleep within sixty seconds, and rarely suffer from insomnia. So I have new appreciation for those of you who can’t sleep: it sucks. There’s not even really much useful thinking you can do at night, because you’re too restlessly focused on falling asleep (or getting up and hunting elk).

True Hunger

It turns out that the mild stomach cramps you get when you miss a meal are not true hunger — that’s just your body’s preconditioned response to not eating, and it goes away within a couple of days. True hunger is in the mouth and throat, like being thirsty. Even though I try to drink 2 liters of water a day, my mouth is dry and cottony, like a Banana Republic polo.

I’ve had many people ask me if you’re still hungry after such a long period of time. This is like asking a guy in the desert if he’s still thirsty after laying in sand all those days without water. However, I will say the quality of the hunger becomes different after the second or third day.

The best analogy I can give you is running. If you’re a runner, you know that often that first mile is the most difficult: some days, your body just does not want to run. But once you get through the first mile, you get into a rhythm, and it does get easier. When I say “easier,” I point out you’re still running, not resting on the couch. But once your body is in a routine, it takes on a more manageable quality. Still, it requires mind hacking to deal with that perpetual hunger.

Hallucinations

I am not seeing rocks move or trees melt, but there is a definite mild hallucinatory effect that comes with not eating. Everything has an unreal, or perhaps a hypperreal quality: plants look so much more alive, reality seems so much more present. Everything seems more clear and focused, yet alien and unfamiliar.

The strange thing is, I’m able to carry on life normally, and in fact I believe I’ve been even more effective at my job, as my mental decision-making is crystal-clear and laser-focused. Your mind goes into a kind of “low power mode” to conserve energy, and you find that all those draining thoughts of anxiety, worry, and self-doubt just go away.

I am a ruthlessly efficient, decision-making machine, even while I’m seeing wood nymphs.

Muscle Atrophy

When you go without food, your body goes into protein sparing, to delay the breakdown of muscle for as long as possible. This helped early humans, in times of famine, still have the power to hunt and gather.

But it only lasts so long. My legs have been the first to go: it’s difficult to stand up for lengthy periods of time. More frustratingly, I can’t fully use my lower legs. When I walk, both feet are clomping around like I’m the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Fortunately, my fingers still work, so I can type. My mind is clear, thanks to the mind hacking techniques that I’ll talk about in tomorrow’s update. On my final day of the 21-Day Experiment, I’ll tell you how I made it through.

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

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CEO of Media Shower. Publisher of Bitcoin Market Journal. Author of Mind Hacking. Making things better.

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Sir John Hargrave

Sir John Hargrave

CEO of Media Shower. Publisher of Bitcoin Market Journal. Author of Mind Hacking. Making things better.

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