Food and Productivity: What You Eat Makes a Difference

Photo courtesy: Unsplash

Photo courtesy: Unsplash


I recently stumbled across this personal diary entry that I wrote to myself years ago. I penned these words at a time when I had discovered the link between food and productivity, and I wanted to make sure I would never forget it. It goes roughly like this: we eat about four times what we really need, so instead of food giving us energy to be productive, it has become an impediment; to be healthier and more productive, therefore, the stomach must be tamed, and the appetite must be curbed.

This note you are about to read changed my life. Because I grew up with little food, my tendency was always to eat as if it was going out of style. But as you will soon read today, there was a point where I came to myself and made a U-turn. The results have been astounding. Learning to go without food has made me healthier, stronger, wiser, and more productive than I have ever been. I hope it does the same for you.

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Eat only when hungry

When you feel hungry, let your first instinct be to drink water. The body confuses hunger and thirst. Drink a glass of water, then go on with your day. It will be an hour or two before the sensation to ingest something comes back. (That’s already a win, as you have delayed eating for an hour or more, and gained more time for productivity.)

When you again feel the need to eat, try fruit. Cut up that apple and crunch. Peel the banana and savor it. Throw several fruits in the blender and make your own smoothie. You can have your fill of fruits; don’t hold back. It will be a few hours (two or more) before you feel hungry again. Between the water you first drank and the fruit/smoothie now, you have effectively skipped a meal.

Then comes the real food. Eat half of what you normally consume and tell yourself that that is more than enough. When your body tries to make up for what it’s used to, fight it. This is the hard part. You have been addicted to food, and it’s normal that you would have withdrawal symptoms. But like all addicts know, the withdrawal symptoms don’t last forever.

Over time, your body will adjust to this new normal. It may take anywhere from three weeks to three months, depending on your metabolism and mental toughness. But at some point, if you stick to the plan, your body will get the message, and your stomach will naturally shrink (because the body is a remarkably adaptable machine), so that when you eat half of what you used to eat, your stomach will  still feel quite full.

Medically check all your vitals (blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol, etc.), and check your overall well-being too. How are you feeling these days? How do you look? If you are not where you want to be, then repeat the steps above. You may need to cut your food again in half, or at least reduce it further and give your stomach time to shrink and accept the fact that it will have to make do with less. The body will waste food if it knows that food is plenteous, but it will process food more efficiently if it knows that food is scarce. You want your body to be in the best shape it can be. The aim is not to look like anyone else, but like the best version of yourself.

The wisdom of the approach laid out is that you gradually replace artificial sugars with natural sugars. You consume lots of water, fruits, and veggies and less of everything else. You burn fats you don’t need. You feel better. Then you sleep less, too. The more food you eat, the more you need to sleep. The less food you eat, the more waking hours you have to pursue your dreams.

 It’s a mental battle

The trick is to not satisfy yourself each time you feel the need to. Be at home with hunger. Be at home with not giving in to cravings. Yes, it may make you irritable initially, but it’s just weakness leaving your body. The climb up is hard. When you reach the plateau, you will find that you have risen ahead of the mass of humanity who are still slaves to self, worshipping the stomach god. You don’t look at them condescendingly, for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing of, but you feel grateful to have escaped the vice-grip of gluttony. You feel free. You don’t have to bow to appetite anymore. Think about this: If food—as essential as it appears—has no hold over you anymore, then what about sex, money, power? They all don’t stand a chance! You are now truly god-like, ruling your own world, and not bowing to the perishing flesh.

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Be at home with hunger. Be at home with not giving in to cravings. Yes, it may make you irritable initially, but it’s just weakness leaving your body.

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Find a new way

The idea here is that, except when you are eating with friends or colleagues as a way of socializing, you should eat only when truly hungry, and even then you eat only to chase the hunger sensation away—not to eat until you are full. What this means in practice is that you should not eat breakfast at 7 a.m. just because it is 7 a.m. You should eat breakfast because you are starving (I use that word liberally; you have not truly starved since you broke free from poverty). If you had a big lunch, skip dinner. If you feel hungry at night, remind yourself that you had a big lunch, drink water, eat fruit, and go to bed.

Each day is a battle, but it is a winnable battle. And every victory gives you confidence that you can win the next one. Hunger has so many benefits, and gluttony has none. When you are hungry, you smell people’s BS so strongly. When you hear those lines that you would fall for when your senses are dulled by food, you now think, “Wait a minute—that doesn’t make any sense!” Think about how much better your life would be if you could quickly discern between right and almost right, if you could easily peel away facades and decipher people’s true intentions, if you could spot falsehood before it damages.

Hunger is nature’s gift. Our less protected ancestors saw further, smelled clearer, and fought better when hungry. It’s easy to see how that got them through a world where humans lived next to tigers. Well, we live in cities now but are surrounded by dangers all the same. There are sharks at work, who won’t mind draining your blood, drinking it, and moving on with their day as though nothing happened. There are hyenas in the streets who want to feed off your carcass. There are predators everywhere. The person who can stay hungry stays alive. Stay hungry.