Android app on Google Play iPhone app Download from Windows Store

 

My Struggles with Eating Boring Food

My month without food reward, which was the May challenge in my Year of Living Without, was a rousing success.

That is, a success if the idea was for me to learn from my failures.

Which it was. I didn’t expect to hold myself to perfection, but to see what happens when I try to go without any kind of rewarding food: nothing salty, sweet, fried, etc. I ate the same things each day: boiled unsalted potatoes, plain unseasoned seitan (usually microwaved), unflavored plant protein shakes, and plain vegetables. My daily exception was a glass of red wine at night, and I had a planned exception day each week.

It went pretty well for the first few weeks — I had some small cheats for various reasons, and while I struggled from time to time, for the most part I was able to stick to the challenge.

Then we moved to a new home, and that took several days of packing (I did fine during the packing stage) and then a big moving day followed by several days of unpacking, moving furniture around, hanging paintings, fixing little broken things, etc. It was exhausting and my self-control reserves were wiped out and I didn’t plan my food well so that I just ate whatever I could get my hands on.

Then my head was out of the game, and I just couldn’t get back on track, so I gave up a little before the month was over.

Still, I learned a lot, and I’m really happy with some of my improved skills.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. We are so used to pleasure from food that it’s depressing when you remove it. You don’t really realize this until you remove food reward, but we really expect to have some kind of happiness from our food. I think it’s one of the reasons we struggle with weight issues, now that I’ve observed this. When food has no pleasure, we feel withdrawal, we are unhappy, we feel like something important is missing. Think about it: what if you could only eat unflavored lettuce for a month, nothing else (putting aside nutrition issues)? You’d probably rebel, or get depressed. It felt a little depressing to me for about a week.
  2. I can adjust to anything. Amazingly, after about a week, my flavorless food tasted fine. I didn’t whoop with pleasure, but I didn’t think it was gross or boring anymore, and I actually enjoyed the food. Eating the boring food wasn’t a problem anymore — the problem became when I had the option of eating pleasureful food. But my adjustment to this flavorless food really amazed me, even if I’ve made similar adjustments many times over the last 8 years.
  3. I was constantly renegotiating. When there was a flavorful food around, my mind wanted to have some, and it really worked to try to get it. I would often just go to eat the food without thinking, then stop myself before actually eating it, then rationalize why it’s OK just this one time, then tell myself that’s just a rationalization, then come up with a new rationalization, then let go of that one, then say how about just one bite, that won’t hurt? And so there was a constant struggle taking place in my mind. I found that fascinating. It also took lots of energy to win.
  4. I would give up the negotiations when I was tired. The times I cheated were almost always when I was physically and mentally tired. If I had a long day, and I was spent, I would just want to eat something, and I would start the negotiation process, and then just give in because I didn’t have the energy to fight. And then feel guilty.
  5. I have some recurring rationalizations. Some of the things my mind says to get what it wants: it’s OK just this one time, no one will know, you deserve this reward, just a little won’t hurt, you need a break, it’s going to taste really good, if you cheat this time you can be more disciplined for the rest of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you stick to this or not, you should just quit because this is too hard, why are you making yourself suffer, this is much worse than I thought it would be, why not?
  6. I wasn’t fully committed. I realized that the constant negotiations were happening because I wasn’t really committed. Amazingly, posting that I’m going to do something in front of hundreds of thousands of people on this blog isn’t a full commitment for me. I really thought it would be, but the mental negotiations showed me it wasn’t. If my wife or kids’ lives were at stake, there’s no way I’d even think of breaking my commitment. There would be no negotiations.
  7. I could commit myself more. I actually tried pretending that my kids would die if I ate tempting food. And incredibly, it worked for a day. The next day I forgot to try it again, but for a day it really did work, even though I knew it was false. Another day I committed to Eva that I couldn’t drink wine in the evening if I cheated that day, and that worked too. But then I didn’t recommit for the next day. So I really should have stepped up my commitment in some big way if I wanted to stick to this, but I didn’t because I think I didn’t really want to stick to it perfectly.
  8. Distraction helps. When my mind starts wanting something, I can distract myself for awhile and I don’t think about it. I have to remember to distract myself though.
  9. Being busy or around other people helps. On days when I had lots going on, or I was meeting with other people, I didn’t even think about tempting food. I just stuck with the plan. It was when I was bored or alone all day that things got hard, because I’d think about food much more often.
  10. I got better at seeing my mind’s patterns. Towards the end, after weeks of observing my mind, I would see the mental patterns as soon as they started. The patterns of “you should go have a fruit, no you should stick to the plan, no it’s OK this time, no it’s not, yes just have a little it won’t hurt,” and so on. I’d see this pattern, and it wasn’t, “Oh this is interesting,” but more, “Oh this again.” I actually got weary of my mind doing the same thing over and over again.
  11. If I saw the patterns, I could let go of them. Once I saw the pattern happening, I could just say, “OK, that’s enough of that” and move on to something more interesting. It was when I wasn’t conscious of the patterns that they actually had influence on my actions.
  12. Once I’m out of the game, it’s hard to get back in it. Once I had a big multi-day break from the flavorless commitment, I tried to get back into it but I didn’t really feel like it. I wasn’t motivated. So that’s a good lesson for the future: if you let yourself take a break on a challenge, you’re not likely to come back.
  13. Having multiple challenges going at once makes each one much harder. I constantly advocate “One Change at a Time” on this blog, but I often break this rule myself. And whenever I do break it, I realize how much of a mistake it was. I had this No Food Reward challenge going on in May, but I was also trying to follow a workout and diet plan set by a trainer friend of mine at the same time. And work on a major book project, improve my Sea Change Program (we did an overhaul of the membership/payment system, among many other improvements in May), move to a new home, give a speech, prepare for a big summer trip to Guam and Japan, etc. Having all of that going on made each one much harder — I didn’t follow the No Food Reward challenge, actually fell off the other diet plan (though I stuck to the workouts), and have struggled with the book project a bit. I did well with the other things but I can’t excel at everything at once.

That’s a lot of learning for one month, and I consider that a success.

Read about my month of No Procrastination in June, which is my final month of the Year of Living Without.

Zen Habits

Leo Babuata
Chapters
Neither Averting Nor Craving in Each Moment
How Taking Care of My Finances Changed My Life
Tips for Traveling with Kids
My Grand Travel Experiment
The Parent I Aspire to Be
The Best & Less-than-Best Motivations for Learning
The Miracle of Suspending Mis-Belief
7 Strategies for Dealing with Toxic People
Finding Motivation on Important But Non-Urgent Tasks
Learning Tips for the Top 8 Learning Challenges
The 30-Day Learning Challenge
The Place Where You Are
Feeling Determined to Change
Practicing Non-Judgment
Hold Your Own Feet to the Fire
Don’t Waste Your Opportunity
How to Beat Procrastination with Daily Training
The Time When We’ll Be Present & Content
A Simple, Powerful Self-Compassion Method
When Others Frustrate You
Your Internet Habits Create Your Reality
The Case for Replacing Exercise with Play
Leave Yourself Wanting More
Fail Faster at Habits
The Anti-Bucket List
Getting Started with the Discipline Habit
The Case for Caring About Your Work
Questions of Priority
The Futility of Always Pushing Myself to Be More
Pare Down with the Declutter Habit
You’re Not Doing Life Wrong
Getting Lost in Just Doing
An Addict’s Guide to Overcoming the Distraction Habit
The Source of Contentment
Savor Discipline: Merge the Interests of Your Future & Present Selves
What You Can Say Instead of “I Don’t Feel Like It”
The Things That Get in the Way of Doing
The Girl Who Saw Through the Illusions
A Gradual Approach to Healthy Eating
Unconditional Acceptance of Yourself
My Typical Day: How I Get People to Think I’m Productive
The Contentment Habit
The Delightfully Short Guide to Reading More Books
In Praise of Limits
The Art of Being My Dad
5 Ideas to Create an Amazing 2015
Essential Zen Habits of 2014
Karate Chop
Practicing Slowness & Being Present
Overwhelmed by All the Changes You Want to Make
My 2014 Successes and Failures
Finding the Motivation to Change Your Entire Life
When You’re Lonely
The Brain’s Fast Mode
5 Questions to Simplify Your Life During the Holidays
The Zen Habits Holiday Gift Guide
The Four Hidden Habit Skills
The Power of Delay
Overwhelmed & Rushed? Do a Stress Assess
Writer as Coder: The Iterative Way to Write a Book
Please Support the Zen Habits Book
Are You a Lift or Drag Force?
When Resistance Smacks You in the Face
When Your Plate is Too Full
The Quickstart Guide to Quitting a Bad Habit
The Zen Habits Book is Almost Done
A Quick Guide to Gaining Confidence When You Socialize
The Empty Container
The Realization
A Guide to Changing Self-Destructive Behaviors
Pushing Past the Terrifying Dip in Motivation
It’s Not Too Late to Change Bad Habits
The Smart Way to Stick to Habits
My Most Effective Learning Tools
What I Do When I Fail
How to Put Your Writing in Public
The Productive Sprint
The Biggest Reasons You Haven’t Changed Your Habits
Seized by the Thunderhold of Fear
What to Eat for Fat Loss
The Heartbreaking Cruelty of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Brief Guide to Overcoming Instant Gratification
How to Get Motivated After a Vacation
7 Strategies for Facing Your Internet/TV Addiction
How to Breathe
7 Discipline-Mastering Practices
7 Rules That Keep My Life Simple
An Education in the Majestic Sierra Nevada
The Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes
How to Believe in Yourself
Don’t Waste a Moment
How to Find Your Life Purpose: An Unconventional Approach
How to Be Great
Making Yourself Work
Inhabit the Moment
How to Master the Art of Living
The Delusional Fantasies We Live With Each Day
Living the Simple Life
How to Be Prepared for Anything
Turn Toward the Problem
The End of the Day Philosophy
The Painful Beauty of Impermanence
How to Change Other People
Pursuing Happiness When It’s Already Within You
The Quickstart Guide to a Decluttered Home
Parental Zen: How to Keep Your Cool as a Parent
Looking for Love
How to Stop Your Habit Changes From Getting Derailed
Why We Have Regret
The Essence of Fatherhood: 6 Simple Lessons
A Call for Revolt: Advertising is the Anti-Minimalism
The Frustratingly Slow Pace of Making Changes
My Struggles with Eating Boring Food
The No Procrastination Challenge
Creating a Lovely Morning
A Father’s Manifesto: Raising Young Men Who Respect Women
Turn Inspiration Into Action
Coming Back From a Setback
The Gift
A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life
No Excuses: Minimalism with Kids
How to Make a Marriage Work
Love Notes
Flavorless: My Month of Food Boringness
The Letting Go Ebook, Free
The Miracle of the Self-Compassion Habit
How I Tackle a Big Writing Project
The Habit Action List
The Reality of This Moment
Confidence in Your Business
10 Ways to Do What You Don’t Want to Do
On Making It Through Tough Journeys
The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most
What to Think About During Exercise
You’ll Be OK
The Most Important Two Minutes of Your Life
A Call for Compassion for the Defenseless
The Cure for Your Distraction Syndrome
You’re Not Worse Than Other People
Being Mindful of Your Stress
What if You Didn’t Have to Worry About Yourself?
The Universe of a Single Task
Simplifying Is Painful
Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant
How I Cleaned House & Simplified My Work Life
The Busy Person’s Guide to Reducing Stress
My Month Without a Smartphone
What I’ve Learned as a Writer
What the Exercise Habit Did For Me
Fear is the Root of Your Problems
This Moment
36 Lessons I’ve Learned About Habits
The 3 Do-What-You-Love Conundrums
How I Conduct My Business
Constant Task Switching
The Habits of Five Amazing Founders
The Incredible Importance of Sleep for Habits & Motivation
What Really Motivates Us to Stick to a Project?
I Tried to Quit & It’s Too Hard!
Unwired: A Month With Limited Internet, & Now No Cell Phone
Procrastination is a Mindfulness Problem
Letting Go of Judging People
Don’t Scratch the Itch
Become Happy in the Face of Physical Misery
How Repetition Can Kickstart a Habit
Zen Productivity
When You’re Feeling Self-Doubt & a Lack of Motivation
The Child That Holds Us Back
Stateless Mindset
My Month of (Almost) No Internet
12 Changes for 2014
Essential Zen Habits of 2013
The Fear of Being Alone
The Calm Approach
Things Every Man Should Own
Family Gatherings: The Ultimate Mindfulness Training Ground
Letter to an 18-year-old on the Career Path Less Traveled
A Method to Find Balance
16 Surprising Lessons from My First 50-Mile Ultramarathon
The Simple Fitness Habit Holiday Challenge
Struggles with My Morning Internet Fast
Surrender, Mindfulness & Entrepreneurship
How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating, & Love Letting Go
Finding Focus
When You Run Out of Ideas
The Necessary Art of Subtraction
Jealousy & Suffering
How Creativity Works, & How to Do It
Self-Discipline in 5 Sentences
Make It Your Job
Developing Selfless Compassion
Lyrical Learning, & Why We Learn Habits Wrong
A Month Without Sugar
Why I Read (+ a Dozen Book Recommendations)
12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools
Burn Down the Farm
My Most Minimal Travel Setup Yet
The Exquisite Habits of the Founder of Blue Bottle Coffee
3 Little Tricks to Deal With People Who Offend You
My Healthiest Travel Routine Yet
Startup Founder Megan Casey’s Habits of Priorities
My Pursuit of the Art of Living
A Month Without TV or Video
The Way of No Debt
Letting Go: How to Live With the Loss of a Loved One
The Way to Be
Ramit Sethi’s Entrepreneurial Habits
The Time to Shut Down
The Pain & Beauty of Life Changes
8 Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator
Zen Mountain: Leave It All Behind
Overcoming the Social Costs of Being Different
Finding Quiet and Mindfulness Through Food
My Failed Month of ‘No Sitting’
The Thinking Habit That Changed My Life
Liking Healthy Foods is a Choice
Unschoolery: My New Blog on Unschooling
My Advice for Starting a Business
Creating Your Habit Environment
Travel Lessons with My Family
Easier Decision-Making: Conduct Experiments
Simplify: Let Go of Your Crutches
The Fear of Being Found a Fraud
The Flexible Mind
Declutter Your Life
A Month Without Coffee
The Healthful Vegan Diet
Living the Quiet Life
The Art of Tasting Chocolate Mindfully
Why Fear of Discomfort Might Be Ruining Your Life
The Habits of Happiness
How to Keep Habits Going During Travel
A Year of Living Without
The Key Habits of Organization
I Failed
Vegan Guide to San Francisco
The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Secret to Dad Greatness
Habits: A Simple Change in Mindset Changes Everything
The Worry That You’re Doing the Wrong Thing Right Now
6 Steps To Being More Creative
How I Finally Faced My Weight & Debt Problems
Working with the Obstacles in Your Path
9 Rules for a Simpler Day
The Little Book of Contentment
The Obstacle is the Path
5 Lessons in Contentment from Billionaires Warren Buffett & Charlie Munger
Smile in Each Moment
A Guide to Practical Compassion
6 Steps To Healing Yourself
The 7-Day Vegan Challenge
Why You Should Write Daily
Achieving Without Goals
Flowing with the Stresses of Kids (or anyone else)
Habit Mastery: Creating the New Normal
Defeat Distraction: Refocusing with Purpose
Expanding the Envelope: A Method for Beating Anger
A Guide to Practical Contentment
The Practice of Work Mind & Vacation Mind, Simultaneously
How to Eat Real Food Without Spending Hours in the Kitchen
Quitting Your Habits
The 38 Best Methods of Successful Exercisers
How To Make It Impossible To Fail
The Not Knowing Path of Being an Entrepreneur
How to Change Your Life: A User’s Guide
Getting Your Family On Board with Life Changes
How to Stick to a Habit When Life Falls Apart
Zen Mind in the Middle of Chaos & Stress
Create a Sacred Space in Your Heart
Meditation: The Most Fundamental Habit
Creating the Genuine Connections We Long For
Tremors of Psychitude: One Little Trick to Find Purpose and Motivation
Create the Habits of Being Lean, in 7 Years
Walled-in: Life Without Facebook
The 7 Habits of Calmness
The Four Habits that Form Habits
Advice to My Kids
My 10 Essential Email Habits
The Daily Checklist
Sticking to a Habit: The Definitive Guide
The Meditation Diet: How I Lost 60+ lbs. by Savoring
The Power of Habit Investments
Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe
The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early
Do Less: A Short Guide
How to Savor Life
What We Lack in a Hyperconnected World
Simplify the Internet
12 Rules to Live By
The New Rules of Fitness for 2013
52 Changes for 2013
The Unprocrastination Month, and the Relaunch of the Sea Change Program
Essential Zen Habits of 2012
The Other Person is Never the Problem
The Do Plan, or Why We Know But Don’t Do
28 Brilliant Tips for Living Life
The Clutter-free Holiday Guide
The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better
Tim Ferriss vs. Leo Babauta Showdown: On Whether Goals Suck
The Work You Love is Waiting For You
The 7-Step Method to Find Focus for Writing
The Buy-Nothing Holiday Survival Guide
Challenge: Buy Nothing Until 2013
How to Learn Anything
Shaken By Life’s Beauty, Shaken
Untrack: Letting Go of the Stress of Measuring
15 Great Excuses Not to Form the Fitness Habit
How to Make Health Insurance a Bad Bet
Why the Fitness Habit is More Important Than the Plan
The Willingness to Think Differently
Create a Superhealth Community
A Vegan Tour of NYC