eric kim photography hanoi-0010906-erickimphotography

Dear friend,

A practical photography tip for you: don’t shoot on a full stomach.

1. Does a lion eat a granola bar before hunting?

hunting lion

We are always told to eat a small snack, or eat breakfast before we start our day, or engage in some sort of physical activity.

I am convinced otherwise.

A lion doesn’t eat a granola bar before hunting. In-fact, it is hunger which stimulates the lion into hunting.

We all need an incentive to hunt, to move— or to do anything. Hunger is that motivation.

2. Why do we have a brain?

Simple question: why do some organisms have brains, and why do some organisms not have brains?

One theory: organisms that need to move have brains. Organisms that do not need to move do not have brains.

Sea squirt: an animal that 'eats its own brain' after it no longer needs to move.
Sea squirt: an animal that ‘eats its own brain’ after it no longer needs to move.

For example, there is this one organism called a ‘sea squirt’ that lives in the ocean which is born with a brain. It wanders the ocean, looking for a place with good nutrients in the water. Once it swims around and fits a suitable spot, it puts down its roots, then it eats its own brain. Because it no longer needs to move, it no longer needs a brain.

When scientists sequenced the entire genome of the sea squirt a few years ago; they found long sections of DNA identical to ours.

The movement seems to strengthen the brain and the nervous system connections. The squirt may even add a few dozen brain cells while wandering. But then it finds an underwater rock, ship hull, or perhaps a lazing walrus and attaches itself.

Adult squirts pass the rest of their lives clamped to a single surface, waving with the tides but otherwise never moving from that spot.

So their brains die.

There is a strong relationship between activity and brain function in animals, according to Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, Ph.D., a professor of physiological science at UCLA.

‘When the squirt stops moving, he says, it has no further use for a brain.’

— Excerpted from “The first 20 minutes: surprising science reveals how we can exercise better, train smarter, and live longer (2012)”

So for us human beings, I think we have brains because the brain helps us move. In-fact, walking is one of the most complicated things that we do. Even billion-dollar robots can’t do it as well as a young child, running around in the grass, and over uneven surfaces.

So my theory is this: we have brains in order to move. And humans need to move in order to obtain food, and not starve to death. So if we never went hungry, we would have no incentive to move. And we evolved brains, in order to move.

3. Practical applications

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So two things:

  1. To be human (with a brain) is to move. Therefore, if we want to be happier humans, we need to move more. That is why street photography is great— it encourages us to walk and move more.
  2. If we want to be more “productive” — we need to let ourselves go hungry. The hunger will encourage us to move more.

Therefore, in street photography (or any form of photography) — treat it more like hunting. Before you go on a hunt, you need to let hunger stimulate you. After we eat a meal, we get sleepy, because biologically we have told our bodies: “Okay, you have now caught the prey and you can take a well-deserved nap now.”

4. Don’t eat before going out to shoot

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I see the pattern for myself: whenever I go out to shoot street photography (on an empty stomach), I feel more hungry to make photos. I walk more, with less fatigue, and feel more mentally active. Whenever I eat lunch, I feel ‘food coma’ for about an hour or two, when I become a lazy sack of crap. I want to take a nap.

What I do now is usually instead of eating breakfast or lunch, I just drink coffee.

I usually drink a coffee in the morning, another at lunch, and another at around 3pm (then try to stop caffeine after that). I still sleep (pretty decent) at night. To be honest, if I really wanted to be ‘healthy’ I would not drink any coffee at all. But fuck it, I’m too addicted and productive with it.

Think of street photography like hunting— you need to have some hunger, or else you won’t be motivated to actually go out, move, and shoot.

5. Don’t feed the hawk

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Hawks, or other hunting-birds domesticated by men, are always kept a little hungry. This keeps their minds sharp.

Consider the caged lion at the zoo versus the wild lion. The caged lion is fed regularly, usually three times a day. It is fat, lazy, and has no zest for living. The wild lion is hungry most of the time, and hunts with zeal. It (rarely) catches prey. But when it does, it is a massive kill. It eats the animal with more appreciation (and the food tastes more delicious, because the lion is really hungry) and then takes a long nap.

6. Roman times

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Even the concept of a ‘breakfast’ (as the first meal in the morning) is a very modern one. Eating a ‘big breakfast’ before starting your day originated in England — and was only first for bored aristocracy, who had nothing better to do but entertain themselves by inventing more meals in the day.

If you think of the word: “breakfast” — it means to break the fast. In other words, the first meal of the day.

When you sleep, you fast. You don’t eat anything. The body doesn’t need for you to always be intaking food to run (like a car). There is a process called ‘ketosis’ where the body doesn’t need to always run on glucose immediately available in the body. So no, don’t worry— you won’t starve to death and die by not eating for 14-18 hours or so.

7. This applies to other domains

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I think if you want to be more productive in life — I recommend skipping breakfast and lunch. Just have an earlier dinner (4:30pm-5:30pm), and eat a big-ass dinner.

I have been a much more productive writer, because I no longer feel tired after eating breakfast or lunch.

I feel more intellectually productive. My mind feels sharper, more focused.

Of course this is just my subjective experience. You can totally ignore me.

8. Always be hungry

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Stay hungry, stay foolish. – Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs told us to stay hungry, and to stay foolish.

What if we took his advice literally? And to literally always stay hungry? Like physically hungry?

For myself, I have experimented the last 3 weeks or so not eating breakfast and lunch.

And damn, I’ve been fucking productive.

Why? I found that after eating (any) meal, or any food— I get a little sleepy. My purpose is to be as productive as I can, to help the greatest number of people. So I don’t mind going a little hungry, in order to help the greater good.

There are also other vain benefits. I’ve lost a lot of body fat. I can finally see my abdominal muscles, almost after 6-7 years of hidden stomach-fat. It feels good to admire my 6-pack before taking a shower.

What I usually do is when I wake up, I take a shower with only cold water. I have a black coffee, and get to work in my apartment. Cindy is usually still sleeping. I will read a bit, write a bit, or just think.

I then usually wake up Cindy after an hour or two, make her breakfast and coffee, and then might do some more work at the apartment. Then we head out, where she does her research in Vietnamese history at the archives here in Hanoi, while I go to a coffee shop and order an espresso, park myself in the coffee shop, and get to work.

After about 2 hours of work, Cindy meets me at the coffee shop (the archives closes down for lunch). She will order a cappuccino, and I drink a ton of water. Whenever I am hungry throughout the day (yes, I get hunger pangs, even as I write these lines in the morning, I feel my stomach slightly growling) I drink more water.

eric kim swans

Cindy will usually go back to work at the archives, I might walk around the block, and do some chin-ups at the local park. I then go back to the coffee shop, order (another) espresso, and get back to work. I will usually do more reading, philosophizing, analyzing, writing, making videos, or something else.

Then when Cindy is done with work at 4:30pm, we meet at the coffee shop, and usually walk or taxi somewhere to buy groceries or eat dinner. We might have dinner at around 5:30pm (if we are eating out) or at around 6pm if meeting friends for dinner. If we already have food at home, we will just cook a meal at home (around 5:30pm).

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For dinner (if cooking at home) we usually eat some sort of meat (beef belly is my favorite), kimchi, sesame leaf, pan-fried garlic, and maybe some soup. Eating that meal at the end of the day tastes fucking delicious. Because I feel like I earned that meal. And usually in an hour or two, I am still hungry, and will cook 4-6 eggs (with yolk) in coconut oil, season with salt and pepper, and fill my stomach.

9. Common misunderstandings

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I am not starving myself. I am just going a few hours each day without eating. I am still eating enough food— I eat in the evening as much as I want until I feel full. I just listen to my body and stomach. I have a really big dinner, probably enough that would be a ‘normal’ lunch + dinner (for other people).

So all I am doing is changing the timing of meals. I’m probably eating the same amount of food from lunch and dinner— but just skipping the lunch meal, and adding it to my dinner.

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There are theories that ‘intermittent fasting’ allows you to live longer, starve off cancer cells, and all this jazz. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but I know on a day-to-day basis, I’ve been more creatively active, I don’t feel tired throughout the day (although sometimes a bit hungry), and I just feel a more steady, elevated mood.

Of course this is just my experience. It probably won’t be the same for you. So just experiment, and do what feels good for your body.

10. Conclusion

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To conclude, don’t eat before shooting. Eat after shooting or making photos as a reward.

In life, I generally need to expend some physical energy, to workout, or do anything before eating.

Even when I go to the gym: I always workout on an empty stomach. I have in-fact done my maximum 1-rep for deadlift on an empty stomach (with espresso), and lifted 430 pounds.

And once again, a lion doesn’t eat a granola bar before ‘working out.’

I am not a health expert, or doctor. So don’t listen to me. But try it out for yourself if you’re curious.

Learn more: My experiences eating just one (big) meal a day.

Be strong and productive,
Eric