For a year, documentary maker Matthijs Diederiks survived on liquid food and nootropics. He made the documentary ’12 Liquid Months’ about his experiences. In this egodocument, he immersed himself in the world of functional food, biohacking, and microdosing psychedelics. What started out as a challenge turned into a story about personal transformation through nutrition. “There was a Matthijs before the diet and there is a Matthijs after the diet, and they’re very different people.” Twelve questions about twelve months.
’12 Liquid Months’ (September 2016 to September 2017) came into being organically. Matthijs Diederiks was a director, producer and cameraman all rolled in one. He believed that changing his diet radically would result in a ‘really engaging story’. In the end, it became a profound exploration of the. links between emotion, nutrition, psychology and personal discovery
What provoked this experiment?
“It started with a commercial I filmed about ‘Complete Food’, shakes designed to provide the recommended daily quantities of nutrients. At the time, I wasn’t feeling well, and I was sure I wasn’t living my life in the best way. My head was full of great ideas, but I couldn’t put them into practice, so I was never proud of myself. When I got the assignment to film the commercial in early 2016, I started thinking about Complete Food; what if I stuck with it to the letter, and filmed everything with myself in the central role? Maybe I could then kill two birds with one stone.”
What was it like to drink nothing but shakes?
“It changed much more than I thought it would. I quickly started sleeping better, and my thoughts became clearer. Then I had to deal with the psychological struggle in my social life, as I couldn’t go out and consume alcohol or drugs. That meant sitting in a restaurant with a bottle of water and my shake, while everybody else was enjoying their food and drinks. Even so, it wasn’t that bad, because I’d prepared well for my experiment. It was only really difficult at Christmas time, when it virtually became an ordeal. After that, I began studying cognitive nutritional supplements (nootropics, ed.), and started reading an enormous amount of books. My focus improved, my concentration was sharper, and I was much more relaxed.”
What about those around you? How did they react to your transformation?
“In the beginning, I lost a bit of weight, as I wasn’t drinking enough shakes. People close to me started making anxious noises, but I was feeling fine. However, I started to doubt my own feelings, and had my blood tested. The results showed everything was in balance. Reluctantly, I started drinking more shakes from that time on. People also often said I had become a recluse. The diet meant I no longer drank alcohol, which means less going out. Some friends and family also stopped drinking, and many started to look at life differently. I think my quest inspired them.”
Your son was your sidekick during your quest. What was his role?
“He managed to create some perspective in an absurd, megalomaniac adventure. He was 7 when I was filming the documentary, and his involvement created a certain light-heartedness. His disarming honesty acted as a kind of mirror for my project.”
Christmas was your low point in that year. What was the highlight?
“The highlight came during a trip I made to San Francisco for the documentary. At the time, I was interviewing the founders of startups who make nootropics. When I had a moment to myself and went for a walk through a park, I became aware that I was paying more attention to nature. I was in a process that I didn’t want to leave. I realised that you really can change in your life by teaching yourself new habits. That was the Matthijs that I wanted to be. A whole world of biohacking (active self-intervention to boost your performance, ed.) opened up before me.”
You also experimented with microdoses of psychedelics. What was the effect?
“LSD has rewritten certain parts of my brain. It feels like the neurological connections have been reversed, and my creativity stimulated. Obviously, LSD has to be used very responsibly, but then so does a bottle of vodka.”
You also went to Japan for your documentary. What did you find out there?
“I interviewed two creatives there who had a store selling nutritional supplements. People can get supplements there with fast food vouchers so that they receive the recommended daily allowances. I found that fascinating. It’s basically about awareness: what do you eat, and what aren’t you getting enough of? During that trip, I found out that I was doing much more than just making a documentary. I was working on something much bigger, which later became the futurefood.io project, an online media platform.”
Can you tell us more about that new experiment?
“Future food.io is an ongoing experiment based on my personal experiences with nutrition and biohacking. Over the next few years, I’d like to broaden it by looking at the way we affect the world with the way we consume. In this context, I’m looking to live my life so that everything becomes sustainable. The outlines are already there, now I have to sort out the details. In any case, it will be a new research project, driven by curiosity, with myself as the subject of experiments. The aim is to find out what it means to live sustainably.”
You finished filming 2 years ago. Where do you currently stand?
“I went to some pretty extreme lengths for my documentary. I no longer consume any old stuff, but take much more care and attention. In any case, Complete Food is now part of my diet; 40 percent of what I now consume is liquid. I only take the supplements if I really need them. In addition, I’ve managed to maintain certain routines, such as getting up at 6 in the morning, doing workouts, and only then waking my son up. I’ve really embraced life without alcohol, and I now understand much more what my body needs in terms of nutrition: fats and proteins in the morning, carbohydrates in the afternoon.”
What does it take to change your lifestyle so drastically?
“In the first place, it takes a certain amount of discipline. Breaking habits isn’t easy. People often lack the intrinsic motivation to really change. It’s a matter of experimenting with what works for you, and what doesn’t. Even then, you still plenty of discipline to stick to it.”
What do you expect from your dietary innovation?
“I think we’re moving towards more personal forms of nutrition. The first signs are already there, for example you can plan a diet according to your blood values. We’re not yet at the point where we can translate genetic information into food advice, but that will arrive sooner or later. Everyday technology will also play an increasingly important role in our diets. Continuously monitoring your glucose through something like an Apple Watch already gives you a lot of insight into your energy levels. At the same time, we have to be able to look beyond technology, because it’s still limited to scientific knowledge about nutrition.”
What’s your opinion about global health care?
“I’m quite sceptical. If you’ve got money, you can buy health, and the same applies to new technology and nutritional supplements. You also have to be capable of understanding how the concept of food works. If you haven’t got any money or knowledge, you won’t be able to draw the benefits, so nutrition is still a luxury for the time being. In this regard, we’re very privileged.”