Fear And Loathing In Low-Carb Land

Other Half: “How long have you have you been doing your low-carb thing now babe?”

Me: “About 6 months.”

OH: “Are you not thinking about having a day off of it any time soon?”

Me: “No. This is just how I eat now.”

OH: “But don’t you miss any of the stuff you used to eat?”

Me: “Not really. I don’t even think about it much anymore.”

OH: “There must be something you still wish you could have. Something you can’t make a low-carb version of?”

Me: “The only thing I haven’t had that I’d like is a chocolate cake, but I can always make a keto version if I really feel the urge.”

OH: “So you’re never going to eat any of that stuff ever again?”

Me: “I don’t know. I mean, never say never right? I just don’t want to go back to that way of eating.”

OH: Yeah but just having one day off isn’t going to hurt is it?”

Me: “Probably not. But I’m afraid that I might just go completely overboard and I don’t know that I want to risk ruining everything I’ve achieved so far.”

OH: “Yeah but you already know that you can do this.”

Me: “Yep. But the idea of losing control again really scares me.”


BOOM! There it is again folks. Our old friend ‘Fear’ and its trusty side-kick, ‘The Control Freak’. That little back-and-forth was part of a conversation I was having with the other half today about how long it’s been since I switched over to a low-carb way of eating. He’s been nothing but supportive of me ever since I decided to change my eating habits and whilst he never doubted my ability to stay committed to something I set my mind to, even he’s been surprised at my refusal to eat off-plan even once. We’ve been together for over a decade and up until August 31st last year, I was a total sugar-fiend. He knows how much I loved eating all the high-carb processed crap; how much I loved take-away food, cakes, biscuits, fudge, chocolate and sweets of every variety. So it’s only natural that he’d be wondering whether I missed any of it or if maybe I ever thought about taking a day off to indulge in some old favourites.

But I wasn’t lying when I said I don’t really think about it. I’m not one of those demanding harridans who simply cannot have junk food in the house, simply because I’m not eating it anymore. I made it absolutely clear from day 1 that he shouldn’t feel bad about eating however he chooses. My choices are on me, not him. The rest of the world should never have to bend to my will, just because I can’t eat that stuff any more – and anyone who expects that kind of kid-glove treatment needs to get a grip, because you’ll never be able to escape being surrounded by temptation in the outside world. Plus it’s just really selfish to expect other people in your home to alter their own diets, because you lack self-control. Don’t get me wrong, I love that he’s so supportive and it was really cute when he tried to stash his own snacks away out of sight when I first switched to eating low-carb, but over time I’ve made him realise that whilst I appreciate his concerns, I’m a big girl and I’m not about to go mad and inhale an entire packet of Wispa bars, just because they’re sat on the living room table.

I still make bread and cook potatoes, rice, pasta, chips and whatnot for him. I order him take-out pizza when he wants one and it doesn’t bother me at all to have it in the house. And I think that comes down to me having made a very clear decision in my own mind, that I simply do not eat those foods any more. There’s no grey area around any of it, I just don’t eat that way. You’ve probably heard others talk about the notion of being either a moderator or an abstainer. Moderators can eat a little bit of something and then leave it alone, but can’t imagine life without it altogether. Abstainers can cut something out entirely, but can’t just have a little bit, or it will remain present in the forefront of their minds, tormenting them with thoughts of always wanting more. I’m an abstainer. Some might call that “all or nothing thinking” but it’s no different to me, than an alcoholic swearing off of drink for the rest of their lives. It’s what I decided to do from day 1 and even stuck with that approach all through the festive season.

And I can’t think of any reason as to why I’d want to deviate from my low-carb WOE any time soon. It’s become almost second nature to me now. I eat food I like, there are plenty of options for keto-friendly versions of some items I want and I just feel so much healthier. I’m about 35lb away from hitting my initial 100lb goal and when I get there I’ll probably extend that even further by another 30lb. It’s all going really well, completely according to plan and even though I know I’m definitely due to hit a stall sometime soon (we all get one eventually), I’m totally prepared for it and happy to continue eating this way indefinitely.

So, what’s the problem?

Well, it occurred to me during that conversation at the beginning of this post, that one of my underlying reasons for not wanting to have a “cheat-day” or “day-off” was my fear of losing control of my eating again and spiralling back into some kind of inevitable inability to get back on track. Thinking on it some more, I had to admit that I’ve become somewhat of a “Carbophobic” of late, never wanting to use my full 20g daily max allowance, always trying to keep to 15g max every day instead. If I buy a premade salad and it contains grated carrot or tomato in it, I’ll spend a good 5 minutes fishing out every last bit of those ingredients, because I look at them as being too high in carbohydrates. I won’t eat any protein bars that contain more than 3g of carbohydrates. I avoid even the slightest dash of any sauce or condiment that contains sugar and if I’m being completely honest, the main reason I haven’t gotten my other half to help me make a keto-friendly cake yet, is because the one’s that look even remotely worth the effort have anywhere between 5 and 10 carbs for a slice – and ain’t nobody about to keep themselves to one tiny sliver of cake. I’m an abstainer, not a moderator remember?

And I’m a little bit worried that I might be developing a bit of an intense and unhealthy fear of carbs. Which is weird, because I know that the human body doesn’t need to consume carbs for any reason – post infancy that is, when we’re supposed to get it from breast milk, but I digress – and there’s no reason for me to ever have to consume them again (I mean, except maybe if there was some huge disaster and the only food I had any access to was a bunch of processed crap once my fat stores ran out, but I’m talking regular life here.) I have every reason to fear sugar and the damage it does to the human body. It’s an unnecessary substance that provides no nutritional value, whilst causing a whole heap of medical issues from Type II Diabetes and obesity, to dementia and inflammation all throughout the body. Shouldn’t more people be afraid of this stuff? Surely I’m right to want to give it a wide berth?

But maybe I’m not just reasonably concerned about consuming sugar. Maybe I’m becoming obsessively afraid of it, to the point of it being unhealthy in and of itself. I know I’m a natural control freak and when I had a stress related nervous breakdown, that part of me mutated into intense hypervigilance that crept into all aspects of my thinking. I’m completely over that breakdown now, but I always worry that I might be prone to another episode if enough stress factors all come together in the same kind of perfect storm that triggered the last one. So I like to always check in on myself from time to time, just to make sure that I’m doing okay. I know what to look out for and any time I feel as though things are starting to get a little too hectic, I know exactly who to speak to in order to get the help I need.

And I’m not saying I’m back lingering on the outskirts of Crazytown, about to lose my shit again anytime soon (yes, I’m allowed to use those terms, I’m a fully-fledged member of the Crazy Crew which gives me a crazy-pass to refer to mental health in the most politically incorrect terms I see fit, lol). But the thought of something getting the better of me never sits well with the control-freak part of my brain, and the added concerns surrounding a fear of certain foods, just sort of niggle at me in a way I’m not comfortable with. It’s not that I want to eat sugar. It’s that I want to carry on not eating it, by choice, not out of an unhealthy fear that’s rooted in a bad relationship with food. Does that make sense? If I can use the alcohol analogy again, I choose not to drink alcohol. Not because I fear what it will do to me; I’ve never had any problems with alcohol. I just choose not to consume it because it makes me feel like shit the next day. My house has loads of alcohol in it, but it never occurs to me to drink any, because I just don’t choose to drink alcohol. Which is how I want to feel about sugar and carb-laden junk food. I’m fine having it in the house, I can eat meals around others who are eating it and not be bothered by that. But it just feels like I’ve become unreasonably scared about sugar and carbs…and I don’t like having that fear.

If I fear something, I’m allowing it to have more power over me than it deserves. I’m attributing powers to something, that in this case, is an inanimate foodstuff. I don’t want to allow it to have that hold over me, because while it still does, I’m not wholly healed of my sugar-addiction and I don’t have the completely neutral, proper relationship with food that I’m working on achieving for myself. This concern actually first occurred to me a few days ago when I was watching a video by Thomas DeLauer. In it he said that whilst he mostly follows a keto WOE combined with a fasting regimen, sometimes he goes off of it for a day or so. I think he was trying to make a point about how he’s able to be pretty relaxed about his own eating at this point in his life and it’s normal for others to do so too, but I remember having an almost physiological reaction to hearing him say that.

“WTF? No way. I can’t do that. I don’t want to do that. I’m not gonna do that!”

The thought of “just taking the weekend off” horrified me.

“I’d gain weight immediately! How do I know I would be able to stop again? I do not want to have to go through the 3 days of hell, to get back into ketosis again!”

And I know the beginnings of concern about my having that knee-jerk response did start to creep into my mind at that point, but I just reminded myself that I’m still in the early stages of getting my health to where I want it to be.

“I need to make more improvements, lose more weight and become more settled into this way of eating, before I should even think about that kind of thing. Tom’s in a near perfect state of physical health and he’s been doing the keto and fasting thing for over a decade. He’s in the right place physically and mentally to start being able to relax a little with his diet. But I’m nowhere near where he is. No, now is not the time for me to flirting with such a dietary disaster.”

I mean, you can’t fault my logic there right? I can’t expect to cure myself of a lifetime of poor food choices in just 6 months and think I’m home free, can I? Trust me, I can make an argument for anything I think or believe – and that might just be part of the problem. Arguing happens to be one of my stronger suits. My parents encouraged heated debate in the family home, always putting the emphasis on using logical, rational propositions or defences and always keeping one’s cool. As a result of that I have always been able to stand up for myself, challenge those I disagree with…and rationalise my way into making all manner of less than intelligent decisions, lol. Part of the reason why I switched to low-carb in the first place, was because the evidence for it made complete, logical sense. I didn’t just choose to follow it because I wanted to lose weight and it was the trendy new diet on the scene. When I followed up on the books I read and the videos I watched, there was no compelling reason for me to keep on eating sugar.

And there still isn’t really. Except maybe I need to do it, just to prove to myself that I can do it and then go back to my normal low-carb WOE the next day. Urgh! Just typing that sentence out, like I’m seriously considering doing it, is already making my anxiety start prickling. I don’t want to put that stuff in my mouth or into my body. I don’t want to feel the way I used to feel when my brain’s reward centres were getting hyper-stimulated by all the crappy food I used to eat. I don’t want to like it. I don’t want to have those tastes back in my mouth, and then back in my memory, reminding me of just what I’ve been missing out on. I’m scared of eating like that again. Which again makes me feel like that’s the exact reason I should do it.

Do you see what I mean? I can provide numerous reasons as to why I shouldn’t have a day off of eating low-carb; the main one being that I just don’t want to. I have only one reason to make myself do it, and that’s to prove to myself that this stuff doesn’t have any power over me. That I can pick it up and then put it down again once I’ve proved my point. But what point would I be proving? That my control-freak nature can adhere to any rules I decide to impose upon it? Because that sort of experiment would still be me maintaining a firm grip on the reigns of my eating habits; it wouldn’t be me being “relaxed” about carbs, in any sense of the word. All it would really achieve is me proving to myself, yet again, that I can stay in control. And isn’t that really part of the problem to begin with?

I don’t know. All I’m certain of right now is that I have no immediate plans to deviate from this way of eating. I’m on a mission to lose all this extra weight, get healthy and have a better quality of life. I don’t want to do anything to ruin any of the progress I’ve already made, or scupper my chances of progressing any further. There is no need for me to consume sugar from a nutritional point of view, nor any social obligation or personal desire to do so. I’m not self-imposing this WOE for any moral reasons, I just don’t want to put that shit in my body. Not right now anyway. So I guess all I’ve done here is talk myself back to maintaining my original position, regardless of any concerns I might have about my increasing “Saccharophobia”. But it’s something I know I need to keep an eye on going forward.

And after talking some more with the other half, I made a deal with him: I’m going to stay completely on plan for as long as I see fit. But…on the 1 year anniversary of my switching over to low-carb (August 31st) I will go out to dinner with him to our favourite Indian restaurant and eat my favourite dish. So, I’ve got 6 months to work up the courage to have an ‘off-day’! 166 days and counting folks – GULP!

Have a lovely day y’all

Blue

Stimulus Chick

And you want to call your mother and say
“Mother, I can never come home again
‘Cause I seem to have left an important part of my brain somewhere
Somewhere in a field in Hampshire.”

I have never been one of those people who can just “be”. I’ve never been able to meditate, or just empty my mind, and I cannot just sit and do nothing for extended periods of time. Sitting is fine, but unless I’m occupying my mind with something, I get incredibly bored, very easily. Now I don’t bore easily – yes that might sound like an immediate contradiction, but bear with me – because I always have something I can be doing, reading, watching, learning about…even if I can’t get up and about to go anywhere. I’m incredibly good at keeping myself occupied and even as a child I could often be found just sat reading as I devoured everything I could get my proto-bibliophile little hands on. So yeah, I never struggle to find things to occupy myself with, but I simply cannot just sit and do nothing.

My mind races all the time, jumping from one project to another as soon as I’ve finished, constantly making notes about the next 100 things to research or the next 10 books I “have” to buy. I read 2-3 different books at any one time, watch university lectures from around the world in order to learn more about…well…everything, and I have to check out/aggregate numerous news sources every day, to find out what the “bullshit du jour” is. (I’ve had it suggested on multiple occasions that I might have undiagnosed ADHD or even Asperger’s, because of the way my brain is always looking to keep itself stimulated, in a very logical, fact-oriented way. I have no idea if that’s true and I’ve never been tested for it, because what we be the point? I’m hardly suffering as a result of it and I certainly don’t require any more medication to add to my already vast prescription.)

But I know that whatever it is that causes me to be perpetually in need of stimulation is probably something that ties into my issues with sugar addiction, or food in general. When I think about what it was that really made me overconsume so many carbs, I’m perfectly ready to admit that it was an addiction. However, I also think that one of the reasons I did eat so much, was because of the experience of having different flavours in my mouth. Being so cued into stimulation at every level, I believe that food was also a way of doing something that felt interesting at the time. I love really sour things, spicy things, herbs, regional cuisines, different textures, different temperatures and of course…all things sweet. Food it seems, has been as much about the fun way flavours hit my taste receptors as it was a response to craving another hit of sugar. Addiction being the multi-layered disorder that it is, can have more than one contributory factor. Maybe I’ve been addicted to the sensory experiences involved in eating, almost as much a I’ve been addicted to the actual sugars involved? I mean, they’re probably two sides of the same coin, but it makes perfect sense when I think about it.

The weird thing is, throughout my life I’ve tried just about everything a person can become addicted to. And I don’t just mean “tried it once, didn’t inhale (I did not have sexual relations with that woman)”, lol. No, I’ve imbibed, indulged and partaken in just about every substance out there on the streets…and have done so on many, many, occasions. During my 20’s I was a complete party animal. I believed that you should work hard and then reward yourself by partying equally as hard on your time off. And I really went for it. I could list the things I’ve done, but it’s quicker and easier to just list the stuff I’ve never done. I’ve never done crystal meth (c’mon we all have to have SOME standards!), I’ve never done PCP and I’ve never used that weird khat stuff that people from Africa like to chew (that shit makes your teeth really gross and TBH you get far more bang for your buck with regular speed). Oh and I’ve never injected anything. But other than that, if it could be snorted, swallowed, smoked or absorbed through a ‘tab’, I’ve done it. A lot of it.

And I’m not saying any of that to try and make myself sound wildly interesting (trust me, most people who are completely off their face on drugs aren’t even interesting to other people currently off their face on drugs) I’m just trying to reveal a pattern in my past behaviours that I believe still exist within me today, despite me being far too old to party anymore. (I don’t even drink alcohol!). The reason I took so many drugs was partly curiosity, but mostly just because I loved the way in which different substances stimulated my mind and body in so many different ways. Up, down, sideways (thanks, Ketamine!) or completely tripping my tits off…whatever it was that I wanted to feel, I knew I could get just by ordering up whatever substance I wanted at that specific moment in time.

And I LOVED taking drugs. I’m not ashamed of that fact…I had so much fun with them and got to experience so many different sensations and levels of excitement / euphoria / relaxation / fascination / introspection, every weekend. I mixed them up, experimented with combining acid & ecstasy, ketamine & ecstasy, ketamine & heroin…all kinds of mad combinations. And looking back, yeah, I probably was pushing my luck and sailing a little too close to the wind with some of my more extreme weekends. At one point I got the nickname “munch” because when it came to taking ecstasy tablets (and this was many years ago when ecstasy tablets actually had a decent amount of MDMA in them) I would start of with just 1, then double drop a couple an hour later, then triple drop later still and by the end of the session had probably forked out about £150 for 20 pills and subsequently “munched” my way through them (and I use the term “munched” there in inverted commas, because ain’t no one in their right mind gonna chance a whitey by chewing one of those bad boys up in their mouth….bleugh!)

But you know what? No matter how many drugs I took or how often, I never became addicted to any of them. Maybe it was because I only ever did them on weekends because of the weekday work ethic. Maybe it’s because I was doing so many different things all the time, that I never became actually addicted to any one recreational drug in particular. I don’t know. But it’s the same with alcohol. When I was younger (15+) I would drink enormous amounts on the weekend. Binge drinking. But it never became something that I got addicted to. I never felt the urge to drink on weekdays, or drink alone. It was something I was able to walk away from as easily as I did the drug-fuelled party life. I did it while it was fun and then when I’d had enough, I just stopped. Inevitably, my reasons for giving up those crazy days of drug-taking were just the usual mundane reasons: 1/ the comedowns get a lot harder to get over (like hangovers) the older you get and 2/ I ended up working a job that required me to work a lot of overtime on the weekends, so it just wasn’t feasible anymore.

Do I miss it? Kind of. But not enough to want to go back to it. I’m now content with getting my stimulation from a vast array of intellectual pursuits….along with getting to enjoy the company of my other half. But it was all the talk of sugar-addiction recently that just got me to thinking about addiction in general and whether or not I’ve got what you’d call an “addictive personality”. And I don’t think that I do. As I’ve just explained, I’ve put myself in the path of potential substance addiction, just by the sheer amount of things that I’ve taken over the years. Why does one person become a disease ridden crack-whore, when the next person merely dabbles and walks away completely unscathed? What makes person ‘A’ become an intravenous smack addict, when person ‘B’ just finds it something they can enjoy here and there and not become dependent upon?

And the only reason I can think of, as to why I might have never gotten addicted to any drugs I’ve ever used…yet still somehow became a sugar-addict, is because everyone knows about the dangers of drug addiction. I grew up bombarded with the “Just Say No” campaigns of the 80s/90s (not that they stopped this curious little miscreant from wanting to find out for herself what these drug things were all about, lol) and there was no shortage of films or television shows that charted the terrible demise of some wretched junkie. The potential dangers of drugs were embedded in our consciousness from a very early age. So even though I was having fun taking everything from A-Z, I think there still must have been some part of my subconscious keeping an eye on me and stopping me from stepping over the threshold from user to addict.

But sugar? It’s in pretty much every kind of processed food on the planet. And grain based carbohydrates have been touted as “good” and “healthful” for as long as I can remember. Sure, we were warned that if we didn’t clean our teeth properly then the sugar would give us cavities; but no one was going around thinking:

“I really ought to be careful dabbling in these Mars Bars and cans of Coca Cola…I don’t want to get addicted and have to go turn tricks on the streets of crime to pay for my dirty, candy habit.”

There just hasn’t been the intensive campaigning out there in schools, youth groups, churches an from within the police, telling us to “Just Say No… To Sugar”. It’s really only in the past 15 years that we’ve seen the notion of carbs being the problem with triggering metabolic disorders (Gary Taubes has really done wonders for getting this message out there to the general public, but Dr Atkins had been waxing lyrical about the low-carb diets for years, before he very sadly passed away. Taubes just really refocused energy and attention on a low-carb WOE, and continues to publish books on the subject to this day) but not many of us grew up in the knowledge that carrots & sweetcorn, or cornflakes and crusty bread could be more problems than they’re worth.

I just say all this because I think our sugar-addictions crept us on us when we weren’t necessarily clued up about the effect carbs were having us. I’m not trying to pass the buck here…none of us got fat behind our own back; but it definitely helps to make sense of how I never became addicted to the various classes of “controlled substances” consumed over the years, but I definitely became addicted to sugar from an early age. And when it’s injected into everything from dressings, to freshly baked 100% chicken breasts in the supermarket, which have also been “fortified” with HFCS…well, what chance did we really stand? *GAH*!

I never wanted to admit that I was a ‘sugar addict’ (I mean, it sounds pretty fucking lame, right?) but going through those first 3 days of withdrawal taught me what it meant to feel infuriatingly dependent on a substance for pleasure, satiety and sanity. I’ve committed those 72hrs to memory, because I, in no way ever, want to have to go back to that place, admit to a relapse and put myself through the sugar withdrawal process again. That shit sucked.

But when I also think back to the withdrawal process and how amazing I felt afterwards, I was a little surprised to see how easy it was to just get on with my new low-carb WOE. Maybe I’m just lucky because I’m not a particularly addictive personality. Hence why I also never became a recreational drug addict, no matter how many substances I used. Do I have an especially good brain that doesn’t “catch” onto addictions all that easily? Am I just mentally stronger and better able to discipline myself, or is it a genetic predisposition to avoiding addiction?

Well, in full disclosure, I’ve actually been surrounded by addicts at various points in my life. My dad (now passed) was an alcoholic, my older half-brother was a heroin addict for over a decade, my step-brother was a heroin & crack addict, one ex-boyfriend was a paranoid schizophrenic heroin addict, another boyfriend was a gambling addict and a couple of friends ended up with one of them in jail and the other dying in the apartment downstairs after a heroin/cocaine speedball overdose. One would think me more likely to develop addictions myself with all those associations & relationships, but I think if anything those people all acted more as real-life examples of what not to end up like. I’ve had front row seats to the very real fuck-ups and failures of all those individuals. There was simply no way I was going to end up going to let myself end up like them.

But nobody was skulking around with a diagnosis of sugar-addiction, for me to use as an example of what not to do. Even if many of them were as addicted to the sweet stuff as me, it simply wasn’t a thing that anyone had really heard of or talked about, 25 years ago; at least it wasn’t in my social circle and I wasn’t clued into any nutritional concepts surrounding it online for a long time in the future. So yes, I WAS a sugar addict, but I wasn’t aware of it…ergo I wasn’t in a position to do much about it. Sure I was fat, but I’m really glad I never joined WW with all their low-fat/high-carb, sugary “points system” foods that would’ve merely been allowing me to stoke those inner fires with MORE unnecessary carbohydrates.

But today is a different story. I have that information, that knowledge, that power. And it has allowed me to re-evaluate my life choices, my diet, and all the behaviours I’ve needed to change in order to get a handle on it. My mind is focused, my goals are set in stone and I have multiple tools at my disposal to assist me in getting to where I really want to be. Some might think that it’s a lot harder to deal with a sugar addiction, when we live in a world that constantly surrounds us with sweet stuff, sugar fortified foods and no way of simply abstaining from all food, forever. We still need to eat and the temptations are all around us.

But I think it’s the opposite. Once you decide “oh I just don’t eat that stuff anymore” and don’t go down the slippery-slope of “just one cheat day won’t hurt!” then it’s a very simple WOE to follow. No complicated systems of sins/points/rewards, no wrecking one’s metabolism by massively restricting calories, no going hungry and no negotiating with oneself any time you’re presented with the opportunity to binge on something, telling yourself that you can make up for it with better behaviour, tomorrow. Just stick to the plan and work it – until it stops working for you. Then you can look at alterations, tinkering, eliminations, rethinking goal weight in relation to muscle mass etc…but don’t worry about any of that in the short term.

Sugar addiction is a real thing, but it also comes with a very simple solution. It just takes the individual to want to make the decision to “get clean” and stay that way. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy…some days will suck more than others. But it’s up to each of us, and us alone, whether we want to continue behaving like junkies, or get our shit together and work toward a happier, healthier future.

Because I’ve seen what that kind of addicted lifestyle has done to way too many people.

And I refuse point blank to end up like them.

Stay sensibly stimulated, y’all

Blue

Mind Games

“We all been playing those mind games forever
Some kinda druid dude lifting the veil
Doing the mind guerrilla
Some call it magic – the search for the grail.”

I love playing ‘mind games’ with myself. I know that probably sounds a bit messed up, but it’s something I’ve done for as long as I can remember and I credit it with playing a large part in my being able to both think critically and develop a strong sense of self. I think everyone probably does it to some extent; but in many cases it probably starts to get quite uncomfortable for some, as the testing, questions and self-reflection start to reveal certain truths that not everyone is ready to learn about themselves.

Do you ever try to figure out the true motivation that lies behind your actions? Do you question your behaviour or responses to certain stimuli, then try to find a way to get the better of your own brain and change the way you react in the moment? That’s part of what I mean when I talk about playing ‘mind games’ with myself. It’s interrogating myself on a conscious level and reprogramming my brain to then respond automatically on a subconscious level at a later date. It also involves using linguistic cues to trick the brain into thinking about something in a different way. It’s hard to explain in the abstract, so I’ll give you an example of how I’ve recently been playing these little ‘mind games’ with myself, in order to help me stop smoking.

Giving something up – something that you’re addicted to – is difficult because it often has both a physiological AND psychological hold on you at the same time. Nicotine leaves your system after about 72 hours (and cotinine – something your body makes after nicotine enters it – takes 1-10 days) so the physiological cravings will be with your for about 3 days after quitting smoking. Once you’ve gone about 4 or 5 days without smoking a cigarette, you’re technically out of physiological withdrawal / dependence. What’s left is a psychologically addicted brain that needs to retrain itself to no longer continue with the smoking habit (it takes at least 3 months for the brain chemistry to return to normal after last using nicotine) but getting yourself through those first 72 hours is generally the hardest part. Your body is going through the physiological withdrawal as well as experiencing the psychological stress of knowing that you cannot have another cigarette – ever!

Ever? I mean, that sounds like a helluva long time, right? And if you’ve ever tried to tell yourself that you cannot have something, you’ll know that your brain immediately decides that it really, REALLY wants said thing and starts to spend every waking moment trying to get you to give it that thing. So the minute you tell yourself:

“that’s it, no more smoking, this is it, never again…”

your brain goes into overdrive trying to get you to give it ‘just one more’ damn cigarette. You start to get antsy, you become hyper-aware of even the slightest, little annoyances and your temper starts to fray. All things that you know will be relieved by a hit of nicotine…but you’re not allowed any.

And so many people simply cave in at this point, you can hardly even class them as having made a genuine attempt. So how do you actually manage to get yourself through those first 3 days, without giving in to your cravings? Well, the way that I decided to go about it was…by not actually giving up. Yes you read that correctly, I managed to give up smoking, by not actually giving up. Bear with me, it does actually make sense, just let me explain.

When I was first thinking about quitting smoking, I tried to think of what was going to make it really hard (aside from the physiological withdrawal) and I immediately realised that it was the very act of being told I couldn’t do something, that would make me really want to do it (yeah, I’m a real dick like that sometimes, lol). So I had a little think about what it felt like to normally go a little longer between cigarettes and tried to use that as a template for future thought processes. Normally, I wouldn’t smoke for a couple of hours after getting up and then I might have a cigarette every hour or so. If I couldn’t smoke because I was busy doing something else, it’s not like I would suddenly become overwhelmed by thoughts of cigarettes and how best to get my next fix. Because by knowing that I could have another cigarette once I’d finished doing whatever it was I was doing, there was no panic. No desperate longing for a never-ever.

So it made sense to try and replicate that psychological process when trying to give up smoking for good. Rather than finish the last packet of smokes and leave myself without any at the moment the cravings kicked in, I decided to put a single cigarette in the ashtray and leave it where I could see it at all times. It needed to be on the periphery of my vision, so that I was always sending a message to my brain that there was a cigarette within my arm’s reach, any time I wanted it. Then I just proceeded to go about reading, writing, watching YouTube or whatever, all the time knowing I could smoke that cigarette at any time. Whenever the urge to smoke would start to rise up, I’d briefly interrogate that urge, ask myself if I really, REALLY needed to smoke the cigarette at that exact moment, or if I could just give it 5-10 minutes and see if I still really wanted it. And me being the weirdo that I am, I actually liked the idea of taking myself on with these ‘mini-challenges’ to se if I could go another 10 minutes without smoking…because it wasn’t like I was never going to be able to have another cigarette ever, right?

So I just kept on putting off having that cigarette and it’s still sitting in that ashtray, ready for when I decide that I really want it. It’s been 15 days now and I still haven’t smoked it. Not because I quit and not because I’m not allowed it (because remember, I can smoke that cigarette whenever I really feel the need to) but because I’ve just been repeatedly putting off smoking it, any time the urge has struck me. Of course, some of those decisions to delay smoking that cigarette have been a bit harder than others, but whenever the cravings have gotten particularly gnarly, I’ve just had a little chat with myself, emphasized how I only needed to wait out another 10 minutes and I could have it, and then allowed myself to feel particularly smug and proud for having made it through the 10 minutes in question.

And so far, it’s been working a charm! I won’t say I’ve quit smoking altogether…rather I’ve just put off having that cigarette for 15 days. The part of me which loves to get super competitive is really excited to see just how many days I can successfully “put off” having that cigarette (because that’s just another element of the little ‘mind-game’ I’m playing with myself) but the most important thing to remember in all this, in order to make this strategy work, is that there is absolutely nothing stopping me from smoking that cigarette at any point in all this. It’s right there, whenever I want it, ready to spark up.

But right now I don’t want it. I have some books to transfer onto my Kindle, a load of washing that needs to be done and a face-mask I really want to apply. So I’m just going to put off smoking it for now and see how I feel in another 10 minutes or so.

Because it’s not like I’m never gonna have a cigarette ever again.

Right?

A Hard Habit To Break

Things I thought I would really miss when switching to a low-carb WOE:

  • Fish & Chips
  • McDonald’s Sausage McMuffins / Big Mac, Fries & Thick Shake
  • Thick buttered toast with jam / peanut butter & Marmite
  • Macaroni Cheese with cayenne chilli pepper
  • Dairy cream fudge
  • Boiled new potatoes
  • Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars
  • Southern fried chicken tortilla wraps
  • Chinese take-away Singapore style chow mein
  • Chocolate cake

The reality however, has been very different. In those first few days before slipping into ketosis, I was of course craving every single kind of carb-heavy, sugary food I could think of (withdrawal is a powerful thing) but once my system had used up all of its reserves of glucose and glycogen, all my cravings fell away.

Okay, so if I’m being entirely honest, that lust for chocolate cake has still hung around at the periphery of my consciousness, leaping into the forefront of my minds eye any time I overdid it on the protein bars, or when my TOM hormones were up the wazoo. But I haven’t been tempted into actually buying or eating any of it – even when I’ve been face to face with the stuff in a coffee shop, or in the supermarket. My resolve has remained strong and those little cravings soon dissipate when I turn my attention to something else or eat some protein instead. And I’ve researched a few keto recipes for chocolate cake, which would only put a 3g/4g dent in my daily allowance…but I’m trying to hold off on making one until I really, really want one and know that nothing else will do. (The main point behind going low-carb was so that I could embrace a healthier way of eating for the long term – not some dumb crash diet so I could “lose 30lb by X-date and get into some size 4 clothes and look super hot to all the boys!” So I don’t want to get into the habit of indulging in keto-cake on a regular basis. I know that’s a slippery slope and I refuse to allow myself to undo all my hard work, just so I can keep my sweet-tooth hooked on “healthier” alternatives.)

But yeah, aside from that occasional longing for a big old hunk of squishy, chocolatey, frosted goodness badness, the things I thought I’d really miss, really haven’t actually bothered me. For the most part of course, I’ve simply not had much of an appetite to speak of. I can go a long time without eating…although the moment I begin to eat, the hunger does start to fire up again, reminding me that I’m supposed to still be eating something at least once a day. But a lot of the flavours I thought I’d miss can be satisfied in a variety of low-carb ways. Mostly by just losing the bread and the side of potatoes or chips (proper chips – British chips…the kind that come with battered fish, not the bloody snacky, crappy things that we call crisps!)

No, the thing I’ve sort of begun to feel as though I’m missing, isn’t a particular food, or flavour or take-away joint. It’s a feeling. The feeling of being stuffed!

Now please, before anyone decides to chime in with:

“If you’re still hungry, you’re obviously not eating enough! There’s no need to go hungry on Atkins!”

Yes, I’m well aware of that. And I’m not restricting my intake of food to the point of making myself hungry, before you ask. As I’ve already mentioned both in this post and throughout this blog before, my actual appetite is incredibly diminished. When I do eat, I eat to the point when I feel as close to satiety as I think I am and stop. I consume plenty of protein and fat, along with a bit of salad or some steamed broccoli & cauliflower. And when I’m finished I’m not hungry and I feel like I’ve consumed enough.

But that’s not how I used to roll, before I switched to low-carb.

I didn’t eat until I was pleasantly full or satisfied; I would eat until I was fit to bursting. My plate would be piled high and I wouldn’t stop until I cleared it. It felt completely normal to eat enough food for 2 men (men who were doing a physical job consisting of hard, manual labour) and then keep on eating until everything had been demolished. My eating habits were so messed up, that I would go all day without eating, then come the evening put away at least 3000cals in a single sitting. (I dread to think how many carbs I was putting away every day!) And despite that hugely bloated feeling that would hit me as my engorged stomach caused me to feel incredibly uncomfortable, there was something disgustingly satisfying about feeling just so incredibly…full!

I don’t know why this became such a norm for me. It’s not like I was ever starved as a child, or had food withheld from me for any reason. I’ve always been able to afford to buy and eat whatever I wanted, in whatever quantity I desired. I’ve never been or felt unloved at any point in my life, so it isn’t a substitute for nurture or affection. And I don’t eat to quell my emotions either. If I’m sad, I lose my appetite – the size of my arse alone is a testament to just how happy I’ve been throughout my life! So I really don’t know why I felt so content eating myself to the point of barely being able to move after dinner. I know that my desire to always clear my plate hearkens back to my childhood when my parents would insist upon me finishing everything I was given; but that doesn’t explain the weird, grotesque pleasure I seemed to gain from always wanting to eat and eat until I was close to doing a Mr Creosote.

But eat I did and stuffed I was. Happily, disgustingly, despicably full.

And I simply do not eat that way any more. I take what I need, eat what I feel my body requires and stop when I’m satisfied. Only I’m not always really, truly “satisfied” – hence the added air-quotes – because I’m just not eating to that point of sheer gluttony anymore. Most days I’m fine with that, but some days I really feel as though I’m missing out on that ridiculously full feeling. Which is bizarre on the face on things, because it wasn’t a remotely comfortable feeling. It felt awful: that creeping heat rising up my neck, the waistband of my trousers straining against my swollen belly, and the almost laboured breathing thanks to my distended stomach battling with my lungs for extra space to spread out into. Not nice.

It was hideously unpleasant and weirdly pleasurable all at the same time – and I’m not some screwy BDSM type who gets off of my own pain. The only thing I can possibly chalk it up to, is the fact that so much of my food was taken up with carbs/sugar. Being a carb-addict I probably (like all sad, pathetic addicts) needed to keep pushing the envelope whenever I got my “fix”; so the junkie-high feedback loop in my brain made me want to consume more and more every time, to try and get back to that big “high” it remembers having had in the past. And because the only time it remembers being given that immense sugar-high was during a time when I was stuffing myself to the gills, does it now equate that “rush” with the bloatedness?? Could that be reason for my desire to feel so completely “full”?

I’m not your average fad-diet, flip-flopping air-head. I think long and hard about everything I do…and everything more besides. When I bump up against a problem or a niggle, I like to find out what’s behind it – often in a bullish, determined way…but also at other times in a much more careful, deliberate manner. Either way I don’t like not knowing – especially if it feels as though my own behaviours are manifesting some subconscious shenanigans, that are creeping in on the sly when they think I’m not paying attention.

Because the human brain is a crafty bastard. If it wants something, it’s gonna do EVERYTHING in its power to try and make sure it gets it. Which is why beating an addiction is about 30% to do with getting over the physiological dependency and 70% is you getting over the psychological dependency…something that doesn’t just go away overnight or disappear as soon as you’ve gone through physical withdrawal. That’s why addicts so often relapse. Even when they’ve been through rehab and detox; unless the underlying psychological reasons for that addiction have been worked through, the habitual behaviours, triggers and social interactions stop the addict from being able to make a complete break from their dependency.

I am a carb-addict. I will always be a carb-addict. Eating low-carb for 5 weeks and moving my body over into fat-adapted ketosis might have cured me of my immediate physiological dependency on sugar…but it sure as shite hasn’t undone years of maladaptive behaviour or erased any of the negative or positive associations my brain and body have made with regards to sugar consumption. I’ve made a good start by changing my eating habits and trying to retrain my brain when it comes to things like eating, satisfaction, satiety, appetite, hunger, cravings or a thousand other issues surrounding food. Yes, I’m on the right path, but I’m not remotely cured. I’m not sure if I ever really will be. This is something I’m going to have work on every day for the rest of my life. Some days will be harder and others will be easier, and I understand that. What I’m doing now is trying to mentally prepare myself for whatever sneaky little ways my brain will employ to try to get me to give it “just one more” fix. It’s going to throw up all these reminders of days gone by, when eating to excess felt so damn good. It’s going to put me through the wringer, confronting me with emotions I didn’t even know were connected to food and even concoct a bunch of lies, to get me to go off plan. My own brain WILL be working against me.

I’ve always known that for someone to be successful in changing their eating habits in the long term, it has to be as much to do with a shift in their mindset as it does a movement on the scale. And yet despite understanding that on an abstract or theoretical level, I’m only now beginning to truly know what that means as I find myself plagued by the various games of subterfuge and self-sabotage that my own mind is trying to play with me. I know that I can have incredible willpower when I need to summon it. And that will undoubtedly help take me a long way in this battle to get myself to a healthier weight and overall physiology. But I’m not invincible (no matter how many times I try to tell myself that I am) and eventually there will be cracks that appear in my psychological armour. Little niggles or strange, unidentifiable behaviours that have a much deeper root cause. If I don’t continuously keep on striving to address and work on those idiosyncratic issues, then I will at some moment be caught off guard, at a weaker moment and who knows where that worrying path might take me.

Today my brain was telling me that it wasn’t happy, or satisfied by simply eating enough to satiate my hunger and fuel me as a very overweight human being. It told me it wanted to feel full again. Not just full, but stuffed. Why? Not because it was hungry. But because it wanted something that it associated with those times of intense gluttony. It sought the reassuring sensation that went along with my reprehensibly replete, postprandial corpulence. It remembered that along with that gormandising came a super-mega hit of the sweet-stuff and all the serotonin kick-backs it elicited. So I think it tried to make me remember how much I enjoyed feeling full, in the hope that I might go ahead with all the other dysgenic behaviours and choices that had previously culminated in me getting some of the white-stuff get inside me.

But as much as I feel as though I’d really love to experience that gluttonous glee “just one more time”, I simply cannot let it happen. I could at any point in time choose to “cheat” or give myself a day off, but what would that really achieve? One brief passing moment of intense exhilaration…followed by a boat load of guilt, annoyance and huge disappointment in myself for having given in to my basest of urges. Sure, I could tell myself that “I’ve earned it” or that “everyone needs to treat themselves with something naughty every now and then”, but the reality is I DON’T need to refill my brain and body with it’s drug of choice. I haven’t “earned” a full 4 days away from this way of eating, only to have to go back through sugar withdrawal AND also have to start right back at the beginning again of my psychological journey to mental wellness.

I’ve said it before, but this is not a vanity project for me. This is about my health and my quality of living, going forward into the second half of my life. I made it to 40 despite being massively overweight, without being diagnosed with diabetes or any other metabolic disorders. My blood pressure, fasting glucose etc has always been fine. But I wasn’t going to continue to be so lucky forever. The illnesses I do have affect my joints, my muscles, my connective tissues, my brain, my skin and so much more. And the one issue lying at the centre of all these problems – the single most contributing factor to how all those other health issues were slowly losing my my quality of life – was my weight. My ridiculously heavy weight, putting pressure on all my joints and threatening to exacerbate my fibromyalgia & psoriatic arthritis. Type II Diabetes was only around the corner surely.

Any time I take off to “cheat” isn’t a “reward” to me…it’s me letting the addiction crawl back in, take control for a while and do even more damage while I eat carbs/sugars with abandon. Why would I do that to myself? Surely I deserve more than to just derail all the progress I’ve made so far and play havoc with my “recovery”. It’s weird: if I was an alcoholic drying out or a heroin addict coming off the smack, no normal person who cared a jot about my wellbeing would tell me that it’s okay to have “just one more” drink or injection, because I “deserved it”. Everyone knows that those addicts need to abstain from the very substance upon which they had become addicted to. But when those of us who are addicted to carbs/sugar start to make excuses as to why we think we should be able to have “just one cheat day” or “just one day off”, there are no shortage of people queueing up to tell us that it’s okay.

“Everyone needs a day off every now and then.”

“Enjoy your break and just get back on the wagon again tomorrow.”

Really? Is that what you’d be saying if I was planning to go off and have myself little “break” from recovery, with a few hypodermic needles full of heroin? I very much doubt it. And if you would say that then you’re not a friend or a supporter – you’re my enemy and you want to see me fail. So why don’t we view those who encourage food addicts to slip the same way? I’m inclined to believe that at least some of the people who rush to tell the sugar-addict that it’s okay for them to have a day long binge back on the white stuff, are in fact the very people you do NOT want to have around you. They’re not just enablers, but they want you to fail. Maybe so that they can a/ smugly do better than you or b/ set up a nice background of “understanding” in order for them to have their own relapse. Someone who cares about you, wouldn’t want you to backslide into an addiction you’ve been working so hard to rid yourself of.

I don’t want that to happen to me. I don’t want to slip or backslide. Doing so isn’t just a “mistake” or “falling” off the wagon. Cheating or going off plan would be me making a choice. A bad choice. And I’m not about to sit here and make pathetic excuses for making bad choices when no matter how badly my brain is trying to make me eat some sugar, it would be solely and completely my fault. My bad decision making. Being carb-addicted may well be a hard habit to break, but that’s something I’ve chosen to do and I plan on sticking to it.

Chocolate cake cravings be damned.

Blue