I know, everyone’s first thought is: NO WAY!
There is no way you could go any amount of time without carbs, sugar, caffeine AND alcohol.
Maybe eliminate one for a month…
Well, to be honest, that is how I felt initially as well. So I started with caffeine in February 2020. I knew I had become addicted to caffeine in that I felt like a slug when I didn’t have my coffee or iced cold brew in the morning and training wasn’t going to happen if I didn’t have some caffeine beforehand. Honestly, it’s not a fun existence because your life is being controlled by a “fix.”
Let me explain the notion of a fix. This isn’t a new or novel concept, however Julien and the folks over at Strongfit have provided a name for the above 4 ingested ingredients as sympathetic fixes.
We have two primary components of our Autonomic Nervous System: the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous system.
Parasympathetic (PNS) is typically associated with the idea of rest and digest.
Sympathetic (SNS) on the other hand, is associated with the idea of fight or flight.
Carbs, sugar, caffeine and alcohol all create a sympathetic response in the body. The level of response is varied person to person and varies depending on level of consumption.
For me, caffeine was a BIG TIME fix. It had gone from being a nice energy boost in the morning to being a necessity to live my day at the highest level I could achieve.
I definitely had some headaches and sluggish days early on. But after the first week or so, I felt more alive, more awake and more in CONTROL. That is a huge part to understand in this whole process. I was doing this to regain CONTROL of myself, not have it dictated by ingested substances.
Of course, everything went sideways about mid-March with COVID-19 and everything shutting down. But I maintained my no caffeine pattern. It actually made processing and decision making easier. I was able to think more clearly and be more present.
So, by the time May rolled around, I felt confident in my ability to do a month of no carbs, sugar, caffeine and alcohol while maintaining my sanity and personal relationships (my neighbor buddies love a good cocktail!)
No Fix May
The hardest thing for me to eliminate is definitely sugar. Much harder than caffeine or alcohol. It’s always nice to sit back and sip on a bourbon nightcap but dessert in the form of ice cream, cookies, pie or whatever was something that got ingrained when I was very young with my parents. I don’t blame them because desserts are delicious, but the longer something is ingrained in you, the harder it is to break yourself from it.
Alcohol was fine, I hung out with my buddies (at a proper physical distance) late into the night shooting the breeze watching them pound Busch Lattes.
And carbs, I found, were actually the cause of much of my GI distress. So eliminating those made my gut feel better and my entire family happier. The “natural gas” level in the household decreased tremendously 🙂
I was eating lots of things I really enjoyed: cheeses, salami, pepperoni, big freaking steaks, delicious fish tartare (my way, just tuna or salmon and avocado), not counting macros or calories and loving food.
But, often the reason any one of us starts with one of these sympathetic fixes goes back to the function of our autonomic nervous system. The SNS has a primary function: get you to take action! (Fight or Flight) And stress in our world often results in us having to suppress the anger and rage we might feel and just stow it away. Then, when we get home from a stressful day, the first thing we reach for is chips or something sweet or a glass of bourbon (wine for Emilee, my wife).
Why? Because, when we should have been allowed to release our stress ie. take action, social constructs have made it so that we would be fired, demoted or looked at like a rage monster incapable of controlling ourselves.
So we seek a substance to create that sympathetic response we should have been allowed to release. It’s also why, after a very stressful day, getting into a gym and smashing some weights and grinding your hands into a barbell feels therapeutic, almost natural. Because it is.
And with a month of no fixes, something is bound to come up that puts me into an angry state.
Scene: Mother’s Day
I purchased a gift card for Emilee so she could put it towards the new Apple watch. However, I didn’t read closely enough the gift card I purchased and it was for iTunes, not the Apple store generally. (totally my fault right!) So, I spent the entirety of my daughters’ nap on the phone with them trying to get it sorted out, missed my opportunity to train etc etc. And waiting on the phone like that is one of my LEAST favorite things. Needless to say, I was already angry.
Then, Emilee decided she wanted Olive Garden takeout for dinner. So I took our girls with me to pick up our food at 6:15. Let’s just say things weren’t running smoothly curbside. By 7:30, I had had enough, told them to cancel my order and headed home a defeated husband who couldn’t come through on Mother’s Day TWICE and now forced my wife to cook something for the girls so they didn’t go to bed at 9 pm. Rage was coursing through me.
Usually, I would have had a drink and simmered for a bit. Since that was out of the question, I calmly went down into our basement, grabbed a medicine ball, went into our backyard and chucked that ball as high as I could.
I have no idea how many times I threw it but I just kept going until I felt like I had expressed most of the rage I felt. When I came back in, I was better, not perfect but also not about to unleash on 3 people that I care about dearly and had no involvement in the anger I was feeling.
That was enlightening to me. Instead of reaching for an easy way out, I took action, blew off steam safely and came back a better person.
This sh!t was working! Mostly because I was finally forced to take action for my thoughts and feelings versus using a sympathetic “crutch” to temper those feelings.
I slept well that night as well as the rest of the month.
The predominant point of No Fix May was simple for me: take action.
The easy way out is to let a substance like carbs, sugar, caffeine or alcohol BE your action (not effective) or drive you to take action (we are fully capable as humans to take action without artificial stimulus).
Seeking opportunities to take action versus going with the flow made for a more enjoyable and invigorating day.
However, I also realized that I DON’T need any of the substances I avoided in May, which allows me to have them from time to time.
Leading me to my second big takeaway:
Food is meant to be an experience.
- Having a dessert that was lovingly made by your mom is completely okay
- A cup of coffee on Saturday with your loving wife is just fine
- Having a few beers with the boys won’t derail you
- And enjoying the best cheesy potatoes ever should be, well, enjoyed!
When you indulge with food or drink, do so because you WANT to and make it an experience: include other people, savor the flavors and give yourself time to enjoy it.
Slamming that last glass of bourbon because it’s bedtime isn’t necessary. Nor is grabbing one more cookie for the road and shoving it into your mouth.
Thus leading to my last takeaway: I can enjoy these fixes in this way, be happier and feel REALLY awesome.
I am not saying everyone should try this, but I do think you should experiment on yourself with the objective of finding ways to make yourself better on a regular basis.
Hence our FIT Lab. My lab rats and I are in our first experiment which is, you guessed it: No Fix July.
Now, we are already halfway through the month when this will come out, but we will do it again in the near future and I highly encourage you to try it if you feel inspired by this story (all true, can’t make up that Mother’s day experience!)