I wrote this back on April 30, 2010. Just about a month ago. It was 2 days into my Paleo Experiment… two days without caffeine. I was in pretty rough shape, physically and mentally. I didn’t publish it at the time. I was far too lost in withdrawal and pain to reframe my thoughts in a positive manner – it was all I could do to just keep pushing through my days.
I share it now to offer support to all of you who are trying your own experiments. This is for those of you trying to set down your own addictions to carbs or caffeine or gambling or any other thing. It’s okay to feel the way I did, and all the ways you might feel, too. This was my voice one month ago: maybe it can help to hear it.
I’m drinking a glass of water.
This may not seem like a big deal for y’all. Before dismissing it, let’s think about a few things I might be doing instead of drinking a glass of water. After all, every time we say “Yes” to something, we’re inherently saying “No” to all the near-infinite other possibilities. So what do those look like, for me?
Eating more. Seeking satiety in bulk food. Attempting to quench thirst with food. Attempting to drown thirst in booze. Seeking to fill a simple thirst with some substitute, some more soothing possibility than the simplest way to effectively address the issue at hand – that I am scared, or tired, or thirsty.
When you’re tired, sleep. When you’re hungry, eat. These seem to be pretty simple approaches, but lord knows they can be hard to follow at times. Rather than sleep, or drink, or face our fears, how often do we scramble and reach for an alternative that placates us without solving anything?
I’m drinking a glass of water. It will quench one thirst. The rest are up to me.
Diet Coke is a big one for me. I’ve been drinking the stuff since early childhood. (My father was “man enough” to drink a diet soda in the south. His unusual self-confidence meant I always had Diet Coke around, instead of the full-sugar stuff.) I learned to love the taste of it. I can’t drink a regular full-calorie soda without feeling a little bit ill… but I usually drink (literally) 144+ ounces of Diet Coke in a day. Yes, 12 cans and more.
With caffeine, too. All that diet soda gave me a powerful hunger for caffeine. It’s not uncommon for me to add a supplemental 600mg caffeine on top of all the soda. On average, I’ll take in about 1000mg per day, which is a 7-to-10-cups-of-coffee equivalent. Yes, I still get to sleep. My body is used to it, and more to the point – is addicted to it. Without caffeine, my brain slows down, my head hurts, my operational efficacy drops off completely.
In one sense, it serves me. I stay sharp, I stay functional, and it doesn’t hurt me. On the other hand, who knows what it’s doing to my body chemistry? I’ve lived with it for over 30 years. Why not try something different?
I’m drinking a glass of water. It’s got just what I need.
What I need is water. And while Diet Coke, lovely product, is 99.9% water, it also comes with a payload of other stuff that I’m not so sure about. Aspartame? Sucralose? Technically, this stuff may not affect my insulin and glycemic response at all… or it might. The research gives conflicting answers.
Fortunately, I happen to be walking around in the perfect lab (my body) for exploring and helping find the answers for (and with) this enormous and supportive open-source fitness community.
Through my prior choices (experiments, projects), I have shown that one can achieve stunning weight loss very quickly simply be being conscious and balanced calorie-restricted diet paired with intense CrossFit training. All of you can get there, and I can help – I’ve been there too.
What I can’t help you with yet is paleo, because I’ve never done it. I also can’t help you with becoming a carved-from-stone badass with a 3x bodyweight deadlift, a sub-6 minute mile, and a 4 minute Fran time. I haven’t done that yet either – the best I can do is point you in the right direction and help you hit your squat depth.
Maybe I won’t get there this way, but I’ll never know until I try it.
I’m drinking a glass of water. It’s exactly what I want, right now.
Right now, it’s a hard choice. My head is screaming agony and I can hear the blood pumping in my ears. My thoughts are sluggish and the idea of making it through the day seems enormous. My tongue is parched and the water takes care of only one thirst.
I’ve set down addictions before, and each time it hurts in the moment. I’ve wrenched my hands away from gripping comfortable death so many times now that I think I’m starting to get the hang of how it’s done. What a shame, that I developed so many self-destructive habits over the first 30 years of my life… and then again, I’m grateful now that setting down the Diet Coke isn’t so insurmountable an idea.
I’ve made harder choices than this.
And ultimately, that’s an idea that sits at the heart of our training: making a hard choice over and over and over again. Eventually, you’ll get stronger. Get in the habit of making hard choices, and it gets easier to make them.
I’ve heard members acknowledge that they don’t set down the kettlebell because it’s too heavy to hold; they set it down because it just sucks worse than they’re willing to keep swinging it. I’m not the fastest or strongest on the KB, but I am determined to make the hard choice to keep my hands on it and get those swings done unbroken.
I’m determined to make this choice as well.
I’m drinking a glass of water. It’s exactly what I want, going forward.
This choice isn’t about scarcity, or absence, or withdrawal, or denial. This is about choosing a new path. I’m choosing this glass of water because I want to find out what happens when I don’t consume sugars, artificial sweeteners, and caffeine.
The path to my future leads through this choice, right now – and every choice. I don’t have to be strong enough to make every choice; I just have to be strong enough to make *this* choice, right now.
That same choice that you feel every time you pick the kettlebell back up, when you jump back on the bar… this is not so different. You can make that choice. I have. I look at all the choices I’ve made, and all that I’ve gained, and I know that the possibilities are endless. What other choices could I make?
What is truly possible?
Back to the present, May 29th. Since that day, it’s gotten easier. I still crave a Diet Coke every once in a while, but the headaches are gone. I let go of the grains and dairy and soy and whey.
Have I gained from it? I tested a benchmark workout today. On April 30th, just after I wrote the piece above, I went into the facility at CrossFit Fenway and performed “Rowing Helen”.
Rowing Helen – 3 rounds for time:
21 KB Swings @ 1.5 pood
My time on April 30, in the midst of that pain, was 14:36. Today I tried it again and did it in 13:25. I’m 8% faster on this benchmark now from a month ago, and that’s not the biggest thing I’ve gained.
I’ve gained experience, I’ve gained knowledge. I’ve gained freedom from one more set of addictions. I’ve set down more comforts that don’t serve my goals. I’ve taken one more step towards living a life expressed fully in conscious choices.
I’ve gained more practice at making hard choices. Hard choices keep getting easier, and I’ll keep reaching for harder choices still. Every time, I change my world a little bit more into a place I want to be.