“Chips and queso,” Lydia said. “Oh, and pizza - definitely some deep dish pizza!”
It’s day 90, and for the next few days we intended to do some quality carb binging to celebrate 3 months of absolutely perfect eating using the tally clicking system.
We just had our queso, but things are already significantly different compared to other attempts at clean eating.
As with beer, the roots of the behavior seem largely neutralized.
Here’s the data:
Across the 90 days urges started to drop away quite quickly. I noticed several unique triggers and a heightened sensitivity to sugar and alcohol.
But from a behavioral perspective, my adherence was spectacular. As with beer, my control never got close to wavering. Furthermore, this control was in full effect in my regular life, rather than the normal method of avoiding experiences. I went on a long road trip, where I stopped for lunch at a gas station and ate a hot dog with fixings but without the bun. I ate Tex Mex with no tortillas and no chips, no rice and no beans. The program weathered unexpected visitors wanting to meet up for lunch, Cinco de Mayo parties, and Indian food sans rice and naan. I was able to pick out corn, croutons, noodles and potatoes from salads and soups with no problem.
Furthermore, it’s surprising to me just how easy it is to do here in the States if you ask. Taco places do lettuce wraps, Vietnamese restaurants will serve phở without noodles or with zucchini noodles. I love New Mexican chile rellenos, and one eatery in Albuquerque made them “naked” with no batter. Burrito places do burritos on salad bowls, burger joints do lettuce wrap “buns” or bowls. A nearby Tex-Mex chain even brings out chicharrones to dip into salsa if you don’t want chips.
The only exception I had to flawless adherence was alcohol; at several points I drank more than my initially allotted maximum of 2 drinks per day. Early on I kept telling myself to rectify it by reaffirming my implementation intention.
That never happened.
Though it didn’t make much of a difference on the scale (I only got my scale a month in, and lost about 10 pounds total in 2 months), I lost anywhere from 1 to 3 inches in diameter on various body parts. My arms especially seem to change quite a bit, appearing noticeably more toned.
I took a blood test after one month, and intend to take another one soon in order to see what (if any) internal changes occurred.
But as part of a Facebook Keto Group, and seeing a friend’s detailed progress – a guy who is following a similar food program – I was less than impressed by my end results, especially given the high level of behavioral adherence.
There are several potential reasons for my lack of progress. Due to an incredibly bad carb flu, travel, and pushing a work deadline, I started slacking in my exercise regimen. After years of daily exercise, I’ve also became convinced that it wasn’t as integral as I thought for fat loss. This seemed to unconsciously bias me towards said slacking.
At some point in a habit, when you’ve ground out a routine for years with no perceived progress, you begin to wonder if it’s worth it at all. It’s a wall I’ve hit with several habits, and one I think is solved by A) proper understanding of the mechanics of the process and B) better methods to level up intensity.
Ironically, another issue may have been because I was too strict. When I first seriously attempted a solid eating plan we had at least one cheat day where we would binge on anything. I would consistently drop weight after the high carb day. And this “refeed day” (or carb cycling) procedure seems to be a mainstay of bodybuilders on cutting cycles, allegedly to prevent the body from going into a mode in which it retains as much weight as possible. In the future I want to experiment with clean carb days, something that was totally outside my realm of possibility before, as “dirty refeeds” reinforce adherence to prevalent, motivation-based programs.
Dr. Jason Fung is a nephrologist whose popular books on diet may offer a few other alternatives. In the book, The Obesity Code, he outlines perhaps the most clear and data-backed argument for the way I’m eating (which leans towards paleo/primal). In it, he also states that diet is a far more important behavior to change compared to exercise. Other than changing what you eat, he also suggests changing when.
For Fung, snacking is a no-no. Which is unfortunate because I tended to snack a lot, on either nuts or plantain chips.
Secondly, he advocates fasting. I do generally skip breakfast and opt for a very un-regimented, very haphazard 14-hour fast, but he advocates upping it to 24 hours, and in some instances 36 hours. A friend who is following his advice seems to be having excellent results with this, and it’s something I also intend to look into.
When Are You Done?
I brought this question up in a previous post entitled The End of Beer: A (Mostly) Complete Map of Quitting - and it’s still an important issue. When can I move on and toss my clicker aside? Lydia has already done this naturally. When I quit beer, it naturally occurred for me as well. But the more I think about it, the more I believe I can frame this as a habit of observing cravings AND seeing them go past without reacting.
When I took the SRHI for this, I got an 81. And it was only lower than a perfect 84 because of automaticity-related questions. Though there were many cases where I would click for an urge, and later forget that I clicked at all, statements like “I do it without thinking” don’t track well with this method, since mindfulness is a key component.
When I took the SRHI for “making healthy food choices” I got an 83. If this was any other habit, I would move on, so I’m pretty satisfied with concluding the behavioral side of this project now.
Another key, finishing point is knowing how to reintroduce exceptions. Despite its rigorous obsession with discipline, this blog really is about living life to the fullest. I want to experience new foods and partake in life - I just don’t believe I need to do it every day.
So Lydia and I came up with a potential protocol for reintroduction:
A cheat meal one day per month. We flip flopped between this and the more traditional once a week cheat meal, but realized that we really don’t have that strong of an urge to eat badly. The behavior is pretty well ingrained within us, and we tend to feel pretty bad after indulging.
Specific, unique cultural events are acceptable exceptions.
A caveat to #2 is that we’d try as best as we could to taste a small sample to fulfill curiosity and life experience rather than get an entire dish. This worked for Lydia on several press trips and seems the best of both worlds.
We have a potential project of exploring different foods in this city - once a week we want to try a restaurant from a different country. If we choose to, we’d be able to try something that’s not clean if it comes up and if it’s either impossible to eat clean or something truly special.
While I won’t be recording clicks, I’ll be taking notes during this reintroduction phase. I have no problem with the once a month cheat meal, but the once a week “maybe” gets behaviorally dicey real fast.
With adherence largely stable the next logical step, in my mind, is to attempt 90 days of no alcohol.
But this is still day 91 of eating, my first free day, where all the food in the world is once again, suddenly at my disposal. I’ve tried many programs – several bodybuilding.com 90-day transformation programs, Body for Life, Whole 30 – every diet I’ve tried across over 2 decades has resulted in a deep-seated need for release. It’s a sensation that my cravings, having so long been kept in check, can finally spring free.
It’s not like that today. I feel like indulging is more of an obligation, like I’m going through the motions. I’m actually eager to get back to eating well. The thought, oddly enough, makes me feel relieved.
At the end of the day I opened my spreadsheet out of habit, checking my clicker to record how many urges I had: