The fruits of Abstinence

As Socrates once proclaimed, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. In the last six months I embarked upon an examination of sorts. An examination of my diet, the effects of certain foods on my body, and crucially, whether I was at all capable of living without certain naughties in my life.

For those of you who read my previous post Abstinence, you would have noted that I had planned a month long expulsion of four dietary baddies: alcohol, sugar, meat and coffee. Unwittingly, that month- May 15 till June 15- ended up being FIVE weeks long! And boy, was it a looooong month. It was a struggle in many ways. The easy ones to give up were the coffee and the alcohol. Perhaps because a binge of one nearly always followed a binge of the other. Co dependants, and therefore co evictees. The meat and the sugar were much tougher.

In the previous months, I had tended to over compensate in one quarter when imposing a ban on another. For instance, in my sugar free month, I happily munched my way through all manner of meat preparations, drank my body weight in gin and kept myself buzzing on cappuccinos. I still (miraculously) lost weight! However, this time around, I denied myself the crutches I had become accustomed to. My sense of deprivation would most certainly have derailed me, had it not been for one little detail: my stubbornness. There was a dogged determination to my pursuit of ‘cleaner’ living.

At the end of that month, I baked a cake.

This cake was a celebratory one. Not for myself, but for my daughter who had just finished her GCSE exams. It was a hazelnut torte, the layers sandwiched together with swiss buttercream, finished off with chocolate ganache and decorated with ferrero rocher chocolates. I wish I could say that not a crumb passed my lips. Alas, that would be a bare faced lie. I ate not one, but two slices, and you know what? I enjoyed them too.

So was all of that abstinence an exercise in futility?

Nope. Not at all. This was never meant to be a life long prohibition. It was meant to be an examination not just of the ouster of certain foods I had determined I was dependant on, but also of my will power and ability to see it through till the end. That I managed, and am quietly proud of my accomplishment.

However, the dilemma that faces me now is how do I carry this forward? When I’d tried explaining to a friend that I was doing a no sugar, no meat, no alcohol and no coffee ban, he’d looked at me quizzically and quipped, “No life either?”

Sadly, for those five weeks, I wasn’t the most fun person to hang out with. In fact, at times I was a bit of a pain in the rear. The restaurants I agreed to go to had to have vegetarian options. I always declined the wine and the dessert, and stared mournfully at the lattes my friends rounded off their meals with. That is not how I want to live the rest of my life!

So, going forward the catchword of MY life will be moderation. Don’t drink an entire bottle of wine because it’s there. Don’t eat meat everyday because you are too lazy to look up new and exciting vegetarian recipes. Don’t eat an entire bar of chocolate because you are bored. And don’t drink five coffees in a day because you couldn’t haul your bottom to bed at a decent hour.

Which brings me to the mystery element of my abstinence.

In all of this taking care of my body malarkey, I stumbled upon an interesting truth. My bedtimes were inevitably at some godforsaken hour. Not because I was working hard on the great Indian/English/American novel, but because I was trawling through reams of nonsensical social media postings. What was this strange pull that social media exerted on me, and could I break the spell? I set about finding out.

For the entire month of June, I have sworn off social media. Facebook, Instagram and even Whatsapp have been cruelly culled from my life. Aside of answering a few panic stricken messages on Whatsapp, that I reluctantly signed back onto for a day, my life has been social media free. And oh, the joy of it!

I can now choose to read the news items I wish to read, without Facebook’s algorithms determining I need a glut of information about something I might have displayed an interest in once. No more reading every Tom, Dick and Harry’s opinion on what is wrong with the world (and how they will solve it all, hiding behind their computer screens). No more seeing a casual acquaintance’s blow by blow account of her agonisingly mundane life’s minutiae.

What a relief it has been. I have caught up on my reading, my writing and finally started to listen to the podcast I’d earmarked two years ago! I cannot, in all honesty, Continue reading “The fruits of Abstinence”

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Abstinence

For those of you who know me personally, this has been a year of experimentation. I did not plan for it, but somehow that’s the path I have undertaken, with interesting results.

After the excesses of December, Dry January was actually a relief. Abstinence from alcohol is almost de rigeur at the start of the year, and I was in good company as most of my friends and acquaintances were also abstaining. Barring a few social occasions, I did not miss the wine or the rum and coke quite as much as I thought I would. A chamomile tea served me just as well, and helped more with a good night’s rest than the wine ever had. I had more energy and realised that aside of a social crutch, alcohol’s only other purpose was that it was a mild de stressor. A combination of fatigue and alcohol nearly always brought out the worst in me. On it’s own I handled fatigue far better than before. Result: a more rested and balanced me.

Sugar free February proved more challenging. Cursed with a sweet tooth, nearly every meal has to end with some sort of dessert. Could I stay off all sugar for an entire month? Dr Michael Mosley’s ‘The eight week blood sugar diet’ certainly helped. Having read it in one sitting I was determined that no refined sugar would cross my lips. I almost succeeded. I could not entirely eliminate sugar as it is added to nearly all kinds of foods(shockingly), and I had neither the inclination nor the will power to be a complete anti sugar crusader. I also carried on eating fruits, Nature’s own dessert, as I reckoned that natural equated to healthier. Result: clear skin and weight loss.

March was comparatively the easiest month. A simple banning of coffee just meant excluding the 2 mugs I had every day. I substituted with tea, which some people advised had more caffeine in it than coffee. Upon researching this I found it to be partially true. Yes, tea leaves have more caffeine in them than coffee beans. But post brewing , the caffeine content in a cup of tea is substantially less than a cup of coffee. Either ways, I suffered no coffee withdrawal. In the end, all I did miss was the aroma, and the ritual of nursing my first mug of coffee. Tea did not have quite the same romance to it. Result: Coffee dependence was all in my mind.

April is my vegetarian month. It started with a bang as I declared to all and sundry that I had sworn off meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Then promptly forgot and popped two sausages on my plate at the breakfast buffet. Cue lots of guilt, and a re avowing of former pledge. Having to survive on vegetables and lentils has been no great hardship. I have enjoyed discovering new recipes, and revisiting some old ones too. For instance, Avial, a South Indian preparation that I remember from my childhood, made a surprise appearance at a new restaurant in my village. Impressed I decided to prepare it at home, and now it’s a firm family favourite. Unfortunately, travelling has severely limited my choices to pastas or salads. Even so, there is a growing awareness of the advantages of vegetarianism and increasingly, chefs and restaurants are experimenting with newer combinations and meat free options. Result: Too early to say, but hopefully better health.

Friends and colleagues have questioned the sanity of my methods. I have in turns been declared mad (in jest) or a killjoy. Why am I doing this I have been asked time and again? Is all this elimination necessary, or is it just another fad bandwagon I’ve jumped on?

The answer is murky at best. I have, for a while, wanted to see how my body reacts to certain foods, or the lack thereof. I have also wanted to test my will power and my dependence on said foods. So, in a way, my body has been a laboratory of sorts. I am enjoying the process, and although not free of pitfalls (sausages!), it has been a fairly smooth journey up till now.

What next then?

The start of May will be a bit of a breather. Then I will launch into a combined elimination of all four things listed above. Will I be able to sustain it? I certainly hope so. Although, I’m guessing it will be a lot tougher this time around.

With the first half of the year focussing on the body, the second half will focus on the mind. Yoga, meditation and control over an explosive temper will be the next challenges I’d like to tackle. Tacked to that is a challenge that I will not reveal yet, but once accomplished, will share the results of.

I hate leaving things undone, so, in the midst of all these things, I am also trying to get ahead on my Experiment series 2. If I learn nothing else from all this, I hope it teaches me a bit more about self discipline, and an application of myself to that which I truly love: my writing.

Have you tried anything similar? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Please comment or inbox me. And bonne chance with all your endeavours.