Abstinence (Part Two)

Sugar in a cup via nomad.pictures

Last month I decided to give up caffeine and alcohol. This was an attempt to reduce the number of migraines I experience, the frequency of which always seems to increase around the time we’re forced to obey the chronological imperialism of clocks going forwards or backwards for daylight savings. I’ve never seen the point in changing them, to be honest.

The last month’s experiment was a difficult one to control given the variables involved. It’s taken me ages, for example, to figure out that running definitely causes me migraines – and not because of dehydration. However, given I only suffered a couple of migraines during the whole of May, I’m counting this experiment as a qualified success. 

People tend to refer to caffeine and alcohol as ‘accelerator’ and ‘brake’ pedals. That’s why caffeine tends to be consumed during the day, and alcohol at night. I found that life is quite different when you take your feet off those pedals. We tend to call this ‘coasting’ when talking about vehicles, but that’s not how it felt. Perhaps a better analogy would be that caffeine is like a nitro boost and alcohol is like a handbrake. 

Interestingly, one of the books I read during May, Daily Rituals, outlines the habits of well-known writers, artists, and other people who create things for a living. All of them seem to use some kind of substances to get in or out of the ‘zone’. As Honore de Balzac, an inveterate coffee drinker (50 cups per day!) is quoted as saying, drink coffee and “ideas come in marching like an army”. 

Weighing myself at the start and end of the month, I was surprised to find I’d put on a few pounds, but then realised that I’d compensated for my usual two cups of coffee a day by increasing my sugar intake. Some of this was situational: when out for a meal or a drink with people I’d have a ginger beer (or similar) instead of alcohol. But there was also something subconscious drawing me towards sugar as a stimulant. On reflection, I was most susceptible to this when working in an office-based environment for longer than my optimal six-hour day.  

Today, June 1st, I’m allowing myself both coffee and alcohol once more. What I’m going to try this month is to avoid added sugar wherever possible. This is obviously a harder thing to do than coffee and alcohol, as it’s in everything these days. I’ll avoid desserts, as well as snacks like peanut M&Ms (of which I’m a little too fond). I’m going to have a try at 100% chocolate, which is made using cacao but no sugar. Apparently it’s extremely bitter. 

Finally, I’ve been trying to rediscover the blog of a guy I came across a while ago who would experiment on himself in the way I’ve started to do. He did it in a controlled way, but one that felt a bit more ‘human’ than the examples on the Quantified Self website. After a search this morning, the closest I’ve come to it is this 30 days at a time blog from 2011. Having a focus on doing something (or in my case, abstaining from something) for a period of a month can really make a difference to your outlook on life. 


Update: I just came across this list of crowdsourced treatments by migraine sufferers. I may try some of the more popular approaches in months to come.