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Experiment: Coffee + Bad Food → None

When I get bored my mind wanders and I start thinking of strange changes that I can make in my life. Most things that come to mind are stupid, and I’m even more stupid for having tried implementing them. But when I recently completed my second year of university, I was stuck with a disproportionate amount of free time. So when I wasn’t wasting time, I was daydreaming (a higher form of time wasting). I started evaluating the changes that I made to my health over the past year while at school. One strikingly obvious realization was that I became addicted to coffee and quick food. In the past, I had never been much of a coffee drinker, and usually ate home cooked meals prepared by my health-conscious mother. I was now a university wild card — drinking coffee multiple times a day and eating mostly cereal! I was obviously on a path to sheer self-destruction.

In all seriousness, I sat down and evaluated the changes in my life that came from consuming coffee 3–4 times a day and eating processed food. I noticed two things: 1) the coffee was consuming my life; previously I drank no coffee and was now performing at the same level that I had been, but with multiple cups of coffee/day. 2) the unnatural food was making me feel sluggish; only a few times during the day did I really feel completely energized with a clear mind.

In my defence, I did this to compete on a higher level. University is hard. It leaves you with little time to do unnecessary things like sleeping or making proper food. You’re forced to cut out that which doesn’t provide the most immediate benefit in order to form a competitive edge. But these “competitive edges” were now appearing to produce more bad than good.

Since the school year had ended and I knew that for a brief period of time I wouldn’t be forced to wake up early and fit in quick meals, I decided to begin removing both coffee and processed foods from my diet. I did this with the hope that by removing these substances, I’d experience an overall better mood and a higher level of energy.

The coffee part of this transition was shockingly easier than I expected. Initially, I estimated that it would take a month to reverse my need for 3–4 cups of coffee/day to my desired 1 cup/day. In reality, it only took two weeks to reset my cravings back to zero cups of coffee/day! To achieve this, I went cold turkey — entirely cutting coffee out of my life the first day of this experiment. It was only after the fifth day that this strategy began to show returns since on this day I seemed to reach some sort of inflection point in my level of tiredness. My increasing rate of tiredness, produced from a lack of coffee consumption, was plateauing, while my increase in energy, produced from the psychological excitement of my experiment working, continued to increase at an increasing rate. In other words, it was after day 5 that I began experiencing the benefits of eliminating coffee (and again, after two weeks that I had no more coffee cravings).

The food part is where things got difficult. I was fighting between my genuine love of eating sugary, starchy cereal, and my desire for an increased mood/energy level that would be realized through a healthy diet. I tried eliminating bad food the same way I eliminated coffee — going cold turkey. This didn’t work. The first 2–3 weeks were hell and I hated myself for wanting to try this experiment. I determined at this point that not only had my mood/energy level stayed unchanged, it had actually deteriorated. I decided to stop.

Fortunately, ~1 week later I began cutting starchy foods out of my diet again, but this time, I focused on pacing myself. I made small changes every day for nearly a month — opting for yogurt instead of cereal, fruit instead of bread, nuts instead of pasta. It was after this month that I noticed my cravings shift.

I’m writing this a few days before I move back to university for my 3rd year. I find myself asking myself the question, “why will I not just revert back to how I was four months ago?” The following is my plan. To prevent excessive coffee consumption, I’ll do two things: 1) just man up and battle through a period of tiredness instead of quickly jumping to the easy remedy that is coffee, 2) fit 15 min naps into my day. Preventing myself from eating poorly again may be easier, mostly because I was able to find foods that were quick to prepare, gave me energy, and were satisfying (yogurt, nuts, etc.). Somehow I also lost weight over the summer — I’m simply scared to go back to my old eating habits.

I hope you found this interesting and educational. To answer your next question, I won’t be eliminating alcohol anytime soon. :)