I cut every vice from my life for a month to try and become a better person. I wouldn't recommend it.
All photos by the author
Mountaineer George Mallory once famously posited that humans feel the urge to climb a peak like Everest simply "because it's there." Unfortunately, with Mallory and his turn-of-the-century compatriots having conquered all the challenges of the natural world, subsequent generations have been forced to invent our own gauntlets for testing the human spirit.
One modern-day feat of endurance that's been in the news with increased frequency is the 30-day cleanse or diet. In these, someone snips a particular vice (e.g. alcohol, sugar) from their lives and powers through a month to see what kind of impact it has on their weight, energy levels, and overall mood.
I wanted to test my mettle with one of these months, but abstaining from one, two, or even three of my vices just wouldn't cut it. I had to go all in and give up everything if this was to be my Everest. I decided to quit meat, dairy, gluten, (added) sugar, caffeine, alcohol, drugs, sex, and masturbation. So many strictures made for an imposing mountain, but one that was daring me to climb it.
Before embarking on this journey, I spoke with two registered dietitians to see if there was any risk of somehow harming myself by going cold turkey on everything at once. Luisa Sabogal, an RD with Kaiser Permanente told me that I'd be fine as long as I got enough legume-based proteins, took a daily multivitamin, and remembered to keep my meals colorful. She also stressed the importance of staying hydrated, but keeping it simple. "I'm a huge fan of just regular water," said Sabogal. "You get exactly what you need. There's no need to go for alkaline, electrolytes, or anything extra." LeeAnn Weintraub, an independent RD not under the thumb of Big Healthcare, seconded these suggestions.
The evening before firing the trigger on my new lifestyle, I stocked up on groceries, had a contemplative last meal at a BBQ place, and gave my girl a farewell night to remember me by, as if I were shipping off to fight the Huns the next day, and not just temporarily neglecting her needs for some dumb article.
Day 1: I started the day by with an initial weigh-in (189.8 lbs) and a simple breakfast of fresh fruit.
The first wave of discomfort hit harder and quicker than expected as my body had a midday temper tantrum over missing its daily gallon of coffee and energy drinks. I felt like an enormous baby for feeling so testy and tired and grumpy as I shuffled through my day.
I made some veggies and quinoa for dinner with leftovers set aside for the next day and quickly realized that (a) hungry boys like me go through produce fast, and (b) cooking for one doesn't suck any less than it did without a mission behind it.
Day 2: Today was better than Day 1, but my mental fatigue has morphed into a fogginess that prevents me from concentrating on anything. I sat down to write and stared at the screen for what felt like hours, unable to bullshit anything onto the blank Word page. I wasn't even able to scroll through Twitter or engage in any of my other usual forms of procrastination.
On an unrelated note, I'm floored with just how quickly my poop has changed. I have no clue if pesto-consistency poops are typical for gluten-free vegans but I'll have to keep an eye on it.
Day 3: Gluten-free bread has come a long way since I last had it. I threw some on a skillet and made myself some pretty damn good avocado toast this morning, foregoing future homeownership dreams.
Day 4: It seems that I've finally got this caffeine monkey off my back. I woke up with more energy than I've had in ages and immediately got out of bed rather than engage in the mental chess game of just how long I can snooze and play on my phone before I'm undeniably spitting on the struggles and sacrifice of the sum whole of my ancestry. I made my first trip to the grocery store since starting the diet and the siren songs of all the usual bullshit I impulse buy didn't seem so loud.
Day 5: Do vegans just fart 24/7 or will this eventually go away?
Day 6: I found an old Adderall in my backpack, a staple in the toolkit of any writer. I'd have to find new ways to power through deadline crunches this month.
A local juicery, famous for its eccentric owner and feud with Father John Misty, was selling a product called Brain Dust that claimed to be "an enlightening edible formula alchemized to align [me] with the mighty cosmic flow" and help me concentrate. I picked up a single use packet to help me dig into the work that had piled up during my unproductive caffeine withdrawal.
After a doctor friend confirmed that the product was harmless ("pure hocus pocus horticulture, but not going to hurt you"), I poured the powder that both looked and tasted like dirt into some sparking water. I couldn't really tell if the Brain Dust did anything other than ruin my La Croix so I decided to pass on herbal brain boosters for the remaining weeks.
Day 7: My libido's starting to catch up to me. In my previous life, I'd enjoy the occasional groggy morning tug to start off my day. Now, I was waking with an increasingly hard dick that had somehow wound up in my hands while I was asleep.
Concerned, I committed myself to making a more concerted effort to minimize any opportunities for erections. I switched to a coarse loofah for shower scrubbing, wore my underwear with the roughest cotton blend, and stayed vigilant for any absent-minded hand resting.
Day 9: I knew I was eventually going to need a break from homemade meals and eat out. Fortunately, I live in LA, one of the more accommodating cities for a diet as stupid as mine. Today I learned that vegan and gluten-free food tech is light years beyond where it was when I last checked in.
Speaking of dining out, I have taken a cue from Steel Panther's seminal "Eatin' Ain't Cheatin'" and decided that performing cunnilingus does not violate the rules of the month.
Day 10: I made some amazing guacamole that I ate with salsa and corn chips and it brought me an alarming amount of joy. I wasn't emotionally prepared for the idea that I would be able to pull beloved dishes from my old diet into this brave new world without perverting them in some way. The guac gave me hope.
Day 12: I'd been feeling energized and healthier for a little while but the bottom might be dropping out now. Today was my second post-lunch crash in a row. I'm starting to feel more utilitarian about my meals, deriving little pleasure from the tastes.
Day 14: The first week was hell, but the second flew by. I guess as I find my routine and less of my mental bandwidth is needed for cobbling together allowable meals and staving off temptation, the whole project will feel less like the focus of my life and more ancillary.
Day 16: I decided to test myself and go out to a bar with some friends. While the table enjoyed rounds of soju, I sipped a seltzer and lime. Everyone expressed their admiration/pity that I was teetotaling while they got drunk but, in truth, I wasn't feeling any cravings. Success?
Day 21: As predicted, my inner rule-breaker started to come out. I haven't been cheating per se, but I've been looking for ways to bend rules. This dish contains no gluten but can't be called gluten free due to how it was packed or prepped? I don't have celiac so lemme at it. Some people smoking pot at this event? Nothing wrong with sidling over and potentially catching a little second hand smoke. I figured if there's an entire Israeli industry based on subverting the word of God and finding Sabbath workarounds, me exploiting a few loopholes here isn't that big a deal.
Day 22: I thought I had the libido thing under control but this morning I woke up to an instantly recognizable crunchy tissue next to my bed. Either my locks need changing or I rubbed one out in my sleep last night. I'm going to call that as not counting against me.
Day 24: I've mostly been on autopilot as I coast into this home stretch. I thought I'd be more jazzed about being free soon but I'm pretty mellow about the prospect of no limitations again.
Knowing my affinity for the brand, a couple people alerted me to Taco Bell's new flattened chicken tortilla chip hybrid, asking if that'd be my first meal post-diet. Typically, I'd have been at the drive-thru on day one, but now I was ambivalent. This month is ostensibly changing me for the better but it somehow feels like I'm losing bits of my personality in the process.
Day 27: I stopped by a friend's house and his girlfriend, who hadn't seen me in a while, stopped in her tracks and told me I'd noticeably lost weight. Most people would call me "in shape" before this month began, but after picking up some residual body dysmorphia from years of living in LA, I rode the high of her compliment for the rest of the day.
Day 29: I have a warm carton of almond milk I never mustered up the courage to open just sitting on the counter. Oh well.
As I reflected on the past month, I couldn't deny that my body was feeling a bit more spry and my mind a tad more sharp. That said, I also felt as my creativity, idiosyncrasies, and other charms had been blunted. In the same way that anti-depressants can make one feel like a ghost of their true self, so too was this lifestyle sapping the spark from my personality.
Day 30: This is it. I thought I'd be like a student the day before summer vacation. Instead it's business as usual, not really salivating over hypothetical future meals or binges. I'm in no rush to break the seal on anything but the sex rule. I wonder if Mallory had a similar sense of ambivalence as he neared his own summit.
Epilogue: I'm curious to see how long I can keep the spirit of this disciplined lifestyle going now that I'm released. I figure that, while keeping vegan 100 percent of the time isn't feasible, I can definitely manage limiting my meats and more opulent meals to when with company. No more solo feasts.
Similarly, drinking and drugs can go into the "sometimes, and in social settings only" category.
My sweet tooth seemed to have disappeared as well but I imagine it'll flare up occasionally going forward.
Oh, and gluten's going back in my diet because restricting it is pointless, if not damaging, when you're not allergic.
I often work from coffee shops, and a cold brew serves as both my cover charge and fuel for the afternoon, so I can't see myself staying caffeine-free going forward. That said, I would like to keep myself below two cups a day and limit it to just coffee. I'm embarrassed to admit that there was an incredibly white trash Rockstar energy drink period of my life that I'd like to avoid repeating.
Of course, I wasn't going to let an accomplishment this massive go uncelebrated. Besides, only by barraging my altered physique and mindset with old temptations would I learn whether or not any of these changes were here to stay.
After weighing myself, I discovered I'd lost 15 lbs. Not bad. I don't think I've been in the 170s since college.
That first night unshackled I went all out with a swan dive off the wagon. I slammed vodka shots, chased with Red Bull, ripped a bong, and had sex with my superhumanly patient and understanding partner. And this was all before dinner, too, which was at Animal, a carnivorous foodie magnet and the antithesis to the wholesome vegan establishments I'd spent the month frequenting. My dinner order was less a triumphant return to the joys of meat and more a sadistic revenge against the animal kingdom for all the fauna I'd been deprived those four weeks. Really, it was fucked up. Cruel and gory dishes like foie gras, veal tongue, and marrow filled the table as I ate each one with less humanity than the last. As I gorged, I felt my dormant carnivorous Mr. Hyde take over as the whites of my eyes presumably snapped to blood red like in a zombie movie. Eventually, courtesy of the endless drinks, I blacked out.
I woke the next morning to find that, despite the previous night's hedonism, I wasn't careening back to my former life of sinful eating and living. In fact, the only craving I had that entire day was for a hearty vegetarian (but not vegan) dinner salad. I even turned down the free crostini bread offered with it, uninhibited but intrinsically less interested.
We'll see if these new substance and diet virtues can withstand the time crunches, rushed meals, and reprobate company that's intrinsic to my work and lifestyle. It may all go tits up. I might somehow gain back more weight than I lost. I'm at peace with all possible outcomes. For now, I'm enjoying being unaffected by fast food billboards and gif recipes and feeling like less of a slave to my id.
I'll probably try those chicken chips soon, though.