I blacked out last night.
But wait, let’s start at the beginning.
Close to five weeks ago, I set a new goal: Abstain from refined carbohydrates each day. What is a refined carbohydrate you ask? Imagine all the white and brown foods – white bread, white rice, syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar, etc.
These are foods that have been stripped of their original toughness. Their fiber has been removed, their taste amplified.
They are the more delicious version of their initial selves.
And they are a problem for me.
Enough is enough
I love sweets. I don’t just have a sweet tooth, I have a sweet mouth. Not just a sweet mouth, a sweet face. Sugary foods, specifically refined carbs, have a strong hold on me.
Last month, I decided enough was enough.
I was tired of my excessive eating. Of my overindulgence. So I set a goal to abstain. I knew it would be difficult, but possible. I don’t drink anymore so I knew abstention was within my realm of possibility. It would be more complicated this time around, but I knew I could handle it.
Alcohol is easy to skip (in my experience). You don’t need it to survive. With any meal, it is a bonus. Like ordering a milkshake. If you go out to eat, you simply don’t ask for it. Food is trickier though. You need food and you can’t always control what’s on the menu. If someone books a dinner at an Italian restaurant, refined carbs are generally in everything. There’s no getting around it.
Some real intention would be needed to make my goal work.
Setting things up
I gave myself a lot of leeway. I put in a lot of flexibility. Much of which came down to intent.
If I ate something healthy to only find out later it wasn’t, my effort still counted. If a locale was chosen that only served white rice, I could partake. I wouldn’t be able to count that day as progress, but I wouldn’t be hard on myself.
It was an imperfect system but it worked well enough.
Finding desserts that were goal-compliant was the biggest challenge. I still have my sweet face after all. So I worked diligently to solve the problem. I made cereal out of raisins and peanuts. I caramelized bananas and ate them with all-natural peanut butter. And I experimented with 100% dark chocolate. It’s that last one that put me on the floor. Literally.
But we’re not there yet.
Besides getting a handle on my sugar cravings, I wanted to abstain from refined carbs so that I felt better. I knew how good it felt to not drink. If I could feel that good by abstaining from sugar too, all the better. But the strangest thing happened.
I actually felt worse not eating the refined carbs.
Those goal-compliant desserts I mentioned? They hurt me. A lot. What I ate for dessert on Friday would cripple me all of Saturday. What I ate on Saturday would team up with Friday and ruin me for Sunday. My healthy eating was causing me physical and mental harm.
Why do I think that is? If I understand the science correctly, refined carbs have all the nutritious stuff stripped away. What’s left is just the yummy part.
Our bodies haven’t yet evolved to handle carbohydrates in that concentrated amount though. Thus, they get stored as fat and contribute to the weight gain that has become so widespread. The opposite of that then should result in weight loss and feeling good, right?
It’s time for dessert
Unrefined carbs – fruit, brown rice, vegetables – have their vitamins and minerals in full. That also means they have plenty of fiber. So if I wanted to indulge on a Friday evening by making a generous fruit salad, my digestive tract would have its hands busy processing it all. Cue insane stomach cramps and gastrointestinal discomfort.
Refined carbs may lead to weight gain, but unrefined carbs lead to misery.
Which takes us to last night.
I was determined to solve the dessert dilemma. To find something that was sweet, had no refined carbs, and wouldn’t hurt me. Something I could indulge in, maybe even overeat, but that would at worst make me feel full or slightly uncomfortable.
I went with 100% dark chocolate. It’s basically just cocoa.
It tastes like dirt but has an amazing crunch. So I slathered on some all-natural peanut butter (literally its one ingredient is peanuts) and some all-natural jelly (its only ingredients are fruit). And… hey… it was pretty good! So good, in fact, that I ended up eating a full bar and a half of the dark chocolate combo.
Which didn’t look or seem like much at all.
What I didn’t know was that dark chocolate has caffeine in it. I don’t drink caffeine. My body isn’t used to it. With my bar and a half, I had the equivalent of one and a half cups of coffee. Right before bed.
Sure, as I was drifting off my extremities felt tingly, but I just thought I was excited about my newfound dessert. I was wrong.
I woke up at four in the morning drenched in sweat. My heart was racing. I was nauseous. I went into the bathroom, determined to urinate the bad feelings away. Then everything went dark. And suddenly, I was sitting on the tile floor. I had bonked my head and knocked a few things over on the way down. The ruckus woke my wife up. She ran in to check on me. To see what was wrong.
I had blacked out.
My desire to eat better led me to feel worse than I had in a long, long time.
The lesson to glean
Earlier that night, I sat on the couch reading. I was finishing up the book Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu (translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English). It talked about Taoism: a philosophy for navigating through life. The book was comprised of 81 short lessons Tsu wrote a long time ago.
Lesson 81, the final lesson, said,
“Those who know are not learned.
The learned do not know.
The wise never try to hold onto things.”
If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s this: there is much I do not know. My intention was there, but the results were not. Is it better to embrace refined carbs and gain weight? Or shun them and feel sick? Moderation is not my strong suit. But maybe that’s the key.
Hold onto your goals loosely. Treat them like experiments. Keep them if they work. Do something different if they don’t. Make decisions based on the information you have, but do not be overly confident in them.
After all, we know so very little.