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February : Treats

Our friends Larry and Greta host an annual "Chili Fest" in February (a sister event to their "Garlic Fest" in November). Larry always has a phenomenal array of chilis on the stove, and this year, he served a delicious "Spicy Bison & Beef Chili" with whole bulbs of garlic swimming in it. Why am I talking about chili? and garlic? and Larry?

Because whilst eating that chili, I endeavored to dig out the heart of the cloves in each bulb and was rewarded with what I can only refer to as garlic candy. Soft, sweet, and... mmm sprozzy (this is a made-up word). This is how much my taste buds have yearned to find sweetness... that I would nibble and gnaw, sift and separate a garlic bulb like some kind of starved squirrel, just to get to the gooey center. It was a treat. And while I was trying to avoid "treats" this month, this one was enjoyed in the course of a meal, it wasn't the "reward" afterwards.

Throughout the month, I've been regularly and repeatedly reminded of how much I rely on the idea of a "treat'.

I mentioned in my last post that a treat is like a "departure" from the norm. If I drink water all day, a sparkling water is a treat. It's a change. A dessert is a treat, because I don't eat desserts all day. I even think my predilection for burning incense in my studio is a kind of "treat" (though, I am not abstaining from incense).

On any given day this month, I wasn't just craving for a sweet, I was craving for a change. I felt a surprising and frustrating boredom this month. I'm not talking about a boredom of flavors (Anna is a great cook!), I'm talking about a boredom from not having those little dopamine vacations throughout the day. I realized how much hope I placed in those times. I would look forward to them. Removing the treat meant removing the reward.

I admit it, I reward myself with food. It motivates me. I love to chase a carrot (as long as I can catch it). I should know better than to tell myself I can eat "X" because I did "Y", but it's hard-wired at this point.

There's that ragged trope among cyclists/runners that goes something like, "I run/ride to eat, I eat to run/ride," which, I confess, is how I think (but even now am struggling to admit it out loud). I used to think this way about alcohol, too. If I burned it, I earned it. The math doesn't actually work that way, and it's not the healthiest approach, but those neurons fire together. As a middle-aged man, I'm acutely aware that whatever goes into my body will need to come out, either as energy, or as waistline, so if I want to eat that treat, I have to do that exercise. And sometimes that "exercise" can be translated as, "surviving a Tuesday."

This month has been a great way to challenge that thinking and behavior. I can and will enjoy treats again, but I am working to decouple the neurons that link together food, reward and activity. This abstinence has been a good "reset".

This article has meandered into the muddy waters of eating behaviors, but I don't want to go too far in that direction, because I am not an authority. I am flawed, and my intent is not to persuade anyone in any particular direction.

So why are you even going here?

Because I would be delighted to talk about this "in person" if someone wanted. Talking through this with more context, with body language, with nuance and reciprocity would make it a conversation and not a statement. I've had a few people reach out after my last article, either through DM or IRL and we had some nice conversations. So, this is just me leaving my door open.

Ok, that's cool.

Thank you.

So how are you going to break this fast? It's gotta be good. Something rich. Something indulgent.

Like Olde English.

That's beer. You don't drink beer.

Right, but this reminds me of when I broke my "edge".

For a few years in high school and college, I was straight edge. (I know, I know... if I'm not now I never was... ok). For those years, I proudly/obnoxiously abstained from drinking and drugs and premarital sex.

(haha... like abstaining from sex took effort, you loser)

I made up a fictitious finish line to my straight edge life. I told myself that if I could pass the gauntlet of freshman year without alcohol, I'd have the sufficient willpower to drink responsibly. Upon returning to college my sophomore year, I told a friend of mine that I'd have a beer with him. "A GOOD BEER, though, not some crappy trash beer." I didn't know anything from anything, so when he handed me an Olde English 800 and I saw that gothic text, I had to assume it was a regal and esteemed selection. My buddy was laughing then, and I'm laughing now.

So now, as I consider what I want to eat to break my fast from sweets, I think I want a metaphorical Olde E. I don't really want a highly decadent splurge, I want a basic treat. I'm definitely ready for a handful of raisins and a chocolate chip cookie (or seven).

This month was harder than last month. Sweets was harder than Meats. The reset was refreshing. I'd recommend this abstinence, but I don't think you need a whole month to achieve the "reset". I picked February because it was the shortest month (even with a leap year!) and it was still a long month to do without sweets.

What's the next abstinence?


Meats, Sweets... Tweets.

Yep. Social Media. For the month of March, I'll be abstaining from social media. I couldn't resist the rhyme of calling it "Tweets", but I don't actually use Twitter, so when I say "social media", I mean Instagram (and Facebook Marketplace). I'll be removing the apps from my phone. I will break my fast briefly mid-month to promote my next Book Building class in April, but otherwise... I'm not here.

How will anyone know when you post about your abstinence?

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Thank you, by the way, for reading. It's been delightful to see a handful of views for each of these posts.


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