Dry and Veggie January Reflections
“It is easier to change a man’s religion than to change his diet.”Margaret Mead
The thing about having a system to achieving your goals and sticking to them is that when the lagging indicators start to show that you are making real progress, you start to fall more in love with the process and think less about the outcomes. Because you realize working through the drudgery is how you got this far.
Crash diets don’t work. New Year’s workout resolutions don’t work. Slimming bands, don’t work. The only way to make meaningful changes that result in lasting health benefits is to embrace systems. Even if just experimenting, you need rules and processes that can be tracked and measured to gauge progress. We ran our most recent experiment to flush out the “baggage” of the holidays this past January. we made sure not just to cut things out but to have a methodology to make sure we were successful. Below are the learnings from that experiment.
What We Did
We decided to participate in Dry January and added on a Vegetarian (not Vegan) only diet for the start of the year. Another idea we discussed was also cutting out coffee, but two changes were more than enough. We did, however, try to cut the caffeine down to one cup a day and no sooner than 1.5 hours after waking up. But like I said earlier, crash changes are not sustainable or successful. So we planned some approaches around how to stick to and get the most out of these experiments.
Why We Did It
The Holiday Season is a crush of parties, events, dinners, and gatherings. They are often meat heavy and the drinks are free flowing. There can be little time for exercise and rest which can leave you completely depleted by the time the New Year rolls around. We wanted a physical and mental reset period for at least the first month of the year.
We had heard a lot about “Dry January” from friends who participated in it. So we decided on taking on this challenge for ourselves. We added in the Vegetarian diet to address the increased amount of meat we tend to eat during the holidays. The idea was that the two “cleanses” combined would act as a reset or oil change for our bodies and give us a fun mental test to take on. But we knew we needed to plan ahead to be successfully and not be stumbling back into a bottle of red wine and medium steak half way through the month.
How We Did It
As the lead quote suggests, changing religions can be easier than your diet, so you have to strategize before jumping in head first. We decided early that the best approach was to do a lot of eating at home. Which takes the guess work out of finding restaurants with lots of veggie options. There is the other added benefit of us cooking more and saving money. We also needed to plan around the boredom of not having that well made craft cocktail or beer once in a while. So we discovered some great alcohol free options for fun drinks that had none of the side effects. Below is the grocery list of things we ate and drank during the month.
Vegetarian Diet Options:
- Peanut Butter
- Soups: Tomato, Butternut Squash, Lentil
- Pasta: Ravioli, Veggie Lasagna, Rigatoni
- Peanut Butter or Protein Powder
- Chia Seeds
What We Learned
The biggest benefit I noticed was better sleep. Not that we were getting a greater quantity of sleep but deeper and more restorative time in bed. This improvement was most likely from cutting out the alcohol. In that alcohol can affect your ability to get into the deeper REM sleep which is what you need to get the best recovery. And because rest is the foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the benefits of getting more sleep builds nicely into the rest of your day. Surprisingly, I observed that I needed very few naps over the course of the month.
Eliminating alcohol also had great effects on the brain. After a while you see much better cognitive performance. Alcohol can result in “decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, the region responsible for decision making and rational thought, [which] further explains why alcohol causes us to act without thinking.” (Psychology Today) – Combined with being more rested and working on a clear head, it felt like the mind had been given a turbo boost. Ideas and memory just flowed easily, with little coaxing. This lucidity was especially important as I have been embarking on a few more creative pursuits like writing and getting better at the guitar.
Though we evolved as carnivores, meat, especially our modern industrialized kind, is not always good for us. It can take red meat more than 48 hours to fully digest through your system. Cutting it out for a month resulted in noticeably better digestion and regularity. Not having any meat in the system, allowed the whole thing to work faster and better.
As mentioned above we cooked a lot more at home. This way we did not have to worry about menu options while out. When we did go out we saved a lot of money not paying for expensive drinks, along with often choosing between simpler and lower priced menu items. The time at home is naturally a win also. Just getting to be at home and not in traffic, freed up more time for other hobbies and relaxation.
If you are worried about the social part, don’t. Just lead with it before every outing. People will understand and I found a lot of friends and family joined in; at least for that moment. To be clear, this experiment had no possibility of becoming permanent for us. We did add meat and drinks back to our repertoire come February. I believe though that the temporary break resulted in more deliberate choices at every meal and during the week. We now try to limit alcohol to weekends and no more than one meal a day with meat.