Tell me if this sounds familiar: The alarm clock is like a defibrillator jolt, dragging you from deep space into a morning fatigue that feels like a dump truck is parked on your head. Your morning coffee bullies your mental faculties into motion just enough to spend your shower wondering how you got this—dead tired — your body a little squishier than you remembered — and questioning whether you’ll ever wake feeling refreshed, with the kind of alacrity and ready-for-anything pep you vaguely remember from your youth.
Stay like this long enough, with ever-increasing quantities of coffee paying diminishing returns in making you feel like more than a half-thawed zombie, and you hit a breaking point. I hit this breaking point recently, and decided it was time to do something about it.
Dieting for mind versus body
Recent nutrition trends and fad diets have focused on how a diet can make us feel and perform, rather than old-fashioned approaches only concerned with dropping weight by eating less. Eve Schaub’s 2014 memoir “Year of No Sugar” and Sarah Wilson’s “I Quit Sugar” both inspired a new fascination with the idea that ditching the refined sugar that makes its way into so much of our food could revolutionize how we feel. Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Diet focuses on eating way more “healthy fats” than most of us get and promises new levels of turbocharged alertness by blending coffee with butter and refined coconut oil. And last year’s “The MIND Diet” celebrates the benefits of 10 superfoods that supposedly heighten your brain functions.
I’d tried the Bulletproof Diet before and was impressed with the energizing effects of Bulletproof Coffee. But at my breaking point, I was already drinking a lot of coffee. And I was already eating plenty of what’s recommended in the MIND Diet. One of the 10 key superfoods of the MIND Diet is actually red wine. I was drinking plenty of that — and I still felt like crap.
Since I was already flooded to the hilt with stimulants that weren’t working, I liked the idea of trying a diet that eliminated those things to see if it helped lift the fog. And while I’ve always been on the lean side — no one would call me overweight — I had gotten a little squishier than I’d been, so I liked the idea of trimming the squish. But I didn’t want some kind of juice cleanse that would leave me weak, fainting in the middle of an all-hands meeting at work.
I arrived at Haylie Pomroy’s “Fast Metabolism Diet,” which claims to strategically cycle you through different food categories in a way that re-trains your body to metabolize everything faster. You eat everything — fat, fruit, veggies, carbs, protein — but in a specifically timed order designed to send your body a wake-up call. Oh—and no sugar, coffee, or booze. I was in.
Eating everything again
The first thing I noticed (after the debilitating coffee headache, of course) was that I was eating things I hadn’t eaten in months — and hadn’t eaten much of in years.
Most of us tend to gravitate toward one food type or another through habit or our beliefs about what’s healthy. Some of us are paranoid about eating fat. Many are like me, who have been eating fewer carbs as they’ve become enemy number one in trendier diets over the last decade. Having a full cup of steel cut oatmeal and a full cup of fruit for breakfast the first day of the Fast Metabolism Diet was a shock to the system.
It also felt gross. By the end of day two — having had more oatmeal and brown rice than I’d probably had in the previous two months — I felt bloated, like I’d managed to ingest a fully-inflated small beach ball. Initially this was pretty distressing. I still felt tired, except now with a headache and a belly puffier than I started with.
But by day 3, which has no grains, I felt back to normal. Then I waited for something to happen...
It took longer than I expected
… And waited. Week two came and went without me turning into a svelte, turbocharged rockstar. On the plus side, I got through the grain days without as big a beach-ball belly. But I still wasn’t bounding out of bed and I wasn’t any skinnier. I’d probably saved a few bucks on my weekly wine budget, but that’s about all I had to show for. Plus, the food prep — including three meals and two snacks a day (organic, home-cooked food whenever possible) — was a lot of work.
By week three, however, something started to happen. I’d feel less distended after eating a big bowl of oatmeal and could feel myself burning through everything faster. I was definitely ready to eat whenever snack or mealtime came around every three hours. And, lo and behold, by the middle of the week I woke up looking a little less squishy.
In week 4, the changes accelerated. I could eat basically anything I could get my hands on all week and a good portion of the squish that had been hanging around my middle evaporated.
Elimination wasn’t a silver bullet
By week four, I also didn’t crave sweets, wine or caffeine. But I found the absence of craving isn’t the same as feeling energized and focused. I wasn’t sleeping particularly well and was getting up more in the night to pee — because part of the Fast Metabolism Diet is to drink more water than you’re probably used to — and was still feeling pretty groggy. I might have felt 10% less fatigued in the mornings than I did at the outset, but nothing dramatic.
Going into this experiment, I hoped that giving up my vices would reawaken my energy stores and return me to a natural state of constant, vaguely optimistic alertness. That didn’t happen. In fact, after giving up sugar, caffeine and booze for a month (plus gluten!) I was sort of shocked that my psyche didn’t feel more different.
On one hand I felt proud of my body’s ability to process all that wine, coffee and sugar without throwing me too far from my natural, substance-free state of being. On the other hand I felt a little despondent — if I didn’t feel in tip-top shape now, maybe I really never would.
What I’m adding back, with caveats
As all this began to sink in near the end of week four, I started thinking about what I might eat once my Fast Metabolism month ended. I’d always enjoyed Bulletproof Coffee when I tried it — and now that I’d been caffeine-free for a month I wondered what kind of effect it would have.
The surge of energy and enthusiasm coursing through my veins as I finished that first cup Monday morning was the best I’d felt in months. I breezed into work feeling I could accomplish anything.
Plus, I still had the benefit of being a little leaner and meaner from eating on the Fast Metabolism diet over the last month.
The lesson that I take from the experiment is that there may be no one routine — coffee or caffeine-free, MIND superfoods or Omega 3 fats — that can keep you feeling great infinitely. Maybe the rut we get into is our body’s way of telling us that it needs variety — that challenging our routines is in itself often enough to stimulate and recharge us.
My new plan is to mix up my diet routine at least once every few months to keep my body guessing — I’ll try a week of Fast Metabolism here and MIND superfoods there.
That said, the Bulletproof Coffee I drank 7 hours ago that’s still bouncing off the neurons in my brain as I write this feels like a gift from the gods. I’ll try to preserve this part of my diet as much as humanly possible, unless consuming this much butter spikes my cholesterol through the roof. So far, so good.