Detox update: Moderation or fail?

Giant, delicious movie popcorn.

Giant, delicious movie popcorn.

So, I have a confession to make. Maybe it isn’t a confession, but I need to make it nonetheless because I need to work this out:

I had some Diet Coke last night and some movie theater popcorn. Probably not cataclysmic, but I was doing well with the no-soda, healthy-food thing. How did I get there? Well, my fiance came home last night and was all “Wanna go see Harry Potter?”

Now, mind you, I’m not a huge Potter fan. I’ve never really been into the books, I’ve only seen maybe 3 of the movies, and I’m not generally the type to wait in a long line for a movie I can see with zero wait if I just hold off for a week. That said, our theater had added an additional showing that evening at 12:40, and that seemed perfect. We could go and unwind and all the ravenous fans probably would have already bought tickets for the 12:01, 12:02, 12:03, or 12:04 shows. Also, I love love love summer Blockbusters and since we’re going to be out of town starting tomorrow, this was basically my shot to see what promised to be a pretty entertaining movie. So of course I responded with “Um, YES. How can we get tickets?”

So, being the one to have a healthy attitude towards food, I started immediately panicking about popcorn and Diet Coke. Overthinking it. Knowing I’d want it, knowing it would be everywhere, knowing we’d probably buy some. Initially I decided I’d bring some fruit or something but that stuff is not really so portable (we just had cut-up pineapples and melons). I also thought I’d bring some water, but then I realized my new-found love of water has been a hindrance when it comes to sitting in any one place for too long, if you know what I mean. So I made sure to stop drinking water about two hours before the movie. See how when I try to plan to be responsible it backfires?

So we get there. It’s late. I’m kind of sleepy (and wanting caffeine). I’m a little hungry. I’m definitely thirsty. He goes to get a Diet Coke and I ask for one. He brings back two Diet Sodas and popcorn. I then decide not to eat the popcorn. I then am stuck between two places: an old unsustainable pattern of all-or-nothing and wondering if moderating my intake is really just making excuses for why I can’t cut it out.

I’ll put the spoiler first: I had a highly reasonable four small handfuls of popcorn which I ate kernel-by-kernel. I also drank maybe 1/12 of the bucket of Diet Coke the theater issued with the “combo.” Normally I crush the DC and split a monstrous popcorn right down the middle (around 900 handfuls, maybe slightly less). This would generally make me feel hungry (from the empty, sugar/fat/salt calories) and wired. My more moderate portion left me satisfied and I slept well.

Why is this so fraught? Well, in one way I think one of the most important things when making lifestyle changes is: Don’t do anything today you can’t do every day for the rest of your life. I knew it was unlikely that I would never drink a DC and have some popcorn at a movie ever again. I also knew I don’t go to the movies all that often. Therefore, I decided the reasonable thing would be to have a moderate portion of it and see how that goes.

I’m a little proud of myself in that I normally have these weird all-or-nothing rules where, once I’ve “blown” my healthy plan on, say, one handful of popcorn, I say screw it for that day and just eat/drink/smoke whatever and start over the next day. I decided that that had been sabotaging me. I know I can’t be perfect everyday, but I can be better. In this situation, I settled for “better.”

Now, I think that’s something to be proud of. That said, I do feel kind of guilty and like I’m making excuses. I’m trying to keep in perspective that that guilt is not going to help anything and will probably make things worse by making me feel like giving up is the best option.

I feel like I have a hard time breaking habits because I expect myself to be perfect and then, when I’m not perfect, I give up because it’s too onerous, too fast. That said, I don’t want to cover up my every slip by calling it “moderation.” Where’s the line? What if I can’t find it? What qualifies as a special occasion (a movie, a birthday, a graduation)?

I’m figuring it out and trying to not feel anything negative that will sabotage all the great progress I’ve made. I’m better rested, I have more energy, and my skin is clearer. I’ll focus on that. I think in many ways I over-ate processed food and over-caffeinated because I was obsessing. I’ll stop obsessing now.

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Detox update: More energy, better mood.

So, this is day 3-4 of my post-debate camp detox (limit caffeine and HFCS, eat more whole foods, no smoking) and I’m already noticing some positive changes and some challenges.

Disclaimer: 100% of this could probably be attributed to either the placebo effect or to getting more sleep/going out less. But whatever. Let me think I’m a health genius.


1. I have a ton of energy. I didn’t even take an afternoon nap today and I had planned on one. I didn’t need it. I also woke up this morning and exited my daze rather quickly (for me) to have a productive afternoon.

2. I’m in a good mood. Coffee overload sometimes makes me snap at people, so I lost that. I’m also not battling gross sore throat from nicotine or spending every moment annoyed that I’m not outside smoking/stressed that the kids at camp will SEE me outside smoking/smell smoke on me. Finally, I’m not creaky-joints dehydrated, which probably helps.

3. I’m not so HUNGRY. Like, when I was eating a bunch of junk my blood sugar must have been roller-coaster-ing because I was hungry all the time. I was hungry right after I ate. I could hardly make it through 2 hours without wanting to nom things. I would sneak vending machine chips. Lunch salads with chicken get me through to dinner like it’s no thing.


1. I still feel a reflexive urge to smoke cigarettes when I’m outside. It just feels like I should be. I walked about 20 minutes from my car to teach today and not having a cigarette along for the ride felt like I was cheating myself out of my pre-teaching relaxer.

2. I still crave sweeter, saltier things. I hope my taste buds re-orient eventually, but damned if a giant slice of pizza doesn’t sound so so so delicious right now in a way that a slice of green pepper does not. I have to stop writing about it. It’s killing my feel-good vibe.

3. I miss feeling zippy. I have a lot of energy, yes, but it’s not that manic, take-over-the-world coffee energy that makes me feel like I could basically interpretive dance the Odyssey by Homer and write 90 Ph.D. dissertations. It’s a mellow energy. Nice, but not the same.

I need to get over the negatives and to do that I need some strategies. Brainstorming.

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Up until recently, I was a graduate student. That means I loved caffeine. LOVED. Not just a little bit of caffeine, but gobs of it: energy drinks, diet cokes, coffee, caffeine pills. I would drink cup after cup every day just to make sure my sleep deprivation never caught up with me (which it always eventually did, but that’s another post).

In college debate, I definitely wasn’t getting enough sleep. I would pull an all-nighter before tournaments to make sure I was ready, stay up until 3am every night at the tournament, and get up every day at 5:30am. After all that, I would feel entitled to a pretty long night out with friends (you know, as a reward for working so hard on debate). Or 5 nights out. Or a month out.

To support this super-human sleep schedule, I used to gulp energy drinks at the rate of up to 7 a day (if you include mix drinks at the bar). I’m not even talking the small Red Bull cans. These were the huge cans with the twist-off lids. This had all kinds of un-sublime consequences, from jitters to lack of sleep. I don’t know how I kept my weight under control, either. Those cans contain hundreds of calories and chemicals that probably threw me all out of wack.

When I got to grad school, I wasn’t necessarily sleeping more but my metabolism no longer permitted me to mainline hyper-caffeinated sugar water without ballooning.  I also started hanging out with people over the age that energy drinks are marketed to and thus most of my consumption was restricted to shots at the bar and the occasional nostalgic 7/11 purchase. I basically missed out on 4 Loko (for the most part . . . mistakes were made), so I never got into the Jolly Rancher flavored beer thing.

So I felt extremely virtuous when I started drinking coffee, partially because it wasn’t a sugar-bomb, partially because everyone else was drinking it, and partly because it was convenient and cheap. I also figured it would help me cut back on caffeine overall because, honestly, I hated coffee.

False. It didn’t take long for me to start loving coffee. It was warm on cold days, could be iced down on hot summer days, and it gave me the kind of instant jolt I could no longer reliably expect from other caffeine sources. The shared office I worked in had an ancient coffee urn that we would fire up at all hours and split two or three ways (4-5 large mugs for everyone). I started getting into fancy coffee and I really loved the way all coffee tasted.

The problem, however, was that I wasn’t sleeping again (or rather, I was, but erratically). I would spend most of the night watching TV. I was also often too jittery to really focus. I gave maybe one or two hilariously bad presentations where I basically stream-of-consciousness babbled. At that point, it became clear that artificial wakefulness was no substitute for sleep.

So I’m cutting out caffeine for awhile. The only thing I’m going to allow myself is maybe one or two cups of tea a day (I’ve heard it’s a more sustainable jolt and, in my experience, it doesn’t give me the jitters). So far, it hasn’t really been that hard. I’ve replaced my Diet Cokes with water (which is not a bad idea considering how hot Texas is and how dehydrating that can be). This has me drinking more water, which feels good because every article in every magazine ever says to Drink More Water. I also get to look all sustainable with my work-issued BPA-free water bottle drinking eco-friendly water.

I’ve noticed that I sleep better and have an easier time waking up. I’ve also noticed that a better way to give myself energy is to eat healthy foods so I don’t NEED so much coffee.

Major upsides: Sleep is easier and higher-quality. No rambling presentations. No racing-heart, hand-shaking, oh-no-I-overcaffeinated-and-I-can’t-do-anything-about-it moments before job interviews. No coffee aftertaste or coffee breath. Filling up water bottle is free. Soda is teeming with HFCS.

Downsides: I have an irrational love for Diet Coke. Waking up is a more gradual process than I would like it to be. I miss the taste of coffee. I have a bunch of Diet Coke in my fridge, taunting me, and it feels wasteful to get rid of it.

Thus far, no major fails.





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High Fructose Corn Syrup.

I’ll admit I kind of annoy myself with this one, but I’m trying to cut back on HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup). I know. I would be rolling my eyes at me, too, if I wasn’t me. It sounds new-agey and greenwashed and gimmicky. I also don’t want to subsist on a diet of spelt and flaxseed. That said, hear me out:

I don’t know if I buy the full-on attack on HFCS in the media, but some things I’ve been reading are well-reasoned and lead me to believe it is NOT the greatest thing for your body. That combined with my overall desire to cut back on processed, fatty, salty foods and increase my intake of fresh fruits, veggies, etc. makes me wonder if I should at least give it a try. More to the point, I get a lot freaked out by its association with insulin resistance and diabetes. My family history of Type 2 goes back three generations and has yet to skip one, so I’m a lot concerned.

However, I’m trying to keep in perspective that HFCS is basically sugar at the end of the day and that things that replace it (organic cane, raw turbinado, other fancy sounding bougie sugar pseudonyms) are sugar, too. I have a feeling that some of the studies are probably just measuring the effects of huge sugar consumption, not HFCS. However, I’m interested to see how I feel physically and energy-wise if I cut way back on HFCS.

I’ve devised the following plan:

1. Eliminate all HFCS when I have a choice (so at the grocery store, etc.)

2. Try to add more natural sugars (from fruits) to my diet to control the cravings.

The upside: I get to feel mega-virtuous buying organic-looking stuff in crunchy packaging. It makes me wanna do yoga and wheatgrass shots just thinking about it.

The downside: It makes me wanna do yoga and wheatgrass shots just thinking about it. Also: HFCS is delicious.

Day 20 and counting. Major victory: Got the organic sugar green tea and the non-HFCS salad dressing.

Major fail: That dressing is made with brown sugar.

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For my first trick, I need to tackle . . . smoking! Yes, smoking. I’m aware how uncool smoking is, how bad it is for your lungs, smell, finances, etc. That said, I cling to smoking even though I’ve tried a million times to quit.

I’m not sure how I got started. I hated smoking as a kid. Both of my parents smoked, and my friends in elementary school (and their snotty, bougie PTA moms) would constantly decry the smell on my clothes and the horrors of letting their precious children enter our smoke-den. Although their complaints were likely well-founded (considering the documented health risks of smoking), I hated those women. I also associated my parents’ habit with the embarrassment that came from having friends that couldn’t come over or having clothes that smelled like something that would never come out.

Oddly enough, this didn’t turn me off of smoking for long. In fact, it created an association between people who were concerned about second-hand smoke and snobbery. In my mind, non-smokers and anti-smokers were preachy, entitled, and obnoxious. Although in high school I’d had maybe one or two errant puffs of a cigarette, my college rebellion (combined with residence in Winston-Salem and a lot of new “cool” smoker friends) took me to full-on chain-smoker mode.

Although my parents had long since quit (after a near-miss heart attack for my dad, no less), I was undeterred. I loved to talk and I loved how social smoking was, how it was associated with all kinds of fun things like nights out at the bar, and how it had an unpretentious, devil-may-care vibe. I would smoke to calm my nerves, to fit in, to have a reason to stand around outside and chat. The ritual of it became almost too much to overcome. I still find that my desire to smoke intensifies in social situations, even when I can go days or weeks without thinking about it now.

My parents hated my smoking and so does my fiance. I’ve made a million token efforts to quit, but I need to do it for real now. I need to get over the idea that non-smokers are obnoxious (although the theatrical coughing, gagging, and nose-holding, even if perfectly legitimate, may always raise an eyebrow for me) and re-learn to socialize without a burning crutch.

As part of my post-debate camp (I work at a summer debate institute) detox plan, I’m quitting smoking. So far it’s gone all right.

Things in my favor: It’s really hot right now in Texas. I have allergies. It bothers a lot of the people I really care about.

Things not in my favor: Most of my best friends still smoke, and it’s almost IMPOSSIBLE not to smoke while drinking.

That said, I went out last night and didn’t smoke a single cigarette. It was kind of downer in that it made me acutely attuned to just how smoke-y and gross our favorite bar smells and how much I miss the smoke-and-drink double fist, but I did wake up this morning with the ability to talk without coughing. My sinuses felt decent and I feel like I can sort of smell and taste. 19 days to go.

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Ready, set, go.

My name is Lauren. I’m in my mid-20’s, a newly-minted Master of Communication, and seeking employment and some better habits. I got the idea for this blog after talking to some post-grad school friends about how life after graduate school is a great opportunity to change some of your worst habits (never sleeping, chain-smoking, living on take-out) because you suddenly have the time to really take care of yourself.

I’m also an avid consumer of all lifestyle advice, from magazines to the internet. That said, I’m notorious for finding things I want to try but never follow through on. I’m about a year from my wedding, and I want to take this time to really get my health, wellness, and organization under control.

I’m sure this will change, but I envision this blog to look something like this. I read somewhere (in the deepest darkest internet) that good habits take about three weeks to take hold. Therefore, I’m going to give every good habit a three-week test run to see how it changes my routines and if I can make it stick.

Ready? Set? Go.

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