19 Nov GOAL SERIES #02 – Cold Turkey vs ‘Cutting Down’ on Banting and Keto
Do you ever ask whether you’re ever going to eat a cupcake again? You might be asking the wrong question.
I’m busy training for a Sub-90 Half Marathon (which you can read about here) and in order to do that, I will need to quit sugar.
As a Banting and real food dude, and author and health coach, I just figured I was in exempt mode all the time. I have balance and I am not overweight, so I’ve been going about my business like I am a pillar of health, and that insurers should be paying me to be their member.
But here’s the thing. Since I started quitting, I realised I have a real sugar addiction. Seriously. I’m like a junky, and I had no idea.
While I am working my way through quitting sugar, I thought I’d reflect.
I have quit quite a few things in my life, and I marvel at the joy I get out of life having quit the things I have. I think about how I did it, and why it worked, and now I’m spending time translating it into words so I can share it with you.
When I quit alcohol I went Cold Turkey. Zero alcohol ever. I haven’t had a drink in three years. No complaints. No cravings. I’m done. My life is insanely better for it. But, I’ll talk about how I did that some other time.
When I quit gluten I went Cold Turkey. I have lapsed only a couple of times but climbed straight back on the bus with no hesitation. Quite honestly I just felt crap. I never wanted to feel like that again. Two years and counting since I quit (minus the three or four oopses), and I haven’t looked back.
Now, I’m quitting sugar by ‘cutting down’. I’ll explain how later, but first, I thought I’d write about the difference between Cold Turkey and ‘Cutting Down’ to help you decide the best route for you.
Cold Turkey, All In, Forever
- Zero Anxiety – If you go cold turkey with something you are quitting, there is absolutely no anxiety because there is no conversation in your head about how much or when you should have your next drink/carb/cupcake/cigarette. It’s done. Final. Simple. Sigh of relief. The voice in your head dies because that book is closed.
- Forward Movement – knowing that you have quit something forever moves you into the mindset of adjusting and evolving your identity to suit your new choice. When I quit drinking, I knew I needed to develop new ways of celebrating and new ways of blowing off steam. I wasn’t longing for my next drink. Knowing there was no going back, I was forced to think about who I was and who I needed to become to feel comfortable without alcohol.
- Dramatic, Rapid Transformation – When you simply cut something out of your life one day, the shock is real. Sometimes you feel it the same day, sometimes it takes a couple weeks. Sometimes a few months. But when it hits you, it hits hard. It’s a shock the same way COVID was a shock for global health care. When it hit them in the face, they had no choice but to get their shit together. Likewise, when you simply cut something out, you get hit hard, and if you have committed properly, you are forced to make these shifts in habit and identity fast.
- Isolation – When you decide to change something ingrained in your culture, or the way you socialise, you can easily isolate yourself. We coach people on this, but this is a real phenomenon. When you say you’re not eating pizza, or drinking, your friends won’t like that. The act of you improving your status will inadvertently downgrade theirs and that will make them challenge you or stab you in the back. While they are most definitely the problem in this instance, this isn’t fun, and in order to sustain your lifestyle choices I would still recommend you spend less time with those people and build better relationships with others. The transition can be abrupt.
- Cravings – You will go from having as much as you like to having none at all overnight. This may bring you hardcore withdrawal or cravings. I remember quitting carbs the first time. Three days in I found myself fantasising about cupcakes. I didn’t even love cupcakes that much. I was salivating over stuff I had never even considered wanting. Obviously they do subside after a shorter period, but they are real, and many (including me) often don’t make it over to the other side.
- Surprise Attacks – When you’re not trained in the art of avoidance and deflection, you will be vulnerable to surprise gifts you don’t know how to avoid eating or drinking, and you may not be rehearsed in the sacred art of saying ‘no thank you’. What many people forget is that quitting something takes a ton of skill. From leading the conversation away from you, to saying no thank you, avoiding the buffet table, staying away from certain people, places and things, taking control of social event planning so you don’t land up at a restaurant that only serves gluten and sugar – all of these things are skills. It is not as simple as ‘I quit’. It is as complex as relearning how to be a new person in every single context, and having an answer for every idiot who doesn’t get why you’re doing what you’re doing.
- Zero Stress – There is certainly less pressure and hardship, because you get to keep your vice, you just need to have less of it.
- It works for unicorns – if you are super disciplined and controlled, and while you were managing your stocks and your golf swing and your perfect marriage and your perfect family you accidentally lost track of your abdominal circumference, then this is the way for you. All you need to do is read Real Meal Revolution and decide to ‘cut down’ on some of the less healthy foods. You are probably going to still enjoy an ice cream from time to time, and hell, why not a pizza. You will lose the extra 3kg and carry on with an extra discipline under your belt. But, you are also a unicorn. And if this is you, you would never be reading this blog post.
- Not sustainable, but actually also impossible – One of the hardest things to do is manage ‘moderation’ in areas where you have previously lacked control. A weight problem is not a weight problem, it is an eating problem. So you can’t tell someone who can’t control what they eat to take better control of what they eat. That’s insulting and worse, it is unlikely. In fact, I don’t know anyone (please send referrals) who has successfully managed to ‘cut down’ on something that they had lost control over. By definition, that is impossible.
- Yo-yo of emotion and results – when cutting down fails as it most likely will
Of the two options above, the one that will work best is cold turkey. The idea that you can go back to stuff on different days of the week, or in varying quantities, or on ‘special occasions’ just doesn’t work. If you’ve read this far, think back to everything you’ve tried to cut down on and let me know if you disagree.
Side note: A ‘special occasion’ for someone with an addictive personality could be a hot shower or their sixth-best-friend getting their nails done. Don’t get me started.
But what does that mean? Do you have to quit food? Or do you have to quit drinking?
The Hybrid – Cutting Down the Turkey : Cold Cutting : Turkey Cutting
Any name will do!
There is a hybrid model that I have been working on that I am really enjoying. It is a form of cutting down, but it is also a form of cold turkey.
My first coach, Bryan Teare, taught me that humans do best when they’re only leaning 4% out of their comfort zones. That’s a hard number to quantify when it comes to comfort, but it means you shouldn’t push too hard, just a little bit hard.
So what I’m doing now, and what we’re doing in our new support group business, is going cold turkey, but only for small parts of the bigger pie.
Before you read this, please note that I only go keto once in a while, and my default setting is gluten-free, dairy-free, alcohol-free living. It keeps me lean and healthy, mostly.
Until recently, I was eating too much sugar. I was dipping a sneaky chip in ketchup. I was having syrup and sugar on my ‘healthy’ gluten free pancakes with the kids on weekends. I was having honey in my tea up to five times a day, and I was also enjoying 70% Lindt with my wife most evenings.
I still eat the occasional mousse and I don’t shy away from a gluten free cake, but knowing I can’t do moderation, I knew I had to hard-quit some things that would give me results, but not be too uncomfortable.
So, I quit sprinkling sugar, chocolate, syrup and honey in my tea.
To be clear, I didn’t quit any other sugar. This means that if a sweet comes across my path, I give myself permission to eat it. If there is cake, it has my name on it. But those four things are a HARD NO for the foreseeable future.
Then, instead of holding my breath until I cheated and fell off the bus completely, I ate around my forbidden fruits and paid attention to what was going on.
I found a loophole in protein bars, which I hadn’t included under ‘chocolate’. So, two weeks after my initial step, I quit all ‘bars’. This was easy for me because I actually most bars are just an excuse to sell something. There is no bar out there that I can honestly say is a necessary purchase. So it actually made me practice what I preach better.
Now, sweets are becoming a problem. So I know when my next two-week set is up, I will quit the next most offensive vehicle for sugar.
What is going on here?
- I’ve chosen the most offensive culprits and gone cold turkey, but with only those things
- I’m systematically adjusting to living without each thing before upping the game.
- I’m only upping the game every two weeks
- The increases in intensity are mild and totally manageable
The results may only show in a couple months because I am still getting sugar from the other stuff (albeit MUCH less). But eventually I will have quit all the sugars I’ve got, and then there will be a mild week or so of nail chewing and cravings, but then it will be over. There might be a few things I haven’t quit like red currant jelly in my red wine jus, but that’s a sugar I can handle once a year.
The real win is that progressing at this rate feels totally sustainable. And even better, if I decide to stop raising the bar at any stage, I have still done myself a great service. I’ve quit four whole categories of food, and if I decide to stay here for a while that’s also cool.
I’ve seen people do this booze and gluten too.
A friend of mine quit beer because he felt he was drunk too often, and he was putting on too much weight. So he quit beer and switched to wine and whiskey. Immediately drinking became a more civilised affair. I think he was still getting drunk too often, but nowhere near as much as before, and he wasn’t getting any gluten because he wasn’t drinking beer. He also sustained that.
I know another guy who quit milk in his coffee. He lost 10kg over a few months just from doing that. He didn’t quit milk, and he didn’t quit coffee. He just quit having them together. He was drinking 6-8 cappuccinos a day, so cutting that made a big impact.
In fact, the whole of the Netherlands did it with smoking. When I was in Amsterdam in 2012 I went into a bar and walked through a cloud of smoke to ask the barman if could light my cigarette for me. He told me I wasn’t allowed to smoke inside. I stared blankly at him through the haze and realised they had outlawed cigarette smoking in bars, but not weed.
And then, they stopped taking stuff away. For them, that was quitting just enough.
What I hope I am getting across is that for people like us who battle to control ourselves, the best way to ‘cut down’ is to go cold turkey. But we can be less hectic with ourselves, and create more sustainable results if we choose wisely and realistically about what we decide to go cold turkey with.
Here are the ‘Turkey Cutting’ steps again:
- Choose the most offensive culprits and go cold turkey
- Systematically adjust to living without each thing before upping the game
- Up the game every two weeks
- Increase intensity mildly and manageably (4%)
Turkey Cutting. It’s the future. Seriously. One piece at a time.