Brain Hacking 101: Bad Sugar

Let’s talk diet. You’d rather not? Oh, okay. You might not want to read this post then, because right now I’m having a hard time thinking about anything else. That’s the worse thing about dieting, isn’t it? While your body is adjusting to a new regime of healthy foods, your brain is sitting in the background begging like a pitiful puppy. Or maybe a starving orphan.

Walking past the chocolate stash…Just one, tiny little chocolate rabbit. No one will know. Please? Fixing breakfast…Would one tiny little piece of toast with some nice, healthy peanut butter really be so terribly bad? Cleaning up the snack table at work… Can’t stand it…must not…scavenge…vanilla wafers…

In particular, the diet I’m following has an initial phase of seventeen days with no carbs. The principle is to hack your brain so it craves natural sugars like those in fruit and healthy carbohydrates, rather than those in whoopie pies and donuts. (If someone offered me the chance to swap a consequence-free whoopie pie with my firstborn child, I would seriously consider it at the moment…the caveat being that I don’t actually have any children, for those of you who don’t really know me. I’m only that horrible in theory. Probably.) Breaking your brain of any craving, however, requires you to go through a period of withdrawal.

Right now, I am in serious sugar withdrawal. It’s not nearly as bad as it was last night or the night before, however, so I have hope that it will continue to get easier. The question you might ask, and which I am certainly asking myself, is WHY ARE YOU PUTTING YOURSELF THROUGH THIS? I generally believe that diets are a questionable proposition at best. I love food and I have slightly hedonistic leanings, so depriving myself of one of my favorite pastimes (i.e., eating junk food) in order to squeeze my body into a socially acceptable data range that was developed during the hey-day of phrenology is not something I am normally inclined to do.

I also believe, however, that our experience of life is mediated by the bodies we have available to live that life. Hiking a mountain is exhilarating…less so when you’ve got the pound-equivalent of several housecats stowed away in your thighs and belly. In the years since graduating college, becoming a member of driving society (as opposed to biking and walking society) has begun to take a toll on my body. I used to burn enough calories through my mode of transportation to allow myself to remain recklessly addicted to sugar, but that’s no longer the case. Spending two hours in a car every day while eating whoopie pie and donuts = “There’s no way in heck I’m even trying to climb that mountain.”

So…something’s gotta give. I have to forcibly place my brain and body into an uncomfortable state of change for a while to give myself the chance to get away from the habit of popping chocolate bunnies into my mouth every time I walk past the candy pot or eating Nutella straight from the jar when I get a bit bored and peckish. I have to eat vegetables until I want to throw them at something whether it’s funny or not and pass on the spaghetti and chocolate cake for a while.

Hopefully, by the end of my first seventeen days, I will have made the decision to avoid sugar three- to five-thousand times–enough to ground a habit of mind that will help live my life in a healthier, more energetic body. If this scheme to get my body past it’s addiction to sugar doesn’t work? John may come home to find me knee-deep in whoopie pie wrappers and blissfully sunk into a sugar coma.

It had better work.


My goat was gotten this morning, my friends. Tweeting about my NaNoWriMo progress has increased my Twitter connection to other writers, and this morning one of them posted a link to a blog post of other writers describing their opinion of this crazy writing bonanza. Most of the authors had positive things to say, but there’s one in every group, isn’t there? One sour banana that rots the experience of the bunch.

I won’t bother telling you what this one negative nancy said–it was too insulting to not-yet-published writers to bear repeating and I don’t need to damage the author’s obviously fragile writing ego by trumpeting the specifics of her petty jealousy to the world. There’s a silver lining in every self-righteous cloud and what came out of my fury with this no-name stranger was some contemplation about what NaNoWriMo can really do for a struggling, would-be writer. Namely, what it has been doing for my lazy brain.

There’s an old self-help saw that says any habit can be changed in 21 days, and I’ve heard (or rather, read) people claiming that participating in NaNoWriMo is their way of jumping in to establish a new habit. Research on changing behaviors, however, doesn’t bear this out. Read, for example, this article. And the more I read from veteran NaNoWriMo participants, the more I see that the attitude of “changing my habits forever” is a newbie sentiment. The vets seem to sing a tune more like, “It’s so nice to be a part of a supportive community of writers and to renew my commitment to writing.”

Which makes sense, when you think about it. The last time I was bellyaching about my own tendency to get in the way of my own writing, my mother reminded me tongue-in-cheek of a passage from Romans: “The willing is in me, but the doing of the good is not.  For the good that I want I do not, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (7:18b-19, NAS) Paul was theologizing about the sinful nature of humanity, of course, and it’s worth noting that I have a problem with the way the rest of this passage philosophically separates us from responsibility for changing our habits, but his observation is still very true. Connecting our actions with our best intentions is a universally difficult thing.

A friend of mind recently linked to this article about changing habits on one of her social networking pages, and I was floored by the implications the author drew from a study in kinesiology to the changing of habits. Learning a new physical motion in place of an old one takes 3000 to 5000 times to master, and if this carries through to replacing something like sitting on the couch knitting to sitting down at my desk to write, his point is well taken: “Five thousand is an inordinate number of times to face a decision, and to make the right choice.”

So a single month of writing really has far less than a hundred opportunities to make the decision to sit my rump down and crank out some type. Changing my daily routine on a permanent basis is not the most probable outcome of the exercise, and in all likelihood, my manuscript will sit on my computer growing e-dust for more time than I want it to once the month is up. What I think I will take with me, however, is the sense that I AM NOT SPECIAL.

Yes, Mom, I’ve finally figured out that I’m really just like everyone else.  I’m finally learning to take comfort from that truth. When I walk away from NaNoWriMo, I’ll still know that there are more than a hundred thousand other writers staring at the remnants of their NaNoWriMo projects wondering, “Now what?” I’ll know that I’m not alone in my editing misery, in my inevitable rejected-over-and-over-again-by-publishers disappointment, and in my relentless hope that maybe someday someone will pay me enough money to write that I can quit my day job.

And come next November, I’ll probably come back to my computer with a new idea, grateful that I have the accountability of posting my daily word count for this world of writers to see to give me the kick in the pants I need in order to keep the faith for another year.

Wii and the Art of A Happy Marriage

Tomorrow John and I celebrate our second anniversary. Or, rather, tomorrow is our second anniversary.  We celebrated on Saturday because my job leaves me drooling and half-conscious from exhaustion within about an hour of getting home every night. Not really the best foot to put forward to remind my husband he didn’t marry an insane drool-monster…

We decided to change our tactic for buying anniversary presents this year. Last year, being our first anniversary, we were traditional. We bought each other paper (I got a nice new notebook, John got a tree) and went out to dinner, which was lovely and wonderful, but didn’t really ring with that je ne sais quois that makes a moment in a relationship precious and helps bring a couple closer.

So this year…we bought ourselves a Wii, Chinese take-out, and stayed up until one in the morning gaming together.

This might not sound romantic, but I’m finding that real romance has nothing to do with the sort of romance you find in books. Flowers, for example, aren’t nearly as romantic as potatoes, as this card points out. Similarly, John and I eat dinner together every night. Going out is nice, but it’s one hour of celebrating our love. And surprise anniversary presents are dangerous. If one of us puts more thought in, or spends significantly more money, there’s a chance that the imbalance of gift-giving will leave one of us feeling uncomfortable for poor gift-giving and the other slightly hurt by the lameness of the gift; instead of spending an evening feeling close and being reminded of why we love each other, we’d spend the evening trying to not feel hurt or annoyed.

Buying a used Wii, however, was an epic afternoon of finding the right used system and game that demanded collaboration and compromise. The Game Stop closest to us had the right hardware, but not the used game we were looking for, so we had to drive twenty minutes to another store. We thought it would be easier to buy everything at the same place, but while the second store’s used game selection was superior (in that they had a copy of Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands, which is what I was hoping for), their used hardware was much more expensive. Back to the first store for the hardware…

When we got home, we realized our tv didn’t have a composite video input. By that point, however, I had already ordered dinner, so I had to wait for the food while John dashed back out to the Shack for a modulator. See? Teamwork! ( Right, Mom?) And as we sat together playing the game, we employed a knockout combination of John’s ability to solve logic puzzles and actually run and jump in the intended direction (i.e., not off a cliff) with my familiarity with PoP game mechanics and surprisingly superior button-mashing battle tactics. And, as we couldn’t figure out what makes the game label indicate it’s a two-player game, we had to practice sharing the fun acrobatic bits.

Sharing, teamwork, and good solid fun are much strong ways to build a relationship, I think, than high-pressure gifts and a quiet dinner. I’m already looking forward to getting a copy of Mario so I can claim our marriage counselor is an Italian plumber…