Exercising Restraint

My experiences giving up alcohol, caffeine, and meat.


The best-kept New Years Resolutions are those that are made in secret. Once you tell your partner or your friends that you’re going to walk to work more often, it feels like half the job is already done. If nobody knows your goals, you’re beholden to your conscience, which can be a powerful enemy. Everything that I’ve written below started with minimal effort, and I’d encourage everyone to try facing their own demons in the same way.

This summer, I decided on a resolution for the coming year: to stop drinking alcoholic or caffeinated drinks, and stop eating meat. The triple-whammy of restraint. I ended up attempting the feat several months early (otherwise I wouldn’t have told you about it) and have come out relatively unscathed.

Like most programmers of my age, my weekdays were typically full of coffee and tea while working, and my weekends had the addition of beer and wine too. I’d curbed my alcohol intake to only drinking at weekends a while ago, so most of the work was already done for booze. I won’t discuss that here.


Caffeine

Caffeine was the hardest to give up. I set aside a caffeine-free weekend in September and went cold turkey. Both days were a write-off for productivity, even menial manual labour; I had a lingering headache and felt as if I was perpetually exhausted and hungover. Oddly enough, I didn’t crave the thing that I was depriving myself of, all I wanted was a drink of water and to go to bed. Even if I did find myself craving coffee, there are plenty of good quality decaffeinated options these days, although unfortunately the same can’t be said for tea.

Meat

As for meat, luckily enough my fiancée and I decided at around the same time to cut our meat intake as part of an ongoing ecological drive (maybe that’s a topic for another post). Instead of finding the lack of meat in our meals to be a hardship, it was liberating, as we no longer felt constrained to the perceived diet of “meat and two veg” for every dinner. I’m a firm believer that finding direct replacements for meat in existing meals is a bad attitude, and it’s a much better idea to find new delicious recipes that happen to not require any in the first place. Perhaps we should have done this sooner.


What’s the point?

The original point of the New Years Resolution would simply be to challenge myself, to see what I could achieve if I tried. I wanted to prove that alcohol and caffeine were habits, not addictions, and the only way to do this would be to try and stop. Becoming pescatarian, or at least “flexitarian”, was something that I’ve been interested in for a while, because the process of farming land animals is terrible for the environment and (in many cases) animal welfare, and an inefficient use of resources.

Results

I’d go so far as to say that I previously had a mild addiction to caffeine, but was all clear on the alcohol front. Now that I’ve proved what I can do, the true test is the lasting effect of the experience. Here are the things that I have continued to do since my weeks off:

It’s difficult to put a positive spin on restraint: don’t do X, don’t do Y, stop doing Z. Nevertheless, I now feel no worse off than I did while I kept my old habits--no miraculous enlightenment, but no withdrawal symptoms beyond a couple of weeks either. I’m very happy that I’ve made these changes, hopefully you will be inspired to do something similar.

—James
06 December 2018