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ABSTAINER, n. A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

[Thursday, January 23rd]

It’s 5:38 in the afternoon and I am sitting here rubbing my gums like a cliche, desperate to savor every morsel of the almond butter I ate a few hours ago. I’m awake now, but I just took what feels like my umpteenth nap this week. I took a hard fall last Saturday during Judo and may have bruised a rib. I haven’t been able to work out since, as breathing hard hurts. Not much, but enough. Dozing and nut paste have become my vices. I can’t even focus enough to write stupid movie pitches. I just keep circling back to Crash Test Drummonds, which would be a remake of the David Cronenberg/Martin Scorsese film Crash, but using found footage of Conrad Bain to play every role. I am ready for it to be February.

[I fell asleep after writing this, and just woke up at 3:23 this morning. This document was still open on my computer.]

The thing is, I’d love to tell you February will be a magical time, where I can eat nonstop, quaff coffee like Dave “FRESH POTS!” Grohl, and generally return to a life of sedentary, serotonin-soaked stupor. I’m a week away from the Big Rock Candy Mountain, I could tell myself, ready for little streams of alcohol to come trickling down the rocks. But that’s not really how any of this works.

Sure, there’ll be a catharsis, however brief. I call it “Carbspringa,” and more on that later. While I’m staunchly against resolutions, the intent of the Blank Month is similar though more absolute: I resolve to remedy, or at the very least modify my behavior. It just applies more rigorous goals and a framework from which to work. It’s no good to just rush back to vice, implicitly rushing away from virtue. The point is to break habits and create better ones, and work towards a healthy medium, rather than needing to vacillate between personal austerity and continual instant gratification. “All things in moderation, including moderation.” While I am unable to find a specific source for this pith, it’s most commonly attributed to the well-known ascetic [sic] Oscar Wilde. Most people take this to mean, “moderation is good, and sometimes you go a bit overboard which is also fine.” But deviating from moderation can swing towards abstention just as easily as indulgence. I’m looking for a happy medium with a likewise healthy delta. At least, I tell myself that’ll keep me on the straight and narrow. You’d think after a couple years of doing this every January I would have learned something from it. I think this year I’ll be happy if I don’t run out and buy a Juul the first chance I get, and get back in the gym as soon as possible.

But first… Carbspringa.

There is no single authority on the ketogenic diet, unlike Atkins or South Beach or other low carb diets. As such, there is no single answer on the idea of a cheat day. Generally speaking, though, it’s a bad idea, as going overboard on your carb intake knocks you out of ketosis. (For the record, I am neither a dietician nor a nutritionist, but I’m pretty sure I’m rarely if ever actually in ketosis. That said, since all weight loss relies on caloric restrictions, and this makes it easier to eat fewer calories than I burn, it works.) So every couple of months, I cheat. Deliberately, and with malice aforethought, I manage to save whole swaths of undiagnosed Celiac sufferers by consuming truly heroic amounts of baked goods, noodles, and other assorted carbohydrates.

On the docket this year? I’ve got some bags of German gummy candies I’d ordered in December that weren’t delivered until the first week of January. Looking forward to trying the weirdness that is woodruff flavored gummies. Sitting next to them is a can of Death Wish coffee which may or may not kill me. Also, I’ve been meaning to hit up Curiosity Donuts in Tysons since they opened. The chefs behind the burgeoning chain have one of my favorite food blogs, Ideas in Food, and their book of the same name is a wonderful resource. (It’s also a good excuse for my own absurd kitchen experiments- like when I made french onion soup dumplings, or the time I made inside-out patty melts.)

In that same vein, I haven’t eaten Ethiopian food in months and crave injera almost as much as I crave rice (yeah, I could eat zilzil tibs with a fork, but no, I really can’t.) Though I may call an audible and hit up one of a handful of African restaurants out in PG County I’ve been dying to try, Chez Dior and Jolloff Etcetera foremost among them. Oh wait, no, I’ve still got to go to Som Tam at Union Market for Khao Soi. Perhaps I’ll hold off and do all of this on Sunday, so I can make it to Ivy and Coney for Detroit style pizza while watching the Super Bowl.

Finally, a nightcap at Civil. I haven’t enjoyed a cigar since Thanksgiving (my annual tradition of frying a turkey on the front lawn in order to avoid talking to family). I trust the folks at Civil to set me right, both in terms of cigars and cocktails to accompany cigars. I don’t have a particular cocktail in mind, but I’d like someone to put thought into the pairing.

But all hedonism aside, Carbspringa is meant to be an aberration. Sure, there’s a strong likelihood I’ll drink all eight of the beers sitting in my fridge from January beer club at lunch on Saturday, rather than just tasting them. But that’s OK, because next week I’ll be back to having all of one beer a week, and not vaping. Back to intermittent fasting and regular workouts. Back to mindlessly vegging in front of the TV and… well, probably not. Dying to watch the final couple episodes of the Good Place, and to catch up on Bob’s Burgers, but I think I can live without mindless television consumption again. Despite struggling on a few books, I’ve been pleased with myself reading as much as I have this month.

My point is, the Blank Month is a way to reset. But as hard as the reset is, the real difficult decisions come after: what am I happy I quit, and what can I enjoy in moderation? January always starts with a question, “am I able to save myself from the things I once wanted?” It always ends with the answer, “I must find ways to want the things I actually need.”

Check out part 1, part 2 and part 3 of this series.