I Quit Carbs and Sugar and Here is What I Learned

I Quit Carbs and Sugar and Here is What I Learned post image

A quick word on diet and exercise from a slightly overweight unhealthy guy…

I don’t know jack shit about health. I’m not qualified to tell you about it. I like to party my ass off, and eat the best of everything. Depending on who you ask, I’m 10 to 20 pounds overweight.

I do have some unique health related experiences though. In particular, I have quit 99.5% of white carbs and and sugar in total for about 3 months of my life, on 4 separate occasions. Although there are countless vegans, juicers, fasters, vegetarians, paleos, etc, among us, I’ve met very few people who have 100% dropped the carbs for a month or more.

Just real quick, here’s what I mean by “carbs” for the purpose of this article. It’s not technically the case that I’ve ever stopped consuming carbohydrates. When I’m quitting carbs, I mean I’m quitting: bread, rice, pasta, brown rice and brown bread, cakes, tortillas, crackers, pizza, cookies, cakes, chips, pure sugar, soda, sugar drinks, french fries, potatoes and anything that fits that basic profile. You could say “the middle of the grocery story.” Yeah… I know, all the good stuff.

When I quit those things, here are some of the things I’ve experienced:

  • I’ve found it is extraordinary difficult to stick to. Quitting carbs isn’t some hack. It’s a freakin’ slog. Pizza is one of humanity’s greatest creations, and staying away from it, and a world of other delicious stuff is almost impossible (almost nobody does it…)
  • Addiction to carbohydrates feels like addiction to cigarettes. I’ve been addicted to a lot of stuff in my life. I found the addiction to sugar and carbs to feel very similar to my addiction to nicotine cigarettes. Subtle and insistent. It doesn’t feel like an addiction. ‘You can stop anytime.’
  • My taste buds got sharper. I noticed this when eating veggies a week or so after quitting carbs, the flavors become much more robust.
  • I became profoundly more productive. I can’t think of a single action that has had a greater impact on the amount of stuff I’m able to accomplish. For me, cutting carbs eliminates the succession of highs and crashes throughout a day. Instead, you feel ‘clean’ energy all day long.
  • I lost a lot of weight. Like a ton. The first time I quit carbs I lost 30 pounds in a month. Quick aside: in my experience, exercise doesn’t help me lose weight. 85% / 15% diet / exercise is what I’d estimate.
  • My mind got sharper. I was able to concentrate longer, and my mind didn’t wander as much.
  • I crash on day 2 or 3 and feel super drained. If you do ever decide to experiment with quitting sugar and simple carbs, be prepared to both eat more than you are used to (you’ll be eating less calorically dense food) and to feel a lack of energy during the first few days. I’m on day 3 right now and I’m exhausted to the point of sickness. I can barely concentrate. I’m not sure if it’s related this time, but it’s happened before. If you want to have some fun, search the web for “quitting sugar” and read about people’s experiences doing so. Lots of crying, weeks in bed, etc. Good stuff.
  • I feel empowered and so much betterIt’s an amazingly big thing to do in your life that doesn’t require a ton of resources or logistics. This wears off pretty damn quick, however, when your friends are biting in to some pizza/hamburgers/etc. There is no question that my body as a whole feels so much better when I’m not eating carbs or sugars.
  • It gets expensive. I suppose it doesn’t have to, but I always end up spending a lot more cash/time to buy/prepare meals that fit the guidelines.
  • When I quit carbs, I don’t ever really feel “full” in the same way I did when I’m eating them. Whenever I stop eating carbs, I need to re-examine what I mean by “fullness,” why I crave it, and what I need to do to replace it. Eating, and my aims at the dinner table, change a lot for me when I’m not eating carbs.
  • When I quit carbs and sugars, I relapse. Every single time, so far.

*  *  *

Going with the flow is for people with no vision.

I’ve done a lot of short to medium term diet experiments (I’ve also gone on a raw diet, very interesting experiences there, but for another time). It’s fun to push yourself, find the limits, and learn from them. People act like stopping eating carbohydrates for 30 days, or not eating 3 meals a day is unthinkable!! Hey man, pizza isn’t going anywhere.

Despite all of what I’ve learned from my experiments, right now I’m doing what most people are doing– going with the flow.

“Oh yeah, you guys are going out for pizza? Oh sure I’ll join you.”

As I get older, and as the momentum of our business continues to grow, the consequences of not being dedicated to the work get more profound. If 4 years ago I would have decided to check out for a few weeks, kick around and play nintendo, no biggie. Now? I’m missing out on all kinds of amazing opportunities to build things that would make my life, and the lives of those around me, much, much better.

Fundamentally, entrepreneurs are willing to think about their lives and businesses in the long term.

Do you want a another coffee right now? YES!

Do you want to be be the guy who selected the coffee every time, everyday, for the next 15 years. Not really.

Do you want a pizza right now? Of course!

Do you want to be the guy who makes that decision? No.

Thinking past your immediate desires isn’t just wise, it’s vision. 

*  *  *

Sebastian Marshall pointed out something to me the other day that I’ve come across a few times: making decisions costs us energy. Will power, they say, is a finiate resource.

You’ll see this with expert level people everywhere, especially creative types: they set up an strict disciplines in their lives so they can focus more energy towards their art/work. (You’ll also see how amateurs do the precise opposite because they think it’s more “free.”)

If you don’t decide how you are going to be spending your time, somebody else will. That person, with few exceptions, will be making very little considerations of your medium to long term outcomes.

In short: successful people (and companies) set rules. Restraints. Structures.

They don’t go with the flow and they don’t rely on will power.

*  *  * 

In response to this grim state of affairs, I’m going to be setting the following disciplines for the next 30 days. I won’t write a huge series of posts, but I will let you know how it goes.

Health guidelines from my better self, to my lesser self:

  • RULE #1: Report results to readers of the TropicalMBA blog, especially when you fuck up.
  • RULE #2: Sorry lesser Dan, you are not allowed to eat any refined sugar or simple carbs. You’ve experimented with this before and found it to be an addictive substance that provides little real value and worse, most people think it causes cancer, diabetes, fat gain, and a host of other yucky stuff. Yikes! If you have a sweet tooth, eat a pineapple or something. Seriously, here’s the deal: No rice, bread, no sugar in your coffee. I’ll allow you to eat root veggies for this first 30 day challenge, because I’m a nice challenger.
  • RULE #3: 1 cup of coffee a day. Ouch. Yeah man, I know you love this stuff, but here is the thing: you know that teas (especially green tea) help you focus better and are way better for you (at least thats your current understanding from what you’ve read).
  • RULE #4: No soda or sugar drinks. Oh shit man I love Diet Coke!!! You know its the right thing to do. Here’s the thing: Diet Coke might make you more productive for 30 minutes, but you know in deeper and more long term ways it screws up your day, and probably in some ways, your life.
  • RULE #5: Everyday for 15 minutes you’ll shock your healthy hormones into action by doing anaerobic resistence exerciese. You could run for 10 minutes then do high intensity pushups and lunges around the pool, or swim for 10 minutes then do the same. This isn’t tough dude, you know you should do it, and you’ve run experiments before and the results on your health and mindset have been profound.
  • RULE #6: No beer. Tragic!!! It’s just a feeling I have. I’ve quit drinking a few times before (once for 4 months… never again sir!) You haven’t experimented with this yet, our sense is that beer is harder on you than wine or cocktails. Also, you don’t like cocktails that much, that should keep you in line!
  • RULE #7: Cheat day is Saturday. Since your diet will roughly skew 4HB, and since you’ve never experimented with the cheat day concept, AND you’ve never sustained this shit, you might as well give yourself an opportunity to nom on some delicious pizza once in a while. We’ll see how this goes.

That’s it! Starting, now (okay, actually 3 days ago at the time of publishing). I’ll let you know how it goes. Most importantly, I’ll try to remember what I learn and identify where I fuck it up.

Cheers and happy holidays!


PS, here’s some recomended further reading:

PPS, if you liked this article and want to hear directly from me (plus receive 50 free podcast episodes) just jump on my mailing list:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Join over 12,000 entrepreneurs who receive weekly TMBA updates and receive access to our first 200 podcast episodes:

Published on 11.24.11
  • Feckinmighty

    Hi Matthew, saw your comment on another thread. New to this but saw we started low carb’n on the same day and was attracted to your posts. Well done so far :)

  • Feckinmighty

    Glad I found this blog! Loving reading all the comments. Started my second low carb adventure on March 18th and so far I’m loving it. Down a slightly embarrassing amount of weight and to be honest finding it very easy this time around. Anyone got other good link suggestions along the lines of this thread. Thanks

  • suzie30

    My body hates refined carbs too. I have serious problems maintaining a healthy weight when i eat refined carbs in the same quantity as the average slim person despite working out including weight training. I notice the only time in my life that i had no problems was when i avoided refined carbs 90 percent. I think some people are just built that way. It sucks but is true.

  • Anna Nagel

    I gave up added Sugar, bread, pasta and rice about six weeks ago now. I thought I would join my partner who did this three years ago. He is very strict and has lost a pile of weight, his mood is now very steady and he has loads of energy. We eat mostly fresh veg, fish, poultry,eggs, a small amount of berries and nuts. We still eat some potatoes but mostly Sweet ones. I cheat with the odd packet of crisps and a glass of wine. We both do weight training / gym 3 times a week. I have not felt any different from giving up sugar which I had expected to get head aches etc. from. I used to have 3 cups of tea/ coffee a day with sugar, breakfast cereal with more sugar. I have not lost loads of weight but thats not been my goal, being more healthy has. I feel more energised and level through the day. Very interesting reading all these experiences.

  • Mia

    3 years later and I have just copied this to put on my wall!

  • Sissy

    Congrats on all your hard work ! I was hoping you could maybe .. If it’s okay ? Tell me your daily meal plan?

  • ymbhweorfnes

    Men do get yeast infections. I used to get them from time to time and was totally perplexed as I thought it was just a woman thing. Then I found out it was a symptom of having hypo-thyroidism which explained it.

    I’m just starting off on a no-carb diet as I have a wheat allergy giving rise to inflammation (making my legs, joints and backbone really hot at night).

    Wheat (and other grains) is in just about EVERYTHING nowadays because food companies know it causes a blood sugar spike and makes you crave more food after 90 mins.

    I’ve tried to go no-carb 3 times before and barely lasted a week. But this time I have more resolve because I want to stop burning up in bed each night.

    Pizza is one thing I’ll really miss, so I have come up with the “Bizza”. Normal pizza toppings and cheese on a nice tomato sauce all sitting on top of a 12″ burger. Mmmmmmm

  • asd

    I want to argue with “3. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.”:
    If your body is fucked up, listening to it will be useless. I used to drink 1L (or maybe less) of water a day. I got used to it; my body got used to it. I really didn’t feel the need for more. I was 60-65 kg at 1.84 m height. I looked like a walking skeleton. I’ve been doing workout (50-75 pushups and ~ 100 abs a day) for months on end (8-10) with MINIMAL results (got 1-2 kg of muscle and practically looked the same) and I was eating little and generally trash things.

    Got fed up with it; done some reading, and started to force my body into eating more, eating healthier, drinking more water, etc.

    It’s been ~ 2 years since, I’m A LOT more energetic, I’ve reached 70-72 kgs (I actually reached 95 at one point but I went rampant with sugar) and I look almost fit.

    All the changes were done at the absolute edge: I’d drink as much water and eat as much food as I physically felt could fit inside me without puking. In the first 2 months this meant I was drinking and eating 50-70% more daily. I pushed my body and I have no problems now and neither did I have then. The thing is that you shouldn’t overdo (as the article says) but mindfully go to the limit.

    Listen to your body doesn’t apply if it comes from a state where your body is shit.

  • Deborah Kae Griffin-Williams

    My results are not in carbohydrates and sugars was the same as yours I lost 30 pounds in 1 month I have been on a very low carb diet for 3 years now my intake usually ranges about 20 to 30 carbohydrates today meet with a higher concentration of fat I have found that I had increased my Salt as I was getting light headed dizzy constipated and that is real cat effects but now that I’ve increased the salt I feel fantastic I will never go back in carbohydrates mad carbohydrates I should say again keep up the good work

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    woah thats amazing congrats!!!!

  • Deborah Kae Griffin-Williams

    I am down 80 lbs in 3 yrs

  • Nathan

    Losing 30 lbs in a month aint healthy. At most, you should lose 2lbs a week. Losing more usually means your just either losing water or muscle or maybe the combo of both


    Great post, I learned a lot from it, thank you!!! :)

    My 2 cents: I’ve found that “cheat days” are never worth it. Mentally, I find they just make it that much tougher to get back on the wagon, than if I’d never fell off it. You are right though, at first it is a slog! OMG, is it ever!! But my now outlook is, “It’s all a mental game”, and if you get your mind right about it first, why you’re doing this, etc., and KEEP IT THERE, then sticking to the new foods for the long haul, and staying away from the bad stuff, does fall into place. I’m pretty weak when it comes to impulsive eating (actually, poor impulse control in general :( .. but .. I’ve just passed the one year mark of my no gluten/dairy/sugar journey, and while I have backslid big time on the gluten/sugar items (I’ve eaten a whole chocolate cake in 48 hours when it got REALLLY BAD, a few times, and 2 or 3 pints of ice cream over the past year, on other occasions) — I’ve always had major regret afterwards, feeling like crap about myself and berating myself for being weak … and that ingrained even deeper, that these foods are NOT WORTH the 15 minutes of joy you get out of them. This diet = profound suffering (at first, for me, anyway, when I first got going with it.. It was like my body was saying, “OH HELL NO!! YOU ARE NOT SERIOUS!! WTF DUDE???” .. but it is soooo worth it in the end, for the clean, light feeling all day long, and the endless energy that allows me to accomplish what I want to accomplish, without the usual dragging fatigue halfway through the day that I used to fell. And with this, comes a daylong feeling of joy and happiness that I wasn’t expecting, like my serotonin levels are finally straightening themselves out! I had been on prescription asthma inhalers and a weekly dose of Prozac, for the past 20 years, because my body was such a mess, thanks to my poor diet. At the one year mark, of giving these three food groups, I no longer need asthma inhalers, because it’s completely GONE! If there is a cure for asthma, I would say curing the inflammation that causes it, is it.

    As for weight loss: I lost 15 Lbs. the first month I started this. Not changing a thing about my exercise (I would walk the dogs for 2 miles every day, that was it). A lot of this was water weight, rather than calories,, I am sure, from the inflammation from my daily diet of breakfast cereals, pasta, and breads, cakes, and cookie snacks. Because I kept up my calorie count with coconut oil, olive oils, and more fruits and vegetables, to combat the hungries. :) (don’t do the gluten-free packaged foods, they just replace ingredients with other ingredients that are no better for you than gluten, and more chemicals). Still, the weight literally fell off in a rush, and before I knew it, I had dropped a full pant size. I couldn’t believe it as it was happening, my tummy kept getting flatter and flatter, and my head and face got a lot leaner and smaller (my husband used to tease my about my “pumpkin head” – he was right though, I know I had a giant size head LOL). Well that completely disappeared, and he doesn’t tease me about that anymore. I had always hated my arms, I thought they were stumpy, fat, and flabby. Somewhere along the line, as the batwings fell off, they began looking longer and leaner, until now I look like I have been doing yoga all my life, they are so toned-looking. At the one year mark, I have lost 30 Lbs. without working out like a demon, and no calorie counting regimen. (I’ve always hated calorie counting, and refuse to do it. It feeds into my obsessive-compulsiveness, so I avoid it).
    Sorry for the long post, but I feel sooo much like this is the right path to good health, that I have no intention of ever giving it up. Depriving myself of my favorite comfort foods, have rewarded me with so much more than they ever gave me. They were the gifts that keep on taking, and taking, and taking.
    i think Robert Downey Jr. was once quoted about his past, as saying something like “heroin is like the dirty whore you cannot stay away from. Knowing full well that she will take your money, and beat the shit out of you. Still, you go to her.”
    This is exactly how I’ve learned to feel about gluten and sugar. My irresistible addictions that I know will kick my ass and leave me feeling wretched; yet, I could not give them up. Until, finally, I found the right mindset to get away from it.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    wow thanks for sharing your perspective.

  • Paul

    Hey I’m starting a no carb no sugar diet challenge for 21 days. Is there any type of liquor I could consume on this diet?

  • Grung

    Quitting carbs has revolutionized my life, I am on my third week and the amount of energy and focus I have are ridiculous (in a good way) compared to what I used to have…. even my mood is so much better, I feel happy, like not only my body is losing weight but so is my soul, I feel less… burdened for some reason, less anxious, less worried.

    Now everytime I see any food with Carbs and sugar in them I say F$#%# Carbs and sugar, nothing beats feeling this good :)

    and trust me guys the first week was hard (first 3 days more so than last 4)… not impossible hard but lets say a lot of green tea and coffee were consumed at the time lol… but stick through it, it IS worth it, get over that addiction.

    I have suffered from chronic fatigue for years now, always tired, all the time… now I finally feel free… I still go out with friends and eat at restaurants with them, and unlike what the OP said, I find it much cheaper now…
    I am cooking and ordering the same food I do, just without the rice, pasta or bread, and instead of pepsi I get water :P

Next post: