Secular Asceticism

I am not a religious man but I have found, at times, that periods of abstinence/asceticism can be good for one's body and spirit. Of course, as with any abstinence regimen, what one is abstaining from and the reasons for the undertaking play a very large part in what one can get out of it.

This month marks the second time that I have undertaken a month of asceticism; the first having been March of 2009. Last time, I took a straight edge approach, abstaining from caffeine, alcohol, and all other psychoactive substances. This year, I am repeating the same abstention of caffeine, alcohol, and drugs but adding high-fructose corn syrup.

As I mentioned, I feel that the what and why of any ascetic regimen plays a large part in what one gets from the experience. My first bout of asceticism, last year, was prompted by the feeling that my caffeine consumption had reached unreasonable levels and, if the degree of caffeine withdrawal that I went through at that time was any indication, I was correct in my feeling. At the time, I decided that if I was going to go off caffeine for a month, cold-turkey, I might as well do the same with any other mind-altering substance. This time, my reasoning is largely derived from the feeling of homeostasis obtained during my last run of asceticism. I am adding high-fructose corn syrup this time around because I am under the (marginally scientific) impression that high-fructose corn syrup is unhealthy to consume and do not normally maintain any level of awareness over its consumption.

As we're nearing the end of my first week of abstention, I can report on some of the specifics of the experience thus far:

  • Caffeine - Oh, how I miss caffeine; I am an addict and I crave my fix. Actually, as of today, I find myself craving caffeine far less than I did even yesterday. Thankfully, this year, my caffeine consumption was far lower before the undertaking than last year. Last time, I had monstrously intense migraines for nearly a week due to caffeine withdrawal; this time, I had moderate migraines on day two (Sunday) but the major symptoms had cleared by day three (Monday). Cravings, as I mentioned, are subsiding and I hope to be back to baseline sometime next week.
  • Alcohol - Abstaining from alcohol is mostly a social nuisance for me. I usually drink socially, as is the case with a great many, if not all, of my friends. On its own giving up alcohol isn't a huge deal but, when one's abstention from caffeine and high-fructose corn syrup means that you can't even have "just a Coke," things get annoying. Abstaining from alcohol also makes me aware of the frequency with which I will go to the fridge for something to drink and grab a beer; this has largely been replaced by grabbing a glass of milk or Ovaltine (thankfully free of high-fructose corn syrup).
  • Drugs - Not really a substantive change, mostly here to round out the list and allow the classification to be simplified to psychoactive substances and high-fructose corn syrup for discussion purposes.
  • High fructose corn-syrup - Fuck! This shit is in everything! High-fructose corn syrup is really hard to avoid; I'm sure that I'm missing things that contain this stuff. I went into a gas station mart on Saturday to get a beverage and the only things that I could find without caffeine or high-fructose corn syrup were water, milk, and Diet Sprite. I didn't put ketchup on my french fries at lunch today because ketchup contains high-fructose corn syrup. For Christ's sake, they even put high-fructose corn syrup in Saltine's. The addition of high-fructose corn syrup to my abstention list is both maddening and somewhat enlightening.

That's where we're at for now; I'll keep you posted as the month goes on.


Will be most interested to hear about the HFCS part of this. What sort of foods are becoming reliable HFCS-free staples in your diet? I would like to get on a diet and exercise routine when I (probably) move to Vermont, and getting my HFCS and sodium intake under control are of primary interest.



If it's the case that you lead a relatively sedentary lifestyle, a period of abstaining from being sedentary might very well yield benefits for you in excess of your other abstentions.

Between biking to and from work, rock climbing twice a week, and a decent bit of walking about, I wouldn't really say that I lead an overly sedentary life. Besides, my asceticism is not particularly targeted at my physical health.