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First Person: Spin Cycle - It’s just amazing, darling


Emily Hourican chases perfect health. Photo: Getty Images.

Emily Hourican chases perfect health. Photo: Getty Images.

Emily Hourican chases perfect health. Photo: Getty Images.

I am locked in a cycle of wild expectation, followed by crashing disappointment. The ups are intense, full of hope, but the downs are inevitable and filled with despair. Right now, I’m in a crashing-disappointment phase.

This latest spin cycle started with 
a visit from my lovely cousin and his 
girlfriend, who currently live in 
Australia. They are rather living the dream, these two. Young, good-looking, with great jobs, they are discovering new lands, new cultures, and new 
ways to feel like Superman.

They began talking about their morning coffee, taken with huge dollops of butter and coconut oil. Yes, you did read that right, and, yes, you are undoubtedly making the same “eugh” face as I did.

Coffee, with butter and coconut 
oil. How revolting, right? But then 
they started uttering what, to me, 
are the magic words: “loads of energy”, “amazing mental focus”, “never tired.”

They explained some of the science behind it — something to do with medium-chain fatty acids that the body doesn’t store in the same way most fats are stored, but, frankly, they had me at “loads 
of energy.”

By then, I was dizzy with excitement, because I have spent my adult life in the quest for exactly this. I have tried, in no particular order, but always with huge enthusiasm: running, chia seeds, cold baths, giving up dairy and wheat, disgusting powdered green stuff in a morning smoothie, flaxseed oil, meditation, Pilates, raw chocolate, B vitamins and kale. I could go on, but the point is not the absurd variation of the attempts, it is the psychology behind them.

I don’t even have bad health. In fact, it’s pretty good. But I have a dream 
— fed by a thousand alternative-health practitioners and meditation gurus — of one day achieving a Nirvana of boundless energy.

I fantasise about reaching a state where nothing is a chore, everything 
a welcome challenge; where I never, ever find myself ready to burst into tears because the kids have spilled 
yet another cup of water and I cannot face the mop again.

Tucked in with this image, there is 
a kernel of dodgy Dianetics stuff 
— bordering on the whacko, frankly — about being the very best version 
of myself, using 90 per cent of brainpower instead of 10, or whatever those suspect statistics are.

I have chased this dream for 20 years and, each time, I follow the usual addict’s trajectory — the high of belief: “It’s actually working! I feel amazing! This is it!” — followed by the gradually dawning low of realisation that, really, I feel pretty much as I always have done: fine, grand, but not amazing.

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But I am not yet ready to retire from the chase. And so I started into full-fat coffee. And you know what? For 
a while, it really was amazing.

The coffee tastes much better than you would expect, and the effects seemed everything my cousin promised. Placebo or not, I got three great weeks out of the morning fat-fest: energy, focus, drive, reduced appetite, maybe even some extra smarts.

And then, gradually, I began to notice a sad dwindling, a law of diminishing returns, I suppose, until, finally, a couple of days ago, I had to admit that I felt exactly the same as usual. Fine. Grand. Not amazing.

Luckily, this quixotic tilting at windmills is something I confine to 
the search for optimum health.

I don’t look for sensation and perfection in my romantic life or my friendships. I like those just as they are, and do not feel the need to constantly seek out the new.

My dabbling is contained to what I suppose I could call a hobby. Some people collect stamps or watch planes taking off; I chase perfect health.

When I confided the fading glow of 
full-fat coffee excellence to a friend recently, she said, “Oh, but cocoa 
butter is much better than actual butter. It gives you loads of energy 
and great concentration . . .”

A familiar wave of excitement 
began to rise within.

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