The poster for this challenge was sent my way at exactly the right time. I had just got back from an indulgent holiday in Thailand and was feeling bloated and uncomfortable. For the first time in a while, the scales started with an unwelcome number and my clothes were starting to feel snug. In addition, the challenge was set to my circuit class by our coach. This added both a layer of authority and competitiveness that I found quite alluring.
I confess to loving a bit of a challenge, having recently completed several in other areas of my life, such as an A-Z blog challenge and a 100-day novel writing exercise. The idea of openly committing to something where there are specific and direct instructions seems to appeal to my personality type.
And so it began. I started the challenge the very day I received the poster. Fortunately, this also coincided with my acquisition of the Deliciously Ella cookbook (see my review here on PurelyB), which gives plenty of alternatives to the banned foods, most of which taste considerably better.
Here are my key observations from my 21-day experience:
It’s easier to abstain when others are watchingI started the challenge with the Easter weekend approaching. Many of my circuit classmates balked at the idea of the challenge for this very reason. For me it felt like exactly what I needed – strict orders! I also had an afternoon tea, my son’s 2nd birthday party and several nights out to factor into the time frame. I actually found all these hurdles pretty easy to pass. It seemed simple to me, for this time period, you don’t eat these things. There wasn’t any internal deliberation – the good old ‘should I, shouldn’t I’ debate didn’t happen. It was just clear-cut. I shouldn’t. So I didn’t. In the whole of the 21-days, I think the hardest abstention was resisting some of the chips my daughter had left in a restaurant (but I did!).
The less sugar and junk you eat, the less you seem to wantThis challenge really did bring to life the effects that simple, refined carbohydrates can have on your body. I found that my energy levels were much more constant. My usual habit would be to follow a healthy lunch with a small chocolate-based treat, from which I would always feel a reaction and not always a pleasant one. Not having things like this genuinely did keep my energy levels on a much more even keel.
There are some great alternatives to junk out thereI think this is the biggest reason I found this challenge quite easy. Despite all the positives there are from avoiding junk, I do have to say that food-based treats and snacks are quite an important thing to me. I am a mother of two and a regular runner and I’m often in need of a little pick-me-up, even though I know sometimes the need is more emotional than physical. The great solution I found here was the Deliciously Ella Energy Bites, made up of little more than dates, almonds, chia seeds and raw cacao powder. For me, they satisfied the entire need – bringing taste, pleasure and that little energy boost. Since the challenge, I’ve found that there are so many ways of giving your body (and mind!) what it needs without resorting to junk food. You just need a bit of preparation, planning and inspiration.
Taking junk out of the equation makes you more mindful about eatingThis challenge makes you realise just how often you can eat the wrong things simply because they are there. Junk food choices are so accessible. I remember an old marketing idiom, “arm’s reach of desire”, which is very true for this kind of food. I personally never find myself too far away from chocolate. I personally have often eaten something without even realising I’d put it in my mouth. Over the course of this challenge I found myself having to evaluate what I was doing at all times. In doing so, I was able to recognise and stop myself whenever I was grabbing something based literally on its proximity to my mouth. Simply put, the challenge both removed the “should I” debate and made me consider what I actually needed.
The end of a food abstinence based challenge can incite a bingeThis was the one downside of the whole activity. Whilst over the course of the time period, my mind was quite fixated on what I couldn’t eat, my mind was also fixated on the day when the challenge would be over. Interestingly, on the actual day I completed the challenge I didn’t want to eat anything from the forbidden list and I remember feeling quite smug about that. After about three days though, I did go a bit crazy and the stashed Easter goodies eventually got demolished in about 21 minutes.
Overall though, in conclusion, I can definitely say that I eat much less junk now. The challenge is a great way of recalibrating your attitudes to food choices and forcing you to find great alternatives, of which there are many. I recommend this challenge, with the added objective that it is taken on as a kick-off to a lifelong “LESS JUNK” commitment.
Give it a go!