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If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you may have seen me post some half-nekkid pictures of myself over the course of the last few months. No worries, if you didn't see them before, you can see them both above and below.
The reason I posted these was because I was doing a personal experiment – something I call a 90 Day Challenge. What it really was though was more of a 90 Day Observation. I say this because other than dictating that I wanted to eat around 90% strict Paleo and work out several times a week, I didn't have a strict set of rules in place. Unlike something like the Whole30 or other strict challenges, I wanted the flexibility to eat what I wanted. BUT, the big caveat with that is that I wanted to know how it affected me when I did eat something that wasn't Paleo. I knew the holidays were going to be smack dab in the middle of this and we had our trip to Mexico. I didn't want to box myself into a strict set of rules that would make me go crazy afterwards.
Let me back up a bit. I've done several strict eating challenges/stints in the last few years. The first one was when my oldest son and I did the GAPS diet and I was super strict for a month. Then I did several of Primal Palate's 30 Day Paleo Challenges. Then I did a Whole30. Then I did 6 MONTHS of strict AIP before sloooowly introducing foods back into my diet (that whole effort took over a year). Then I did another Whole30. So I've done my fair share. At first they were great and they helped me really figure out what feeling great was and helped me drastically reduce inflammation and symptoms quickly. Unfortunately what I've noticed though is that eventually through these challenges I started to take on an attitude of “ok, I'll NOT eat this during these 30 days, but I'm gonna binge on it afterwards”. And binge I did. Not exactly what I was going for, nor what I needed to have lasting effects on my health.
I especially noticed this after the last Whole30 I did in January of 2016. I was mostly good throughout it (except for when I cheated for my birthday), but it's now been a entire year and I'm STILL feeling the psychological effects of me being deprived of whatever I want. Now of course, I am always deprived somewhat because I'm Celiac and I can't have gluten, so that removes a humungous swath of food choices off my list. But I was ok with that until I did that last Whole30. Something got switched in me during that month that triggered my hoarding complex or something and now I just don't want to feel like I can't have what I want.
I learned over the last year that instead of temporarily removing something from my diet (unless I am experiencing a Hashimoto's flare), I need to learn both moderation and specific cause and effect of unpleasant symptoms. So I decided to attempt this 90 Day Challenge/Observation instead to help out with this.
During my 90 Day Challenge I wrote this down each day:
- everything that I ate and drank, no matter how little
- what movement I did – workouts, walks, cleaning my house, etc
- my morning weight
- what symptoms I felt that day
- other feelings – whether I was stressed, happy, if I had a really hard time resisting eating something, if I felt like doo doo 20 minutes after drinking a Starbucks Latte, etc
Every 30 Days I would do this:
- take a picture of myself in a bathing suit (since it doesn't hide anything)
- take my measurements
- Look back at my symptoms that I was feeling on Day 1 (and then Day 30 and 60) and write down if I had stopped feeling them anymore. Also noted any additional symptoms that may have cropped up
- Write down any feelings I was having – like whether I found the last 30 days to be difficult or couldn't stick with my 90% Paleo guidelines or if I noticed certain foods creeping back in on a regular basis that shouldn't be there (like corn and dairy for me)
What I noticed by doing this was several things:
- When I wrote down a full day of eating how I wanted I would look over it and feel super proud. It was an actual dopamine rush to me and equivalent to accomplishing something great.
- If I wanted to eat a gluten-free baked good my mind said “ok, do you really want to eat this? If you do, you'll have to write it down. And you know how much writing this down is going to hurt (because then you won't feel that dopamine rush at the end of the day)”. So there were a LOT of times that I skipped something because this extra check was in place.
- If I DID eat something I didn't really want in my diet, I specifically noted how I felt the next several days. And many times I could correlate an unpleasant symptom cropping up that had gone away. I think the more I can make this association in my head between things like “dairy gives you gas and makes you look like you are 6 months pregnant” will help me stop eating them in the long term.
- I was able to notice patterns emerging. Over the holidays I kind of slid into a sweet dessert-like thing after lunch and another one after dinner. I don't really need 2 desserts every day. Without me writing it down I may not have noticed this as quickly and stopped myself from doing it.
- While I don't usually like to note weight, writing it down each day was a way to keep me accountable (like I didn't gain 10 pounds over the challenge) and it also helped me realize if a particular food was causing me to retain water. I was looking towards overall trends in this category over the time, but also little changes if I ate something I shouldn't have
- This all applied to my movement too. I was much more apt to feel especially great about myself when I got in 45 minutes of walking and/or a yoga session and was able to write it down vs a day of couch surfing
So overall I never felt deprived over this period of time, and therefore don't feel like next week I want to binge on anything. In fact, I plan on doing ANOTHER 90 Day Challenge/Observation starting today. I feel like I'm making lasting habit changes slowly over time and shaping myself into the person I want to be, along with getting the lasting health benefits I want.
Best part? I turned 40 this past Saturday and I felt AMAZING. I've always had issues with milestone birthdays but considering I felt better at 40 than I did at 30, and I think I LOOK better at 40 than I did at 30 really helped me. If I keep this up 50 is going to look incredible! 🙂
Here are the pictures of my progress (I didn't get a 60 day pic):
If you want to do something similar, you can get the 90 Day Journal I use as a downloadable PDF for just $4.99. It is 109 pages long and includes inspirational quotes, prompts for writing down symptoms and milestones at various points throughout the challenge, and pages to write down all sorts of info each day. Go here to buy it.
Thanks for posting this because I’ve had fantastic success with Paleo Challenges especially the first one I ever did in 2011 that eventually led with working out at CrossFit to a 60lb weight loss. Unfortunately my weight has crept back up in recent years from one thing or another but really me letting it happen. I did a Whole30 Challenge in January of this year and could not understand why my sugar cravings just wouldn’t go away and I was racked with guilt when all the days said I should have kicked it and I’m sitting there watching dessert videos wishing I could make it then smash my face into the deliciousness. I’ve always done fairly well eating Paleo but after doing the Whole30, I just went crazy eating all this terrible food and I totally understand how you felt after the restrictions were up wanting to hoard all the less than healthy foods. It might just be in the personality makeup, I don’t know. I’m 9 months postpartum and I’m looking forward to doing a 90 day challenge. When I am done I will post pictures. Seeing your 90% compliant also helps me so I don’t see less than 100% strict as failure. As with anything you have to work at it and expect failure to be a part of the journey. Nothing else in life do we expect ourselves to be 100% all the time. I really appreciate your blog post. Thank you! It’s has helped open my eyes too!
I’m so glad this has helped you! Please keep me posted on your progress in your 90 day challenge when you do it. It really does help- I’m still keeping at a lot of the habits I worked on during this one I wrote about and it feels so good (and so easy). Thanks so much for taking time to comment!
This is such a great post, and really just the motivation I need to kick some of the pounds I gained recipe testing for the holidays! I think the accountability of writing it all down is a great idea, but I also loved that you included how you felt too. I find it too easy to sneak in too many treats that leave me feeling blah, but then I somehow ‘forget’ and keep repeating my bad behaviors. There’s nothing like seeing it in black and white to bring a little reality back in and help motivate in a better direction!
I loved this post. I too have done many boxed “challenges” and often feel a bit obsessive about food towards the end of them. I also love that the focus of your challenge was to understand how food impacted your unique body! I feel like diet is not a one-size-fits-all thing and we have to experiment to understand how our body best thrives.
Great post! I love that writing things down helped you so much. You know, those who follow personal development say that journaling is key to all lifestyle shifts.
I deeply admire your bravery and your ability to share your ability to share your journey so authentically. Congrats!
Feeling deprived is the absolute WORST. I need to keep better track of how foods make me feel, genius keeping a journal!
Wow, this is so cool! I love how just the act of writing everything down helped you make better choices.