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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.