At the beginning of the year we started a fitness challenge with my husband’s family. There were four daily metrics: a minimum step count, a water intake goal, a 20-minute workout, and no refined white sugar in any form—no fructose (combination of fructose and glucose), no fructose corn syrup, no brown sugar (made by adding molasses back into refined white sugar).
Accomplishing each metric earned you one point per day. At the end of two months, the couple with the highest score would win a large cash prize.
I’ve always been thin and relatively healthy, and I’ve never had to do much work to maintain my physique. So I had it in my head that this was more for the rest of the family than myself. Though I had a little extra baby weight to lose, they had loftier health goals to meet.
My baby was six months old, and I still had ten pounds to shed before I got back to my pre-baby weight. This goal only took three months—and absolutely no work on my part—with my other two kids. I’ll be honest. Discovering that I had to actually work on it this time around was frustrating. But at least it gave me some incentive to join the challenge.
Although I wasn’t sure it would do much for me, I’m so glad I did it! I’ve learned three important lifelong health lessons:
- Drinking water is much easier than I thought.
- Monitoring my steps kept me more active with little effort.
- Eliminating sugar was much easier than I thought it would be.
Let’s examine these a bit further.
At the start of the challenge, I bought a water bottle that I enjoyed drinking from. I had to drink two full bottles per day to meet my goal, so it was important that I liked the vessel. I kept the water bottle with me all day. If I had to leave the house, it came with me. When I moved to another room, my bottle was in tow. During the many hours I spent working at my desk, my bottle was my companion.
Keeping a water bottle with you makes it easier to achieve your water goal. If you have to stop what you’re doing to go get a glass of water, you won’t drink as much water. I know that sounds lazy, but it’s true. We get so caught up in what we’re doing that taking a water break often takes a back seat. But if the water is with you, you sip it constantly, even without consciously recognizing it. Before long, you’ll be meeting your water goal well before the end of the day.
I’ve never counted steps before, but it’s so easy with modern technology. I’d wager that anyone reading this has a smart phone. And let’s be real, who goes anywhere without their phones these days? No one. Which means you have a step counter with you anywhere you go. (I also have an Apple watch to track my steps.)
I love tracking my steps. It’s almost like a game. How many steps will I get for taking the long way to the bathroom? How many steps does it take to walk out to the mailbox? Tracking my steps also keeps me from being stagnate for too long. I work from home, so I spend a lot of time sitting at a desk. But when I track my steps, I’m reminded to take breaks to get up and walk around.
If you track your steps, I recommend setting a goal for yourself. We had a daily goal, so sometimes if I hadn’t met my goal by the end of the day I would just jog in place while watching my nightly shows. I may have looked a bit silly, but I got my steps in!
Most Importantly—Eliminating Refined White Sugar
You know how people say they’re either salty or sweet? Well, I’m sweet through and through! I love sweets, and I love to bake. I’m also an emotional eater. With the stress of taking care of three young kids while maintaining a home and a career (juggling work-life balance is a struggle in itself), I find a lot of comfort in food. Sweets, to be exact. I do know the dangers of sugar, and I try not to overdo it, but I still found it hard to give up.
This, I was sure, would be my Mt. Everest of the challenge. But I told myself from the start that I had to commit. And guess what? It turned out being much easier than I thought it would. Two things helped me successfully cut out sugar. First, I made the commitment to cut it out completely—no cheating, no sneaking, and absolutely NO sugary drinks. (The sugar content in most drinks it would horrify you.)
Second, I found alternatives to fill my sweet cravings. There’s a reason no one suggests going cold turkey when you’re trying to rid a bad habit. It’s so hard that you’ll inevitably relapse. That’s why I decided to use healthier alternative sweeteners (such as coconut sugar) or sugar substitutes. You’d be amazed at how many awesome options you can find. My favorite is monk fruit. It’s very sweet, so it’s often combined with erythritol. Monk fruit is a great choice for baking because it can be used in a 1:1 ratio, so no conversion needed. And you can even get monk fruit substitutions for brown sugar and powdered sugar.
I also went straight to the What’s Cooking at SRP? blog by Chef Briana Goodall. She has a plethora of scrumptious dessert recipes, and many are sugar-free. When she does use sugar, it’s a healthier alternative such as coconut sugar, inositol, or honey. My absolute favorite are Briana’s Grain-Free French Silk Brownies. Believe me, from one sugar lover to the next, you’ll love them. The coconut sugar yields a divinely sweet, incredibly chocolaty treat. I’ve made them a dozen times, and everyone raves about them.
It’s amazing how committing to a challenge for just a few months has changed my life. Drinking water is second nature, my step count is always high, I crave my daily yoga, and I am obsessed with how great my body feels without processed foods and refined sugar.
We didn’t win the cash prize when the challenge was over. But we did win something much better—a lasting, healthy lifestyle change.