June 27, 2016

June Goal Progress: Week 4 Check In

It’s the final week of my no-sugar month, and I am so excited. There have been enough temptations in the last week that I have seriously considered cheating just this once and having a cookie (or whatever). But I stuck with it, didn’t cheat, and I’m pretty proud of myself for that. And, it will make dessert taste all that much sweeter come Friday!

Not really too much to report this week that’s different than last week, though. I think what I’ve learned most from this challenge is not really about sugar, per se, but more about how much easier a goal is when it’s finite. This week, I was interviewed for the Mile After Mile podcast, where I discussed my 50 by 25 goal and all the logistics that went into achieving it. It took me two years to run a marathon in every state, and while that’s a rather short time for such a big goal, it felt like a really long time when I was going through the experience. Two years is a long time to stay so focused on one goal, and while I’m of course proud of my achievement and happy that I did it, these days, I prefer having shorter goals that can evolve over time.

Current short term running goal: conquer my new favorite neighborhood route, a super hilly 5K, in less than 30 minutes. Maybe by the end of the summer?

Going without sugar for a month has been tough, but I found that it was a short enough challenge for me to know that in just a few more days, I’d be able to have sugar again. Now I finally understand why so many diets encourage a cheat day. I used to think that was just allowing weakness now, but this sugar challenge has shown me that it’s a lot easier to stick to your goal if you know that you’ll be getting a break soon. To take that example to the workout realm, I sprint a lot faster on the treadmill when I know it’s a quick 30 second effort with a break right after, vs a 30 second effort followed by burpees or something else difficult.

I am really eager to enjoy an ice cream cone on Friday when this challenge is complete, but what I initially thought would be a one-month experiment is now something I’m considering sticking with after June is over. I’d like to make it less strict than “no sugar ever”, because I think having that light at the end of the tunnel was critical to my success in sticking to my rule. But I could see myself going to “no sugar on weekdays” or something like that – not because I really care about my sugar consumption, but because it’s been helping me eat healthier as a whole.

In Eric Barker’s great article on how to make good habits stick, he references Charles Duhigg’s research around “keystone habits”. (For those of you who haven’t read Duhigg’s Power of Habit, I highly recommend getting a copy and reading the whole thing – it’s excellent.) A keystone habit is one that sets off a chain reaction of other effects – but the keystone habit is easier to keep up than the exhausting and energy-depleting decisionmaking that goes into doing all those other habits. Remember how the phenomenon of decision fatigue can sap your willpower and stop you from succeeding? Keystone habits are kind of the antidote to that, where you just focus on the one keystone habit and the other habits all fall into place.

In the case of this month’s challenge, I found that avoiding sugar was a really good keystone habit for my own diet. As I predicted when I started this challenge, avoiding sugar helped me avoid the decision fatigue of constantly evaluating whether/what to eat, because I only had to worry about sugar instead of a ton of nutrient numbers. But I also had an unexpected by-product of avoiding sugar. I wasn’t intentionally trying to calorie count this month, but because I was tracking sugar by logging everything I ate into My Fitness Pal, I was inadvertently also trying to stick to my total calorie goal for the day. Even though I could have pigged out on all the (sugar-free) chips or French fries that I wanted, knowing I would have to log those indulgences in My Fitness Pal kept me from going hogwild.

This is not to say that I still didn’t go wayyyyy over my calorie limit some days, like at this Pizza & Pints festival I attended on Saturday. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how few and far between those major indulgence days are. (PS – how crazy is this afternoon storm that rolled in behind me, while it was still super sunny in the foreground?)

So, I know I still have three more days of no sugar to get through – but I am already going to declare this month a success. I learned a lot, and I think I established some habits that will stick with me going forward. And I can’t wait to toast that achievement with some ice cream on Friday! 😉


4 thoughts on “June Goal Progress: Week 4 Check In”

  1. Love your insights on this challenge and how it ties into decision fatigue! I did the Whole30 challenge and really did help eliminate decision fatigue about what I was going to eat everyday – I’ve found it’s also been helpful for revisiting my spending and how money I just spend on random snacks, instead of eating the food I’ve brought with me to work.

    30 days or a finite time period makes a huge difference! I am the same way with working out – knowing I only have to work for 30 seconds to 1 minute vs. a much longer period makes me work harder.

  2. It’s a wonderful challenge to avoid sugar. Harder than most people expect I imagine. Sugar is everywhere.

    Thank you for being a guest on the Mile after Mile Podcast! I keep thinking about how fast you accomplished those 50 states and it is just amazing! Amazing!

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