Although I always try to live be example, particularly when it comes to nutrition and exercise, sometimes the posts I write are more for clients and what I hear them wanting and needing, and less about me and how I personally approach health and nutrition. Today, however, is a bit different. I’ve decided to challenge myself a bit and wanted to share that challenge with all of you. If you’d like to try it with me, that would be wonderful, and great for your health and wellbeing. But, I mostly wanted you to know that I, too, struggle with nutrition choices and that I have to work to hold myself accountable, as well.

Whenever clients come to me with aches, pains, digestive issues, fatigue, etc., the first thing I recommend is getting back to basics – how is their nutrition and activity? While I eat relatively well the majority of the time, I have a MAJOR sweet tooth. And because I work out regularly, typically eat pretty well, and generally don’t overindulge in a way that makes my weight go up and down in an unhealthy yo-yo pattern, I tend to justify my indulgences and allow myself to “get away” with it. But, as we’ve discussed before, weight is not the only or even best indicator of health. So, as I sit here, frustrated at my recent chronic headaches, neck tension, poor sleep, and unhappy skin, I suddenly found myself wondering why I wasn’t taking my own advice and getting back to basics. Now, as a side note, I’m also six months pregnant, so much of what I’m experiencing is likely partially due to the crazy hormonal shifts occurring on a daily basis as my body works to grow another human being. BUT, that only adds to the argument that I should really be fueling my body well, since the demands on it are so much higher and its ability to compensate despite indulgences is likely to be much lower.

Yes, sleep issues, headaches, and crappy skin can all be a product of a variety of things, not just nutrition or exercise, but, you should always rule out the simple, very controllable things, like diet and exercise, before assuming it’s something worse or more complex. Your gut flora plays a huge, huge role in health, from your immune system to your neurotransmitters. When that flora is out of whack, so is everything else. While probiotics help repopulate the gut with healthy, happy bacteria, what we eat helps determine how healthy that bacteria stays or how out of control the bad bacteria gets. Sugar is one of the absolute best ways to destroy a happy gut flora. Sugar feeds bad bacteria and makes it run rampant. Sugar increases inflammation and stresses out the body. Sugar, I’m sorry to say, just isn’t good for you. I know this. You probably know this. But brownies, chocolate, cookies, ice cream, etc., etc. all just taste soooooo good!

In an effort to see if I can address some of my own personal health discomforts, I thought that perhaps I should cut back my sugar intake. I immediately tried to start justifying it to myself, thinking about how I don’t have THAT much in a day, and how I usually have “good” options, like dark chocolate, and I don’t eat dyes or corn syrup, etc. But, the moment that I knew I needed a break from sugar was when I actually thought to myself, “I can’t give up sweets for 3 weeks!!”. In that moment, I felt a sudden sense of discomfort and anxiety – how had I allowed this one little thing to gain so much control over me? If I felt that I “couldn’t” not eat sugar for 3 weeks, then that was a pretty good indicator that I absolutely needed to do so. Why 3 weeks? Well, research suggests that it takes a MINIMUM of 21 days to create a new habit. For many, it takes much longer for it to actually become pretty automatic. So, I’m giving myself the minimum. I’m pushing myself to try to stick with a new activity for the bare minimum necessary to try and make it a habit. Hopefully, after the 21 days, I will have will, training, and desire to keep making better, healthier choices.

So, that’s what I’m doing. And I invite you to take the challenge with me. I’m avoiding added sugar for the next 3 weeks (today is day 2 for me). What does this mean? This means the only forms of sugar I’m eating are those that are already a part of the food, i.e. fruits, veggies, whole grains, and dairy. All of these foods have some natural sugars present in them. What I’m avoiding is any actual sweeteners, natural or otherwise – sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, corn syrup, rice syrup, agave syrup, maple syrup, honey, stevia, aspartame, splenda, coconut sugar, palm sugar, date sugar, glucose, dextrose, fructose…if any of these are an “ingredient” in the food, I’m avoiding them.

Who’s with me? Who’s up for challenging themselves and improving their health? 3 weeks is nothing.

Aubrey MS RDN