At the beginning of the year I asked myself a question.
“Gerard, can you abstain from alcohol for 30 days?”
I always thought and knew I could, but on principle I have always steered clear of any 30-day diet, 30-day challenge or 30-day anything. I have always felt that they teach the body to be temporarily healthy and I hate temporary solutions. My whole philosophy to fitness, nutrition and wellness has always been take small steps that last for a lifetime so they can become long-term changes.
Despite my skepticism, through challenging myself, testing it out on my clients and doing a little research, I have learned that a lot can happen in 30 days. Here are my reasons on why I now support 30-day challenges and you should too.
30 days vs. diets
We’ve all been at that point before starting a new diet, usually around New Year’s, when we say to ourselves, “There’s no way I’m going to be able to do this.” Reluctantly we move forward into a diet that we one, don’t want to do and two, don’t think we can do. Two weeks later we have failed once again, feeling terrible about ourselves we turn to food for comfort and the cycle restarts.
The first mistake we made with this diet is that we entered something that seemed unattainable, in part because there is no specific finish line. Thirty-day challenges instead have a clear-cut finish line and most people like that. There’s something confidence building about knowing that at the end of the month one can go back to more comfortable things. This totally switches the attitude that people, including my clients, had when presented with a wellness challenge to eat healthier or to not drink alcohol. As with many obstacles in life, half of being successful is just having a positive mindset and believing that you can achieve it.
Does it last?
OK, time for the million dollar question: “Did it work?” Short answer, yes. Long answer, it works twice. I went 30 days with no alcohol and felt better, looked better, slept better and did basically everything better except drink. In my clients I saw the same improvements: they lost weight, had more energy and overall just felt better at the end of the 30 days.
This is to be expected. I mean, let’s be real — if you go from eating cheeseburgers or drinking wine every night to eating grilled chicken or pumping lemon water, your body is going to change. The amazing thing is what happened on days 31 and 32. I didn’t drink and my clients didn’t sprint to Pizza Hut. Surprisingly to me, I had started a new healthy habit and drinking wasn’t as necessary as it was before. The body, and more importantly the mind, has an amazing way of creating a habit no matter what the stimulus is.
After just repeating something for as little as four days a week, it’s more likely to become a habit. Though I did my own little study, the Wall Street Journal reported on a 2010 UK study that showed that people who went on 30-day challenges were more likely to stick with it for the entire 30 days and to keep up the changes after the 30 days than people who just decided to start a diet. Most habits take 66 days to become automatic, but with a 30-day challenge, you’re half way there.
The biggest takeaway I learned and want to pass on is that it’s important that no matter what challenge, diet, lifestyle change, or whatever you call it you decide to take on, that completing it is realistic. If 30 days seems too long, then make it 15 or even a week, but start somewhere. By giving yourself an end date, you’ll go into the change confidently, which will affect your commitment to the program. I encourage you to get out there this spring and take on a small challenge for yourself and your health.