My April Experiment - The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
From start to finish and everything in between, read on for the good, the bad and the ugly of my April experiment.
(If you missed what the experiment was about and the how the first 2 weeks went down, you can read about it here...
Weeks Three and Four
The final two weeks of my experiment blend together and feel like a downward spiral of moods and emotions as well as healthy habits morphing into unhealthy ones. The overwhelming trend of feeling tired and grumpy leads me to rely on coffee to get me through. What was a habit of a mid morning coffee (completely acceptable in my book) now occurs earlier and earlier in the day until I am having my coffee with breakfast, sometimes while I am making breakfast. (Gasp! I hear you say... what is wrong with that?) Well, as someone who is caffeine / stimulant sensitive, having it on an empty stomach tends to initiate a rather strong stress response, great when you want get to get up and going, no so great when you come crashing down a few hours later and need another coffee, which by week four, I was having.
Another trend that was apparent in the final two weeks was that I was not eating enough, mainly due to skipped lunches. What started as an occasional skip lead to me accidentally missing lunch for an entire week, without even realizing it. If I hadn't been keeping a tally of everything I had done, it would have gone unnoticed and I probably would have argued with you that I had eaten lunch at some point, I must have. So you don't think skipping lunch is a big deal? Well it probably played a part in me feeling so tired all the time and it definitely contributed to eating more packaged snacks in the afternoon because I was too hungry and tired to fix anything else.
A point of difference between the first two weeks and the final two would have to be the consumption of chocolate (we can thank Easter for this). Instead of off loading the chocolate elsewhere after the long weekend I diligently and dutifully made sure I had a piece or two every day for the rest of the month. Coincidentally, I finished the chocolate stash on the last day of the experiment, (in the name of science, of course.) Now I don't really have an opinion on this habit other than I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I know it is going to be a complete and total bitch to wean myself off the chocolate when the time comes (and it is coming).
I never over did it or took my eating habits to the extremes in this experiment, even over Easter. I enjoyed myself but not to the point of feeling sick or turning myself off of certain foods and I made sure not to intentionally force myself to eat because of the experiment. I did however, go into autopilot where I wouldn't think ahead of time or plan and this saw me slipping back into old bad habits, skipping lunch and eating packaged snacks. Autopilot also means ignoring the signs my body is screaming at me and going ahead with a not so good choice because I was too pre-occupied to notice (or choosing to ignore it altogether and having a coffee in the afternoon when really i know better).
I kept up with the exercise although it really did feel like a chore in the end and i didn't enjoy it much. Interestingly, I was sweating more but exerting myself less. I am not a sweater, and I usually have to push myself pretty hard to break a sweat but in those final two weeks of the experiment it didn't take much at all.
The Habits in the nitty gritty (if you are into that stuff, or you can skip right ahead)
I just want to be clear on which habits I remained consistent with, which ones went beyond their intention and which ones fell by the wayside as the weeks went by.
2 standard drinks of alcohol a night - whilst i had every intention of this being a glass of red with dinner it was replaced with 2 scotch and cokes, made with one can of stevia coke (lower sugar option) which still fit in to my alcohol and low sugar cool drink guidelines. 15 cans in total over 30 days plus 11 wines. There were a couple of occasions (over the Easter weekend and dinners out) when there was more than 2 drinks consumed in the one day. It really didn't feel like that much, couple of drinks here and there, but then when you add it up you realise exactly how much you have had!
Chocolate fix - there were only 5 days in the month where I did not have my chocolate fix which is probably more chocolate than I intended but, it was Easter, April is no normal month.
There was only one day in the month where I didn't have a coffee and I will be honest, it was because we ran out of beans. There were 6 days where I needed 2 coffees.
Fruit and fruit juice - was not incredibly successful at that one. I only managed 4 fruit juices for the entire month and 28 serves of fruit - not even one a day. I did manage to eat at least 37 serves of vegetables. I messed up the data collection on that one, in the first 2 weeks i only recorded the meals i ate vegetables, not the serves. I ate healthy in my main meals but obviously not nearly enough when you consider the recommended intake is 5 serves of vegetables a day.
Water was another one of those interesting habits that started out strong drinking one litre a day but then as the weeks went on it would slip down to 750ml then 500ml and I had to be conscious and mindful to bring it back up to 1 litre a day. I guess the moral of that habit is if you aim low you are not going to reach high.
I was healthy with the meals we ate at home, I stuck to my usual options for breakfast and dinner and remained consistent across the month. I managed to skip 12 lunches over the duration of the month, which would have been a big contributor to not eating enough and missing out vegetable serves.
Healthy takeaway and dinners out - we went out to eat more than usual in this month due to Easter and birthday celebrations and probably because of this experiment. Usually when dinner out is suggested for no good reason I protest due to wanting to eat healthier but for this experiment I obliged (for science!) We ate out 12 times over the month. I've already noticed a trend of the family suggesting dinner out or takeaway more often (give them an inch and they will take a mile) and I can tell it is going to be a struggle to break this habit with them.
There were 14 occasions where I used a sauce or added a condiment to a meal, something I don't normally do (I stuck to serving sizes for these).
I consumed packaged snacks regularly, with only 5 days being recorded in the month where I didn't eat something at some point in the day that was ready to eat.
There were only 9 occasions in the month where I was in bed before 10pm. I have no doubt that this habit contributed to the crap feelings on a regular basis.
Workouts and active minutes - thank goodness for the fitbit keeping track of these stats for me! There were only 4 days in the entire month where I did not complete a workout, do some sort of cardio or record active minutes on the fitbit, otherwise there was physical activity in some form completed which I think it is really important to highlight because it would be easy to blame these results on being inactive.
Habits I had thought of doing but didn't really come to fruition - eating low fat / no fat products, label reading, no portion control and using the health star rating system.
And now for the good, the bad and the ugly.
Boobs! Seriously they have stayed big and full the entire month and it has been quite nice being able to fill my bras out again.
The chocolate - i have enjoyed every single bite. No regrets!
The first week when my husband exclaimed that he was happy to have his fun wife back again. (Spoiler alert: Fun wife didn't last).
Skin breakouts - pimples, eczema and that little patch of psoriasis on my scalp that likes to flare up on occasion, usually due to stress (newsflash: food is a major stressor!)
Liver / non existent gall bladder flare ups - low grade pain in my abdomen and digestion issues.
Period like pain when exercising - but no period, I am pretty sure this is linked to sugar consumption but I would like to do more research first. My cycle this month has also been longer than normal and the period pain has been worse.
Mild headaches - presumably from not enough water.
Mood swings. Holy shit did someone say mood swings? Here are a few quotes from those closest to me: "Angry mum" "Holy crap how are your mood swings!" "They should invent a switch so that you can't drive your car angry" Seriously there were some crazy mood swings throughout this month and with little to set me off. It kind of reminded me of being pregnant, wild shifts in disposition for no apparent reason other than feeling a rage within. I often felt anxious, glum, down, irritable, deflated, defeated, lethargic and I most definitely saw signs of depression in the last few days, the feeling of being incredibly sad with no good reason to be incredibly sad, the pit in your chest that holds you down and stops you from being able to pull yourself out. Thankfully, now the experiment is over I feel I am over that too, that very real feeling of being lost.
Weight gain + 1.4 kg
Waist measurement + 2 cm
Hip Measurement - no change
Bum measurement + 1 cm
Bust measurement + 4 cm
Thigh measurement + 1 cm each leg
Arm measurement- - no change
I was surprised with the lack of weight gain over the month. I honestly believed there would have been at least a two kilo gain but maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. We often say that our journey to a healthy lifestyle is not about the weight loss so I guess it is not surprising that this story has not centered around weight gain. It has reinforced the attitude that weight is not everything because at the end of the day, I have been more concerned with the skin conditions, digestive problems, mood swings and eventual feelings of depression that were a result of this experiment. It wasn't about the weight and it wasn't about how I looked, my main thoughts were consumed with how I felt.
The Take Home Message
There were a few points that would keep recurring throughout the month that I wanted to make about this experiment and living a healthy life in general that I hope you can make use of, or at lest, think about how they may apply to you.
Know how much you are consuming. Keep a tally / food diary if you need to. It will surprise you how much it all adds up.
The consequences of skipping meals - think of your metabolism as a wheel of momentum. Every time you skip a meal you are putting the brakes on, disrupting the cycle you worked hard to get going. You have to keep fueling the momentum with regular meals to keep it working and the longer you can keep the cycle going the easier it gets but if you have to push start that momentum every few hours you end up using extra energy and effort that you probably can't afford to expend, because you skipped a meal. It's a vicious cycle that can be avoided with a bit of planning ahead.
BEWARE OF THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL, it is real. I am always talking about how small changes over a long period of time will have the greatest impact on your health. Unfortunately the same can be said for small changes in the opposite direction. A drink here, a chocolate there, eating out once a week, it all adds up and what I once would have considered a definite no go at the beginning of the month became an acceptable occasional choice by the end. (I ate one KFC burger ok?) I am not proud of this, but it happened and I still can't believe in my mind that I thought it was an ok occasional choice. Hell, i justified it by saying I'd only eat a burger and no chips or drink. When the bar is low we tend to go lower than the standard we set for ourselves but if you aim the bar just that little bit higher you have a better chance of upholding your values. Set yourself boundaries of what healthy habits look like to you.
It can be harder to enjoy things in moderation than it is to just go without in the first place. Saying no once can be easier than having to say no again and again and again. If you can't handle having just a small amount of something, consider not having it at all.
The 80 / 20 rule. Live well 80% of the time and your body can handle the 20% you throw at it and still remain at optimum health, but what happens if you are not at optimum health and live by the 80/20 rule? Do you maintain or go backwards? What if you are trying to make improvements to your health? Is 80/20 enough or does it need to be more like 90/10 in order to see improvement? I don't have the answer to this one, but I think it deserves to be considered, especially if you want to change but you are not changing.
Food is a huge stressor on the body. I have been surprised at the amount of stress I have felt over this past month. It would be easy to blame it on other areas of my life but when you look at the list of compelling evidence of what I have experienced in this past month it is hard to ignore it's relation to my food intake. And we DO ignore these signs! "Bad skin, bigger boobs, you must be pregnant, those spots worrying you? here, I have a great cream that will fix it!" "My hair looks terrible, quick put some oil on it!" We are wired to look for a cause of a problem outside of ourselves and we look for the solution in a form of a product rather than challenging and changing our habits. I kept on eating the bad food while I continued to ply on more moisturizer of an evening. Guilty. There was mounting evidence of all the indicators of food stress I experienced during this month... Hormonal imbalance – increased cycle length, moods and emotional instability. Thermo-regulation – sweat quicker and with less exertion during workout. Immunity – increase in sinus / nasal issues. Skin quality – breakouts, large pimples, redness, eczema, psoriasis. Nail and hair quality – I have not been happy with my hair at all this month, it has really lost it's shine and won't curl as easy, I was putting it down to changing shampoo and conditioner (twice!) but I have returned to the old brand and there is no improvement. Digestion – bloating and gas, irregular bowel movements, liver/ gallbladder pain. Stress - Tension and jaw clenching are worse, I even chipped my tooth. Mental clarity - I have honestly struggled to write this blog, 5 days and counting trying to pull it together and it is still a disjointed jumble of unclear thoughts and not as succinct as the first and I blame my foggy head.
There were many more themes and ideas that grew from this tangled web of an experiment, many here probably could have done with a blog of their own but I wanted to bring you as much of a complete picture as I could, hoping that each story would somehow connect and relate to you on some level with your own.
So getting back to what this experiment was about
"Health and Wellness is a continuum. It is not always black and white, what is healthy and what is not. What one person considers to be a healthy way of living may be viewed as unhealthy to the next. Healthy is subjective to a certain extent."
For me, it has been a great reminder that health is about balance but more importantly where your balance needs to sit for you to be healthy and happy. It helps to remember what it is you are trying to achieve and to judge whether your choices will get you closer to or put you further away. Do your choices support the goals that you have, regardless of whether they are considered healthy or acceptable by today's standards? For me, they did not and relaxing my my normal rules and guidelines to incorporate the experiment lead to loosening the belt even more.
I guess you could say my healthy balance needs to be a lot tighter in order to protect myself from undoing the belt altogether. I can't do 'enjoy everything in moderation' healthy because I tend to take it too far. Saying no altogether keeps me saner than trying to decide what is an acceptable amount of indulgence on a regular basis.
Now it is time to get back to healthier habits and to start cleaning up this mess I have made for myself beginning with some small changes. It has been an interesting experiment, which probably went further than I anticipated. (Who knew you could fall backwards so quick whilst still trying to remain moderately healthy?) But on a positive note it has been a great reminder of just how good healthy really does feel, physically, mentally and emotionally and I'm going to do everything I can to get myself back there.