The 40 Day Experiment
Last week saw the conclusion of the 40 day challenge and with it, the end of my time in my thirties. So what was it all about and what did I learn or how did I benefit from it….
The challenge was to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible for 40 days, for me this meant the following stipulations:
No sweets, chocolate or crisps
I had to do a minimum of 40 mins exercise each day
I had to do 40 mins of yoga each day
I had to hike 40km over the duration of the challenge
I was only allowed 1 cup of coffee each day for the duration
I had to start each day with a cayenne pepper drink
I had to eat a banana each day
I had to drink at least 2ltrs of water every day
It sounded like a lot, and to be honest at the start when I drew up a 40 day tracker and I saw just exactly how long 40 days was, I did wonder what I had got myself into, but it was my idea, others were joining in too, and that gave me the extra bit of motivation I needed to keep going.
And keep going I did, I managed to complete the 40 days and keep to my self imposed rules! Though I feel it would be amiss to not note at this point that on 2 days I did not do 40mins of yoga but I did make this time up on other days. Also I didn’t do 40mins of exercise everyday, as some days I did well over that and so as time went on I listened to my body and had a rest day here and there, however my average exercise per day over the 40 days was 80mins per day!
So how did I find the 40 days?
What surprised me the most was how much I actually enjoyed the challenge, by having a clear set of objectives it helped build a daily routine and made it easy to abstain from things such as chocolate and alcohol. Yes to begin with I did miss the sugary things, and I would often be joking with others on the challenge how when it was over I’d be having ice cream for breakfast. But I found that as time went on, I began to miss these things less and less until it wasn’t even an issue for me.
The hardest thing for me was the one cup of coffee a day, right up to the end I missed my coffee, but that’s just because I really like it, it wasn’t because I needed it. When it comes to alcohol I’m not really a big drinker, but I do enjoy having a wee hot whiskey in front of the fire at the end of the day, this was something I did miss but I was fine doing without.
I thought the daily yoga would have been a bit of a chore as I have never really practiced at home, any yoga I had previously done was always in a class. I soon learnt a nice series of ashtanga yoga and this became my main daily practice. I liked to do it in the evening and it was a nice way for me to finish my day. Up until the covid-19 restrictions came into effect I was really enjoying training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, twice a day if I could and this as well as hiking made up the majority of my exercising with just a bit of exercising done in the house.
How did I feel during the 40 days?
I was interested in what changes this 40 day challenge would have on me physiologically and psychologically and for that reason I started keeping a journal.
For the most part physically I felt pretty good, I was worried about getting caffeine withdrawal headaches at the beginning as this had happened to me before when I reduced my coffee intake, but thankfully I didn’t have any. I did have the odd headache during the 40 days however these normally dissipated shortly, especially after some exercise and water. I have quite a few existing aches and pains from a lifetime of martial arts, especially in my elbows at the moment, and although yoga definitely helped improve my flexibility these aches remained, though getting up in the morning wasn’t as painful!
I had hoped that I would feel happier and more relaxed during the challenge and although I was definitely calmer I didn’t achieve a state of euphoric zen like happiness, I still found myself being occasionally irritable with typical parental frustrations. The one difference was that I could see this in myself and I was able to talk to my kids and my wife about how I was feeling and that I was struggling a bit at that moment to stay calm. So I definitely became more self aware during the course of the challenge.
Overall my energy levels were good throughout the 40 days, and this was due to the biggest change that I saw, which was my sleep. As the 40 days progressed, I found I was having a more restful and unbroken sleep. The major contributing factor to this would have been the reduced caffeine intake, I was always having my coffee before lunch and that meant the caffeine was well out of my system by the evening. That combined with yoga before bed, increased physical exercise plus the fact that my 4 year old conveniently decided to start sleeping the whole night through definitely all helped.
The one thing that I didn’t notice providing any benefit yet was the cayenne pepper shot in the morning. I had hoped that this would help improve my circulation as I suffer from Raynaud’s Phenomenon, but it didn’t improve over the 40 days and even at the end I was still having onsets of Raynaud’s. Perhaps I need to continue with the cayenne for a longer period of time to gain some benefit?
Another observation was that my body felt less sluggish, by that I mean my stomach wasn’t feeling bloated and my digestive system felt healthy. I wasn’t doing this to lose weight, but it was inevitably going to be a natural outcome from eating healthier and exercising more. I did lose a little bit of weight and I definitely felt a lot stronger and healthier over the 40 days.
What did I learn during the 40 days?
The main thing that I learnt over the 40 days was how my perception of food was wrong. When you think about it, pretty much from birth, sugar is presented to you as a treat, a reward or something to be desired. This mindset generally remains with you throughout your life and then you pass it on to the next generation and so on and so forth. I never really thought too much about the effects sugar was having on me, yes I knew it wasn’t good for me, but I’m more talking about the addictive nature of it. In my head I couldn’t do without my chocolate fix, it was something that I wanted and needed. But the longer I went without, the more I started to wonder if I actually did need it that much after all?
Indeed like I mentioned I’d been joking with others on the challenge that I’d be having ice cream for my breakfast the day the challenge was finished, and to be honest I went shopping with the intent to buy ice cream, I even had it in my hand, but then I stopped and thought to myself, do I actually really want this? The answer was surprisingly no! I seemed to have managed to break the hold that sugar had over me for so long and so the ice cream went back!
But that wasn’t the end of my education. Obviously I was celebrating my birthday and over the course of the weekend I enjoyed a few drinks and also a ridiculously indulgent homemade cheesecake. I’m talking about the ultimate cheesecake, the kind of dark chocolate, salted caramel, chocolate biscuit tiffin topped type of cheesecake! I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t good. But come Monday morning I felt absolutely awful waking up, my digestive system felt all sluggish again, my aches were way worse and I just generally felt terrible, all in just 3 days after finishing the challenge! It just proved to me how toxic these substances are to your body and the negative side effects they cause. The only problem is when you’ve lived your whole life eating and drinking these things, feeling awful becomes the norm, so much so that you no longer even realise how bad you are feeling!
It took me 40 days to break the hold that sugar had over me, I’m not saying that I will abstain from it all the time, but I will definitely be more mindful and aware of what I’m eating so as not to fall under the spell of sugar again!
I am very glad I did this little experiment and I’m so grateful to everyone who joined me on it and who helped support me during it! Although I’m not doing the challenge anymore, hopefully I will be able to integrate most of it into my normal daily life. If you have never done something like this before, I would definitely recommend trying it out. My one piece of advice is to not do it alone, try to get a group of friends involved and that way you can all support each other and help keep each other going, plus it’s just more fun!