Challenges
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Post-Holiday Health Month

Ahhh, January. The month that most of us vow to get our health back on track after slightly derailing during the holiday season. A former coworker of mine would come in to the office on January 2 following his rules for the month: no sweets, no alcohol, and no caffeine. He would also commute on his bicycle.

I’m stealing his idea, and implementing it into a challenge to you all to get back on track. So here are the rules for the month (starting Jan. 2):

1) No sweets (cake, pie, pop-rocks, etc).
Sugar increases fat storage, disrupts normal brain function, and decreases overall health. You’ve probably had a lot of sugar in the last month. Let’s not do that this month.

Substitutes:

  • Fruit – In North America, our desserts tend to be sugar, grain, and dairy focused. However, much of the rest of the world view fruit as a treat. For an after dinner treat, try fruit salad, peaches, or sliced pears. Ripe bananas, applesauce, pineapple, fruit puree, dates, raisins, or figs are good substitutes for sweetness while cooking or baking. Raw honey is also full of enzymes and nutrients.
  • Stevia* – This South American herb is very sweet, but does not include any calories or sugar-like effects on the body. It does have a somewhat bitter aftertaste, depending on the type you use. Unrefined foods are always best, and you can buy Stevia as a simple dried powder.

*Extensive Japanese research has found stevia to be extremely safe. However, there have not been enough US studies for the FDA to approve stevia as a sugar substitute. Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been conclusively established. For more information, click here.

Tips:

  • Brush your teeth after dinner so you are less likely to snack.
  • For potlucks, offer to bring something besides sweets, such as a vegetable or fruit tray. Also, fill up on wholesome foods prior to leaving the house.
  • If it is appropriate, mention to yours hosts beforehand that they don’t need to prepare a dessert, as you are trying to stay away from them.

2) No alcoholic beverages (wine, beer, High Gravity, you get the picture).
Alcohol causes dehydration, reduced quality of sleep, and can cause chronic disease like liver disease, pancreatitis, heart disease, and cancer.

Substitutes:

  • Water – Water is the healthiest beverage substitute possible. How much does a average, healthy adult living in a temperate climate need? The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly about 13 cups (3 liters) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is about 9 cups (2.2 liters) of total beverages a day. If you exercise or engage in any activity that makes you sweat, you need to drink extra water to compensate for the fluid loss. An extra 1.5 to 2.5 cups (400 to 600 milliliters) of water should suffice for short bouts of exercise.
  • Juice – There are many health benefits of drinking freshly juiced fruits and vegetables, and it’s a great way to add nutrients from the fruits or vegetables that you normally wouldn’t eat. Fruit and vegetable juices retain most of of the vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals (phytonutrients) that would be found in the whole versions of those foods. However, whole fruits and vegetables also have healthy fiber, which is lost during most juicing. If you buy commercially produced fresh juice from a juicing stand or store, select a pasteurized product. Check the packaging of fruit beverages to find out whether it contains 100% fruit juice, or whether the beverage is a mixture of fruit juice and high fructose corn syrup. Check to see if there is any additional sugar added.

Tips:

  • In social situations, choose to drink something else like water or juice. If you keep a non-alcoholic drink in your hand, you are less likely to be pressured into an alcoholic drink.
  • If you are going to a celebration and you are unsure if there will only be alcohol served, perhaps bring an alternative that you can enjoy such as sparkling cider.

3) No caffeinated beverages (soda, energy drinks, and yes… coffee).
Caffeinated beverages can cause mild dehydration, symptoms of which include tiredness, dry mouth, dry skin, headaches, constipation and possible dizziness. It can also prevent restful, deep sleep, cause indigestion, could raise blood pressure and increase anxiety.

Substitutes:

  • Non-Caffeinated Teas/Coffees – The possibilities are endless when it comes to herbal teas or tisanes. There is also always decaf coffee.
  • Bananas – Add bananas to a smoothie for a natural and instant energy boost.  Bananas are very high in potassium and also the B complex vitamins that are perfect for restoring depleted energy and increasing energy when you need it. Plus you will get your fiber!
  • Coconut Water – Organic coconut water is one of the best natural electrolyte replacements because it contains a very high potassium content, far more than Gatorade and other sports drinks.

Tips:

  • Drink hydrating fluids instead to help increase your energy and decrease physical symptoms of dehydration.
  • Try chewing sugar-free, mint gum. In a 2012 study from the UK, people who chewed gum for 15 minutes felt more alert than those who didn’t pop a piece. “Chewing gum increases heart rate, which increases blood flow to the brain,” says study author Andy Smith, Ph.D. “It also stimulates the autonomic nervous system, which can increase alertness. Mint stimulates your nerve fibers — it’s kind of like splashing cold water on your face.”

4) Sticking with your New Year’s Health Resolutions you set for yourself here.

5) Post about how you are feeling throughout the month in the comment box below.

I’m a little more lenient than my coworker, so I will provide a couple of exceptions of when you may break the rules above.

  • It’s Your Birthday – I strongly believe that you should be able to fully enjoy and celebrate your day of birth. If you were born in this month and choose to accept this challenge, give yourself a day (or two, MAX) to get it all out of your system. Then, add an additional healthy day at the end of the month.
  • You are a Guest – So, you were invited to someone’s house and they aren’t close enough friends to tell them you aren’t going to have a drink or a piece of their home-made strudel. Be gracious—just accept it.
  • You are Going Through Withdrawals – Alcohol withdrawal is a serious condition that may rapidly become life threatening. If you suspect you may be an alcoholic, contact your health care provider for assistance in quitting. Dependence on sugar and caffeine is also very real, according to research by Princeton University and John Hopkins University. Like a dependence on a drug, cutting sugar and caffeine from your diet can cause withdrawal symptoms.
    • Caffeine withdrawels include headaches, irritability, lack of energy and alertness, sleepiness, and possibly mild depression. Symptoms usually begin within 12 to 24 hours after the last dose of caffeine and peak at between 20 and 51 hours. Withdrawal symptoms last from two to nine days, depending on the amount you were consuming daily. If you cut out caffeine and realize you are experiencing these symptoms, try cutting down on the amount of caffeine you are consuming per day instead of quitting cold turkey, perhaps consuming one less cup from the day before.
    • In addition to the possibilities listed for caffeine, sugar withdrawals can also cause anxiety, changes in appetite and cravings, fatigue, and shakes.  Sugar withdrawal duration varies. Some feel considerably better and are virtually withdrawal-symptom free within a few days, while it takes others up to a full month to feel completely natural and detoxified from sugar. If you realize you are experiencing these symptoms, try cutting down on the amount of sugar you are consuming per day instead of quitting cold turkey, starting with sugar you may add to beverages.
    • In addition to the possibilities listed for caffeine and sugar, alcohol withdrawals can also cause clammy skin, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, rapid heart rate, sweating, and tremors. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually occur within 8 hours after the last drink, but can occur days later. Symptoms usually peak by 24 – 72 hours, but may persist for weeks. Call your health care provider or go the emergency room if you think you might be in alcohol withdrawal.

So there you go. A challenge to get you back on track this year. I’m going to go drink a venti latte and eat a cake pop before this gets real.

References:

O’Donnell, Mike. “Beat the Sugar Habit: 3 Steps to Cut Sweets (Mostly) Out of Your Life.” (Oct. 13, 2008.) Zen Habits (guest article). Retrieved Dec. 21, 2014 from http://zenhabits.net/beat-the-sugar-habit-3-steps-to-cut-sweets-mostly-out-of-your-life/.

Langford, Stephanie. “Cutting Down on Sugar: 21 Ways to Eat Less Sugar.” (2010.) Keeper of the Home. Retrieved Dec. 28, 2014 from http://www.keeperofthehome.org/2010/09/cutting-down-on-sugar-21-ways-to-eat-less-sugar.html.

“Stevia.” NYU Langone Medical Center. (2014.) Retrieved Dec. 28, 2014 from http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=21876.

Cherney, Kirsteen. “The Benefits of No Alcohol.” (Oct. 21, 2013.) Livestrong. Retrieved Dec. 21, 2014 from http://www.livestrong.com/article/236877-the-benefits-of-no-alcohol/.

“Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?” (Sept. 5, 2014.) Mayo Clinic. Retrieved Dec. 28, 2014 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256?pg=1.

Nelson, Jennifer K. “Juicing: What Are the Health Benefits?” (Jan. 30, 2014.) Mayo Clinic. Retrieved Dec. 28, 2014 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/juicing/faq-20058020.

Alexander, Rose. “Tips for Buying Healthy Fruit Juice Products.” (Oct. 15, 2007.) Lifescript. Retrieved Dec. 28, 2014 from http://www.lifescript.com/food/articles/t/tips_for_buying_healthy_fruit_juice_products.aspx.

Topness, Ellen Swanson. “The Advantages of Not Drinking Caffeine.” SFGate. Retrieved Dec. 28, 2014 from http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/advantages-not-drinking-caffeine-3360.html.

Tedesco, Laura. “7 Caffeine-free Ways to Boost Your Energy.” (Nov. 18, 2013.) Huffington Post. Retrieved Dec. 28, 2014 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/18/boost-energy-without-caffeine_n_4267059.html.

Dugdale, David C. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” (Dec. 3, 2014.) Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved Dec. 28, 2014 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000764.htm.

5 Comments

  1. Roni Jo Mielke says

    K Hawk! David and I will take your challenge! He wanted to do the Jan Plan (no alcohol for all of January) and I will suggest we bump it up to sweets and caffeine as well! Looking forward to reading this new blog! 🙂

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  2. After week 1, I’m actually feeling more awake after cutting out caffeine. I cheated once to get a Lemon Drop with my future mother-in-law for her birthday, but other than that, no alcohol! I’m still craving sweets a bit, but hope after another week the cravings will stop. How is going for you guys?

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  3. After week 2, I’m feeling less tempted to eat sweets (but it still creeps in every once in awhile!). In the past I’ve experienced that after two weeks, the cravings stop. That theory will be tested next week!

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  4. Just wanted to follow up on how January went for me. It was tough! I expected to crave sweets until the two week mark, which was the case. But I didn’t realize that alcohol would be as challenging as it was for me. I don’t drink regularly, but found myself really wanted a glass of wine on girls nights, and during weekend getaways! It was much more of a social thing–I can see why it would be so hard for alcoholics to have a social life if that is what their friends are doing. Regarding caffeine, I had a cup of coffee after having decaf for the month, and OH MAN. I don’t think I’ve ever felt caffeine so strongly! I think I will drink decaf regularly from now on, and only drink caffeine if I feel I need a boost.

    Overall, I lost 5 pounds while exercising 2-3 days per week, and feel much better now that I’m not craving sweets all the time. I feel motivated to keep up eating healthy and the extra pounds off!

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