Have you ever done an X-day challenge (Whole30, Lent, etc.)?

photo-205I’ve been watching the launch of the 100 Days of Real Food book with interest. There are also 100 days left in the year, and some resolutions associated with that. Taking on an “X-day” challenge for a short period of time is a popular concept. I know many people who’ve tried “Whole30” (basically, eating Paleo for 30 days). Gretchen Rubin’s 21-day projects (to stop yelling at your kids, to declutter your life) have done well. People write books about a year spent doing something (e.g. not spending money). If you think about it, the idea of giving something up for Lent taps into a similar vein. You challenge yourself to do something with strict rules for 40 days.

I’m working on a story on why such challenges are appealing. Change is hard, to be sure. Change for short periods of time sounds doable. Of course, then there’s the question of what happens on Day 31, or 22, or 41, or 101. Do you go back to eating junk? Or drinking? Or letting the mail pile up, or whatever it is you’d worked to change? Does adopting a habit for a short bit of time help you build that habit long term — or is that not always the point?

I’m really curious what people’s experiences with this have been. Have you done a challenge for a certain number of days? Why? Did you stick with it, and then how did it affect your life after?

As a side note, I think I’m more of a “moderator” than an “abstainer,” which may be why strict challenges don’t appeal to me as much as they do to some. I have done stunts to write about them, like a week of waking up early, or a week of checking email twice a day, but If I want to adopt a habit, I’ll try to find small ways to incorporate it into my life for the long haul, but without strict rules about it. I aim to run most days, and I do, but I don’t have a rule to do at least 5 days a week, and at least 3 miles per day (even though I almost always achieve that). I have been trying to eat healthier and so I over-buy fruits and veggies as a way to have them around and handy, but I’ve not tried to cut out processed food from my life. What’s your approach?

Photo: Seriously, are there 100 days left in 2014? Almost time to order a new planner…

20 thoughts on “Have you ever done an X-day challenge (Whole30, Lent, etc.)?

  1. I’m starting a 100 day anti procrastination challenge tomorrow. I’ve specifically picked 100 days as I feel that it’s long enough to develop new habits – I’m hoping there won’t be any falling off the wagon in January. Your book amongst others has helped me shape my plan, I’ll be blogging about it as part of my commitment too.

    1. I couldn’t help but laugh at starting anti-procrastination…tomorrow:) Can’t wait to read about that.

      My husband and I did Whole30 in January. Actually, I started my blog to chroncile doing one thing a month. I like the short-term aspect of it, and I really like learning new things about myself in the process. Whole30 for a month was a great way to learn more about my relationship with food, even though we don’t eat Paleo or anything like it anymore. One month I got rid of 5 things a day- I loved that month! It motivated me to attack areas that were too easy to put off, otherwise. Another month I went to bed and woke up at the same time. That was “eye-opening” (sorry about that) in terms of how my body responds to actually getting a good amount of sleep every night.

      I guess this sort of thing is right up my alley… And then I tend back toward moderation after that, just applying more of what I learned from the extreme month of whatever.

  2. I find that I can do an x-day challenge easier when it’s doing a positive behavior as opposed to resisting a negative one. That being said, I generally find choosing a perceived positive behavior more appealing than punishing a perceived negative, so perhaps I am biased.

  3. Hi Laura,

    When I gave up junk food five years ago — it was only going to be for a year, at first — I can’t tell you how many people told me that was crazy.

    I don’t know if you’ve seen references to research showing sugar as addictive as cocaine, but I think that’s part of the reason the reaction to my diet now is usually some variation of, “She might be on to something!”

    Here’s a summary of how it unfolded…



  4. I like those types of challenges because I know from experience that I can do ANYTHING for x amount of time. The thought of never doing something EVER scares me, and while adopting small changes is obviously the way to go, its helpful to jump start minor changes by committing fully for a while so you realize you can do it. For me it also helps me learn about myself, and make clearer decisions on what changes I do or don’t want to incorporate into my life longterm.

    1. yes, this exactly. I’ve done 2 Whole30s and have made lasting changes after each (though not completely Paleo). After the first one, we make sure every meal has a main protein component and I don’t do any dairy anymore except a bit of cheese here and there when eating out.

      After the second one, I have given up diet Coke and artificial sweeteners completely, which is kind of amazing. I still crave it, but that craving is finally getting weaker after 4 months…

      I’m definitely a person who needs strict rules – it’s WAY easier for me that way.

      I think 30 days is just about the perfect length of time to prove to myself that I can do “hard” things and it’s usually a catalyst to keep at least some of it going 😀 I should find one for exercise…

      1. I bet if you tried Diet Coke now, after 4 months without, you would think it was nasty and not actually be tempted to take up the habit again. I used to be a huge Diet Coke addict but quit drinking it when I developed an aversion during my 1st pregnancy (there’s no way I could have quit of my own willpower – that stuff is really addictive). Anyway, I had a craving once so I bought one and, I could not believe how disgusting something I’d enjoyed so much before was! That was all it too to not have another craving. It was like being an ex-smoker and smelling how gross cigarette smoking is to a non-smoker for the first time.

  5. I’ve read the abstainer/moderator descriptions many times and still can’t decide which one I am.

    When it comes to some things (such as exercise, practicing French, reading my Bible), I do far better if I do it daily.

    But other things, like food, I’m ok with moderation. I don’t binge eat on carbs or sugar or anything else. I never overdrink. I am happy to drink a Coke a few times a year.

    Perhaps I’m the minority in that.

    1. @Carrie – for the most part, I think I’m a food moderator too. The idea of “never” eating something is not appealing, given that I’m able to eat a reasonable diet and stay at a healthy weight. We have some soda in the house but I don’t drink it.

    2. I’m a moderator ALL the way. If you tell me I can never have a teeny bit of sugar, I will want it something fierce.

      But if I just tell myself that I’m going to moderate my sugar intake, then I will be quite content eating a small bit of 86% dark chocolate after a meal.

  6. I fasted from sugar a few Lents ago. All candy/dessert/etc and added sugar. That was a whole lot of label reading. The Easter morning candy was a let down. I also found I didn’t really miss it too much. I also didn’t celebrate the mini-Easters that are allowed for every Sunday during Lent: meaning I fasted all the way through. It was easier to keep up the fast than break t every Sunday.

    1. @Anne – that would be a give-away sign of an abstainer: it is easier to keep up the fast than break it every Sunday. Some people find diets much more doable if there is a cheat day, others find that impossible.

  7. Challenges hold no appeal for me, but it took me a while to realize that. Many of the blogs I used to follow, and some of those I still follow, experiment with various challenges–usually finance, food, or exercise-related. Reading about them can be entertaining, but I never find myself inspired to do a challenge.

  8. I’m a moderator, too, and I have never had much success doing anything for X amount of days. (I’ve been trying to get a “30 days of creativity” off the ground for years!) I think I’d do better with a positive spin, rather than a negative one, but I’ve just never had the self-discipline to do something every day. However, I do work out most days of the week, and have a pretty regular schedule that I follow as far as housecleaning, errands, etc., go. I’m not sure what’s holding me back. Perhaps a bit of the Rebel (also from Gretchen Rubin) in my Obliger makeup?

    1. @Kathy- I’m not sure if it’s about self-discipline or not. I don’t think about something like running in terms of willpower because I *want* to do it. Meeting my deadlines may be somewhat about willpower, but in general I don’t take on much work that I truly don’t want to do, so it’s not about conquering myself.

  9. I’ve never felt particularly successful with X-day challenges. The times when I feel like I was most successful at changing a habit, I was making little changes and being flexible with the timeline.

  10. The traditional Orthodox (Greek, Russian, etc) fast calls for abstention from all meat and dairy products as well as from wine and oil. There are two major fasts each year (Lent = 40 days before Easter, Nativity = 40 days before Christmas) plus a couple of week-long fasts, plus every Wednesday and Friday. So pretty much half the year.

    The basically vegan diet isn’t followed by everyone obviously, but variations like our family’s (vegetarian with meat and dairy for kids) are pretty common. The idea is to cycle between feasting (just visit a Greek Easter party!) and fasting in order to make celebrations more meaningful.

    I’m not the sort of person who has ever been able to do a X-day challenge, but the cyclical nature of the Church calendar influencing our home has worked quite well for us. We all end up missing meat sometimes, but my husband has become quite the BBQ expert so that when we do eat it, it’s fantastic.

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