My Toughest 21 Day Challenge Ever

I’m walking through the aisle at Wal-Mart and I’m trying to figure out what I want for dinner. Actually it wasn’t that difficult of a choice. I was going to eat what I craved the most and would probably miss the most the next 21 days – pizza. I went to the frozen pizza aisle and got one with with sausage and pepperoni.

I felt like a death row inmate enjoying his last meal. I finished every bite even though I was beyond full. I couldn’t leave any leftovers.

Four days later

My wife and I are walking through the same aisles at Wal-Mart. This time I tried so hard to resist the pizza. It wasn’t only the pizza that was tempting me. It was the Oreos or the bag of Lay’s KC Masterpiece BBQ potato chips that I love. I was starving, but I needed to resist.

99% of my body wanted it, but I stuck to the 1% and walked out without a frozen pizza or any of the other junk foods that I love.

We dropped off some groceries at my mom’s house. While we were there, pizza was still on my mind. The past three years whenever I’ve had the tiniest bit of a craving, I’d satisfying it. I’ve always lost the battle. I tried to think of an excuse to have pizza.

It really felt like two voices were talking to me. One said, “Go ahead! What’s the big deal??” while the other one said “It’ll taste good, but you’ll regret it afterwards if you eat it.”

We went home and I immediately made a salad. The hunger went away and felt pleased that I resisted my temptations.

Why am I doing this?

The day after my final pizza I began a 21 day cleanse. The 21 day cleanse would have me eating a lot of fresh natural foods. No more dairy, carbs, processed foods, gluten, refined sugar. and meat. No pizza, fast food, and no ice cream. All the things that I absolutely love. I am addicted to food and although I don’t need to go to RTC in California I did need serious help.

Why did I want to do this? Because I’ve been feeling like 100% crap. Not just recently, but for the past three years. Ever since I ran my last half marathon in February 2011, I’ve slowly gone downhill.

When I finished my last half marathon, I was in amazing shape, but then I went to Taipei to visit Eleanor and slowly went back to my old ways. When I got back months later, I couldn’t run a mile without being out of breath.

I love to eat. When I eat, I don’t just eat a small portion. I eat until I can barely breath. If there’s opportunity for dessert, I always say yes. It’s a terrible cycle.

I’ve gone through phases since college when I’ve been in great physical shape. That’s how I’d love to be all the time. However it’s always been an up and down roller coaster.

But as I’ve gotten older, my body started to change. Not sure what factors but maybe metabolism slowing down, exercising less, and eating more junk. Probably all three.

Because of the way I was eating, it had side effects. I remember last year being on vacation and I’d get these really bad headaches after taking a nap. Felt like migraines. I’d want to take a nap often because I had a huge meal. I noticed that when I went to bed, my heart was still beating really fast. That wasn’t right. I should be relaxed and calm.

I didn’t like how I looked either. I had this beer gut without drinking any beer. I looked at pictures of me and couldn’t believe this chubby guy I was looking at. It was embarrassing.

Willpower alone did not work

It seemed like everyday I’d tell myself that I was going to change.

I’m a sugar addict. I feel that is my biggest problem. I’ve tried just using willpower to eat less sugar. I sounded like a broken record cause I would always say, “No more sugar for a week” or “I’m not eating this much anymore.”

Yet I’d be back the next day doing the same thing. How good I felt while I ate sugar overpowered any thoughts of long term consequences. I only looked at instant gratification and the more I did, the weaker my willpower got.

I truly believe that sugar is an addiction just like a drug. I always thought just using willpower I could cut back on sugar. It’s not that easy.

I’ve wanted to do a 3-day juice cleanse that has become so popular. Surely I could handle that. I tried once and I made it only one day.

I tried fasting 24 hours twice a week. I survived for a couple weeks, but the problem was after a fast I’d have a huge meal.

I kept looking for a quick fix where I could still eat the foods I loved and still lose weight and feel great.

I had to stop trying that.

21 Day Cleanse – The First Attempt

In October I saw on Facebook a friend’s wife going through the 21 day cleanse. She’d post daily photos of what she made and commented often how good it tasted. I read more about the program and seemed like something I needed.

The benefits of 21 days were:

  • reboot my body
  • clean out whatever toxins I had built up
  • feel great
  • lose weight
  • get rid of food cravings

That’s exactly what I wanted.

Buying the program was not going to guarantee success. Sure I was motivated, but I’ve been motivated before when starting.

But could I do it? Could I not eat meat for that long? What about rice or bread? Would I feel irritable cause I couldn’t have sugar?

For the 21 day cleanse, I liked that it gave me a lot of recipes with great photos. It had a day by day plan of what to eat each meal. I looked through the recipes and some looked good, while others I wasn’t sure about.

I would give it a chance.

I started in November. We went to the health foods store to buy all different kinds of nuts, seeds, and other foods I’ve never bought before. My wife wasn’t going to do it. She looked at the meals and knew she couldn’t survive. She did try some of the meals and snack and loved them.

The first three days I felt fine. I thought I can do this. I wasn’t having headaches or dizziness that some people reported because of withdrawals from caffeine.

The fourth day I hit my wall. Hard. I was so hungry. Anything I couldn’t have sounded so good.

My family wanted to eat Chinese buffet on the fourth day. I hadn’t told them I was trying to do a 21 day cleanse. We go occasionally and I always eat too much. I was torn. It sounded so good. I could have said no.

Then my instant gratification side starts coming up with excuses. My thinking was I’d get rid of my craving and pick back up the day after. I’d be like a cheat day once a week. I eat clean the next six days, but this cheat day would help the cravings.

That was not part of the 21 day plan. I was bending the rules.

I went and it tasted like a 5 star meal.

The day after I ate healthy, but the day after that I had a pizza. The craving came back and I made an excuse that it was okay to have it. So much for going six days of healthy eating. I don’t know what it’s like to be addicted to drugs, but I felt like I needed my pizza to calm down. After that, I never got back on track.

I went back to my old ways. Eat out a lot. Big meals at home. Eating ice cream, chocolate and cookies.

Then we went to London, Paris, and New York in February. It’s easier to eat a lot on vacation and that’s what I did. I had the headaches and just overall discomfort again.

While on the trip, I told my wife when I got back I was going to do the 21 days. She said okay sure, but I don’t know how much confidence she had in me that I’d stick with it. Since we’ve been married, she’s heard me complain about my weight.

I was serious this time. I had my breaking point. This madness had to stop.

I needed to. I hated how I always felt. I especially hated how I looked. I’ve been complaining about it for so long. I got tired of hearing myself complain.

Attempt #2

We got back on a Tuesday and went to Wal-Mart that night to buy groceries. My last cheat meal was the pizza. This time no bending the rules. No excuses this time.

Just like the first time I tried, the first three days I was fine.

I began running again. When I ran, it felt like I was running in super slow motion. I didn’t know if it was cause I was so out of shape or just cause of eating a lot less calories. Probably both.

Day four was a turning point again. My body was screaming “Where is the junk food?” This was a huge test. I craved a pizza again.

You know how bad my pizza habit was? The manager at the Pizza Hut knew me by name when I went to pick it up since it’s only 1 minute from my house.

If I had that pizza, I knew I’d love every single bite. I couldn’t do it though. I remembered back to last November and what happened when I decided it would be okay to cheat.

I didn’t order a pizza.

Day seven again I had huge cravings again for pizza. I don’t know what it was with pizza. I don’t know what it’s like for pregnant women to have cravings but all I craved the 21 days was pizza. My friend’s wife said she craved peanut butter.

I stuck to the plan and didn’t listen to my cravings.

After that day it was easier to resist pizza because I already had done it twice. My willpower went up. That’s why the last time when I ate Chinese food on day four, the day after that it was hard to say no to pizza. Each time I said yes my willpower went down.

Thankfully the foods I was eating was so good. I had no idea meals made with simple ingredients could taste so good. Even though I’m not a soup fan, I enjoyed the soups. I ate a lot of salads which I didn’t get tired of. Each week introduced new recipes. That helped. Once I found a meal I liked, I’d make it often. It was just easier to eat the same things over and over.

And the snacks were unbelievably good. I had to control myself or else I would have binged on the snacks. Kale chips are my new favorite snack.

I loved how I felt after a meal. I didn’t feel stuffed and heavy. I felt good and full of energy.

We bought a scale and the weight was melting off everyday.

I kept running a few times a week. By the third week I was running sprints. I pushed myself so at the end of each workout, I was exhausted. I loved that feeling.

Of course I had cravings and would dream about eating something I couldn’t have. But I never got to the point where I wanted it so badly. Just a feeling of “A piece of cake would be so good.”

As each day passed, it became part of my daily habit.

The whole 21 days I kept thinking what was going to be my first meal after I finished. It was a no brainer for me. It would be pizza. However I was a bit nervous because I read in the Facebook group to take it easy introducing foods back. Some people talked about discomfort and headaches after eating gluten or dairy.

I hoped my body would react well, but a strange thing happened.

On day 22, I didn’t order a pizza. I had created so much momentum and loved how I felt and looked that I kept going. I wanted to. It was my choice.

It wasn’t till day 26 that I finally had pizza. I was worried how my body would react to all that meat and cheese, but I felt fine.

How it changed my life

Usually I don’t like to say that in just 21 days you can change your life. I feel there isn’t a shortcut in life.

However, based on my experience those 21 days, it was life changing. I did something I had never done before. I don’t know the last time I went longer than two days without refined sugar and some kind of meat or rice.

This went way beyond my comfort zone. I knew it was going to mental more than physical. Though I did feel hungry many times, the biggest battle was not to give in to what my whole body wanted. It wanted the comfort foods, but I knew instantly the moment I finished eating it, I would regret it.

I don’t like to say that change comes quick because by believing so we expect a quick fix for everything. We want our whole life to change in just 21 or 30 days.

However, after finishing the 21 days I could not believe how much of a transformation I had seen. I lost almost 10 pounds, but I still didn’t have six pack abs. My stomach was definitely flatter.

I felt more confident. My shorts were looser. I slept better at nights.

However, the transformation was much deeper than that.

It changed my relationship with food. Before I’d eat because it would make me feel good at that moment. I wasn’t eating to fuel my body right. I wouldn’t listen to my body and because of that I paid the price.

Now I truly know that healthy foods can taste good.

I realized I could go longer than two days without sugar. It didn’t control me. I was in control now.

Sugar is an addiction like science has said. I completely believe it. I could never stop eating sugar, but I just went more than 21 days without it. The only sugar I had came from fruit, which is natural.

I had so much more energy during the day. I slept better at nights. My mind felt more clear.

I felt more confident. I could see abs again! My stomach was noticeably flatter compared to before. When I wore t-shirst I didn’t feel embarrassed because of my gut. Old shorts and jeans that would be tight were actually so loose that I needed a belt.

I realized that healthy food can taste good. After the 21 days, I’d have salad at least once a day and make my own dressing. Not something that came out of a bottle.

The hardest parts

Though I finished, it wasn’t all easy. Change isn’t easy. There were some challenging parts during the 21 days.

– All the cooking.

I told my wife I feel like I’m always in the kitchen preparing and cooking. I know that’s why eating out or eating fast food is easier.

There were some days were I didn’t feel like peeling or cutting vegetables, but I had to. I definitely couldn’t be lazy.

I’m glad I work from home because it’s easier. However many people have done it while having a full time job so it’s possible.

– Blocking out all cravings

Pizza was the biggest craving, but also craved other foods. I’d keep telling my wife I couldn’t wait to eat pizza again. It wasn’t intense, but I would think about it and it sounded good. I did find my sugar craving decrease as each day passed though.

What helped me make it through the 21 days

– My whole family knew I was doing this. Every weekend we’ll go out to eat Vietnamese pho. I explained that I could’t go for the next 21 days. I’m sure they were skeptical I could do it. The second week they even went to Ruth Chris to eat dinner and invited us. I love steak but I had to say no.

– My wife also decided she wanted to eat healthy, but she wasn’t following the same plan as I was. She couldn’t handle eating salads as much I was. By having her not craving junk foods, it helped me. The first time I attempted she would say she wanted to eat out and I’d say yes because I had a hard time saying no.

– Knowing why I wanted to do this. I had to remind myself of the many reasons. I had to remember the bad days when I had massive headaches. I had to finally stop wanting to do it and actually do it.

– Eating the same meals over again. Though the program laid out what to eat each meal, I didn’t make every single recipe. If I found meals I liked for the week, I’d just keep making it. It made it easier because I didn’t have to think what I was going to eat.

– Just eating it. I say this because every day I wasn’t thinking what I should eat. I already in my head and two or three choices and they were all healthy. No wondering if I should have a pizza or chinese food.

The more we have to think about whether or not to do a new habit the more likely we’ll failed. It’s exhausting to go back and forth in our minds.

– Seeing progress. We bought a scale and on the wall put a sheet of paper. Every morning I’d wake up and first thing I’d do is weigh myself. It was amazing to see the weight melting off. Each day was .5 or 1 pound, but over time it added up. Some days I’d be heavier than the day before and I was confused. But I had to remember the overall progress I was making.

Writing it down and seeing the progress really helped.

Will I keep this up?

I’m in Taipei, Taiwan now and so all healthy eating is out the window. I can’t come back here and not eat the foods I love. That’s okay though. I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I do try and control how much I eat. Some days I will eat too much while other days I don’t.

But when I go back home, I’m going back to how it was before I came. I’ll probably go through the 21 day cleanse again and then look forward to eating clean most of the time with the occasional cheat day. Not the other way around.

I’ve done it once so that gives me confidence that I can do it again.

If you’re interested in going through the same program as me, you can learn more about the Fresh Start 21 Day Cleanse. They don’t have an affiliate program, but I’m more than happy to recommend it.

It’s not for everyone, but if you’re in the same situation I was and looking for a change, this could be it for you.


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8 responses to My Toughest 21 Day Challenge Ever

  1. Great post, Benny.

    Just wanted to note that at the end you said: ‘I’ll probably go through the 21 day cleanse again’. I’m wondering if you should decide whether or not you are going to commit to doing it? It seems to me that reading through this blog post your past failures have come because you haven’t made a resolute, accountability bound commitment?

    • Hi Jonny, Thanks for reading! Yeah I should have worded that differently. I will definitely be doing it again. Not thinking if I should or not.

      Your right about past failures. They were sometimes because I kinda wanted to do it, but kinda didn’t.

      The past time I was going to do it no matter what. No excuses. No BS. Do it all the way and don’t bend any rules.

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  3. I love cleanses they are the best way to revamp your body and loose that extra weight holding you down.

  4. Chris Guillebeau January 20, 2015 at 8:19 pm

    Great work, Benny. It’s really encouraging to read this.

    BTW can you do a 21-day cleanse on my behalf?

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