Anna Magee wonders where the whole ‘it takes 21 days to make a habit’ thing came from – clue, nowhere – and braves a train smash of a sugar-filled long weekend (inventing a recipe for raw chocolate and date truffles along the way)
It should have got easier by now according to that old ‘It takes 21 days to make a habit’ thing. Well, it’s been 27 days and not eating sugar has become anything but a habit for me.
First, let’s get something straight. It doesn’t take 21 days to make or break a habit. Like ‘drink eight glasses of water daily’ it’s another piece of lore in the advice cliche chronicles that so-called experts love to spout even if they have no idea where or from whom it came (rant, moi?).
I found this out a few months ago when I did feature on some of the things that actual bona-fide research has shown help the formation of healthy habits. Turns out, this isn’t one of those.
I interviewed scientists from University College London in the human behavioural research unit who have looked into what it takes to form habits. They tracked down the 21 day fallacy to a plastic surgeon who wrote in 1960 that he observed it took 21 days for the average patient to get used to their new face. That’s it. That’s all the evidence that exists.
Meanwhile, the UCL team did a more rigorous study of habit formation, published in 2010. Participants performed a new self-chosen health promoting activity or behaviour and were tracked for 84 days. It took on average, 66 days for a habit to form.
Even then, there were huge differences in people. One took only 18 days to form the habit while another didn’t get there in the 84 days of the study and the researchers hypothesised from her behaviour that it might take her as long as 254 days.
What influenced the formation of the participants’ habits was – surprise surprise – repetition of their chosen activity along with choosing easier goals like say, drinking a glass of water after breakfast instead of doing 500 sit-ups (or maybe giving up all sugar for 90 days…).
So where does that leave me? I can safely report that I am still struggling with cravings and what on earth to do instead when I am tired and emotional (another blog post).
This last long weekend was a train smash. I had a friend’s seven year old, Ebba, sleep over and obviously we had to make cupcakes. It was such fun but my God, the smell of the ingredients made me want to shove my face into the mixing bowl and cancel this whole blog idea.
I bought the thickest, most wicked vanilla buttercream icing you have ever seen (obviously only because it was the child’s favourite). I was kind of okay until the very last icing moment when I licked a big dollop off my finger. I couldn’t resist. And I got that same ‘hit’ I got from the mojito last week – a jarring into my head like doing a line of coke (or what honestly officer, I imagine doing a line of coke would be like). We had people around the next day and I sat there drinking green tea while they hoed into the cakes.
Having said that, I did have a saving grace. Date and raw chocolate balls that Ebba and I also made. Not sure if they strictly fit the ‘no sugar’ thing as they contain three quarters of a packet of dates which are kind of pure concentrated fruit sugar but let’s just move on from that. Here’s the recipe (noted efficiently by my smart assistant, Ebba) and for the record, I ate about five.
Sugar-free raw chocolate and date truffles
200 grams dates
60 grams walnuts
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 teaspoons raw cocoa powder (I used creative nature)
a sprinkling of cacao nibs (I used Hotel Chocolat)
a small handful raw jumbo oats
Put them all into the blender (you need a really good one like my prized possession, the Vitamix and yes, I paid the full £600 for it). Blend it until it’s the consistency of raw plasticene. Roll into balls and then cover some in more raw cacao and others in desiccated coconut (optional). Pop in the freezer and once cold and set, gulp with tea!
Good news is, the word has gotten around about the blog and I have some seriously great supplements and foods that will be helping me through and to tell you about. Watch this space and I promise – promise! – you happier posts soon.
More from Anna Magee’s No sugar for 90 days blog
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