In January 2017, The British Heart Foundation (BHF) announced that it would be running its 'DECHOX' campaign for the third year in a row in order to raise money for ‘life-saving heart research’.
Of all the social media inspired health trends and health campaigns out there, THIS is the one I've spent the last year waiting for.
I’m a self-confessed chocoholic who loves chocolate biscuits, chocolate bars, and chocolate cakes. Basically, if it's covered in chocolate, I'm having some of it. (Though I do draw the line at chocolate flavoured milks and cereals. Those are too much, even for me..)
I tend to lead quite a healthy lifestyle in general, as I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I genuinely enjoy going to the gym. But don’t get me wrong, I’m no Ashy Bines and I certainly don’t have abs like fitness coach, Joe Wicks.
Having never really chosen to test my will power when it comes to my favourite foods in the past, giving up chocolate for an entire month is definitely going to be a challenge.
Though the idea of giving up chocolate for a month is appealing (for my waistline, at least), I know that temptation is going to come knocking at my door hard and fast around the three-week mark (or two weeks if I’m not so lucky).
So to help myself and anyone else reading this post to resist temptation this March, I’ve made a note of some go-to tips and tricks we can all adopt in order to see ourselves through the month without a guilty chocolate stain in sight.
1) Swap your snacks
If you’re a serial snacker who tends to spend lazy Sunday afternoons munching away on chocolate of the white, milk or dark variety, you may well find yourself at a loss as to what to do when your first chocolate craving comes around.
That’s why planning is going to be your new best friend throughout the month of March.
If you want to make it through all four weeks of the #DECHOX challenge without touching a single piece of the naughty, calorific brown stuff that’s so hard to resist, swapping your snacks for healthy alternatives might just be the way to go.
Stocking up on healthy snacks like carrot batons, apple slices, mixed nuts and juicy grapes will mean you’ll be ready to fight off any chocolatey cravings when your stomach rumbles mid-afternoon or late in the evening.
2) Get more exercise
What better time to get in your body in shape than when you’re cutting out one of the most calorific sweet-treats from your diet?
Exercise has been proven to boost your mood when you’re feeling low, as it releases mood-elevating drugs called endorphins which produce a ‘high’ and make you feel less stressed and more energised.
The added bonus with this method is that you can distract yourself from any cravings you might experience, while getting yourself out of the house and away from the naughty treats you might be storing at home.
Just remember to take it easy at first if you haven’t exercised in a while, or if you’re experiencing low energy levels owing to sugar withdrawal. Consult your GP if you’re planning on drastically changing your exercise habits.
3) Set regular, achievable goals
If you’re a runner or a jogger, you’ll know that setting your own milestones along the way to a larger goal is key to pushing yourself beyond your usual boundaries. (I’m thinking of the trees and lampposts that line my own running route, acting as targets for me to reach and push myself another few metres each time).
Though four weeks might feel like a long time to wait before digging into your favourite sugary snack, breaking down your journey into weekly, daily or even hourly segments will help you to stay focused in the short term while contributing towards the achievement of your goal in the long term.
A short-term goal can be as simple as resisting the chocolate cookies that your colleagues bring to lunch so that you can get back to your desk, away from temptation, with your pride intact. Alternatively, a longer term goal could be aiming to get through to the end of the week without giving in and making yourself a cup of creamy hot chocolate rather than a bitter brew of black coffee.
The more short-term goals you achieve, the more time will have passed since you last had a bite of smooth cocoa, and the more likely it will be that you’ll have moved on from watching the clock every four hours to barely even having a craving.
4) Think of the money
One of the reasons you’re putting yourself through some serious choccy withdrawal is so that you can raise money for charity, right?
Last year, 19,800 people took part in Dechox, and they successfully raised just over £860,000. That’s nearly £1 million in just four weeks!
There’s no better feeling than the sense of happiness (and accomplishment) that comes from doing something which helps you out while helping others.
But you should remind yourself not only of all the money you’re raising, but all the money you’re saving. I spend far more on chocolate than I’d care to admit and I know that Dechoxing is not only going to cut my sugar intake, but my shopping costs too!
5) Hand over the keys to your secret stores
Most people I know have a secret store of goodies stashed away somewhere.
You might not admit to it, but I’m betting there’s a drawer under your bed, a bureau at your work desk or a secret shelf in your kitchen cupboard, where you hide away your personal hoard of sweet snacks.
If this is the case, you’ll need to hand over the metaphorical (or real!) keys to your stores in order to give yourself the best chance of resisting your cravings.
Whether it’s a matter of storing your supplies at a relative's house until you’re officially allowed to re-indulge, or permanently disposing of your guilty pleasures, ‘out of sight and out of mind’ will be key to a successful #DECHOX.
6) Channel the power of the merchandise
The British Heart Foundation has released a wide variety of products that you can purchase to help raise even more money for heart health research during the month of March.
You shouldn’t dismiss the power of the wristbands, badges, coffee cups and other merchandise that serve as physical reminders of the commitment you’ve made running up to the chocolate holiday bonanza that is Easter.
Having a wristband on your forearm or a branded coffee cup at your desk will help you to stay focused, while reminding you to STEP AWAY from the chocolate cupboard when you absent-mindedly reach out for a bar of something sweet.
7) Don't fantasise
They say that visualisation is key to manifestation.
In the most typical goal-oriented scenarios, keeping a clear picture of whatever it is you’re seeking in your head is a great move.
But if you’re sitting there dreaming of the day you’re allowed to chow down on some choc, instead of spending your time doing something else that will distract you from the task at hand, you’re most likely going to end up giving in and bringing that glorious day you’re dreaming of closer to today. (Which isn’t too helpful when you’ve still got three weeks of resisting temptation left to get through…)
I would advise you not to spend your time indulging in ideas of chocolate swimming pools and bathing fountains. And I certainly wouldn’t pick this month to re-read your favourite childhood classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…
8) Confront your emotions
I for one am an emotional eater.
Whether the trigger be stress, sadness, or frustration, I have been known to use chocolate as an emotional crutch from time to time (...and time again).
But this month I’ll have to sit back and actually think about what might be causing me to feel stressed, sad or frustrated, rather than just comforting myself with an extra square of chocolate.
If I can effectively target the source of the emotions that cause me to eat that extra bite of chocolate, then I’ll be stronger and more emotionally competent than ever. (That’s how the theory goes, right?)
9) Get a new hobby
I’ve always been a fan of ‘distract and deploy’ tactics.
Whenever I’ve been caught up in a traffic jam, stuck waiting at the doctor’s surgery, or held-up on the tube, I’ve found that distracting myself with music, my phone, magazines and people-watching (TMI?) has helped the time pass more quickly.
It’s the same thing with #DECHOX, except the time you’re stuck waiting (to indulge) will be a matter of four weeks rather than fifteen minutes.
A great way to distract yourself in the long term and channel your energy into something enjoyable and productive is to get a new hobby.
Whether you’ve always wanted to take up knitting, horse-riding or playing the guitar, a new hobby will eat up more of your time and take your mind away from thoughts of tearing into that chocolate bar you’ve been eyeing up since you started #DECHOX.
10) Take the scenic route to work
This might seem a little drastic, but the adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is popular for a reason.
If you pass by a luxury confectioners or a cheap off-licence on your way to work, taking the back roads or walking on the opposite side of the street will literally take you off the path to temptation.
The pressing question is this: why would you want to tempt yourself by walking past your local sweet shop with the smell of chocolate just waiting to assault your nostrils?
11) Get your friends and family involved
If your friends, relatives or significant others haven’t signed up for #DECHOX, they can still get involved with the campaign by helping you to stay focused and determined throughout March.
Telling your loved ones about your chocolate-free plans in the run up to Easter will enable them to support you and to know that they should probably return your late-night phone calls when you’re most likely on the brink of breaking your period of chocolatey fasting. (You could be really cheeky and ask the people around you to hold off on ordering chocolate-based desserts when you go out for dinner, but I worry that you might lose some pals if you become ‘that’ friend…)
If your loved ones come to realise that they do actually want to take part in #DECHOX themselves, the link for signing up to this year’s campaign is still live on the British Heart Foundation website, so tell them to get moving, as it’s not too late...yet!
12) Think long term
You’ll have to ask yourself this question a few times over the course of your DECHOX:
“Will I feel better if I break my choccy fast?”
It’s so tempting to just give in and ‘treat’ yourself to the tiniest bit of chocolate when you’re really craving it, but you have to think ahead and ask another question:
“How will I feel after eating this piece of chocolate; is this momentary pleasure worth undoing all these weeks worth of work?”
If you can think ahead to the moment of disappointment you might feel immediately after giving in to your cravings, it should help you be more disciplined in the present and save yourself any regret. The power lies with you.
Bonus tip: What to do when you reach the end of your #DECHOX
My final tip for this chocolatey-themed post is this:
Why, after four weeks of working so hard to resist temptation, would you throw it all away with a binge fest?
Sure, treat yourself to some chocolate if you’ve really been struggling, but if you find that you’re not actually missing cocoa that much anymore, try not to eat some just for the sake of it.
Researchers say it takes three weeks to kick a habit so you’ve already done the hard bit. So why not keep going and maximise your chances of maintaining a healthy heart all year through?
Yes, that is my optimistic side talking and I’m probably saying all this in an attempt to ward off the day when I find myself back in the treat aisles of the supermarket. But who’s to say my #DECHOX will end that way? Or yours? Let’s aim high while we’re at beginning and keep the faith that we’ll have picked up some good habits by the end of our collective #DECHOX!
So how do I sign up for #DECHOX?
#DECHOX officially starts on Wednesday, 1st March, so today’s the day to sign-up if you’re interested in joining the campaign.
To sign up, simply visit the BHF Sign Up page. You’ll be asked for your personal details and given the option to create an online donation page.
Good luck, my fellow cocoa lovers!
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