Throughout my life thus far, fitness has been quite the rollercoaster. Sometimes I feel motivated to exercise more consistently and watch what I eat; other times, however, I cave in and end up binging on sweets (not good, I know). For every time I’ve lost 10 to 15 pounds, there were just as many times I’ve gained as much right back. I never seemed to be able to find a rhythm or routine I could fully commit myself to.
This habit of mine changed, though, with the beginning of 2018 because that was when I decided to take a different approach to improving my fitness: I challenged myself to give up a junk food for an entire 365 days.
The culprit for this previous year? French fries.
You may be asking yourself, “Why the hell would anyone want to deprive themselves of something as delicious as french fries, especially for a year?”
The idea I had with this challenge was that I wanted to begin cutting out fatty and unhealthy foods from my diet—starting small with things I don’t eat every day and what I know I’d be okay living without—until I consume very little of them altogether.
Not only have I survived this fitness challenge with flying colors, but also giving up french fries for a year proved to be a fun research project in disguise. Read on to learn more about my personal experience with dodging the temptation to munch on this addictive, fried snack, how you can create your own challenge, and what I plan on giving up for the next 365 days of the new year!
For starters, what even is a french fry, and why can we not seen to get enough of them?
While one Urban Dictionary submitter refers to them as “the absolute love of my life,” french fries are formally defined today as “long, thin pieces of potato fried in oil or fat” (1). From waffle to crinkle, cheesy to sweet potato, and curly to smiley (remember those?), there are SO many different kinds of french fries to choose from besides the standard-cut (2).
Along with the snack’s variety of cuts, the savory and salty bite has seemingly become the default side dish for numerous restaurants all over the world. This fact prompted the first of many questions in my head when I began this french fry-free journey a year ago:
If I give up french fries, what else is there to order when eating out?
One of the most important observations I made during my 365-day challenge was that nearly every restaurant I went to when I ate out served french fries as a main side. Additionally, if you wanted to order a different option (like me!), almost all of the other sides were also potato products—in fact, back in 2015, more than 55% of fast-food companies offered at least one potato item as a side option (3)… a stat that has surely risen in the past three years.
It amazed me how frequently french fries appeared on menus, along with how difficult it was for me to find another side dish to munch on instead.
Like many other classic food combinations—PB & J, cookies and milk—french fries are indisputably the natural complement to tons of fried meals, including burgers and chicken tenders. I don’t blame restaurants at all for putting french fries on their menus; they are the perfect side, especially when someone is craving something salty. However, there’s also no dispute as to why french fries aren’t the healthiest food for us to eat.
Besides them being deep-fried and fatty, and containing a high amount of sodium, french fries also have acrylamide in their food DNA—a carcinogenic chemical (4). I already engage in enough activities that put me at-risk for getting cancer when I’m older (such as working at an outdoor pool during the summer and using technology every day), so I thought to myself, Count me out on this one!
Although it was a little difficult for me to deliberately avoid eating french fries (the smell killed me!), I found it much easier than I originally thought once I started. The saying the first step is always the hardest truly summed up my experience with this challenge because after that first step, the motion became automatic and less of an internal struggle.
Whenever I would be tempted to cheat and break my fitness resolution, I would tell myself, “I’ve made it this far. I can keep going.”
And guess what, people? It worked!
Follow these easy steps if you’ve been meaning to make a change but don’t know where to start.
HOW TO MAKE MY CHALLENGE YOUR OWN:
1. Identify something in your life you want to improve on (fitness, attitude/patience, bad habits, etc.).
2. Create a list of things you’d like to eliminate from your lifestyle that will contribute to your improvement (cutting out junk food, removing toxic friends, swearing less, etc.).
3. Brainstorm possible backup options you can rely on and promote you forward (plan out go-to side dishes when eating out, install a meditation app or confide in a brand new journal, come up with phrases that replace which swear word(s) you want to remove from your everyday vocabulary).
4. Write down all three points above and post it somewhere you will see every day (on the wall, in the corner of your vanity mirror, in the background of your phone screen saver, etc.).
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE NEW YEAR?
And finally, I’m proud to announce that I’ve decided to make my challenge even more of a… um, challenge, for 2019 by giving up TWO junk foods rather than one.
This year’s culprits include: Pop-Tarts and Kraft Mac & Cheese.
Pay homage to your health and personal fitness this upcoming new year by challenging yourself and giving up a junk food of choice (like french fries) or even a bad habit. I look forward to sharing my journey with you after this next 365, and hopefully you’ll be inspired to do the same!