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What I Learnt After Giving Up Booze, Fags, Processed Food And Fizzy Drinks For 140 Days

By niallharbison

September 2, 2017 at 8:05pm


We’ve all been there on a Sunday evening where we utter the words…. “never again” or “I can’t go on like this” after putting our bodies through hell. 

Like most people my answer on a Monday morning would be green juice, a couple of beroccas and a bit of yoga for 3 days before jumping back on the horse and careering off into a bottle of wine and a takeaway pizza by Thursday. 

“Sure fuck it, you're only young once” I’d tell myself while sparking a Marlboro light with one hand and dipping the other into a bag of M&Ms.

Except I’m not young (37) and I’d long gone past the stage where I’d think to myself “sure I played all the sports in my teens and I’ll be back to full fitness within 2 weeks."

The Challenge

Like everybody I’d tried every health fad, fitness class and turnaround plan ever invented. All led to the same destination…smoking and drinking by Thursday. 

Something inside me said instead of trying it bit by bit just try everything. Cold turkey. Hard core. Forget about moderation and just do it all in one go. So on the 17th April 2017 I said I’d do a year without any of the following…

  • Alcohol
  • Cigarettes
  • Fizzy drinks 
  • Processed food

I also committed to doing 60-90 minutes of exercise every single day and had no other goal other than “getting into the best shape of my life."

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Mental health 

With so much clean eating, working out and healthy living I thought the results would all be physical but I was totally wrong. 90% of the upside I’ve seen has been in my head.

Not only was I incredibly sharp when it came to work but I had less self doubt, fewer dark thoughts and very few periods of feeling down about life. 

I started to learn that after 1-2 days without exercise I’d start to see signs of feeling down. Just in the same way that I could fend those off with booze I could do the same with exercise. Hardly a revelation to most but it took the clarity of thinking that came with the 100 days for me to fully understand that.

No matter how busy the day and how high the stress levels, knowing that 90 minutes of mobile phone free exercise were coming always cleared the head. 

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The food 

While most would think the alcohol and the cigarettes were the biggest driver of change on this I’d argue it was the food. I cut out as much processed food and shit as I possibly could and 80% of the time only ate…

  • Fish
  • Chicken / Turkey
  • Salads
  • Berries
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables 

No matter how hard I worked out it was always the diet that affected the most change. I’m lucky that I used to be a chef because although the healthy options are out there they are expensive and hard to find.


Such an important part of what we do that up to 50% of our life is dedicated to it. Normally I’d get 5-6 hours a day and be cranky all day constantly trying to catch up. Sucking that coffee into me getting quick false highs.

With working out so much I found I couldn’t keep my eyes open past 10pm and was up every morning at 5.30. So I was sleeping much more, getting to sleep instantly and having a completely different type of deeper, more restful sleep. 

In feeling so rested and so alert I had more done in the first 2 hours of the day than I would have in a full normal day in the past. 

Not much happened physically for 60 days

For the first 60 days I really wondered if I was built differently to everybody else. Here I was doing everything right but only seeing minute physical pay off. 

After 60 days that all started changing. My clothes started to no longer fit (jeans too big, t-shirts too tight) and I’d start feeling muscles on my body I never knew existed. 

My posture started improving and the way I carried myself walking down the street felt completely different. It might seem like an exaggeration but i’d wake up in the morning and walk around feeling like a boxer on the way into the ring for a championship fight. I started asking myself “Is it really possible to feel this good?”

New Circle Of Friends

It's not as if I was hanging out with a bad crowd or that changing friends was something I had to do. Just reflecting on the process though, after 140 days I now spend my time with entirely new people. Some I already knew and some are completely new people. 

It's pretty obvious that if you are in the gym at 7am instead of a nightclub at 3am you'll be with somebody different. 

One huge barrier for people changing lifestyle is the thought that "my friends all go to the pub" attitude but its amazing how quickly you adapt and realise that just isn't true. 

All The Upside Benefit Came After 60 Days

I've no idea about the exact science behind it but after 60 days everything started changing for me. I was suddenly able to do things my body would have shuddered at just 2 months earlier.

After 60 days I...

  • Felt like I did in my teens again when exercising
  • No longer felt like it was a challenge. I didn't crave anything like sugar, wine or cigarettes and knew I'd left those behind for good.
  • Allowed treats into my diet (the likes of pizza and ice cream) with absolutely zero negative impact on my body or how I felt.
  • I started having an insatiable appetite for work, exercise and stimulation
  • My mood swings were gone. I could always find a way to look on the bright side of a problem and not be negative. Not even bad driving, picking up dog shit or rude people could put me in a bad mood for more than 5 seconds.

No noticeable Improvement in finances 

I presumed by curtailing so much spend on my vices that I’d be rolling in disposable income. You often see people work out how much they’d save per day by cutting out the fags but I find that people will always find money for their vices if they really need it.

By the time I accounted for gym memberships, sports gear, protein powder, healthy salads, juices, fresh fish and all the treats I was buying myself for “doing well” there was little or no difference in my monthly outgoings. 

What I did clearly have was a lot more memories of climbing mountains, long walks with my dogs and sunrises on the beach that I would have missed out on by sleeping in. 

3 Simple Tips That Kept Me Going

So why did it work this time and fail all the other times? The key for me has been finding motivation in entirely new ways. I've found the following to work...

1. Calling it out publicly

From day 1 of the challenge I started telling people. They mostly laughed in my face. I have those laughing faces seared into my memory. I've also shared the challenge on my Instagram and Facebook accounts. By making something so public and setting yourself so openly up for failure I've given myself the ultimate motivation. 

2. New Challenges 

I've been trying to mix it up. I started in the gym. Classes. After 120 days I found things getting a bit boring so I took up running. Next up is a half marathon. I do days where I won't eat anything but protein. Another day I'll try and walk 20km with the dogs. I've my eye on taking up boxing, long distance swimming and all sorts of other new weekly challenges. The newness of them make it compelling and interesting.

I even tried reading 7 books in 7 days to stimulate my mind (I only managed 3.5)

3. Upside Benefit

If I ever feel like having a fizzy drink, pint or cigarette I just look at the upside benefit I'd be throwing away. The bouncing out of bed. The performance at work. Improved moods. Better posture. Strength. Looking at all the newfound upside benefits helps me stay focused on not slipping up even for a second. 

My Secret - Visualisation

Different things work for different people. For me I've been working super hard since April on visualisation. The picture below is from Thailand where I imagined being back in the exact same place a year later having ticked all the goals and completed the challenge. 

I think every single day about keeping that promise to myself. I won't fail because I've gone to sleep every single night visualising what it will feel like in huge detail.

I've been visualising what things will look like in a week's time, a month's time and even when I'm 40 with this new approach. Without fail everything I've visualised from running a 10k to work goals have happened. 

365 And Beyond

The original goal was a year. I'm over a third of the way in now and see no reason why I won't get there. The upside benefits and visualisation are absolutely key. Life is just much much much better living like this.

I still miss a coke with my lunch and there are days when I'd murder a few pints watching football with my mate Sean with a packet of smokes on the table in front of us. I've taught myself to learn that those are pretty fleeting moments though. They are by no means irreplaceable. 

I wanted to write this post to help share some insights. It won't be the approach for everybody and I hate reading people talking in a preachy fashion about changing their lives. It's not easy at all. I relied on willpower in the early days but it is certainly possible and I'd recommend it. 

Drop me a mail or leave a comment if you have any questions or if I can help at all. 


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