05 Jan, 2015 Last updated: 30 Mar, 2015

By Jerril Rechter, VicHealth CEO

Opinion piece first published in the Herald Sun newspaper on 5 January 2015

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter

So you've made your new year's resolutions and are kickstarting 2015 with the best of intentions. This year, things are going to be different.

We've all been there. We set ourselves numerous resolutions to eat better, drink less and exercise more.

I’m guilty of it too but thankfully, this year there’s one less resolution on my list.

You see, thanks to VicHealth's H30 Challenge, during which I swapped sugary drinks for water for 30 days, I’ve finally managed to substantially reduce sugary drinks from my diet.

Did you know that sugar-sweetened beverages are the biggest source of sugars in the Australian diet? I’m not just talking about sugar-sweetened soft drinks. There are sugar-sweetened energy drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, ready-to-drink iced tea, flavoured water and cordial.

And they are all contributing to Victorians’ intake of excess kilojoules.

Most of us know that those drinks aren’t good for us, but many would be surprised to learn that a 600ml bottle of soft drink can contain about 16 teaspoons of sugar.

Sixteen teaspoons — just think about that. And that amount far exceeds the World Health Organisation’s recommendation for a maximum six teaspoons of sugar per day for an adult of normal body mass index.

At VicHealth, we are committed to tackling the tough issues — in particular rising obesity levels in Victoria — and one of the ways we are trying to help people lead healthier lives is by encouraging them to take part in our H30 Challenge and ditch those sugary drinks from their diet and replace them with that great H20 offering, water.

The fact is — and we all know it — water is good for us. It keeps us hydrated, helps us absorb nutrients and because 90 per cent of Victorian tap water contains fluoride, choosing water also helps prevent tooth decay and avoid unnecessary dental bills.

Water has no added sugars, colours or preservatives and is one of the best thirst-quenching drinks available.

And then there are the great health benefits of switching sugary drinks for water. Not only does it help with decreasing the risk of tooth decay, it can also help with weight loss, thereby lowering the risk of type-2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

A recent VicHealth survey of more than 500 Victorians aged between 25 and 34 revealed that one in four people drink sugary drinks at least five days a week, while a further two in five consume sugary drinks between one and four times a week.

It also revealed that more men (75 per cent) than women (56 per cent) opt for sugary drinks on at least one day a week and that a fifth of people consider some type of soft drink as their "every day" drink.

It’s a habit I fell into easily. Every evening after work, I’d go home and sit down to a refreshing tonic water and lime.

It’s just what I did at the end of a day.

However, knowing that a high intake of sugary drinks are associated with weight gain and tooth decay meant that every year on January 1, I'd resolve to reduce them from my diet. And every year, by January 31, I’d have given in to my habit.

I finally managed to reduce sugary drinks and have them only as a special treat — to be enjoyed occasionally — in 2014 by signing up to our H30 Challenge, committing to swap every sugary drink for water for 30 days.

While it's never easy trying to break a habit, by the end of the first week, I began to feel the benefits.

I had more energy and felt healthier. I’m also the kind of person who enjoys a challenge. I found that setting myself a goal of doing something for 30 days really motivated me and by the end of the challenge, I’d changed my habits and didn't look back.

After ditching sugary drinks for 30 days, the temptation simply wasn't there. I also found it helped having a jug of water infused with cucumber and mint or lime and ginger chilling in the fridge to enjoy when I got home. And when I went out at night, a sparkling mineral water did the trick every time.

If you're going to stick to one new year’s resolution in 2015 then make it this one — now is a great time to kick the sugary drink habit and improve your waistline — and your bank balance — at the same time.

Get friends and family to sign up for the challenge with you.

You can pick a start date that suits you; just register at h30challenge.com.au and start swapping sugary drinks for water for 30 days.

You've nothing but weight to lose, and everything to gain.

- Jerril

Visit h30challenge.com.au and sign-up for the challenge today.