Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Here I Go Again

As a magazine editor and freelance journalist, I've been writing about health and fitness for nearly fifteen years. Does this mean that I'm healthy and fit? That would be a big hell-to-the-no. Fact is, eating right and exercising on a consistent basis have always eluded me. I'll find a diet or workout that I love and do it for a few weeks (or, if I'm feeling really motivated, a few months). But then I'll promptly fall off the wagon and undo all my hard work. I swear, I've been losing and regaining the same 20-40 pounds for the better part of my life.

A few weeks ago, my weight was back at an all-time high (or close to it). My body mass index (BMI) put me at dangerously close to obese. (Curious to know what yours is? Check out the National Institutes of Health BMI Calculator here.) My waist measurement was also off the charts, which was sort of a shock because I always thought it was just my hips that were too big. Not only was I feeling hideous and uncomfortable in my own skin, I was worried about my health. (I mean, hello? I lost my mom to breast cancer four years ago, and I can't help but think that her obesity contributed to her mortality.)

So I decided to try a new program a few of my eternally fit friends had been telling me about for the past couple years. I know what you're thinking, because I thought it myself: Why try another program if you're just going to go through the same lose-regain process all over again? Well, for starters, because I was desperate. And for, um, nexters, because this isn't really a weight loss program, per se. It's not a diet. It's not a workout. It's a game. Maybe you've heard of it. It's called The Whole Life Challenge. Basically, you spend 8 weeks trying to stick to a set of nutrition, exercise and lifestyle rules. You start your day with a score of 5 and each time you break a nutrition rule (having grains, dairy, sugar, artificial ingredients or—gulp!—alcohol), you lose a point. You also gain 2 points for doing at least 10 minutes of exercise, 2 points for doing 10 minutes of stretching, 1 point for taking a daily supplement of your choice and 1 point for a lifestyle habit (e.g., drinking water, sleeping at least 7 hours) that rotates every couple weeks. So every day you can earn up to 11 points. You also earn bonus points, which are used to replace points you've lost, when you record a reflection five days in a row. You can create and/or join a team (which I highly recommend) and compete against each other, or simply view it as an opportunity to challenge yourself—to see how many healthy goals you can achieve within a 24-hour period.

Of course, there were a few things about the Whole Life Challenge that concerned me. For instance, a lot of CrossFit people do it andwith apologies to my CrossFit friends—their brand of extreme, cult-like exercise kind of scares me. A lot of people who do it are also into the paleo diet and, again, there's something a bit too extreme about that eating approach—not to mention the fact that the science is a bit spotty. (I will say, however, that there are a ton of kickass Whole Life Challenge-friendly paleo recipes out there.) My biggest concern was that the rules require that you cut out entire food groups—specifically grains and dairy (except butter)—and every nutrition expert I've ever interviewed says this is neither sustainable nor healthy. However, this is where the Whole Life Challenge has come a long way: The game can now be played at the advanced, intermediate or beginner level. While the advanced rules say no dairy or grains, the intermediate and beginner levels allow what are considered to be the healthier options within these categories (such as yogurt, brown rice, quinoa, oats). Meanwhile, in spite of what experts have told me about cutting out food groups, I'm intrigued by the emerging evidence about dairy/lactose intolerance and grains/gluten disorders in particular. Further, it's not a paleo diet (you can have legumes at all levels, for one thing), and the exercise requirement (a mere 10 minutes) isn't exactly cramming CrossFit down anyone's throat.

I'll be writing about all of these things in more detail later. For now, suffice to say that I took the leap, and so did my husband! I've been competing at the advanced level for over two weeks now (the husband is at the intermediate level because the poor guy has trouble keeping weight on) and we both feel amazing. I've also lost five pounds so far—a most excellent motivator. Even our eight-year-old son—who, truth told, is already a pretty healthy eater—has willingly cut way back on the sugar and processed foods. Unfortunately (yes, I said unfortunately!) each challenge only lasts 8 weeks, so I'm already trying to come up with ways I'll continue to focus on my fitness goals, day after day. That's honestly the best part of this whole game: It encourages you to focus on small, measurable goals in a way no other fitness program I've encountered has. It demonstrates how even scoring one point a day in the name of improved health is worth acknowledging. And it reinforces the fact that every day is a new beginning, a clean slate, an opportunity to refocus on what you can do to improve your fitness—regardless of what happened the day before—and score big.

This blog is one of the ways I plan to keep the momentum going, too. I'm going to be posting about my progress on the Whole Life Challenge and beyond, as well as sharing new recipes and my thoughts on nutrition, fitness tools and more. If there's anything you want to ask—about the Whole Life Challenge or otherwise—feel free to post a comment here or email me directly.


  1. The dopamine from all that positive reinforcement can't hurt either! You are very motivating to this very unhealthy girl.


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