I rarely do. Which is exactly what started me on my 60-day health journey titled The Whole Life Challenge (WLC).
My friend from Oakland, technically Lafayette, Tom, introduced me to the program. It should be noted that Tom and I share many similar likenesses. Enjoyment of exercise, hiking, both slightly type A and generally in the same place in our lives. After getting past about 12 hours of lamenting about the $50 price tag that came along with 8-weeks of a strict diet, one with no sugar, impact to my exercise habits, mandatory stretching (or lack thereof)), and other touchy-feely stuff (yoga, meditating, journaling), I decided to take a leap. A shake-up to my daily routine was exactly what I needed. This last point might be debated by someone I share a life with and has a name that rhymes with bendy. I was courteous enough to warn Cindy of the impact and potential annoyance this might pose to said life-sharer before entering my payment information on the WLC website. Once entered, I took Tom’s advice and sought out some local support to do it with me. After unsuccessfully trying to rope in Cindy, I conned, uhh, convinced a few close local friends to join me. I’m thankful for having their support during the challenge.
My First Impression
I thought this would be a simple three-five day juice cleanse-type activity. Maybe some yoga and an inspirational daily quotes to boot. I’m on board with those kind of things – truth-be-told, I do them already. I also thought maybe it will hold me accountable for my nightly 8:30pm dessert raid (think phylo dough dipped in refined sugar in the most desperate of times). While contemplating doing this in the first few hours of hearing about it, the item that tipped me to jump in was what the organizers wrote about regarding habits. They emphasized the difference between making and breaking a habit. Basically, 21 days to form a new habit and at least twice that time to break an old one. My sugar addiction was not I was going to break without drastic measures. This 8-week challenge was exactly what I needed.
So What Is The Whole Life Challenge?
To this day when I think of it I conjure up an image of two guys on a beach in California dressed like Hari Krishnas staring off into the sunset with long hair and sandals. I have no explanation for why. There are rules. Many rules. Maybe too many. There are also 7 key habits:
- Nutrition – eat well. Channel your inner Pollan – “Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much.” Oh yeah, and lose the dairy, sugar, breads and alcohol. This is no game for the faint of heart. Being a veggie, finding protein was also mildly concerning in the early days. Basically for me it was the Paleo diet without the meat. Quinoa, beans, protein powder quickly became my best friends. Snacks largely meant fruit or smoothies. I also grew quite fond of a homemade chocolate coconut balls recipe I found on the interwebs. Lastly, I did collect a few keeper recipes to use if you decide to join me in September. They are here on Cindy’s Pinterest.
- Exercise – 15 minutes a day minimum. 2-3 days off in the 8 weeks. A nice habit to have. Easy-peasy.
- Mobility – this is stretching. AKA, my kryptonite. I forced it like peas in the mouth of a 3 year old. It wasn’t pretty, also a lot like peas in the mouth of a 3-year old. Am I more limber? Nope. Will I keep trying? Probably not. But I aspire to.
- Supplementation – for me, Mr. Office Schlep, this means vitamin D, a probiotic washed down daily w/ warm lemon water. No problem – was doing it before WLC hit me like a freight train. This one will continue to be a habit. You’re welcome Florida Citrus Mutual. You’re welcome.
- Hydration – Hi my name is Jason. I am chronically dehydrated. Or was. Now I wake at 3am to pee. Not sure which is worse. Prior to WLC I was hitting about 24-30 ounces of liquids a day. No joke. Basically raisins look at me and say, “how ’bout a glass of water, wrinkles?” After the WLC, I’m easily hitting 80 ounces which is still on the low side given my exercise level. Baby steps. New habit forming.
- Lifestyle practice – this mean you do whatever the WLC peeps tell you to do. Some weeks they said “meditate” and I meditated. Or they said “write letters to people” and I wrote. They also said “share time with people daily”, “be happy” and “get more sleep.” And I did it. Hokey, hippie stuff? Yep. Did I like it? I sure did.
- Reflection – take notes daily. This is where having friends do this on your team really was fun. I enjoyed seeing the fun quick notes they’d write online and the trials they were going through during the 8 weeks. As much as I talked about a diet of beans, I have a few teammates who are fixated on pretzels. It was pretty funny and at times inspiring – made me want to be a better person. Ok, no more channeling my inner Gump. But it did. And I liked it.
One more thing, the had a list of foods you could eat and foods you couldn’t eat. A comprehensive list. Never once did they talk portions or sizes of meals. Rarely was I full. In the early days I was nearly always hungry. Over time I realized that a bowl of broccoli for dinner was not a meal. It was about 700 calories shy of it. Live and learn.
So What Is the “So What?”
The measurements. Before: Waist 35″, chest 36.5″, weight 177. After: Waist 33″, chest 34.5″, weight 170.
Feeling: Alertness. Noticeably alert. Maybe happier too. Interesting story: On Father’s Day my sweet daughter makes me chocolate brownies with caramel sauce on top and serves it warm with my favorite ice cream flavors (more on ice cream in a bit), mint chocolate chip. I ate it. My first real sugar in 49 days. It was a sugar bomb. Massive lethargy sets in. I had trouble speaking and staying awake. If I sat my eyes just wanted to close shut. I felt tingles in my brain. I’m absolutely convinced it was the feeling of addiction. I felt strong urges to have more and more. The reaction was strong and won’t easily be forgotten.
Food intolerance. Clearly my brain sends strong signals to me that I want, scratch that, needed sugar. This 8-week challenge helped reduce that. Without a doubt I proved that I was living the life of a man who had pretty significant lactose intolerance. Stomach issues after a week into the WCL were completely gone. I thought not eating cheese would be very hard – it wasn’t. I thought eating out would be impossible – it wasn’t. In fact, I found out something similar to when I stopped eating meat 7 years back: it drastically simplified the menu, narrowing choices and making ordering much easier. Good for Mr. Type A OCD here.
Where Do I Go From Here?
First off, I loosen up a bit (no wise arse comments please Mrs. Cindy). Sure I have a dessert every now and again. Just not nightly. Maybe drop the phylo and sugar routine. I see certain things being gone for good. Processed foods. While I didn’t eat a great deal of these, I did eat them mindlessly prior to the challenge. I can make better choices with no impact to my enjoyment. Milk too. Gone, except with the occasional warm cookie. Breads? Near gone. I’ll limit them and make them more of a treat like desserts. I might replace with the grain/nut breads that skip the flour.
Bottom line: I do this again. Starting September 19. I’ll be signing up soon. if this interests you in the slightest, do it with me as a member of my team – the more the merrier. It isn’t easy but I guarantee you’ll notice a difference for the better. Hit me with a comment if you are interested and I’ll get you all the details you need. You’ll have to get over the fact that I’ll do everything I can to outscore you. It’s that Mr. Type A OCD thing. I can’t really help it.