Whole Life Challenge – My Review

My women’s running club regularly participates in the 8-week fitness and nutrition game called the Whole Life Challenge (WLC), and one day last December I decided to join the next round which started January 17. I was fully aware of the  golden rules: no sugar no bread for 8 weeks (The Paleo diet in disguise essentially). I am already a clean eater, and daily exercise is no problem for me. So the real challenge would be to confront my sugar addiction. I signed up. My husband, two sons, family and close friends were fully forewarned of the potential mood swings they would have to endure WITH me. Yes – I made sure I had a decent support system to remind myself of my challenge and to help me succeed. On the first day of the challenge I went to a friend’s surprise birthday party. (Probably the first birthday I’ve left without eating cake). I was prepared however; I had a slightly cold banana waiting for me I the car. Leaving it in the car was a mistake but a good one because I ultimately learned that the colder temperature of the banana provides a sweeter return. (Hint: banana ice cream).

So here we go. Eight weeks of no sugar and no bread and day 1 was great. I felt like a champion. End of week one and my family was begging for me to give it up. Turns out I’m not nice when I’m not on simple carbs. Moving forward another week and into half marathon training, I found it hard to subsist on sweet potatoes, all the extra meat I felt forced to eat, and beans. (Off the challenge I would eat meat a few times a week at a maximum). My skin took a beating presumably from all the extra almonds I was consuming. (Almond butter brownies being the biggest pot of gold). I didn’t feel great and about 3 weeks in, near my birthday (which was my predetermined drop out date), I was at an all time low. I made a chocolate mousse from avocado and seeing the green bits invade my chocolate was atrocious. I got into my first ever fender bender. My mood was constantly depressed. I was not myself at all.  I had no energy on the treadmill. I was ready to quit. I proudly quit on my birthday – 4 weeks into the challenge. I scheduled my annual physical and was beyond shocked to learn that my Trigs and HDL were at an all time low. My Trigs were 39!! A low fat diet is around 50. Could it be too low, I wondered? I slowly started to add back bread, enjoy life better, and deal with the sub-5 nutrition score. (Every day the challenge awards you up to 13 points). Adding the bread meant losing the points – I could deal with that! Dramatically my life changed. My athletic performance improved, as did my mood. My family liked me again. I liked myself again, too.
New PR! 1:54
New PR! 1:54

The challenge ended the weekend of my NYC half marathon. I had already checked out of the eating game, and I missed the post-challenge team brunch. So there really wasn’t much ‘closure’ so to speak. But on my end of things, I was so ready to treat myself! I had a great race, set a new half marathon PR, and was jetting off to Paris the night of my race. Mile 12 was when it hit me that I was going to Paris and would be eating croissants and drinking cappuccinos in cafes all day!  It would be the perfect celebration of the end of the Whole Life Challenge.

The Daily
The Daily

It was a whirlwind week and every day in Paris I made it a priority to eat bread, croissants or waffles. I was in gluten heaven. I loved not having to worry about counting anything! I ate so much bread my brothers and sister would just pass the basket to me on the table as soon as it arrived. Did I binge? Probably. But I earned those carbs. I know everyone is wondering if I ever kicked the sugar habit. And I did! No longer feeling vulnerable in front of those bakery chocolate chip cookies. I’m in better control of my sweet cravings, have created a handful of healthier alternatives. I’m excited for what’s next!

Cacao Hemp Smoothie Bowl
Cacao Hemp Smoothie Bowl

A dozen or so people would ask, “why are you doing this challenge? What do you have to gain from it? Why are you only doing the basic level? Why are you trying to lose weight? Did you win?” I participated in this challenge for several reasons. As a personal trainer, I come across many clients interested in many diets. I am not a fan of diets and my experience above is exactly why. A diet implies an end date with are rules and restrictions. There will be binging. There will be falling off the bandwagon. I didn’t lose any weight, but I did shave off some inches. In the game I ended up at 21st place (125 started the challenge, 46 finished) – not bad.  My blood test proved me that excluding sugar and bread might not be what my body as an endurance athlete needs. I found I was motivated by the possibility of earning a perfect score every day which helped me stay away from noncompliant foods. But it also allowed me to explore other means to satisfy my sweet tooth. Dates, banana ice cream and almond butter brownies were my saviors. I even won a recipe challenge! However, this experience was not enough for me to change habits – but serves a purpose for those looking to try new things. (Reminding myself I already follow the 80/20 clean eating rule, so I didn’t have many bad habits to break).

In order to change your nutrition habits to eat better so that you can perform better in life, the change agent has to be intrinsic. It has to be motivated by something greater than our own ego. I am glad I did the challenge, and I am glad I can share this experience with my clients. The most important takeaway for me is that I know where my limits are and what nutrition my body needs to perform at its optimum level. That was the best lesson for me to learn.
*To learn more about this health and fitness game, or to join the next round, head to wholelifechallenge.com
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ayesha

I run. I write. I read. I lead. I live life.

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