Whole Life Challenge

The Short story:

The Long story:

Which habits will you choose?

The Whole Life Challenge is an amazing tool - 7 daily habits to help you thrive. It can be done individually online, so regardless of your proximity to me, you can participate on the "Dauntless Fitness" team, which I will co-lead with Louise Orders. If you do live nearby, you've got more options, like a Saturday 9 AM lift series, at Dauntless Fitness. The next WLC starts 16 January.  I hope you'll join us.

For a couple of years a friend has been trying to get me to participate in the Whole Life Challenge. I had a list of excuses not to, ranging from time constraints to disinterest in a "diet" that told me not to eat certain foods. I felt like my exercise and eating habits were healthy enough.

Happy to say I got past those mental blocks.

First misconception: Time. I found WLC to take an average of five extra minutes a day to record my work online and encourage teammates. Some days took more time, but in general I was able to make small changes to account for the time I spent following the seven daily habits. So for example, some days I cut 10 minutes off of a usual run to allow for 10 minutes of mobility and flexibility work. Other times the "life habit" was compelling enough that I chose to spend more time on the practice - like decluttering.

Second misconception: The nutrition piece. Due to our culture's obsession with "fad diets" that attempt to eliminate entire macronutrients from a person's plate and the all too common pattern of yo-yo dieting, I was wary of WLC because it presented me with a list of compliant and noncompliant foods, which I viewed as a "diet". The notion of WLC as a "diet" is misplaced. "Diet" unfortunately has come to mean a temporary reduction or restriction of food intake, resulting in a feeling of deprivation, and often followed by binging. A better definition of the term is the necessary nutrients required regularly to sustain healthy life and growth. If WLC can be considered a "diet", it fits the second definition. Food consumption is not restricted on WLC; in fact it is possible to gain weight while doing the Challenge. Participants are always free to choose noncompliant foods; it just costs one of five points. What I came to understand as I participated is that the noncompliant items are ones that fall into categories of food which cause issues for many people. So for example while only 1% of the population actually suffers from celiac's disease, many of us have subtle, negative reactions to flour products, inflammatory reactions that we often accept as normal. The list of compliant foods is really just a tool to help one make more educated food choices. Within days of eliminating the noncompliant foods from my daily menu, I began to notice a difference. I had more consistent energy levels throughout the day. I felt more alert and noticed improvements in my memory, and I lost the occasional feeling that some describe as "mental fog." After a few weeks, I learned how to play around with the points, experimenting to try to learn how different foods affected me personally. WLC does not promote a "one-size-fits-all" approach or a "diet", but instead provides a framework within which we can experiment with our usual diet and learn how our bodies respond to different nutritional input.

Third misconception: being healthy and fit enough (aka: I'm fine as is).  Although I didn't really think of it at the time, this misconception is is actually fairly harmful in that it implies a comparison to the behavior of others - not a productive, healthy, or happy way of thinking. While there are those who participate in WLC with a competitive spirit, comparing their scores to others' scores, that view is a bit at odds with the overall philosophy behind WLC, which is to encourage small changes in one's own habits that lead to lasting differences allowing one to thrive.  For me, WLC provided the lens through which I could see my own improvement by comparing myself to myself - not to others. By making a small change of adding 10 minutes of mobility and flexibility work on a daily basis, I increased the range of motion in my hips, thereby improving my squat form, which allowed me to work more efficiently and ultimately to increase the amount of weight on my bar. By eliminating flour products, I removed the mindless sources of easy, empty calories (mainly crackers and cookies) and replaced them with nuts or apples with peanut butter, an extra source of protein which helped to support the muscle gain I was establishing by increasing my weights. 

At the end of the Challenge, I did not experience any driving urge to binge on flour and sugar. I had made small, satisfying changes and didn't feel like I needed to make up for anything lost. Yes, I have eaten cookies and crackers since the Challenge ended, but they remain a supplementary treat rather than a daily habit.

When I began WLC, I really didn't expect much to change - another misconception. I found that in addition to the change in energy level, the feeling of increased mental clarity, and the gains in strength and flexibility, my clothes are looser and more comfortable and I can see my obliques. One of the most exciting and unexpected changes, however, happened the week that the life habit was meditation. One of my kids was stressed out about school, so I asked her to join me. The next night she rounded up two other sisters for 10 minutes of meditation. Now they have an extra tool in their toolbox to deal with stress. Unfortunately since my expectations for change were low, I didn't take a lot of initial measurements. If you like empirical evidence, all I have to offer is an approximate 5 pound weight loss and a 3% decrease in body fat compared to nine months ago. Other than that, you'll have to take my word that it was a worthwhile investment of time in myself.

So bottom line: would I recommend WLC? Absolutely. But I would encourage you to make it your own. Take what you need from it and use it as a customizable tool to encourage your own growth and improvement. Believe that positive change will occur, and take initial measurements, especially if you're a numbers person.

Because the work of WLC can be done individually and online, regardless of your proximity to me, you can participate on the "Dauntless Fitness" team, which I will co-lead with Louise Orders. However, if you do live nearby, definitely come to the kick off and ending parties at Dauntless, where we will help with initial and final measurements. I also encourage you to participate in the Saturday 9 AM lift series, which will allow you to track your strength gains. Early (discounted) registration for WLC runs through 4 January. The next Whole Life Challenge begins 16 January. I hope you'll join us!