WLC logoEvery couple months, this thing comes around called the Whole Life Challenge. In short, it’s an 8-week lifestyle challenge that encourages you to eat well and exercise daily along with some other weekly goals like drinking enough water, or trying new veggies. It gets pretty popular among the CrossFit-heads as it promotes a Paleo-based nutrition plan: No grains, no sugar or sweeteners, nothing processed, no diary, no booze. As you can imagine, the lack of beer is my biggest blunder here, but we’ll get in to that later. I really don’t want to spend this time getting into the details of the challenge, as you can simply click the link above and get all the info you need, but for the sake of this post of mine here are the cliffnotes:

It’s a challenge with a point system…because as CrossFitters and ya know, humans, we are competitive. We do better in groups.  You can form teams, seeing everyones progress on the leader board.  You start every day with 5 nutrition points. For every infraction, you deduct a point. You gain points for your mobility, workouts, and supplements. Through daily reflections and lifestyle challenges, you earn bonus points.  This is how you earn off-challenge indulgences.

Now, I’ve done the challenge before and will be doing it again starting September 12. I’ve noticed a lot of the same questions, concerns, complaints tend to come up so I figured I would take this time to address them. My response is a direct result of my previous experience with the challenge. If you are sensitive, easily offended, and tend to take things personally…I suggest you stop reading as some of my answers might seem….rude.

These are the top 12 questions and problems I’ve noticed that come up during the Whole Life Challenge:

1. It’s too expensive.
I’m not going to sugar coat this: BULLSHIT. $34 is really breaking the bank, huh?  Let’s say you totally missed the early registration and all of those discount codes so you have to shell out a whopping $49. You’re going to stick to your story that it’s still too expensive? Let’s play a game.  $49 over the course of 8 weeks is $6.13.  That’s two cups of coffee.  One drink after work. One drive-through meal.  This is all crap you won’t be buying for the next 8 weeks. You actually end up SAVING a ton of money.  It doesn’t feel that way at first, but when you’re (for the most part) cooking all of your own food and skipping those impulse snack buys and happy hours, you end up with quite a surplus at the end.  I see a lot of “why do I have to pay?”. Well, as someone entering my fifth challenge, I can tell you that the accountability of logging in, the information provided, and the huge amount of community support is worth it every penny.  Plus, web hosting for this many people is damn expensive. Not to mention that fact that, by nature, we commit more to something when we’ve invested in it.  When you spend that hard earned cash, you’re way more likely to follow through, so as to not have wasted your green. You’re using the cost as an excuse, and it’s a crappy one.

2. Is this allowed?
If you’re asking, it’s probably not.  That being said, the challenge rules are pretty specific. Does is have sugar, maple syrup, anything that is a sweetener? No, it’s not allowed. Does it have an ingredient in it that you can’t pronounce? No, it’s not allowed. Is it alcohol? No it’s not allowed. Does it have soy in it? No, it’s not allowed.  Want to know how you find out if these things are in the food you want to eat? Here’s the big secret – READ THE GODDAMN LABEL!! Part of this challenge is making yourself accountable and responsible for your own health.  If you have the package in your hand, flip it over and read that ingredient list. I’ve learned so much through this small act. Many foods I thought were good for me turned out to contain soy, carageenan, sugar, “natural” beaver butt gland raspberry flavor. It’s great to have a community and people to do this with…that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your own research. Take these 8 weeks to take control of what you put into your body, and educate yourself on what’s in a product. If you’re really not sure – try google.

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3. No carbs?! I’ll STARVE!
No, you really wont.  First of all, this isn’t “no carb”. You can eat as many carbs as you want…provided they come in the form of fruit, veggies, or sweet potatoes. Secondly, how many “carbs” are you eating on a daily basis that you think you will starve without them? If every meal consists of pasta, bread, pancakes, pastries, cereal, then you need to be on this challenge, because that crap shouldn’t be making up 95% of what goes into your body anyway. This is especially true for “Paleo” people.  If you’re like me, and claim to eat a nutrient-focused diet, then this is basically what you tell everyone you eat regularly. If anything, the challenge showed me that I’m a BIG BIG BULLSHITTER! You can get all the nutrients that you need to feel full and energized without that morning bowl of oatmeal. There’s no limit on fat – eat an avocado and some eggs with broccoli…I promise you’ll be stuffed.

4. Well, what the shit am I supposed to eat for breakfast?
Someone please explain to me when we decided that the only viable options for breakfast are pancakes, cereal, and pastries? We are so stuck in this boxed idea of what breakfast needs to be.  Breakfast can be anything! Shit, you can have your leftover roast chicken and veggies from last night if you want. Go crazy! All you need to do is make sure you have some protein, healthy fats, and some good carbs. Boom. Meal made. That being said, I understand the desire for “breakfast” foods.  Remember those things called eggs? What’s wrong with some scrambled eggs, sausage, and fruit for breakfast? What about a smoothie? There are tons of compliant pancake recipes out there and even grain-free ‘oatmeal’.  A lot of the issues have to do with speed and convenience.  Muffin frittatas, banana bread, hard boiled eggs, and smoothies, all can be done either ahead of time or within a few minutes and have you right out the door.  Just pry your breakfast-box open and you’ll find a world of possibilities!

5. I’ll just ignore that part. It’s a conscious decision.
OK, I’m sorry…but if I make a “conscious decision” to ignore certain parts of my job I don’t feel like doing, I get fired.  If I make a “conscious decision” not to answer 10 questions on a test, I fail.  Just because you make a decision not to do something, doesn’t mean it now no longer exists.  I get that some of this stuff is hard.  My job centers 100% around beer…so can I just make a conscious decision to ignore the alcohol part? Uh, sure…if I want to get a 0 every day. For that matter, if I don’t plan on changing anything, wtf is the point of signing up? I can’t make a conscious decision to stay in bed instead of working out (which I do more often than I care to admit) and then after a month of ‘training’, bitch that I didn’t get any better.  Go ahead. Make a conscious decision to ignore the dairy part, or the booze part, or the sugar part. Just make sure you don’t get pissy when your friend who stuck to it beats you in the final WOD or sees better results. The amount of people who want to change, but don’t want to put in the work that change requires is astounding. You have to decide how important your goals are and make them a priority.

6. One bite doesn’t count. I don’t lose a point for that.
Read the rules. Yes it does. Yes you do. Learn to stop taking bites of bullshit. Take a breath and think “Do I really need this random bite of cake?” The answer is probably no. Move on.  Save it for a bonus point and eat the whole fucking thing instead of blemishing your day of sticking to the plan for one lousy bite. When I started to notice how often I stopped myself from “just one bite” because I didn’t want to lose a point, I was like…Holy shit…that’s a lot of “just one bite’s”.  Many of us don’t realize what our habits TRULY are…we just know what we think they are….and what we tell people they are.

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7. I walked to get the mail…That counts, right?
Nope, sorry Charlie. We’re talking about 10 minutes of INTENTIONAL exercise. Not, “I walked to the store…hey that took ten minutes…boom! WORKOUT!”. Stop trying to find ways not to change your routine. Stop looking for loopholes. You signed up for this because your routine isn’t working in some facet. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it….does not apply. It broke. Fix it. You need your ‘rest day?’ You worked out sooo hard for an hour a day this week? Go for a jog. Do push ups and sit ups…you’ll be fine.

8. I never eat the “forbidden foods”, but now I’m eating them because you said I can’t! Damn you WLC!!
This one is all about perspective. It hit me a little bit, but not as much as some of my teammates last time. It’s basic human nature – you want what you can’t have. If someone says “Don’t think about pizza.”, you can’t NOT think about pizza. The only advice I can offer on this one is that is you really have to focus on all of the things you CAN have, instead of the things you CAN’T. You CAN have a bad ass steak. You CAN have lobster and BUTTER. You CAN have every fruit on the planet. Freeze bananas and put them in the blender with strawberries and coconut milk. Milkshake. When you compare the CANs to the CAN’Ts, the ‘cans’ start to become the majority. There are so many resources on the big old internet. It’s easy to find delicious recipes that fit the WLC rules. It’s not the challenge’s fault you suddenly want a dozen donuts. Stop pointing your galze-coated finger.

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9.  No Drinking?!
Given that “Drink” is the second line in my blogs name, I think it’s pretty clear that this is the part that I don’t love.  Last time, I picked one day a week that I would either have multiple drinks and a full force vice day, or I picked three compliant meals with which I would have a pint throughout the week.  My perspective on this has changed a bit with more challenges under my belt. Not drinking isn’t that big of a deal. Put your big girl pants on. It’s not that you “Need to have your wine when you get home”…you WANT to. Cutting bak on the bottle isn’t going to cost you friends. If it does – you need new ones. One less hangover? It’s pretty nice.  Trying to lose weight? This step is CRUCIAL. Alcohol inhibits your livers ability to regulate your metabolism. That means that when you drink, you’re halting your weight loss unit it’s out of your system (up to 72 hours). Drinking is fun. Learn to have fun without it. If you really can’t do it, fine. Lose the points, but don’t come crying in 8 weeks that the challenge “didn’t work”.

10. But I have a PARTY!!
That’s great! Have fun! Have a drink! Just PLAN for it. A major aspect of the challenge is learning to plan. Look at your calendar. Pick the events that you really want to be able to go all out at and mark those as your care-free days. Stick to the plan otherwise. Trust me, I get that some people wont get it and will give you a hard time. I get that you don’t want to be the stick in the mud at the party. One thing I’ve found, is that the challenge showed me that I don’t NEED to drink at every event or party or dinner I attended. For the most part, no one cares what you’re doing. You might get some push back, but know that anyone giving you a hard time is about THEM, not you.  Don’t you dare give me the “work stuff” excuse. I work in beer. Beer surrounds me everyday. For example: I had 19 Beer-Centric events between Labor Day and Halloween last year. If I hadn’t been doing the challenge, I would probably have used them as excuses to eat crap and drink at every single one. Now, I have to pick the ones I want to indulge at, and stick to my plan.  MAKE A PLAN, and if you falter, don’t fret. Shake it off. Just move on and make your next choice a better one.

11. 8 Weeks is really long.
Yea, I know. Really, though…it’s not. It’s about 1/6 of your year…that’s 15%.  There would be no point to do a week long challenge. We’re trying to create real change here. Feel healthier, perform better, for some to lose weight or inches…you can’t do that without committing some real time.  8 Weeks before from the next start day was June 18…does that seem like it was crazy far in the past? Nope…sure doesn’t. 8 weeks from the start brings us to just November 7. If you really think about it…it’s really not that long. You have to do things for a stretch of time if you want to make real change and create real habits. All things considered though, it’s a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of things.

12. This is hard.
No shit. It’s not called the “Whole Life Easy”. The word CHALLENGE is right in the damn name of the thing! It’s not MEANT to be easy.  Most of the people I know doing the challenge go to my gym (CrossFIT732)…are you telling me that CrossFit is easy? I’m pretty sure it’s 100% not. Running on an elliptical for 40 minutes is easy…but we chose to do CrossFit because we want the challenge….and the results that come from it. How hard it is will be a direct reflection of how you approach it.  Don’t make it harder for yourself by trying to be perfect. The WLC is not ABOUT being perfect, it’s about being accountable, aware, and making a specific effort to better your health and well being.  You shouldn’t have a perfect score every day. It was designed to let you live your life in the real world. Some challenges are super strict for 30 days with no infractions. That’s great, but that’s not something that you can carry into the world when those four weeks are up, and too often people make one misstep and throw in the towel. Here, we’re trying to create new habits.  Thing like reading labels, daily exercise, or finding what foods make you feel best are what the real victory is…not a perfect score after 56 days.

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To wrap it up, I want to say that this post was in no way written because I was perfect the last time I did the Whole Life Challenge. I was NOT. I made to many bad choices. I drank more than I should have…but I stuck to it the best I felt I could and I saw results.  My WOD improved, I leaned out after struggling for ages…it was the kick in the ass I needed. That being said, I will approach it this time around with much more positivity and I believe I will do better for it. At the end of the day the WLC is what you make it. Use it to clean up after a long, crazy fall/winter/spring/summer. Use it to force yourself to really pay attention to what you eat.  Use it to get yourself in the gym that one extra day a week. Use it to drink less (cough*me*cough).  It’s 100% up to you. You can eat and drink whatever the hell you want during the challenge, but your score, and where you are at the end of 56 days will be a direct output of that.

It’s 8 weeks. 56 days. You can learn a lot in that time. Take the time to change the way you do things.