We’re doing the Whole Life Challenge at the gym, and I’m very excited! We have not had the ability to participate in a WLC before, and I appreciate that the approach is geared towards creating a sustainable approach to lifestyle change.
While the WLC is not just about nutrition–it is also about mobility, exercise, and consistency of all behaviors–dietary choices are a substantial component of the challenge and seem to be a major source of stress for many potential challenge participants. Perhaps the number one thing I hear is “I can’t do this.” (Yes, yes you can!)
Often, this is followed by, “I LOVE (insert “forbidden” item).” Truly, I get it – I love [chocolate, a good glass of wine, honey, maple syrup, etc.], too. But (and here’s the critical thing), you can survive without them. (Shocking, I know.) Moreover, the whole point of the WLC isn’t to go cold turkey on your favorites for 8 weeks and make it a deprivation challenge, but to make reflective decisions about what, when, and how you are consuming foods. So, if you really want that glass of wine? Go for it and use that point. Just maybe try not to make it a bottle.
At its heart, however, I think many of these hesitations regarding the dietary framework of the challenge reflect concerns that it will be hard. And, to some extent, it is. Not in the this-is-so-hard-it’s-impossible sense, but in the fact that eating this way requires more planning and cooking than may currently be a part of your life. Label reading reveals hidden, sneaky ingredients (for example, soy in “canned tuna in water”) that is in part frustrating, in part illuminating about how many things we unwittingly consume via seemingly innocuous food products.
So, to make it less hard on yourself, you need to start preparing. And, to prepare, you need to understand the nutrition rules. You get five points per day for nutrition, provided you do not consume anything that violates the challenge guidelines. For each food/serving eaten that contains something not within the guidelines, you lose one point. The guidelines:
- No grains or starchy carbohydrates. No wheat, rice, corn, barley, quinoa, soy, and white potatoes. This includes grain-derived oils such as corn and soybean oils. Allowed? Sweet potatoes and yams (and legumes!). At first glance, this can feel really restrictive (I really enjoy white potatoes!), but…there are a TON of new vegetables out there waiting to grace your plate: rutabagas, winter squash (butternut, acorn, kabocha, hubbard, spaghetti squash), parsnips, turnips, carrots, cauliflower, and more!
- No sugar or sweeteners of any kind. This includes honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, coconut crystals, and so forth. If you like, they allow Stevia, a plant-based, no-calorie sweetener (not my favorite stuff, but if your sweet tooth is really killing you and you don’t want to forgo points, try it). In short: READ YOUR LABELS. Sugar in various forms is in tons of things you buy at the store. Some of the things that will be off limits? Most pre-prepared broths (chicken, vegetable, and beef), BACON (sad face), and many store bought sausages.
- No dairy. No milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. (again, READ LABELS). The exception? BUTTER or ghee. Yay, butter!
- No alcohol, soda, or juice. This includes diet sodas AND fruit juice (pureed whole fruits are okay).
- No artificial ingredients or processed foods. They say “just about everything that gets put in food that you wouldn’t find in your own kitchen.” Basically, if its unpronouncable, clearly a chemical (“Red #5”), or is guar gum, carrageenan, sulfites, or MSG (or similar)…it’s out. Again: READ LABELS!
Some follow up rules:
Portions. Portion sizes matter; 1 pizza does not equal 1 point. ANY sip/bite/etc. counts as 1 point.
Combination foods, i.e., foods that contain more than one of the items listed above (cheeseburger with bun, milkshake, etc.) equal one point per serving.
Overall, what does this means? It means you need to be mindful of what you are consuming. By the end of the challenge, you should be more aware of what is in the foods you regularly purchase at the grocery store, as well as more aware of your personal preferences and challenges. You can choose to adhere strictly to the guidelines if you wish, or you can be more flexible with your choices. How you choose to play is up to you.
However, it will be hard to play well if you don’t start from a good position…so start preparing! Some things to do:
- Mark items in your cabinet that are WLC-approved vs. not approved so that you can easily make choices while preparing meals.
- If you know you struggle with willpower avoiding certain foods (and you would like to avoid those foods), either donate them (if appropriate) or throw them away. You’ll either find out that you can live without them or you can reintroduce them at the end of the challenge.
- Stock your freezer and your pantry with some emergency dinners and snacks.
I’ll be posting recipe and meal planning resources in the coming days and throughout the challenge.
We kick off in 10 days (February 16th) – so get ready!