2023 Challenge: Do Not Do Another Nutrition Challenge
New year, new goals, new you! Sound familiar?
January is a month filled with new marketing in the health industry about all the magic pills and quick fixes that supplement and health companies want you to buy. Along with all those gimmicks come nutrition challenges!
You’ve heard it before. The 30 day quick fixes, the magic bullet, the build the best booty and skinniest waist in six weeks or less? Or my favorite, the three day detox cleanse you didn’t know you needed?! The idea that you can have everything you want and all the happiness you’ve been searching for on the other side of an “x” amount of days you’ll find your best self? Yeah.. right. Shoot, I’ve tried it all at one point or another! They make it all sound so easy and lowkey really magical.
As someone in the space looking to create change the intention of this article is to simply encourage those to first continue to commit to yourself and your health and once you finish reading this article I hope you feel better and more equipped to make the right decisions to help you reach your own personal health goals.
Let’s start with the positives of challenges:
“I think nutrition challenges can serve a really great purpose of helping folks get motivated and start to build healthy habits and credibility with themselves of sticking to something”. – Preslie Hirsch, Senior Content Manager at Morning Chalk Up
- The community: Something about tackling a goal with others can bring out a type of competition in you that you didn’t know you had. Along with the competition aspect, there is a feeling of accountability and once you’re really loud about your goals, people who care about you can help you reach those too.
- Commitment to bettering yourself: Not everyday you decide to sign up for something to change your habits for the better. The fact you recognize you can do better and want to do something about it, that’s arguably the hardest part.
- Making your health a priority: You are unknowingly forced to prioritize healthy habits when you commit to something like a challenge. You find yourself thinking about your decision making more and even being mindful of your own behaviors. Who can complain about that?
What do the areas of improvements look like?
- No exit strategy: “I think a lot of people don’t realize that once you reach your goal or get to the end of the challenge, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Usually challenges just focus on the endpoint–30 days or 75 days or however long – and how much progress you can make in that time window. This way of thinking kind of leaves the person with no direction once it’s over.” – Becky Rogers, Nutrition Coach at Training Think Tank.
- No pre-screening: Typically in group nutrition coaching there is no reviewing of health or diet history with each participant. Although challenges can be exciting and fun to be a part of, it may not be appropriate for everyone to participate. For example, it would be harmful for someone who is currently struggling with an eating disorder or has struggled with disordered behaviors around food in the past. “As someone who’s struggled with body image for most of my life (like so many of us) a challenge is probably the worst thing I could do. When someone says “win a free month’s membership for whoever loses the most fat in 6 weeks” to me it sounds like “eat as little as possible and you can save money.” I remember when I did a fat loss challenge once and because I wanted to win, I restricted myself to only eating a single Quest Bar for the entire day. That’s it. If I see a challenge, it comes off as a lazy way to make a quick buck and implement potentially dangerous eating habits for anyone who’s struggled with their body image.” – Lauren Kalil, Senior Producer at Morning Chalk Up
- Too much restriction: A lot of the quick fix type of programs encourage removal of certain food groups or types for a certain amount of time. Unfortunately this reinforces thought patterns of labeling foods and creates food fears. “I think challenges are great but sometimes I think people get caught up in the numbers and it can create unhealthy goals and/or eating. I’ve found that sticking to a diet that is sustainable and something that I could stick to for a long period of time has been more beneficial for me, and is more realistic for my lifestyle” – Alexis Raptis, 10th at 2022 CrossFit Games
- Drastic changes done too soon: “In order to make big composition changes in a short time frame you have to make drastic sacrifices. Most nutrition challenges recommend sacrifices in food composition and total calorie intake. Those sacrifices aren’t sustainable, so the results aren’t either.” – Justin Paul, Owner of Consistency Breeds Growth Nutrition
What else can you do if you don’t do a challenge then?
Hire a Coach: Again, we see the value in both group and individualized coaching. Just like CrossFit programming, you can make progress following a group template OR hiring a coach.
“It rarely sounds like the most fun or sexy thing to do, but working with a coach (or something similar, based on your resources) and committing to a longer term solution to reach your goals is going to pay off 10x. Learning to power through life’s inevitable obstacles and making your nutrition/training program work with that is invaluable, and just often a lot more difficult to do in a group challenge setting.” – Preslie Hirsch
Make one change at a time: Go for the lowest hanging fruit here. Change one to two behaviors for ~10-14 days at a time. See what sticks and what doesn’t. Don’t go after “the peanuts” like if you should buy frozen or fresh vegetables. I’m talking about “the cannonballs” like sleep routine, movement regimen, stress management, food quality, and prioritizing mental health. Reflect on what changes will give you the biggest bang for your buck and do not try to do it all at once. It just doesn’t last. Take what you’re already doing and go from there. Then you can ensure it CAN get done.
Figure out what works best for you: If you’ve tried something to better your nutrition and you are no longer doing it, that means it probably didn’t work well for you. Now you know that maybe it’s time to consider something else, even if it means something different or something you’ve never done before. “You don’t need another 30 day challenge if it entails things you can not sustain. Typically the way we get results is the way we keep them. This goes for nutrition and fitness endeavors. So why waste your time on a 30 day challenge when you could use that time to figure out a system that works for you long term and supports your goals in the process?” – Jordan Adcock, Nutrition Coach at M2 Performance Nutrition
Regardless of which route you decide to take, I hope after last year you are at a good enough place to be able to call yourself out on your own BS and ready to create real change for nothing but good health and a wealth of prosperity in the year of 2023.