For as long as I have owned this business (circa 2009), the mere thought of a food challenge has made me cringe.
Without fail, when you see something like this pinned on Pinterest or turned into an infographic on Instagram it’s paired with these jaw-dropping anecdotes of improved health, pounds lost, better sleep, better sex, you name it.
And I’ll be damned if the placebo effect can’t be a convincing bastard.
If by some chance you don’t know what I’m referencing, it goes something like this:
Said source gives a list of no-no foods that should be temporarily removed from the diet. It helps if these are hot button foods with alleged (and legitimate) sensitivities: gluten, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, flour, “processed foods”, dairy, etc.
A timeline is given to remove these foods and await the joys of your newfound health. The heavens part, the angels sing, leprechauns dance across your front yard (it’s quite a spectacle by the way!)
And ideally when the challenge is done, you assume some degree of re-introducing these foods back in to the diet with a modicum of restraint.
But something about these challenges had always rubbed me wrong. For me, it was all the hope and promise that came with them or some astronomically long list of foods to remove that managed to steal every morsel of joy from your life.
For that, since 2009 we never ran a challenge like this.
Until this year.
I watched the way my clients attempted to rebound from all of the holiday eating and, frankly it was kind of painful to see. Many of my clients couldn’t resume their sense of normal before November and December rolled around.
I also read about a slightly less insane version of a food challenge that removed flour, sugar and alcohol from the diet for about two weeks.
We were a week into 2019 and I thought: “I wonder if my clients would be okay with this until the end of the month?” (Just over three weeks.)
So, I rolled the offer out.
Many clients jumped at the chance to start, many others gave an emphatic “Oh Hell No!” and of course, many remained quiet.
I kindly reminded my clients not to assume magical qualities from embarking on this challenge. Contrary to social media belief the heavens would probably not part, no angels would sing and there would be no dancing leprechauns (well, maybe in an acid flashback…)
The most important thing that I wanted to impress on my clients was that it was really meant to give feedback:
-How did you feel without these items in your diet?
-How did you substitute the removed foods with other foods?
-What improved in energy, sleep, workouts, body weight, etc.?
-What did you notice about your patterns and prevalence of these items after removing them?
And I’d like to give you some glimpses into how the RevFit fam did over three weeks as well as how the challenge affected me.
I had a small handful of clients who were spot-on perfect with the challenge. Once it began, they got focused, they got creative and they hung in for the whole shebang. All of these clients lost weight, all reported feeling significantly better despite “missing” the removed foods.
I had another group of clients who adhered pretty closely to the diet. Maybe they removed flour and alcohol but left trace amounts of sugar or they removed flour and sugar but saved a couple of drinks for a Saturday night.
That, of course, was 100% okay. What I encouraged was that despite the “rules”, ultimately it was the client’s choice how rigid they chose to be.
Bill said: “It started out kind of rough. I really missed flour products but that went away and I got into a nice zone. I also limited my daily intake to no more than 1600 calories over the last few weeks and I lost 6-7 lbs since it started. I feel great and plan on continuing with this until I hit my goal weight….although not as “militant”. I am looking forward to having a bourbon this weekend – that’s for sure and an occasional small sweet treat to keep me going. I learned that my diet was way too dependent on all three of the challenge items and will curve my intake even after I stop adhering to it. I feel great and very glad I participated!
Linda said: I lost my cravings for sugar after about 3 days. I do have more energy (which is great). I saw a weight loss of 6 pounds doing this challenge. I will say that I was also focusing more on calorie deficit since January 1. I think adding bread back into my diet is going to be first because I bake my own and I love sandwiches. I’m going to set a goal to eat my dark chocolate only one day per week in order to control the yo yo effect that sugar gives me. This was a great challenge to kick off the new year.
Theresa said: I am the last person on earth who thought she could go 3 weeks without carbs and sugar, staples of my diet. I was prepared to be a complete failure but wanted to give it a try. I would say I adhered to it 95% of the time. I learned to eat tuna, eggs and peanut butter without bread. I found creative ways to bake, a favorite pastime and stress reliever, without white flour and sugar. Most creations were edible and satisfied my sweet tooth. This challenge made me much more aware of what I was eating and when. I also discovered how many foods contain hidden sugar and I think that was the hardest part. Overall I feel SO much better! I don’t have the sugar rush or feel jittery in the morning from a carb-filled dinner the night before. You told me to drink more water and thanks, I’m running to the bathroom 80 times a day! My skin tone and clarity have really improved also. This challenge was a REAL challenge for someone like me but it was so worth it in terms of how much better I feel physically. The only downfall is I felt hungry sometimes which is mainly attributed to my work schedule, so that is where the 5% non-adherence comes in. Sometimes you just need to eat a damn sandwich! Thank you, Jason, for expanding my horizons both physically and mentally.
And, not surprisingly, there were many clients who just couldn’t vibe with this challenge at all. I fault no one. It was called a challenge for a reason, because following it would be anything but easy. It was my sincere hope that even those who elected not to embark on it still had some valuable feedback and insight into themselves to determine what areas of their diet may be taking priority and, should they elect to do so, could try a challenge of their own later on.
For one, I was not doing this challenge for weight loss. I did it to support my clients and to gain some insight into my own diet (which I typically will do in some fashion a few times each year anyway.)
The first most notable change for myself was not having my nightly drink with dinner. I tend to favor a beer or a shot of bourbon and only ever one. I didn’t think it would be particularly missed.
I should have known myself better than that.
Being a recovering addict, patterns, rituals and habits become ingrained for me with a fair amount of ease. When I got home from work the first night of the challenge, I had to remind myself that there would be no drinking for awhile. That took a few days to get used to and then I didn’t seem to miss drinking as much.
While I’ve always had something of a sweet tooth, I would say the occasional sweet or maybe some daily dark chocolate was the next thing I missed. That also went away after a few days.
In place of flour, I ate more rice and potatoes. This did fine for me in complementing a meal but grains seem to help my digestive system so the absence of that type of fiber took some getting used to.
Other things I noted was that by removing all of these products from my diet, I started to eat a lot more fruit and nuts/nut butters. The fruit of course is no issue but I did find myself overconsuming on nuts simply because I chose to not moderate them.
For myself, I can’t say that I necessarily “felt” better on the challenge but I liked having something different to focus on.
Another thing that I found somewhat interesting was that added sugar is in damn near everything. I went to buy a bag of dry roasted almonds and sugar was the second ingredient! Mind you, it wasn’t a lot of sugar but on principle it was mildly frustrating.
Oddly enough, I was able to find natural peanut butters with just peanuts and salt and for some reason, they satisfied my sweet tooth when fruit wasn’t around. Apparently, my taste buds changed slightly in absence of the removed foods.
As I write this, the challenge has ended and I have put all three foods back into my diet in relatively small amounts. The challenge gave me insight into how I feel with (or without) certain foods or combinations therein. I’ll continue to play with different combinations as I let my body readjust. I lost about 3 lbs on this challenge which was not the goal but it happened any way.
For anyone reading this who elects to try this challenge or another, I would offer a kind reminder. Don’t treat it like a “detox”, a “reset” or anything of that nature. You could simply look at areas of your diet which may be problematic and try going without for a while. Many of my clients do something similar for Lent but not everyone is religiously involved in that way.
All in all, I’m glad we did it. I’m glad that so many of my clients found their feedback valuable and, of course, I’m glad so many saw great results.
We have no magic tricks around here. Just camaraderie, suggestions, insight and feedback to guide us through.
Below is a line up of some of our savages. I won’t say which ones tried the challenge and which ones didn’t. But maybe Dan gave himself away with the hand gestures
“We Make Great People Greater”