This past September and October 7,000 people participated in The Whole Life Challenge. The Whole Life Challenge was developed at CrossFit LA by Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck but this Challenge was run at 140 affiliate gyms worldwide, the first test of Andy and Michael’s new WLC software for affiliates. As a veteran of one of their previous challenges and a beta tester they were kind enough to let me play along as if I were a gym. I recruited 125 people into my “gym” via Facebook, Twitter, and this blog. The takers were all over the map, literally and figuratively, from fit to fat, from across the United States to as far away as Russia. Together we chatted in a Facebook group and logged our points daily at WholeLifeChallenge.com.
In the end there was a winner. The winner is determined algorithmically and the components of the score are: improvement in a workout performed at the beginning and end of the challenge, change in body measurements taken at beginning and end of challenge, and performance on the WLC scoreboard. There were a total 330 points possible on the WLC scoreboard over the 8 weeks, 6 points per day plus 2 possible bonus points per week. Daily points: 1 point for at least 10 minutes of exercise, whatever kind you choose; 1 point for at least 10 minutes of mobility/stretching; 1 point for taking fish oil or some other form of omega 3; and you start each day with 3 food points, losing one each time you eat something on the NO list. The NO list is restrictive enough to get just about everyone out of their comfort zone (grains, dairy, sugar, alcohol, soy, corn, juice, and white potatoes) and that’s the point — over the course of the challenge you experiment and find new loves and habits. The scoring is simple and the accountability is motivating.
So who came out on top? Who were our biggest losers? I’m glad the scoring was algorithmic or I’d have been accused of nepotism. My twenty-two year-old daughter, a first-year graduate student at Stanford, Zoe Rogers, took first place.
I graduated from MIT in June at 180 lbs. I spent the summer running five days per week, training for my first 5K in July and my first 10K in October. I was “watching what I was eating”, trying to limit pasta/bread, with mixed success in a house where cookie dough out-numbered vegetables. September 1st I had just started in a new town, school, and apartment, and was down to 165 lbs. During the 8 weeks of the challenge I lost about 18 pounds and 2 clothing sizes (about 6 inches of circumference around my waist) and I’ve kept going — I’m at 145 lbs now, the lightest I’ve been since freshman year of high school.
The Challenge isn’t just “a diet”. You have to fit The Challenge into your day/week/lifestyle. You make time for the exercise. You make time for the stretching. When you get in bed and realize you haven’t taken your fish oil you get out of bed and take your fish oil. You spend time planning your meals and grocery shopping. The points keep you accountable. It’s fun and I’m competitive so when I may have otherwise been lazy I got up and did what needed doing for The Challenge. At first you’re forcing these things into your schedule, then you realize they don’t take that much time and the results far exceed the amount of time you put in.
The hardest part was having to explain myself to everyone and being the difficult person who asks about all the food and substitutions. It’s fine when you cook for yourself but being social around meal times is frustrating a lot of the time. Over the 8 weeks I stopped caring what other people thought, though. Once I saw/felt the results and believed in The Challenge conceptually personally, I didn’t feel the need to explain The Challenge to others anymore. I felt like I could just explain what I was doing and let the results speak for themselves.
There are a bunch of things I took from The Challenge which I’ll keep doing. I learned how to eat delicious food that’s not bad for me. I hit the local farmer’s market on Saturdays and cook on Sundays for the entire week. It takes two hours then I have delicious meals for lunch and dinner to last me the week. It’s a small investment to keep me from eating greasy pizza (I’m a grad student) the rest of the week. Not only is it delicious (and I’ve learned to enjoy cooking and trying new things) but I save money by cooking for myself. I spend $55-60/week on my farmer’s market and grocery trips combined and I’m eating home-cooked meals 90% of the time.
Now that The Challenge is over, the only things I’ve added back into my kitchen are greek yogurt, honey, and soy sauce. Other than that I’m staying “Challenge-Compliant” at home (I say as I enjoy a glass of sparkling wine away from home). Still no bread, no pasta, no cheese, and generally avoiding calorie-containing beverages. The Challenge trained me to drink more water than I used to and tea is my other go-to.
I found out I love CrossFit. The results I’ve seen from CrossFit in 8 weeks are exponentially better than those I saw running the year-and-a-half previous. As a person who’s never had any arm strength, the ability to do half a push-up and half a pull-up is an accomplishment. I joined Amity CrossFit in Palo Alto during The Challenge. It’s different every day so I don’t get bored. Every day I push myself a little further (harder, heavier) than I could in yesterday’s workout and it’s encouraging to feel progress at that level. I was trying to CrossFit alone [DIY CrossFit program here – ed] but belonging to a gym gives me coaching and community that has made me push myself harder and try new things I’d have never done without the class and the coach. Now I CrossFit at Amity five days per week; I make it a priority regardless of what my schedule has in store (I biked 8 miles in the pouring rain to get there in time for the 8am class yesterday). As a grad student my funds are limited but I don’t regret the money I spend on CrossFit — if I get nothing else done in a day but I’ve gone to class, I still feel like I’ve accomplished something.
Whole Life Challenge was hard, worth the initial struggle. It’s not something you can do half way you need to be committed to giving it 8 weeks of a chance. For me, it’s been completely transformative, not just numerically, but mentally. I don’t want to go back.
Second place was Paola Palazzo. In her words:
The results with Whole Life Challenge (WLC) were more than I expected.
Actually I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I had to be involved.
In August, I got an upper respiratory infection at Lollapalooza. For 3 weeks I couldn’t shake it and I became extremely tired and had zero motivation. My weight was at its highest point. When I read Ian’s Facebook post on WLC, I was intrigued and looked into it. I knew I had to do this. I had to be a part of this. I will be turning 45 in December and there was no way I was going to weigh 153lbs. My goal with WLC was to lose 10lbs, and I did. I also ended up losing 12 inches which was mind blowing to me. I knew I had abs underneath that belly fat and now I see them! I have so much energy, stamina, strength. My hair and skin are glowing. I have a pair of jeans that I couldn’t wear for a year because they were too tight, now they are very loose!
The WLC allowed me to believe in myself again. I’ve worked out with so many trainers, tried different work out classes and never achieved the results I have by doing WLC. I became bored with other diets and workouts and fell back on bad habits. With WLC, I ate healthy, home cooked food which was easy to make. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, so this was fun for me. I have purchased new cookbooks and love trying new recipes. I didn’t find that cutting out sugar, dairy, grains was that difficult. I found interesting ways to eat protein, vegetables and fruit. Most importantly, I was accountable for what I was eating. I was accountable for logging in my workouts and stretches. I was accountable for me and my life. Sounds simple, but really I wasn’t doing that in the past. I made excuses.
Now, that’s all changed. Working out is part of my daily life, even if at times it may be for only 10 minutes. I enjoy it and I’m trying new activities. I recently joined the LA Kings Beginners Hockey Camp and I love it!!
WLC has become a part of my life. I continue to take a fish oil every day, I stretch before I go to bed, and I’ve eliminated cereal, bread, dairy, cheese, most sugar from my diet. I will have small portions of pasta (hey I’m Italian!), and an occasional glass of wine. I continue to pay attention to what I’m eating and how it’s prepared.
One of the more rewarding things to come out of this is how I’ve influenced those around me. I received so much support and encouragement from my colleagues at work, my close friends, and my family and the WLC participants. The WLC Facebook page was my go to every day…loved reading other peoples recipes and motivating stories. My mother came to visit from Canada 2 weeks after I started WLC and had already noticed a difference in my appearance and how I was eating. We would go grocery shopping and she was reading labels with me. I know that she now has changed her eating habits because of my success with WLC.
I would recommend WLC for anyone who wants to learn to live a clean, healthy, active life. Eat real food, and really take care of yourself. You don’t need to do this for weight loss, although that will happen. I think this would benefit anyone who wants to change their eating habits, incorporate working out and stretching into their lives, and become accountable for the way they are living life. This makes you stop and really pay attention to what you’re eating, doing, and thinking.
I’m grateful to have done this and the positive impact it’s had on my life.
In third was Charlene English:
Hooray! I am so thrilled that I completed and somehow managed to do well on what is sure to be my first Whole Life Challenge. I was pretty miserable the first three weeks and I was cursing Ian and Julie for getting me roped into the WLC – I mean no sugar, wine or cheese – I was a very grumpy lady. But after I got into the rhythm of being organized, prepping my food for the week and scheduling my workouts – I found that I was cruising along and I felt great. I did the challenge primarily because I knew I was not eating a very balanced diet, and needed a way to jumpstart a healthier way of eating, and perhaps I would lose a little weight. Not to mention I was totally motivated by the word CHALLENGE.
By the end of the challenge I had lost 20 lbs and a few inches here and there. My new habits have me eating healthier and weight loss has me more motivated to get fit. Some key takeaway going forward for me:
- It is not daunting to find 10 minutes per day to do exercise. From walking, to fitness videos or short runs – telling yourself it is only 10 minutes is a great jumping off point to get yourself moving everyday.
- Almond milk is really good!
- Good and tasty food can come from really simple recipes and fresh produce.
- Prep prep prep
I recommend the WLC for anyone who wants a healthier lifestyle, with the help of a really active and helpful community. I really enjoyed the support of the other WLCers and liked the fact that we were all playing the game together. The “diet” may not be for you long-term, but you will definitely learn a lot about how and what you are eating and how you can benefit by being a more active person.
As for me, I couldn’t overstate the inspiration I’ve drawn from leading a group of people through The Whole Life Challenge. It’s not often enough we feel we’ve had a deep and positive impact in the life of a fellow human. Watching people improve in something so basic to existence, fitness and health, was moving in a way too few things in everyday life are. That one of the folks who saw the biggest change was my daughter, when fitness and food have been a difficult point for us for so many years, was life-changing. The increased health/fitness blogging you’ll see here is a direct result of this experience. Thanks sincerely to Andy and Michael for having us along for the ride, and thanks to everyone who participated. I still have a stack of recipes from y’all I need to try!
If you’d like the Whole Life Challenge in your life stay tuned, the next full Challenge starts in April and we will be doing it again!