If I said there’s a right, and a wrong way to do a thirty day nutrition challenge would that seem like a controversial statement to you?
A thirty day nutrition challenge can be used to jump start new healthy habits for someone beginning their journey into nutrition, or it can set someone up to have a semi dysfunctional relationship with food.
In the very beginning is when it’s the toughest to stay on track with your nutrition so a thirty day nutrition challenge usually seems like a great idea.
There’s a much more damaging part of these nutrition challenges that very few people discuss though.
In this lesser spoken about aspect of thirty day nutrition challenges, disordered and unsustainable nutrition practices can be deeply ingrained in participants.
Especially the people who are brand new to nutrition and weight management.
These nutrition challenges are setting people up to have a really rocky foundation for their nutrition and weight loss journey, which is a huge disservice.
Many of the nutrition challenges can foster disordered habits by demonizing perfectly nutritious foods like fruit, potatoes, oatmeal or whole grains and rice.
There’s usually a cookie cutter nutrition plan that goes along with the challenge and has no personalization or customization whatsoever.
You’ll have two completely different people with different activity levels, body weights and ages eating the same 1,200 calorie cookie cutter nutrition plan.
Pretty much none of these nutrition challenges reinforce healthy habits that can be maintained over a long period of time.
They promote unsustainable habits to see who can have the largest drop on the scale in a short amount of time, but we both know the weight will come back on after the challenge has ended.
Let’s look at a few of the many reasons most thirty day nutrition challenges do more harm than good.
Most challenges put you in a massive calorie deficit meaning that you’re eating way fewer calories than you burning.
In many regards this is just putting you on a semi controlled crash diet for thirty days as a part of the challenge.
However by calling it a challenge, instead of a thirty crash diet it’s much more acceptable, and people will even egg you on.
The challenges put you in a massive calorie deficit by heavily restricting certain foods, or entire food groups.
The thing is you don’t need to completely remove any food, or avoid a specific food group to lose weight.
You just need to be in a calorie deficit.
Let’s all be honest carbs are delicious, and you don’t need to avoid them bread or fruit when trying to lose weight.
The aspect of challenges that’s extremely misleading to people is when they actually get results, and think the results are due to the food they removed.
Suddenly in their minds their success is strictly tied to removing and restricting certain foods like carbs, fruit or bread.
It fosters the mindset that these are “bad foods” that were preventing or hindering their weight loss.
When in reality by removing certain foods, or food groups participants just ate fewer calories consistently and removes the “good food” and “bad food” misunderstanding.
Let’s take a look at how certain challenges based around specific diets help you lose weight.
I bet you won’t be surprised…
- Vegan diet: Removes animal products/fats – Eating Fewer Calories
- Paleo/Whole30 diet: Removes processed foods – Eating Fewer Calories
- Ketogenic diet: Removes carbohydrates – Eating Fewer Calories
- Sugar “detox”: Removes a lot of high sugar processed foods – Eating Fewer Calories
At the end of the day when people get results from the removal of certain foods, or food groups and don’t understand the principle of creating a calorie deficit for fat loss it can end up creating a disordered or fear based relationship with foods or food groups.
Another issue is that these unsustainable challenges never have an exit strategy that educates the participants on how to transition to more sustainable nutrition habits once the challenge ends.
Most people commonly live between two states of overindulging with food, or being overly restrictive which sends them right back into overindulging.
It’s a vicious cycle some people never escape.
As a society, the main issues we face around weight doesn’t have to do with losing weight, everyone has done that before.
The main struggle our society faces is how to maintain the weight loss that’s been achieved.
This is why there are so many people who have done every diet under the sun yet continue to struggle with their weight year after year.
No thirty day nutrition challenge I’ve ever seen has addressed what to do after a period of more aggressive dieting during the challenge.
They have a start and an end date, and participants are expected to figure what to do afterwards.
When a thirty day nutrition challenge ends none of the participants have learned or practiced any of the necessary skills to maintain their results.
Most of the time after a challenge people will take two different routes; keep trying to follow the overly restrictive thirty day challenge nutrition guidelines or go back to their old pre challenge habits.
The old habits that caused the weight gain to begin with is the easy choice here, especially coming off a long period of being overly restrictive with food.
Now that we’ve discussed the wrong way to engineer a thirty day challenge, and the many issues they can create let’s look at a four sustainable habits or challenges you can use in place of these quick fixes.
These habit based challenges will set you up for success in the long run, get you longer lasting results and remove the idea that you need to be so restrictive so get the results you want.
Habit #1: Fork Down In Between
Focusing on putting your fork down between bites is of the most overlooked habits when it comes to being more mindful around your food intake.
Many people sit down at meals and eat so fast you barely chew your food before swallowing it.
I’ve been guilty of this many many times!
It should come as no surprise that when we rush through eating too fast and aren’t more mindful of our hunger signals it can be much easier to eat more than we need.
When eating the gut has to signal satiety and fullness to the brain, and by eating too quickly you to shortcut that system.
Because you eat so quickly and don’t allow the needed time for the gut to communicate with the brain, and you’re able to eat far more than you need before the brain turns off the hunger signal.
The end result is you feeling stuffed and bloated after meals, and eating an amount that doesn’t match the goals you have for yourself.
By taking the time to put your fork down between each bite it will challenge you to relax, slow down and be more present with your food when you eat.
By putting your fork down between each bite of food you’ll also get in better touch with your hunger signaling, and be able to answer the following question honestly…
“Am I actually hungry for the next bite of food, or just eating because it’s in front of me ?”
I’m guessing it’s been years since you’ve asked and answered that question during a meal.
Before I started putting my fork down between bites at meals I’d never asked that question honestly, but simply doing that will make you significantly more mindful around your meals.
Habit #2: Half Plate Of Vegetables At Each Meal
No matter what diet someone follows there’s one thing that they all agree on, and that’s you should be eating a lot of plants each day.
In a society where we’re so concerned with having the “perfect diet” for fat loss or how many carbs someone should be eating or if a certain food is gluten free, we tend to ignore the low hanging fruit of nutrition.
Eating an adequate amount of vegetables at each and every meal is the lowest hanging fruit there is for your health.
Some of the benefits include things like:
- Beneficial for gut health and digestion
- Greater intake of fiber known to help weight management or loss
- Increased micronutrient intake
- Lower calorie food that’s very filling
- Reduced risk of chronic disease
- Source of antioxidants
Literally everything from your digestion to prevention of chronic disease can be improved by eating more vegetables, and let’s be honest most people aren’t eating enough of them as is anyway.
Part of the reason the half plate of vegetables at every meal makes for a great habit is it’s based on adding something rather than taking something away.
Far too often in nutrition people focus on restriction, and what they’re going to avoid or never eat again.
By this point we can clearly say that long term restriction isn’t effective in nutrition and weight management for many people.
It’s much easier to add something to your plate in greater amounts than it is to swear off a certain food or food group.
For habit #2 we’re going to be having a half a plate of non starchy vegetables at each meal.
If you’re not a fan of vegetables at breakfast, then have 1-2 servings of fruit instead.
This is one of those habits that could change how you eat forever, and I truly hope it does because there’s very few habits that will improve your health and well being head to toe like increasing your vegetable intake.
Habit #3: Walk 8,000 – 10,000 Steps Per Day
Walking more is one of those funny forgotten things that so many people neglect when it comes to their weight management or fat loss goals.
This is partly because high intensity exercise like circuit training and HIIT leave you out of breath and laying on the ground in a puddle of your own sweat..
Don’t get me wrong this form of exercise can be great in the right doses, like we do here at Vigor Ground Fitness and Performance.
However with such a heavy focus on this high intensity form of exercise a lot of people write off the lower intensity forms of movement for weight management or weight loss.
What most people fail to consider with high intensity exercise is there’s a limited amount you can do, and recover from in a day.
With lower intensity forms of movement like walking you can do it continuously for hours burning a significant amount of calories.
On top of that walking and other forms or lower intensity movement like house chores won’t require the same recovery as higher intensity forms of movement.
Believe it or not your daily activity excluding exercise burns more calories than almost any other component of your metabolism, and walking makes up a massive part of that daily activity.
Walking also serves as a stress reduction technique and a time to disconnect and just relax and think.
Maybe you’d prefer to toss in your headphones and listen to an audiobook, podcast or even use this time to call someone you’ve been meaning to catch up with.
If you’re nowhere near 8,000-10,000 steps don’t worry, the goal here is to just add a little bit each week and get you closer to the 8,000-10,00 steps mark.
Always realize that even slow progress in your step count is still progress, and that alone should be celebrated.
Habit #4: Eat One to Two Palms Worth of Protein at Each Meal
When it comes to foods that ensure you’re going to stay fuller for longer, and allow you to feel more satisfied after a meal no other food compares with protein.
It helps to stabilize blood sugar, curbs cravings and gives you the raw materials for muscle repair and regrowth as well!
A big part of incorporating these nutrition habits is becoming more mindful around food intake and choices.
Choosing more filling foods such as protein and vegetables will guide you in the right direction from a food quality standpoint, and because these foods are so satisfying they will be tough to overeat as well.
Incorporating protein allows you to take a break from hunger and feel more satisfied so you can honestly look at your plate of food and decide to keep eating, or be done at a meal.
Some great leaner protein sources are going to be: Chicken breast, turkey, leaner cuts of steak or ground beef, low fat cottage cheese or greek yogurt, whey protein, tuna, shrimp or tofu.
With nutrition some changes will take place faster, and others slower.
The game of nutrition and weight management is a marathon, not a sprint and each and every step matters.
As long as you continually make progress, even if its slower than you’d like right now when you look back in years you’ll recognize those small improvements over time really added up to something much bigger than you thought.
A lot of people see a thirty day nutrition challenge as a great way to jump start their journey into nutrition and weight management.
There’s another side of these challenges that no one really speaks about though, it’s the side that highlights the damage these nutrition challenges can do, even with the best of intentions.
All of these thirty day nutrition challenges are built on restricting certain foods and food groups entirely, and as a result they end up demonizing certain these foods.
By demonizing certain foods they end up making people believe that the results they are getting come down to avoiding certain foods or food groups.
In reality people are getting results because they’re in a calorie deficit, not because they stopped eating bread or fruit during a challenge.
The fact remains that none of these challenges give the participants any kind of skills for maintaining weight loss after the challenge has ended either.
The participants aren’t taught about the power of nutrition habits and building a sustainable foundation for their nutrition and weight loss.
Instead of falling into a poor quality thirty day nutrition challenge that sets you up to fail in the long term implement the three habits discussed above and below.
The first habit is to put your fork down between bites at meals to foster more mindful eating for your goals.
The second habit it to eat half a plate of vegetables at each meal which means you’ll be eating way more micronutrients, fiber, antioxidants and can help with everything from digestion to weight loss.
The third habit will be to walk eight to ten thousand steps per day. The interesting thing is with the rise of more intense exercise classes people tend to brush off the benefits of lower intensity exercise.
However walking burns more calories than we give it credit for, serves as a stress reduction technique, and allows you to carve time out of the day for yourself.
The fourth habit is to have one to two palms worth of protein at each meal. This helps us to stay fuller for longer and reduces cravings while stabilizing blood sugar. Getting an adequate amount of protein also gives you the raw materials to rebuild and repair muscle mass.
Now that you have the habits, and know the structure the next step is to start incorporating these habits for yourself over the next thirty days.
These habits should be incorporated at a rate that works for you as an individual because the goal is long term sustainability.
There is no set start and stop date on working on your nutrition, and the beauty is there’s always room for improvement.
Not everyone will be ready for the same amount of change at one time so let’s look at a few different ways to adopt these habits based on where you’re at in your nutrition journey.
Once you’ve decided on the right level for yourself and picked a habit to master starting for the next thirty days the next part is to track your progress.
The best way to do this is to mark the habit off on a calendar each and every day or to keep a tally in a journal of everyday you executed the habit.
Don’t stress if you miss a day or two, your results are determined by what you do the majority of the time, not sometimes.
By simply choosing to step up and work on your nutrition habits in a sustainable fashion you’re off to an amazing start that can last a lifetime.