Monday, September 22, 2014

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

After a week on The Whole Life Challenge everybody seems to report feeling better. But a lot of people are complaining that they're not losing weight.

I mentioned this before, but now that you have a week under your belt, I'm going to mention it again. You will, in all likelihood, lose weight on this plan...but it probably won't happen for a few weeks. This was the pattern for most everyone in previous games. I was despondent by week 2 that I had been 100 percent compliant and not lost a single pound. I felt great, but I didn't give a shit about that...I wanted to be thinner.

Captain Sharon urged me to stick it out, sharing that she didn't lose any weight until the very end -- and then dropped like 13 pounds. I did stick it out and the scale did not move until week 6. Yes, that is a lot of weeks with no cheese and no weight loss to show for it.

But in that time, even though my weight was the same, I could already feel my body starting to change. Yours will too.

I know, I know, I's too long.

I don't know what to tell you except to say this: Your body will work better without sugar and bread in it. Period. Your body will work better with plenty of healthy fats in it. Your body will work better with lots of nutritious fruits and vegetables in it. And once your body really believes that you're going to feed it properly, for the long haul, it can finally let go of the fat it holds onto because you've been (nutritionally) starving it.

I, like you, thought I used to "eat healthy." If anyone told me I was starving my body nutritionally, I would have just told them flat out they were wrong. But I don't think I understood the toll it takes on our bodies to process all the "crap" we put into it in addition to the healthy stuff. I'm on the verge of using a grade-of-gas-in-your-car metaphor, but I don't really think I have to.

Is this true? I have no idea. But a lot of new research bears it out and, besides, you feel good, so just hang in there.

As soon as I have time I'm going to try and write about hormones and how they seemingly play into this whole process.

(If you're not feeling better yet, I would try to get off all sugar completely. Even if it's just for a week.)


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Is That A Banana In Your Pocket, Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

Last night at Back to School Night, l ran into easily a dozen people doing the challenge. Most shared with me that they were packing almonds and bananas for their journey out. I (perhaps weirdly) love that feeling of all of us being in one place and "in it" together. The Whole Life Challenge website has been a mess — the most distressing to me is the fact that we all can’t see and respond to each other’s reflections. That was the one thing that made it fun the first time I did it — because giving up cheese and chocolate was decidedly unfun.

First, I just want to say, I’m sorry that the website has been a bust. I am still optimistic that it will get sorted out soon, and I know it’s not “my fault,” but somehow I feel responsible for dragging y’all into this and making you deal with a less than perfect system. Mostly I feel bad about the reflections, because aside from it being the fun part, it also ended up being a really helpful part, for me anyway, getting people’s encouragement and tips on how to cope.

I’m very big on coping tips.

I feel like I’ve covered food here at length, but still I get a lot of questions about what I eat all day. (And I do…I eat ALL DAY.) In fact the other day, a friend stopped by on her way to the market and asked me exactly what she should buy. These are some of the things I have on hand all the time (I know this may be a repeat of earlier posts, but this is very specific, if you like that sort of thing):

Broccoli, Cauliflower, Portabello Mushrooms, Brussels Sprouts, Butternut Squash, Onions, Asparagus  - these are veggies that I oil and roast ALL THE TIME. Olive oil, salt, garlic powder. I either roast daily or I roast big batches and keep them in the fridge and heat them up for snacks.

Chicken Sausage and Chicken Breasts - I cook up batches and keep them in the fridge to throw into other things, like soups or veggie stews.

Eggplant, Peppers, Carrots, Zucchini, White Mushrooms - I keep these on hand and make ratatouille in big batches, or some cooked vegetable melange that I throw on brown rice or quinoa.

Cucumber, Calamata Olives, Grape Tomatoes, Celery, Avacado, Red Onion — I make Mediterranean salads, with or without chickpeas — just oil and lemon and salt, and eat it with hard boiled egg, or tuna or mixed in a batch of quinoa or brown rice.

Eggs — hard boiled or scrambled with sautéed veggies

Romaine lettuce that I top with tomatoes, red onion, hard boiled eggs, pumpkin seeds and avacado — often I put fruit on it, either mango or pear, which is unbearably delicious, and then oil/balsamic/mustard as dressing.

Plain Greek yogurt, banana, walnuts, chia seeds (I eat this once a day).

Frozen blueberries, almond milk, banana, yogurt smoothie (I make smoothies with anything; this is really good if you need something sweet. If you need it sweeter, add a stevia packet.)

Oatmeal and fresh berries and a few raw almonds (this is my breakfast every morning) (I like eating the same thing every day.) (I also sometimes have it at night if I’m hungry and need a filling snack.)

Lentils (to make soup) and cans of beans (to throw in everything). Once, someone on FB asked her crowd for a good lentil soup recipe and I "captured" five of them which I make in nearly constant rotation.

As you can see, there are very few things that come in a package. No one is more surprised by this than me. A year ago, if you told me I wouldn’t be eating anything from a package by September 2014, I would have laughed in your face. In fact, I probably would have laughed while ripping open a bag of Tostitos.

On Sunday, I cooked for a few hours to have things in the house and ready to eat all week. Doing this makes me unspeakably happy because then I know I have food available for many days. I am a reluctant cook and have discovered that the process is much more pleasurable with a great iTunes playlist or the Classic Rock station on Serius XM blaring in the kitchen. This Sunday, while hitting “repeat” on Heart’s “Crazy on You,” I made:
  • Chana Masala (a chickpea and tomato stew)
  • 5 different roasted vegetables (broccoli, cauli, mushrooms, squash, Brussels sprouts)
  • Chicken Sausage
  • Baked Chicken
  • Baked Rice
  • Red Lentil Soup
  • Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Also one of my friends dropped off a hot quinoa/vegetable thing that she’d made extra of. (I love you, Ann!)

For my birthday last month, my son's girlfriend got me a Vegetarian cookbook from Anthropologie. I cook out of it all the time, omitting the cheese. I like eating vegetarian, so, again, this is not hard for me.

If you are craving sweets, I really urge you to try nuts. As a “Weight Watcher,” I used to mete out almonds, eating them 6 at a time, no more than 24 in a day. This will not do if you’re trying to get on top of a craving. My friend, Laura, believes that when our body is craving “chocolate,” what it really wants is “fat.” So, I mainline the nuts to get through a craving. I pour myself a small bowl (in a restaurant it would be called a Monkey Dish) of roasted salted almonds and salted sunflower seeds, and I eat the whole bowl. And if the craving is not gone, I have another bowl. I have adopted an ABC approach to the craving — Anything But Chocolate — and I give myself permission to eat ANY compliant food, and as much of it as I need to, in order to feel sated. This has worked for me consistently over the last 8 months.

Would it be easier to just eat some chocolate? Probably. But I know me. I’m not a person who will stop at one Ghirardelli square. I will eat them all and then eat more of them tomorrow. That’s possibly the only good thing about being a middle aged woman. You know exactly where you stand with chocolate.

If I need something truly sweet, I might add raisins to the nuts. Or I’ll put some frozen bananas (yes, I keep bananas frozen for emergencies) in the Cuisinart with a little coconut milk or almond milk — it tastes like soft-serve ice cream. Or I’ll have the sweetest fruit in the house (often mango). Or I’ll make a smoothie. Or, my favorite, is a cup of Chai tea with stevia and almond milk, which is sweet and soothing and allows you to still feel really good about yourself the next day.

Side note: If you all go buy up all the Greek yogurt in town, as seemed to have happened on Sunday, I'm not posting anymore. :-)

If you're new to the party, this series of posts started here:  My Big Fat Whole Life Challenge Blog Post


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Gulp! (WLC)

The only thing left that I know about on this challenge is Water, and I don’t really even “know” about that.

This time around, one daily requirement is to drink a third of your body weight in ounces of water. During my first two challenges, this was a “Lifestyle” challenge — meaning it was a special thing you did just for a week or two — and it was half your weight in ounces. I literally prayed each day that I would lose substantial poundage quickly so I didn’t have to drink so much water.

Silly me.

One of the reasons it’s become a regular staple of the challenge is because everyone could quickly see the benefits of the water-drinking. In January it was our very first Lifestyle Challenge, it lasted two weeks, and at the end, everyone wrote in their reflections that they were going to continue the practice throughout the challenge, even though they would garner no more points for it.

I like water and it has always been my beverage of choice, but that much water was painful for me to drink at first. At 150 lbs I had to drink 75 oz of water. That may not sound like that much to you, but even as a regular water drinker, it was going right through me.  I could not stray far from a bathroom and if I had to travel into the city, I strategized the hours preceding my trip to make sure I would have an empty bladder during that 45-60 minutes.

Then, after about eight days, things changed. I could hold the water more easily and didn’t panic so much about being out and away from a loo. Not surprisingly, my skin started to look better and I started having a lot more energy. I came up with a theory (although I can’t remember if I came up with it on my own or if my friend Amy Romano, fitness and nutrition guru extraordinaire, came up with it for me).

Imagine a houseplant that is withering because you haven’t watered it in weeks. You feel bad because the dirt is all dry and dusty and the plant itself is droopy and lifeless, so you get your watering can and give it a nice, big drink. What happens? The dirt is so dry, all the water runs straight to the bottom of the pot and out the drain holes.

That’s us. Most of us are dehydrated — very, very dehydrated. I didn’t think that was me because I thought I drank plenty of water every day. I was wrong.

Eventually, the plant will  absorb the water, the soil will get moist and the leaves will perk up, but it takes a few days. When we start this water regimen, that’s what we are offering our dry, shriveled cells. Once they’re hydrated again, they start to work better. They’re able to receive the nutrients in our food, which they really weren’t receiving before. (Amy definitely told me that part.) So this combination of hydrating your cells and eating nutritious REAL FOOD creates this awesome Super You — a You that probably needs less sleep, can bound up stairs, can work out harder — all because your organs aren’t so starving for food and water that they can do their job with a fraction of the life-energy they required before. And all that extra life-energy goes to you!

As I said, Amy told me about our cells’ ability to process nutrients, but I may have made the rest of it up. It totally makes sense to me and has been borne out by my experience, but it may have no basis in science or fact. If that’s a sticking point for you, feel free to disregard all of this. But commit to the water-drinking with a vengeance nonetheless.

I used to think drinking water on a “diet plan” was about filling yourself up so you didn’t eat as much — a strategy that has never, not once, worked for me. Now I think it’s about making us big, lush, frond-laden houseplants, which is kind of a nice image, don’t you think?


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Everything I Have Left To Say (Almost) About The Whole Life Challenge

I realize this should go without saying, but all this stuff I’ve been writing—they’re my stupid opinions, based on my personal experience. I say things about fat and butter — you need to read up on it and figure it out for yourself. This is all what I have done. You’ll do the challenge YOUR way.

That said, here’s a few things I want to leave you with as the challenge begins:

1. Your antidepressant is NOT a supplement. One person asked me that (as a joke, obviously) but a lot of people don’t know what to take. If that’s you too, take Vitamin D. We are all deficient in Vitamin D, unless you’re laying nude in the noonday sun for hours every day. If that’s you, take acidophilus.

2. If you are doing the middle or highest level, you may be freaking out about what to put in your coffee. I was a decaf drinker and only liked coffee with half-and-half; almond milk was not a viable option for me. So for my first challenge, I just gave it up. I realize that’s not an option for most people. Since then, I’ve discovered Bullet Proof Coffee, which is coffee blended (in a blender) with unsalted butter and coconut oil. I really like it and have started drinking caffeinated coffee again after 20 years because I like it so much. The guy who trademarked it uses  fancy ingredients. I make it with regular old coffee, regular old (organic, virgin) coconut oil and Kerry Gold Unsalted Butter. Read about it. Make it. Enjoy it. Or go black.

3. When I make someone a Bullet Proof Coffee and they see how much butter I put in, they plotz. I did too. “How many calories in that much butter???!!”  I’m sure a lot. But here is a new paradigm we all need to wrap our heads around: Fat burns fat. Here’a a piece on NPR about fat. I don’t know how to convince you that eating more fat is going to be good for you except to say this: Fat will fill you up and you won’t feel hungry. I have eaten more avocados, nuts and butter in the past six months than in the previous 25 years combined, and for the first time in my adult life, I weigh what I did in college. Here’s the skinny on the butter: yes it’s a saturated fat, and you should do your own research on it, but from what I’ve read, this PARTICULAR BUTTER — grass-fed from Ireland — has less of the stuff that’s really bad for you in butter than any other butter anywhere (and that Bad Stuff is apparently some toxic something or other that ends up in the cows’ milk glands from eating grain). Grass fed butter provides important micronutrients that you cannot get elsewhere (namely Vitamin K2). The whole thing is debatable -- whether net/net it's "good for you" or "bad for you," and I’m not actually interested in debating it. I’m fairly sure organic, Irish, grass-fed butter won’t kill you over 8-week's time, but I’m not positive. And if I’m wrong, I apologize in advance. 

Asana House on Valley Road in Montclair (across from Tierney’s) is selling WLC compliant coffee. If you go there, tell him you’re doing the WLC. I urged him to get it up and running by today for us, and he has!

4. Don’t forget to record your scores each day. The website prompts you as soon as you log on and during one challenge I think they even sent a reminder email each day. Your scores represent your behavior for the PRIOR day. So what I do today will be scored tomorrow. Last time I set an alarm on my phone to remind me each day.

5. If weeks go by and you are not losing weight and you’re really concerned, change stuff up. Eat fewer grains, fewer nuts, less alcohol for a few days. See what works for you. As I lost weight my sex drive increased and I started having more sex and started dropping more weight. (It was with my husband, so I feel as if it’s ok to share that.) So you can try that and see if it works. Not with my husband, necessarily. Maybe find your own person to have sex with.

6. It was really, really helpful for me to have prepared food around ALL THE TIME. I would cook up a storm one day a week and have big containers of chana masala, ratatouille, quinoa salad, hard boiled eggs, chicken sausage, lentil soup.  I was able to get through cravings and habitual eating much more easily when I had something filling right there for me when I was hungry. This might have been the single best strategy I developed on this challenge.

7. Do take your measurements, weigh yourself, and, even if you don’t post it (which I never have) take a full body BEFORE picture. This is your only BEFORE opportunity. I did not take a picture of myself when I started this in January and I really regret it.

8. Sharon, our team leader, owns Halcyon (Walnut Street, Montclair) and I’m pretty sure is offering one fully compliant special on the menu every day of the challenge. If you’re freaking out about going out to eat, go there.

Ok, here goes nothing. God, I hope this is fun. :-)


Friday, September 12, 2014

Full Disclosure (WLC)

I just looked on the website and am slightly dizzy about how many people have joined this challenge. I’m feeling a little like if y’all don’t lose weight, I’m going to get run out of town. At the risk of sounding like I’m backpedaling, I have something to say…

I’m not going to name names here, but some of the people who have signed up for this challenge are already very small.  You people may not lose weight. I know: when I say that to your faces, you delight in lifting up your tee shirt and showing me your copious belly fat. Really, unless you’re fourteen or a runway model, most of us can grab onto a handful of ourselves somewhere between our neck and our ankles. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but that doesn’t mean you’re “fat.”

I lost weight on this challenge because I had the excess weight to lose. But it didn’t come off quickly. I didn’t lose a single pound for many weeks, and I was one hundred percent compliant. I texted Sharon, our fearless leader, and basically said: WTF!!?? And she told me the same thing happens with her. Her weight doesn’t come off until the very end.

By the sixth week of my first challenge, I’d lost a pound or two. Then a little more in the subsequent weeks. I felt incredibly good and energetic eating this way, so I did not “go off” the eating plan at the end of 8 weeks, and it was then that the weight started to melt off.

I’m telling you this so you don’t freak out, but mostly so you don’t give up. Most of us are used to going on a diet and seeing instant results. That may not happen here.

As I’ve mentioned, the eating plan is designed (at intermediate and advanced anyway) to eliminate the foods that most often cause inflammation in people. One friend, a nurse, had said to me that it made sense to her that the weight takes a while to come off — because it takes a long time for inflammation to go down in the body. Think about when you injure yourself and you swell up — a lot of the swelling goes down in the first week, but it takes quite a long time before it all goes away and things are again working as they had been.

Don’t go into this making it all about weight.

At the end of my second challenge, I actually had gained two pounds. It came off in a week or two, and by that time I didn’t worry about it, but it was still an unwelcome surprise.

It’s hard to say what parts of the challenge are going to challenge any one of us, but I promise you: some of this will be easy and some of it will be very hard. The first lifestyle challenge is going to be No Electronics During Any Meals. This is going to KILL me. We did this last time and I don’t think I got through a single day that week being able to check off “Yes” on that box. I’ll try again this week and see if I can do better.

We give things up when we’re ready, but also when we get a little push. The Whole Challenge is that push.

I cannot promise you will lose a lot of weight, or all the weight you hope to, or that the part of you that you grabbed a handful of and shook at me will recede back whence it came and leave you sinewy and hard bellied. But I can almost guarantee that eight weeks from now you will feel better  — by a lot.

I’m going to try and do a post about Coffee and Fat before tomorrow, but if not it will be up over the weekend sometime.

I’m so psyched all of you are doing this with me…I need all the support I can get!


If you're late to the party read: My Big Fat Whole Life Challenge Blog Post


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Constant Craving (WLC)

As I may have mentioned, I’m a picky eater, I hate to cook and I loathe change. So everything about the Whole Life Challenge was initially very difficult for me. I’m afraid that sometimes I make it sound too easy: Oh, I lost a bunch of weight and all I had to do was give up sugar! 

Giving up sugar was, in fact, very, very hard.

You must think of sugar as a drug, not a food. And you are an addict. You have to get through the withdrawals and then you will be fine. Most people can get on the other side in a few days. Three…five…my friend Laura was an extreme case and took nine. Sugar will beckon to you and you will either be stoic and avoid it, or you will give in and have to detox again. Because once you have a little, the cravings come right back. I’m sorry to tell you that, but it’s the truth.

Here’s what I did:

My kids have food allergies, so for a few days, I carried around an Epi Pen, like a method actor, pretending I was deathly allergic to sugar and if I ate just a smidgeon I might go into anaphylactic shock. Yes, I really did do this.

I attempted to white knuckle through the cravings and I was a raving bitch to everyone in my family. Over the course of the three worst days, my husband begged me to go eat a cookie. “Please eat a fucking cookie and give us all a break,” may have been his exact words.

Then, a strange and miraculous thing happened. Into my email landed a link to a website that happened to have a video on it of a woman "Tapping Away" a sugar craving. I’m sure you are now asking, What could that possibly mean?

“Tapping” (also known as EFT) is a psychological tool/technique that is far too complicated for me to explain here fully (partly because I don’t really understand it), but you can simply think of it as (to quote my friend Jamie Wasserman) a descrambling of your mental energy. Basically, you tap on different points on your head, face and upper body – points that correspond to acupressure points – while saying (out loud) some things that rejigger your mental state about a certain issue, in this case: sugar.

There is no doubt about it, this is weird. But I was desperate, and I did it, and, for me, it worked. Meaning, after following this video and “tapping” along with this woman for 10 minutes, my sugar craving vanished. Like, in an instant. One minute I could think of nothing but chocolate, the next minute I couldn't care less about it. My craving came back a few weeks later, I pulled the video up again, tapped again, and again it disappeared, this time not coming back at all.

I was a person who could not go a day without a cookie, or a white chocolate macadamia nut Clif Bar, or (many) Chobani Strawberry yogurts, or some kind of chocolatey goodness. I have not had any sweet treat since the middle of January and it's been completely effortless. In fact, when I started the challenge, I made sure I had several different kinds of dark chocolate around for an emergency, and I see those boxes in my fridge and in my pantry every single day and they have nothing on me.

The most cynical among you will roll your eyes at this video and say, There is no way I’m doing that. That’s fine. But when you text me and ask me how to get through your sugar DTs on Sunday, this is what I’m going to tell you to do.

You can find the Tapping Video here. Use the one called Overcoming Sugar Addiction.  Bookmark it. This is your methadone clinic.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How Do I Eat Away From Home? (WLC)

Like you, I was once nervous about what I might eat at a restaurant while on the Whole Life Challenge. But this was before I realized that I can now, for the first time, permit myself to recklessly eat a few things that I have denied myself completely for decades, the main one being butter.

At the risk of sounding overly glib or insensitive, restaurant eating seems like a complete no brainer. You can eat practically every kind of meat on the Whole Life Challenge, nearly every vegetable, every kind of fruit, butter (!), and (on my level) brown rice. What’s left? Bread, pasta, cheese. Sorry, no dessert unless you can get someone to whip you up a bowl of fruit. Have tea.

When I go out for lunch, I either get an omelet, soup or a salad and ask for it with no cheese. I often have grilled chicken or shrimp on the salad, or hard boiled eggs and maybe bacon. Usually I’m braying to whomever will listen that, “this is the best salad I’ve ever had in my life!” Because, the truth is, when someone else makes your salad for you, it’s just tastes better.

For dinner, I usually have chicken or fish because I don’t eat red meat at all (though I consider bacon a food category unto itself, and I do avail myself of that at times). If I did eat red meat, I feel like I would have endless choices at restaurants. My big modification is usually this: when I order an entrée that comes with potatoes, I ask for no potatoes and an extra vegetables.

Eating vegetarian is sometimes the hardest, because restaurants add cheese to a lot of dishes in a way that you cannot extract it. Or the dish is laden with some soy-protein ingredient. I thought I’d have my pick of the litter at a vegan place recently, and there was literally one single thing on the menu that was compliant. Oh well.

Chinese food is tricky because of the soy. My favorite place does a Shrimp with Mixed Vegetables with Garlic and Ginger Sauce over brown rice, which I love.

Once I was at a Japanese place and I wanted some of their specialty rolls (I get them with brown rice). I wasn’t sure whether there was added sugar in the sauces, so I just took off a point for the day.

Recently at a Thia place there was some roasted pumpkin thing I ordered with grilled shrimp. I asked them to hold the (white) rice. I would eat this dish every single day of my life if I could.

Much more difficult is if you’re somewhere for the day where you aren’t really being “served” food – a soccer game where all you have access to are the chips at the concession stand. What I do is just bring food with me, as if I'm a cranky toddler that always needs snacks at the ready. I rarely go anywhere without a bag of almonds in tow. Often I have an apple or banana. Some people take hard boiled eggs with them. I know a woman who keeps a bag of cooked black beans in her car and snacks on them throughout the day. Having protein at your fingertips will help you through those situations.

This requires a bit more planning, but it’s neither impossible nor especially difficult. People ask me if there are any Protein Bars they can have. I’m not sure — there may be something listed on the website forum. Mostly those “protein bars” are really just glorified candy bars. If you want to feel better, you need to eat Real Food.

A few people have asked me, “What if I’m traveling for an extended period?”

Yes, it’s harder to be compliant if you’re not in control of your food. When I go somewhere, I try and stop at a grocery store wherever I am and get some fruit and nuts for my hotel room. I drink a lot of tea. I try and keep yogurts or hummus around. If I go to restaurants while away, I eat really filling dishes – eggs, meat, rice – so I don’t get hungry so quickly.

If you’ve done programs like Weight Watchers, you need to get out of the Portion Control mindset and just eat what you need to eat to fill you up and sustain you until you are in control of your next meal. I was really scared of this program at first, so I was eating the Whole Life Challenge Plan, but also counting Weight Watcher points and I was feeling like there wasn’t ever anything for me to eat because I considered a lot of things verboten.

I now often wake up in the morning excited because there’s so much I can eat. It’s not a drag to eat anymore. It’s fun. It’s just not sugary fun.

I feel like  the crux of this Challenge is about being mindful about your decisions. Making everything you do for your body count in some way. What is it about a certain restaurant food that we feel especially “entitled” to, or truly deprived of if we do without? Why do we think we’re going to feel happier or better taken care of if we have full access to the focaccia basket? Focaccia really only makes me happy for about 7 minutes. I’ve actually timed it.

When people on the team of my last Challenge would go off plan, they’d usually talk about it in their reflection in either of two ways:

“I enjoyed that pizza more than I’ve ever enjoyed any pizza in my whole life.”
“That was so not worth it, I felt like shit afterwards.”

There’s really no way to predict which one of those will be your truth. You’ll try it one day, and you’ll see.

*Initial post: My Big Fat Whole Life Challenge Blog Post


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Can I Be Invisible? (WLC)

The question I’m asked most often about this challenge is: What do you mean, “Team”? How much do I actually have to interact with other people?

I think people are asking a lot of different things with this question, so here’s what I hope answers it all:

When you join the challenge you have the opportunity to also join a team. The “team” is an online entity. We never have to see each other.

Here’s what I think/know about teams:

1.    You don’t have to join a team -- you can play as an individual.
2.    You can join a random team where you don’t know anyone (I’m not sure how, but I’m pretty sure there’s a way).
3.    You can join a team where you know others and never ever post any reflections (or read anyone else’s), which means the only way anyone will know you’re there is by your stats on the leader-board.
4.    You can join and never post, and just read other people’s reflections, like many of us do on Facebook.
5.    You can join under an assumed name (which others of us do on Facebook).
6.    Or you can just full out play.

Your teammates can see your stats -- how many points you amass each day and your total points to date -- and I think that's it. You can go into your profile and change your privacy settings so no one sees anything. You don't have to post a picture. No one will know you're there.

I was very intimidated by the Team thing the first time. I only knew the team captain and sort of knew one other player and was convinced that person didn’t like me.

I thought that if I didn’t do well (didn’t get points – which collectively go to the “team”) I would be considered Dead Weight (no pun intended) and others would resent me for dragging them down.

As far as I can tell – NO ONE CARES! Not on this team anyway. Maybe on the teams that are formed by fancy LA gyms. Not the teams formed among middle aged women who are just trying to get back into their jeans.

The “reflections” are just that. A sentence or two about how it’s going for you, what you’re learning, what you like/don’t like. There’s a minimum and a maximum character count. (Not “word count,” “character count.” That’s how short they are.)

“I hate this today!” is too short to count. I’ve tried it.

In the past, they've given a couple of bonus points for every 5 reflections you post. I like to write and do not feel that pesky need for privacy that most people do, so this was a very easy way for me to amass points to make up for blowing off stretching or exercise one day.

That’s it. Like most things, it’s not scary after you do it once.

Plus, feeling like we’re all doing it together is the thing that’s going to make it feel fun.

If you're late to the party, here's my first post on the Whole Life Challenge:
My Big Fat Whole Life Challenge Blog Post


Monday, September 8, 2014

Foods You Must Ditch (WLC)

The Whole Life Challenge Food Component is basically a modified Paleo diet…modified in that you can eat beans even on the strictest level.

The 3 levels of “play” are essentially levels of strictness. The very strictest level, for example, permits no grains of any kind. That’s not an option for me; I would not last a single day. You should pick a level that stretches you, but that you can sustain – ideally sustain beyond the 8-week challenge time.

People ask me what I can’t eat. The eating plan is designed to eliminate all the things that are generally known to cause inflammation in people. (It actually takes quite a while for our bodies to de-inflame [I may have just made that word up], which is why, perhaps, many people don’t see actual weight loss for many weeks. Do not be discouraged. Your body is healing so it can start using nutrients and burning fat efficiently, something it probably has a hard time doing in its current “inflamed" state.)

In a nutshell, here is what I don’t eat:
    •    Sugar – of any kind, except for Stevia, which is a plant-based sweetener.
    •    Anything with flour in it.
    •    White rice
    •    White potatoes
    •    Dairy products with the exception of plain yogurt, butter and kefir. (Some people think eggs are dairy – they’re not. Eggs are fine to eat.)
    •    Soy (I think getting rid of soy is about the gluten, so gluten-free soy sauce might be ok, but you’d have to check the website.)
    •    Corn (I think now you may be able to eat it in the new version; not popcorn, though.)
    •    No artificial or processed ingredients except for a few they "ok."

The Whole Life Challenge website has a sheet about exactly what you can and can't eat. I don't know if you need to sign up to access it (I can't link to it here for some reason). Go there and try clicking on HOW TO PLAY and the list should be accessible from Number 2.

The intermediate level is now way more lax about sugar. I will tell you this: sugar is a drug, not a food. You will go through withdrawals from it. Having “a little” may make it harder to not have “a lot,” so it’s up to you how strict you want to be. I say get off it completely. I really believe that single thing has been most responsible for how good I feel.

I believe you can now have one glass of wine or spirits per day at the intermediate level. As I’ve said, when I did it, it was one per week. I am not a drinker, so this was not difficult for me;  if you can limit alcohol as much as possible, you’ll probably lose more weight – just saying.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

What Can I Snack On? (WLC)

The Whole Life Challenge Website has food lists for each of three levels of play. I play at the middle level, which is challenging enough for me. At my level, I can have yogurt and oatmeal, two of my go-to snacks. (Real oatmeal, not the packets.) I think every other snack I list is compliant at all levels of play.

I’m a very picky eater, so I’m sure there are dozens of other yummy things to eat that I just won’t eat. That said, here's what I snack on:

    •    Plain Yogurt – full fat Fage is my favorite. I put banana and walnuts in it and sometimes a touch of vanilla. I would urge you to stay away from non-fat yogurt. You will be hungry again in 15 minutes.
    •    Avacado and Tomato (This is the perfect time of year for this, add salt and maybe a little balsamic.)
    •    Almonds/Sunflower Seeds with or without Raisins
    •    Roasted Sweet Potato “Fries” (OMG!!) (Cubed, coated lightly with olive oil and salt)
    •    Smoothies (I add stevia if I need something really sweet, but mostly just fruit, almond milk, a dollop of yogurt, a touch of vanilla.)
    •    Roasted Cauliflower, Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts (Roast ‘til caramelized and crispy. Better than chips. Seriously.)
    •    All Fruit
    •    Raw Veggies with or without Hummus to dip in
    •    Apples or Bananas with (healthy, no-sugar-added) Peanut or Almond Butter
    •    Chai Tea with Almond Milk and Stevia*
    •    Bullet Proof Coffee (This is coffee blended – in a blender – with organic, grass-fed, unsalted butter and a little coconut oil. It fills you and is delish.)
    •    Soup or Leftovers (I sometimes have little meals if I need a snack. Yesterday I was starving at 4pm and heated up a tiny piece of leftover salmon onto which I piled cut up mango and salsa and capers because that’s all we had around. It was scrumptious.)

I don’t eat much from a package anymore, but technically these are compliant (I'm sure there's other packaged'll have to do some investigating):

    •    Sweet Potato and Carrot Terra Chips
    •    Brown Rice Cakes  (check ingredients)

People ask me how much of any of this stuff I eat. I eat until I feel satisfied. I have tried really hard in this challenge to parse out what’s Hunger, what’s Boredom, what’s Procrastination, and what’s Habit when it comes to snacking. If I’m actually hungry, I eat until I’m not hungry anymore. And the thing that satisfies me most (even when I want chocolate) (especially when I want chocolate), is roasted, salted nuts. I might eat two big handfuls of almonds and sunflower seeds. At first I freaked out about eating so much “fat.” I now don’t give it a second thought.

I’m home a lot, which makes things both easier and harder. I can easily make myself something to eat, but I also have a kitchen 25 feet from my workspace that beckons to me every time I can’t think of the next sentence to write. All I can say is this: if you’re out in the world and you want a snack, go somewhere and eat Real Food. Get a salad. Get a cup of soup. Go to a juice bar. Go get some bananas and nuts. Keep a bag of almonds in your car. Once you get in the habit of doing this, you will not believe how difficult you once thought it would be.

Once the challenge starts, you have access to the Forum, where people ask questions like, “What can I have for a snack?” and lots of people answer them, with ideas, recipes and encouragement.

Yes, you will miss cheese. But you’ll get over it.

*Stevia is a natural, plant-based sweetener. I think it's compliant at all levels. I get it in little packets at the supermarket and carry them with me, like my grandmother used to do when she stole all the Sweet n Lows from the sugar bowls at restaurants.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

My Big Fat Whole Life Challenge Blog Post

I didn’t write down the date I started my first Whole Life Challenge, but I’m pretty sure it was in mid-January of 2014. I had lost some weight on Weight Watchers a few years earlier and had gained a lot of it back. This completely freaked me out, because largely, I was eating a Weight Watchers-condoned diet. I talked to my internist and my gynecologist about it and they both just nodded their heads. “Women your age…”

I know it’s harder to lose weight now than it was when I was 30, but I know plenty of Women My Age who are slim and fit, so that wasn’t totally making sense for me.

However many of those women are hungry all the time. That’s not an option for me, as I’m too cranky when I’m hungry. So I talked to this woman in town who does a one-on-one nutrition/exercise/lifestyle thing with you and texts you all the time to make sure you’re toeing the line. What she said to me made a lot of sense – we talked about hormones and how our bodies don’t have what they need to run efficiently – and I was all ready to sign up with her, plunk down a big chunk of change that I really didn't have, because I considered it my only hope.

Then, my friend Sharon posted something on Facebook about the Whole Life Challenge. I knew she’d lost some weight on it in the past and I was slightly intrigued – but only slightly, because really anything with the word “challenge” in it is a complete turn off to me. I find it challenging to make dinner every day and take a shower. That's enough challenge for me.

I hemmed and hawed for a few days and then the start date came and went. I wanted to kick myself. It cost $49 to join this 8-week challenge and I blew it off because…I don't even know why I blew it off. I guess because I thought I would fail.

A day or two later, I had an uncharacteristic moment of clarity and decided I’d try it, quit if I hated it and, if it didn’t work, suck it up and plunk down the money to do the more expensive one-on-one program. I joined the challenge, joined my friend’s team and then completely – and I mean completely – changed the way I eat.

The Whole Life Challenge is an 8 week challenge that you participate in or “play” online. You’re asked to pick a level to play at (I play at the intermediate level) and you get a list of food that you can no longer eat. You’re asked to exercise every day for at least 10 minutes, and that exercise is anything you choose – whatever YOU consider exercise. I walk or do yoga or play tennis. None of it is particularly rigorous, but my body is in motion for a sustained period of time every day. You’re asked to stretch for 10 minutes every day and you’re asked to take a supplement of some kind every day. A supplement is anything you choose to improve your innards. I added a daily acidophilus pill because I’d recently read that our immune systems start with a healthy gut. I used to take acidophilus only when I was on antibiotics or if my stomach felt “off,” but apparently taking it every day is really good for you, so I committed to that.

Finally, you’re asked to take on a “lifestyle” challenge. When I did it the first time, this would be a week-long activity that you’d be told about via email. One was: Ten minutes per day of meditation. Another was: Read a book for pleasure for 10 minutes every day. Another was: Get 7 hours of sleep every 24 hours. These were all pretty simple, but not always easy.

Finally, you were invited to share a little message with the group everyday on the message board. The message board consists of your teammates and the message has a minimum and maximum character count. They’re short. This paragraph would not fit in the message slot. Every five times you post a message you get some extra points.

Points are amassed by being “compliant.” If you do your exercise, you get points for it that day. If you do not eat any foods you shouldn’t be eating, you get points for that. Every day you amass points for your team, based on how you did with all your little challenges on that day. Most people did not get a perfect score every day and many people did not get a perfect score most days. Meaning: people have vacations, or parties, or are too busy to get to the gym – they all just do the best they can.

I had hoped to lose 5 pounds. At the end of 8 weeks, I’d lost about 8 pounds and a few inches around my middle. I lost one full chin. My “skinny jeans” fit again. But the most profound thing was how much better I felt. I had way more energy, right from the beginning. Like, after a week, I felt 10 years younger. (Maybe not 10, but at least 7.)

I have found this way of eating so energizing that I simply kept going after the first 8-week stint. I went from 150 to 135 pounds and a size 10 to a size 6. My skin is clear and my mood is usually pretty upbeat. I’m never hungry. I don’t feel deprived. I don’t find it difficult. But that’s just me. You have to find a thing that suits you – and this happens to suit me.

I’ve told a lot of people about this experience – what it was like to Give Up Sugar (hard and ugly), how I lost inches long before I lost pounds, how drinking the water they require was one of the biggest challenges and ultimately changed my life.

I have a lot to say about this challenge and now a ton of people I know are doing it along with me. I am blogging about some of the specifics because I don’t have time to talk or text with each individual person.

I will share with you my perspective on How Invisible You Can Be (a question I get a lot), about What To Eat At A Restaurant (another popular terror), How To Get Through Cravings, What To Eat At Home, etc. I will try not to go on and on as I did here, and also try to keep the number of posts brief, because I know these posts end up in people’s mailboxes. If you’re not interested in this, I apologize in advance. If you haven’t signed up but are intrigued, I’ll post a link at the end here.

Not surprisingly, there’s a TON of information and resources on the website, far more exhaustive than what I will provide. But until y’all feel comfortable, we can just ease into this together.


The Whole Life Challenge website