I got a lot more out of my 24 Day Challenge than just pounds and inches lost. I gained a greater appreciation for how my body works and reacts, lessons that I plan to draw on post-challenge.
So what did I learn? I’ve developed a Top 10 list!
1. Breakfast is important. For the first 10 days of the challenge, my goal was to eat a protein, a complex carb and a fruit for breakfast. I ate a LOT of eggs during this time! In fact, I wasn’t used to eating so much food…some mornings I had to spread it out over the course of the first few hours of the day.
For the last 14 days, my breakfast (except on Easter, and Good Friday when I fasted) was a meal replacement shake, and I usually had fruit or a nutrition bar mid-morning. Either way, still more than I usually would eat in the mornings. I’m not a breakfast skipper, but a breakfast skimper. I learned quickly filling up in the morning makes staying satisfied during the day easier.
2. Balanced meals help keep you satisfied. The goal of each meal on the challenge was a protein, complex carb and fruit or veggie. I noticed that I really had to think meals through! Before the challenge, there were a lot of times I would hit two of the three. But again, the more I stuck with this, the more filling I found it to be.
3. Reading labels is worth the time it takes. On the challenge, one is to avoid added sugars and sodium, and eat minimally or non-processed foods. For me, that meant checking a lot of labels and skipping ones with enriched flour (yes, even enriched wheat flour is not as good!). I’m already mindful of sodium levels in foods and was used to skimming ingredient lists to avoid high fructose corn syrup. More careful review was another step but I think a big one in my success.
4. Planning ahead is key to success. I thought through each day’s meals in advance. If I knew I had a meal out for work, I would look at the menu online before heading out and narrow down my choices that would fit the challenge. I shopped ahead on weekends to keep the right foods in stock (and became a fan of Sprouts!). And I made sure to pack extra fruit and nutrition bars each day for snacks. It took time, but it was worth it as I had no excuses.
5. It’s hard to eat out, especially on a whim. There were times I found myself without a dinner plan. It is hard to just “run and grab something” when you are trying to find healthy, non-processed, non-fried options (especially non-meat options on Fridays in Lent!). I’ve learned my fallbacks are grocery stores like Whole Foods and Mediterranean restaurants.
6. Try new things. I had quinoa for breakfast. I had tofu as an entree. I rediscovered couscous. When you are limited to whole grains, it cuts some options out. I had to get creative or I was going to eat a lot of oatmeal and brown rice!
7. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. For the most part, I stuck to drinking 80 oz. of water a day (aiming for the half my body weight in ounces). The days I didn’t, I could feel a difference. I felt puffy, and my face was redder. Also, this is just water…I didn’t count the water I was mixing with my Spark.
8. Staying active makes everything easier. I will admit I didn’t work out as much as I would have liked while I was on the challenge…maybe a little more than half of the days. On the days I did, I had plenty of calories to enjoy a bedtime snack while staying on point. The other days, it was hard to keep to the calorie goal on My Fitness Pal. I went over. It happens.
9. Alcohol adds up. I didn’t have a drop of alcohol on the challenge. I was fortunate to only have a small handful of opportunities where I had to pass up a drink (I picked the date of my challenge start purposely around that). But I know that even wine or champagne (lower calorie options) add up. So I’m aiming for 4-6 glasses total a week, still less than 1 glass a day (which seems to be the healthy consensus for women).
10. Sacrifice makes splurges better. I gave up a lot of my loves for the sake of the challenge. It didn’t say I had to give up coffee, but I did since Spark has caffeine in it. I appreciate my morning coffee now and can keep it to one cup instead of the two I used to have. It’s easier to enjoy one drink at a happy hour now and savor it. And after giving up bread for Lent, boy did I enjoy getting to have whole wheat bread back in my diet!
Absence does really make the heart grow fonder, and on the rare occasions I’ll allow myself something fried or otherwise indulgent, I will enjoy it and then put it back on the back burner.
The main point is that I’ve found a way to deal with the daily temptations of an American diet. I won’t always be perfect. I will slip. I will allow myself treats. But I feel so good eating the clean way that I’ll definitely be a LOT more mindful of sticking to it.
This means queso and ranch dressing have moved to the treat list 😉
PS-Give me a shout if you’d like to give the Challenge a try. Happy to coach you through it!