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Why Short-term Fitness and Nutrition Challenges Don’t Work

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Why Short-term Fitness and Nutrition Challenges Don’t Work, Where to Start with Lifestyle Change, and Our Advice for Thinking about Fitness and Health Leading into the New Year

Why are people attracted to short-term fitness and nutrition challenges vs. a more sustainable approach?

You’ve likely heard of them. 75 Hard, Whole30, the 21-day Detox, and other short-term fitness/nutrition challenges are calling for your attention and shining a light on struggles you may be experiencing with your fitness and nutrition. Especially before the start of the new year because you feel like we get a fresh start. Why are these so popular and appealing to people? What are the benefits and drawbacks of these? 

Short answer, these are popular because they’re sexy. 

These challenges usually involve some sort of extreme change and have an exciting “rip the band-aid off” or “jump all-in” feel to them. It’s the start of something that you think will get you what you want – whether that’s weight loss, increased muscle mass, better energy, etc. “New you,” they say. 

It’s also a way to “out-source” your health/fitness boundaries. It gives you a reason to say no to alcohol, sweets, etc, “because you are doing _____ challenge.” However, in the absence of a challenge, it can feel more challenging to exercise your health boundaries. 

Our biggest quam with these is that challenges, by their nature, have an end-point. They’re short-term. Our question is, then, what do you do when you’re done? What happens on day 76 of the 75 day Hard Challenge? Day 31 of a Whole30? 

Now don’t get us wrong, these challenges can and do get people results results – but how do you plan on sustaining these results for the long haul? 

If you’re wanting to do some sort of challenge, like the Whole30, which we believe can be very beneficial and insightful for individuals on their health journey, here’s how we recommend going about it:

  • Have an “on-ramp” phase – Take 4-8 weeks getting prepared and building in habits and some of the behaviors that are involved in the challenge, one at a time. For example, you could start by having a consistent grocery shopping day/time. Or by taking out processed foods. Or drinking more water. Or eating more whole-food meals than you did last week. Or having consistent meal times. Or going to the gym 2-3x/week.
  • Have an off-ramp phase – take 4-8 weeks of phasing out of the challenge, instead of going for as much pizza, beer, and ice-cream as you can handle the day after. Keep the behaviors in place that you want to continue. Maybe add in one “yellow light” food at a time to see how you respond and feel before going for all the “red light” foods at once. Or instead of being 100% perfect with the plan you were on, aim for 80-90% of your meals to look like they did during the challenge, to give you room for flexibility and a more sustainable approach to living. 

If we had to pick one simple lifestyle behavior change for people to focus on, what would we choose?

Sleep, nutrition (quality and quantity), food hygiene, sun exposure, movement, hydration, are all important to living a healthy life. If we had to choose ONE for people to focus on, what would we choose?

Brandon – Rhythm. Do you have consistency in your schedule? Your sleep-wake time? Your meals? Your training? Etc. It’s difficult to “add in” or adjust positive behaviors if you don’t have a consistent rhythm to your days. Once this is in place, inputting behaviors that are the “lowest hanging fruit” become much more realistic for that person to be consistent with. 

Carl – If he had to choose one, sleep would be the behavior he would initially recommend improving. Circadian rhythm, having an optimally hormone profile, daily energy, mental acuity, recovery from workouts, and more – all greatly hinge on quality sleep. 

Justin – Alignment. Get clear on your intentions. Why do you want to get healthy? What do you need to do that aligns with this? Choose one that you feel capable and confident in executing on and build from there.

Robby – If he were to create an objective pyramid, mental-emotional/stress reduction would be the base, then sleep, nutrition, hydration, fitness, and supplementation. That being said, it depends on where the person is willing to start. Robby recommends asking yourself what would be the easiest for you to start incorporating into your life? This will likely create a domino effect in other positive behaviors. 

What is our advice for thinking about health and fitness changes for the new year? 

  • Pay more attention to the past. Reflect on what worked well and why? What did not work, and why not? Did you set any goals? Did you achieve them? Why or why not? Look at your behaviors – were these in line with what you set out to do? If not, what did you choose to do instead? What was that serving for you? 
  • Reflect on your mortality for clarity and direction. What do you want people to say about how you lived your life at your funeral? From there, define what roles will be most important to you. Recognize that yourself as an Individual is a role – and that taking care of yourself (health and fitness) is a necessary piece in you living out your roles effectively. Determine what goals you can set now that will help move you towards that aim. 
  • Focus on habits, not outcomes. For example, say you want to squat 300 pounds. Rather than solely focussing on that as the goal, focus your attention and energy on doing the things that will get you there. For example, this could be getting to the gym 4x/week, having consistent meal times, sleeping 7+ hours most nights, etc. As a plus to this, the habits you build will be with you long-term, unlike the outcome. At a certain point, there won’t be “more to do” so to speak with your fitness or health. So what do you do when you’ve lost all the weight you need to lose, or have passed your peak in strength and endurance capacity? You keep the habits you’ve built and fight against the slow decline.
  • Start with why. You may have identified some goals – but have you asked yourself why you want these? Have you asked why 5 times? 7 times? Doing this will bring you to the “root” of why this goal is important to you, or what you will get from achieving this. For example, someone wants to lose weight. Well why do they want to lose weight? Because they want to be healthier. Why do they want to be healthier? Because they want to be able to play with my grandchildren when they are older. Keep asking why, and eventually, you’ll find something more than surface level, something that means something to you on an emotional level. Keeping this “why” in mind can help you stay the course when you encounter challenges along the path leading to your goals. 

Want to speak with a professional coach today about your goals? Click here and we’d love to set up a free chat.