As we roll into the new year, many of us reflect back on the year behind us. What did we do well? What needs improvement? What can we do differently this year?
So… what did you do well last year? In what areas can you improve? What changes do you want to make this year?
If you’re reading this website, I can bet that sound nutrition is near the top of your list of priorities. It’s definitely at the top of mine. The problem is, where do you start? Should you go Paleo? Low-carb? Should you carb backload? Should you do intermittent fasting? With so much information out there, and so many approaches to improving your nutrition, these questions can be hard to answer.
It’s hard to know where to start. Every one of us is different, and there a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t exist. We also have different nutrition histories, goals, priorities, and dedication levels. And all of that is OK. It’s really important to start where you are and make changes that you can stick with long-term.
For example, if you are currently eating fast food twice a day, resolving to stick to a 100% Paleo diet from here on out probably isn’t realistic. Along those lines, if you currently follow a sound nutrition plan 90% of the time, then setting a goal of eating a serving of protein with every meal doesn’t make much sense because you probably already do that.
You may have noticed that around this time, every year, 30-day challenges are quite popular. We’re not fans of crazy or extreme diets, “cleanses,” and nutritional gimmicks that make unrealistic promises and guarantees. But we do think that an occasional challenge can help us refocus our priorities or realign our habits with our values and long-term goals.
So we’re offering up our own version of a 30-day challenge, with the aim of helping you look good, feel good, and feel healthy and strong. We’re doing things a little differently. Instead of choosing just one challenge, we came up with several challenges that you can choose from based on your current situation.
Read the descriptions below and decide out which category best describes you. Keep in mind that not all statements will apply to you, but pick the level that most resembles your current eating patterns.
You are relatively new to good nutrition. You haven’t consistently followed a good nutrition program in the past, or if you have, it’s been for less than 12 months. You feel overwhelmed with all of the conflicting nutrition information, and aren’t sure where to start. You may find it difficult to stick to a stricter eating regimen.
You are not new to good nutrition. You have been following a good nutrition program consistently for 1-3 years with at least some success. You have mastered the basics like eating protein with every meal. You may be ready to experiment with some more advanced nutrition protocols to take your results to the next level.
Good nutrition is a foundation of your life. You have been following a good nutrition program consistently for at least 3 years and have had a lot of success. You may or may not have experimented with more advanced nutrition protocols like intermittent fasting or carb backloading.
Which level seems most applicable to you and your nutrition history? Based on your answer, choose one of the following challenges, and commit the next 30 days to it to get some of the best results of your life.
Level 1 Challenge
Since you may have struggled to consistently follow a sound nutrition program in the past, keep it simple. Resolve to make the following changes each week, and allow that change to become a consistent habit. Allow these habits to build upon one another and lay the foundation for how you will eat in the future.
Week 1: Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re mostly full.
OK, so this may seem like the most basic of eating principles, and it is. But seldom do people actually follow this guideline. We have trained ourselves to eat at specific times, and to clean our plates, without any regard to whether we are actually hungry or not. We eat breakfast because we are “supposed” to. We get popcorn at the movies because, well, that’s what people do at the movies. We mindlessly snack on chips while watching TV. Start paying attention to when you are hungry. Eat slowly and chew your food well. Stop when you are satisfied, but not stuffed. You’ll be shocked at how differently you eat when you actually slow down and eat mindfully.
Week 2: Eat a serving of protein with every meal.
This can be chicken, beef, turkey, eggs, salmon, venison, high quality protein powder, whatever you want! Just eat a serving with every meal and snack. Protein will keep you satiated and help build some muscle that will re-shape your body and keep give your metabolism a boost.
Week 3: Eat a serving of vegetables with every meal.
Raw, roasted, sauteed, baked, steamed…doesn’t matter. There are so many delicious vegetables to choose from, and so many ways to enjoy them, that adding them to your meals should be a cinch. Make sure you choose lots of different colored veggies to ensure that you’re getting a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Talk to the produce clerk at the supermarket and ask questions if you’re not sure how to choose, store, or cook something. Try new recipes. If you think you don’t like a vegetable, but you’ve only ever eaten it steamed, try roasting or grilling it, or try it in a healthy stir-fry. You will find some veggies you love, we guarantee it.
Week 4: Eat a serving of good fats with every meal.
Not only is fat delicious and filling, but it’s crucial for the absorption of many vitamins. Plus, many women don’t eat enough fat, and that can leave them unsatisfied and craving sugar. Make sure you have a serving with every meal. Some good choices are: coconut oil, pastured butter, olive oil, nuts and nut butters, avocado, fatty fish, grass-fed beef, and ghee.
Level 2 Challenges (pick 1)
You have a history of following sound nutrition principles, but it may be time for you to kick things up a notch to continue to get results. The best way that I have found to do this is to manipulate carbohydrate levels. There are several ways to do this, but I outline my two favorites in this article. Pick one and stick with it for 30 days! They are as follows:
Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
- Keep your net carbs under ~30 grams a day, while consuming at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
- Use a ratio of 35-40% protein, 5-10% carbs, and 50-55% fat.
- Your calorie level depends on many factors, but if you have no clue where to start, eat 13-15 calories per pound of body weight and adjust from there.
- Eat plenty of fibrous/leafy vegetables.
- Follow the above program for 7 days, then have an 8 hours ½ re-carb day every week.
- Your re-carb day should consist of tons of carbs (at least 2-3 grams per pound of body weight if you care to count)
- Start out with less processed foods like fruit and potatoes, and monitor their effects on your body. Later, you can experiment with more processed foods like ice cream, candy, etc. and monitor what happens.
This approach usually works very well for clients who prefer to be “on” or “off” a “diet.” This is for the folks who despise moderation.
Carb Cycling Diet – Technically you are cycling all macronutrients with this program, but the carb levels vary the most, hence the name “carb cycling.” Basically you eat very low carbs on your non-training days, and on training days you consume a fair amount of carbs post workout. The numbers below are simply basic guidelines. You should monitor your results and adjust accordingly.
1 gram of protein/pound of body weight
.8-1 grams of fat/pound of body weight
< 30 grams carbs
1.25 grams of protein/pound of body weight
.5-.6 grams of fat/pound of body weight
1.25 grams of carbs/pound of body weight (maybe slightly more or less depending on the intensity of the training session)
This approach generally works best with people who prefer to be able to have smaller amounts of foods they desire on a more regular basis. This is not a good option for people who feel like they can easily “lose control” if they eat certain carbs.
Pick one of these programs and follow it for 30 days to see results!
Level 3 Challenges (pick 1)
You’re no newbie to good nutrition. You likely eat really well 90% of the time or more. It’s going to take something a lot more serious to really challenge you! Below are three options that fall into the more “hardcore” category. Choose the one that you feel will yield the most personal growth, and stick with it for at least 30 days to see results.
Choice 1: Whole 30 Challenge. This is a 30-day challenge based on the 9 factors that Dallas and Melissa Hartwig agree are vital for optimal health. Definitely not everyone is ready for this kind of commitment. You’ll be eliminating all processed foods and focusing on eating nutrient dense, whole, unprocessed foods. Commit to this program 100% and we guarantee you’ll feel and look amazing 30 days later. Check out the book, It Starts With Food, for a a dose of education and a solid plan.
Choice 2: Intermittent Fasting
If you haven’t experimented with intermittent fasting in the past, this may be a good time to try it. There are numerous ways to do intermittent fasting, and it’s up to you to find what works best for you. Maybe you prefer to fast for 16 hours and eat within an 8-hour window? Or maybe you like a 20:4 fast:feast ratio? Or heck, maybe you’re someone who simply likes to do a 24 or 36 hour fast once a week? Regardless of your preferred fasting method, do some research and find out what works best for you. Stick with it for a whole month. Eat Stop Eat is a great program to get you started.
Choice 3: Elimination Diet
Like intermittent fasting, there are many ways to do an elimination diet. You can get tested for food allergies and remove all of the foods to which you are allergic. You can pick some common allergens, like wheat and dairy, and remove them for 30 days before adding them back in and seeing how you feel. Or you can pick foods that make you feel sluggish or lethargic and remove them for 30 days and see if it makes a difference.
Our recommendation is this: Pick 2-3 foods that you notice may not always sit well with you. Go 30 days without them and see how you feel. Add them back in one at a time after 30 days and continue monitoring how you feel. You may have just discovered a food sensitivity that was hindering your progress or keeping you from feeling great.
Not sure what foods make you lethargic and sluggish? Here is a list of some common allergens. Pick 2-3 from this list to eliminate for 30 days: wheat/gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, fish, shellfish, tree nuts.
There you have it! Six 30-day challenges to choose from that will help you look and feel your best in the new year. Let us know how it goes for you in the comments below.