30-Day Challenge Analysis Part 3: Changing Your Life For Real – Let’s Do This Right

All right folks, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for. That’s right, it’s the GRAND FINALE of the EPIC, three part 30-day challenge series. We’ve already talked about the pros and cons of 30-day throw downs (Part 1) and we’ve discussed (AT LENGTH) how we totally screw em’ up (Part 2). Now let’s get to the good stuff – let’s figure out how to do this right and truly ‘change your life’ and health for the long haul. If you haven’t read the first two parts, I would recommend doing that first, both for the background information and because, if I do say so myself, they’re damn entertaining. (**NOTE: I also laugh at all of my own jokes.**) If you’re already up to speed, then let’s get this party started…

The GREAT Group/Gym Challenge

Okay, all of you gym owners and coaches, regardless of how good your intentions may be when you set up one of these ’30-day fat loss challenges’, you are doing your members and the folks that participate in them no favors if you’re not running them right. If you’re wondering how you screw em’ up – then you haven’t read Part 2 of this series. Do that now and then come back and continue reading this.

First we’re going to address the ‘numbers game’ – you know; the weighing, waist circumferencing, and calipering/body fat testing. Sure, you need to measure something to determine a winner, but are these markers really indicators of success? Can you lose weight and body fat in 30 days? Yes, but quoting Tommy Boy, “I can get a good look at a t-bone by sticking my head up a bull’s @ss.” I think if we’ve learned anything through observing these challenges, it’s that most folks can gut out 30 days of restriction and get some ‘measurable’ results, but where are they 1-3 months from then? Were the results lasting? Did habits change for good? Did the participants learn/retain anything? Magic 8 Ball says, “Very doubtful.”

What would happen if instead of measuring waist circumference, body fat, and scale numbers, we measured habit changing successes. A couple years ago I did a “30 Challenges in 30 days” series of posts. Every day we did ONE thing to ‘change our lives’ and by the end of the 30 days, participants had 30 new tools in their tool boxes. Every day that they completed a challenge was a small victory and a ‘point’ toward their health. There was no list of do’s and don’ts – no flat out restriction, but rather a slow buildup of new habits over the course of the month. In addition to changing up the indicators of success and the overall implementation of a ‘transformation’ challenge; any good gym/coach will provide education, information and support. Maybe this looks like a weekly class to talk about nutrition and lifestyle habits, a series of emails with instructions, tips, recipes, etc. Or maybe it could be a Facebook group for participants to support each other, ask questions and share ideas; that’s moderated by the coaches and/or a dietitian. This group might be something that stays open for 2-3+ months after the challenge to help support LASTING habit changes and to offer continued support.

Ultimately, as health and nutrition experts we need to be teaching folks how to live and eat in a healthy way that is sustainable. We are doing them a disservice when we promote the idea that it’s perfectly acceptable to have a diet/lifestyle change that runs in 30-day cycles. STOP IT.

The Perfect Personal/Individual Challenge

I know that most of you, embarking upon one of these 30-day life changing challenges, go into them with the goals to clean up your act, form new habits, and come out of feeling better when they’re over. But, in a lot of cases, somewhere along the way things get all messed up. We talked about that in Part 2 of this series in case you need a refresher. Now we’re going to talk about how to make new diet and lifestyle changes stick – with or without a 30-day ‘kick start’.

There are two types of people in the world. There’s the type that, when they go to the pool, head straight to the diving board and jump in, and then there’s the folks that start by dipping their toes in the water taking slow, deliberate steps deeper and deeper until they reach the “all-in” point. Neither of these methods is wrong – one just gets you wet faster, but that doesn’t make it better.

The same general idea can be applied to habit/behavior change – there’s the all-in right off the bat crowd: Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. These guys go from Burger King to broccoli overnight. This can work – but it can backfire too. The other group makes small changes until they finally get to the – all-in point, having adjusted slowly throughout the process. It takes longer, sure, but they eventually get there too. Again, neither of these ways is wrong – but it’s important to know or figure out which approach is going to work best for you.

If you’re an all-in ‘cannonball style’ type of person, 30 days of abstinence might be the ticket for you. That being said, you’re going to have to figure out how to make it work and what life is going to look like after day 30. Unfortunately, you can’t just decide to start tomorrow and expect it to all fall into place. For the folks that tip-toe into the changes, each step is more deliberate and planned. They know what’s coming and slowly adjust their habits over time, (maybe adding one new change each week). This often results in new habits sticking because they’ve had time to figure out how to make each adjustment work for them. Regardless of which direction you go, you’ve got to have a plan and you’ve got to figure out how your life is going to look once you’re “all the way under”.

There are a few things you need to do BEFORE you start to help yourself be successful implementing either a 30-day transformation or gradual lifestyle change (this is the short list…):

  1. Know your why. Why are you doing this in the first place? If your answer is to see your abs and you’ve got no real desire to actually change your habits for good, you’re doing it wrong. Sure, at the end of the 30 days you might have those abs, but they aren’t going to last long with no real plan or desire to keep your new way of eating up. A better approach – go into this with the idea that you want to change your habits for life – not to ‘detox’ or to see how much weight you can lose. Your reasons for going in are key predictors of your results coming out.
  2. Have a plan! This is crucial. Know what your 30 days is going to look like. Meal plan, troubleshoot, and figure out how you’re going to make it all come together. But even more important than the 30 day plan is the day 31+ plan. You’ve got to decide what life is going to look like when the ‘transformation’ is complete. How will you incorporate your new habits into your life and where do all of the foods you eliminated fit into that plan? Benjamin Franklin wasn’t wrong when he said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
  3. Don’t ride the Merry-Go-Round. If you’re doing your 6th “Whole30” – you’re missing something. If you plan to succeed and you find your balance, there shouldn’t be a reason to do one of these ‘detoxes’ every 3-6 months. You can always tighten things up a bit, but it shouldn’t get so out of control that you need to resort to 30 days of restriction to get back on track. Find your “happy place” and run with it.
  4. Recruit help if you need it. If you’re not sure how to incorporate these new habits into your forever-life, find someone that can help you. Maybe it’s a friend or family member that’s been successful, a coach at the gym, or a dietitian (yeah, shameless self-promotion…). There are folks out there that can and want to help you – use them if/when you need them!

The ultimate goal of the 30-day challenge or any lifestyle transformation/change is to help develop new habits, get healthier and increase the length and quality of your life – not to see your abs (this should be considered an added bonus if it happens). Going in with the right mindset, educating yourself, and planning for a day 31 that doesn’t involve a buffet of Type 2 Diabetes are key to long term success. When it’s all said and done, you should have a box full of tools to help you stay healthy, look and feel good for life.

That concludes the 30-day challenge analysis series. What did you think and where are you going to go from here?




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