30-Day Real Food & Fitness Challenge
My sister recently approached me wanting help getting back in shape after having a baby. As I was planning her nutrition and exercise plan, I thought–why don’t I do it too? Seeing as how we are both super competitive, I felt being an accountability partner to her would keep us both on track with our daily food and exercise. This dietitian isn’t immune to certain high sugar and high fat foods like delicious chocolate chip homemade cookies (okay, I made them, and I ate the uncooked dough), or skipping a workout here and there. The point is, we all can improve our diet and get in more physical activity for our health; we might even learn something new about our bodies in the process (no I won’t show you a video like in junior high).
A real food and fitness 30-day challenge may be the best thing you have done for your health in a long time. There are lots of great whole food challenges out there, but I wanted one specific to my personal food issues and the struggles I commonly see with my clients. So, if you have you been looking for a way to take control of your diet and get in a fitness routine, you should take the challenge. Commit to 30 day’s of change–no cheating–and see how different you can feel in one month, because you will feel different. For extra support and accountability, find a friend or spouse and commit together; I promise you can be successful.
My 30-Day Real Food and Fitness Challenge:
Part 1: Food
Don’t eat: processed food. To simplify, a processed food is any food that’s no longer in it’s natural state–think boxed cake mixes, frozen meals, boxed meals, fast food, lunch meat, granola bars, most condiments, cereal, white rice, white flour, refined sugar, juice, tortillas, chips, crackers, etc.
Do eat: fresh vegetables and fruits. There are no good or bad fruits or vegetables in this challenge; if you like to eat it, and if it grew from the ground–go for it. Canned vegetables, canned fruits (in own juice), plain tomato sauce, beans, tuna, and other whole canned foods are all okay. Use your common sense–if you think a food could be an overly processed food, then it probably is. Don’t be afraid to branch out and try new foods this month!
Don’t eat: processed meat. Lunch meat, bacon, sausage, and hot dogs are all filled with unhealthy preservatives like nitrates and refined salt, even if they say “all natural” they still probably have a concentrated/processed celery juice as a “natural” preservative, which is also high in nitrites and nitrates.
Do eat: fresh meat and plant-based proteins. Go fresh and eat lean turkey, chicken, beef, eggs, salmon, tuna, tilapia, and shrimp for your protein. Eat more vegetarian protein sources like lentils, beans, or quinoa.
- Roast your own turkey or chicken for your lunch instead of lunch meat–cheaper and healthier.
- Hard-boil 1/2 dozen eggs for an easy breakfast protein, or pair one egg with a piece of fruit for an afternoon or post-workout snack.
- Cook 2-3 lbs of chicken at once in the crockpot, and then portion the chicken into 3-4 oz servings for you lunch, or quick protein for dinner. Nobody wants to clean raw meat off a cutting board every night.
- Not a huge fan of fish? Try a mild fish like tilapia, or grill fresh salmon, which is significantly less fishy tasting than the canned version.
- Skip the meat all together for a few meals a week and use a vegetarian protein option like lentils, beans, or brown rice in a stir-fry with lots of veggies.
Don’t eat: added sugar–real or fake. If what you’re eating doesn’t look like a piece of fresh or dried fruit yet still tastes sweet, then you’re probably eating added sugar. For this challenge all added sugar is out. I normally use small amounts of raw honey, maple syrup, or blackstrap molasses to sweeten some recipes, but not for this challenge. No coconut sugar, brown rice syrup, agave, evaporated cane juice, Sugar in the Raw, stevia, Splenda, or other artificial sweetneers–you can do it. Wondering about your morning coffee? Trust me, if you need that morning coffee, you’ll drink it without sugar. If you’re looking for an alternative sugar source for your long runs, then dried fruit is a great real food alternative to energy gels and chews.
Do eat: fruit. The point of forgoing added sugars is to readjust your taste buds to what sweet really is–fruit. Fruit is sweet, and cookies are incredibly sweet; you’ll have a new appreciation for what sweet really is at the end of the 30 days.
- Blend fruit in a smoothie with almond milk for breakfast.
- Pick your favorite fruit to eat as your after dinner “dessert.”
- Have a small piece of fruit, like a plum or a few strawberries with some nuts for a snack.
- Freeze peeled bananas, then blend with 1 tablespoon no sugar added peanut butter or almond butter for a healthy dairy-free banana ice cream.
Don’t eat: dairy. I know I’m not lactose intolerant, and every day I typically use Greek yogurt and skim milk in my smoothie, half & half in my coffee, and string cheese as a snack. I do have a lot of clients who are lactose intolerant though, and even if you don’t think you are, you could still be slightly sensitive to dairy. So no dairy for this challenge: milk, half & half, ice cream, butter, yogurt, cheese, and kefir. If you are unsure if a food has dairy in it, it probably means it’s a processed food anyway–problem solved.
Do eat: unsweetened alternatives. I’m making an exception for unsweetened non-dairy milk alternatives like soy, almond, flax, oat, or coconut milk. They do have more than 1-2 ingredients because of the added vitamins and some have thickeners, but there needs to be a healthy dairy alternative for my morning smoothies and coffee (my challenge, my rules)!
- I am including single ingredient vegan protein powders like hemp, pea, or brown rice with no added flavors or sweeteners in the “to be included” list. However, whey protein is a dairy food, and the whey concentrate does contain small amounts of lactose and should be avoided. Whey protein isolate is virtually lactose free, so would technically fit the bill, but I’d personally still avoid all whey protein for this challenge. I like a scoop of hemp protein in my morning smoothie!
- Use canned organic coconut milk or almond milk in your morning coffee. If you’re like me and enjoy the thickness of half & half, coconut milk is naturally thick and creamy.
- Almond milk + protein, soy milk, and oat milk are the few non-dairy milks that contain any substantial protein content, which will keep you full longer and help decrease any blood sugar spike in a meal like a fruit smoothie.
Don’t eat: gluten-containing foods. Most people do not have celiac disease or a non-celiac gluten sensitivity and therefore don’t need to purposefully avoid gluten-containing products: wheat, barley, and rye. If you find yourself constantly tired, have headaches, or just feel foggy all the time, then you may be one of those people sensitive to gluten and not realize it. Even if you aren’t sensitive to gluten, people in general eat way too many wheat-based grains: breads, tortillas, pizza, muffins, cookies, and giant bowls of pasta. Everyone could benefit from putting down the bagels and muffins for a month–so we all are for the challenge. If you are dealing with intestinal issues it could be a good idea to get certified gluten free oats too, as oats are commonly processed with wheat products. Avoiding gluten also doesn’t mean you get to go buy gluten-free crackers and pretzels, because those are processed foods. Here’s an extensive list of gluten-containing foods to help you familiarize yourself with foods that may contain wheat, barley, or rye derivatives. Packaged foods are required to have wheat listed on the label, but it can’t hurt to double check the ingredients list.
Do eat: other grains & legumes.
- All fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, meat (not breaded), and eggs are naturally gluten free. So avoiding gluten isn’t a giant leap if you are eating lots of real food like the challenge states.
- There are so many great wheat alternative grain options out there: quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, or millet, just to name a few. Even with gluten-free grains you should watch your portions. Stick to 1/2-1 cup cooked brown rice or other grains for most meals (I stick to 1/2 cup per meal). You don’t want to fill up on grains–focus more on vegetables.
- Ditch the bread at lunch and branch out with a fun salad, or have chicken or tuna salad in 1/2 a pepper or on cucumber or zucchini slices.
- Make a large batch of brown rice or quinoa and take 1/2 cup of the cooked grain with a lean protein and veggies for lunch.
- Use spaghetti squash instead of traditional whole wheat pasta. Spaghetti squash naturally shreds into a convenient noodle shape.
- Eat a small handful of nuts instead of chips with your lunch. Yes, nuts are higher in calories, but you’ll eat less later in the day, because healthy fats keep you full longer than carb-filled chips or crackers.
Don’t drink: alcohol. Wine and beer do have health benefits in the appropriate portions, but they also are easy to overdo and can affect your sleep and sports performance when overdone. So for 30 days, we will be putting the wine glasses and beer mugs down.
Do drink: water. And lots of it.
- Add slices of orange, lemon, lime, strawberries, or cucumber to flavor your water naturally.
Part 2: Exercise
Your health is more than just the food you eat. Getting in a good sweat session is what tones your body and builds endurance. Have you been slacking with exercise? Whatever your reason for not getting in at least 30 minutes a day 5-6 days a week of some activity, change it this month. My personal goal is to lift weights three days a week for 45 minutes, and run 4 days a week for a total of 20 miles; it’s specific and not beyond my reach. Give yourself a fitness challenge. It should be something doable, yet empowering. I guarantee you can do anything if you make the time for it.
Part 3: Weight
Don’t weigh yourself for one month–seriously. This is a health challenge, not a weight loss challenge. Pay attention to your energy level, and how your clothes fit. You may be surprised at the changes that occur when you aren’t over-analyzing an arbitrary number.
Will it be hard to eat right and exercise for 30 days? Most definitely. Can you do it? Without a doubt. Challenge accepted!