Being pretty active in the crossfit/weightlifting & general fitness community, I am frequently exposed to people embarking on nutrition challenges. 10, 21, 30, 60, even 90 day challenges geared to people losing weight and meeting their health and fitness goals. These challenges often get you closer to your goals by getting you to eat clean, remove dirty foods or even “cleanse” you by drinking juice for several days. I have participated in gym challenges and have also organized and ran them. My husband and I have even gone on these on our own to detox. However, I’m here now to say for the most part these challenges are not only a waste of time but flat out bullshit. Here are some of the reasons why and things to think about before possibly taking on a nutrition challenge:
- Fast results are not necessarily better – Many of these challenges/cleanses/detoxes require that you remove a whole food group. By doing so you more than likely will put yourself into a caloric deficit which leads to weight loss. For most people just removing some processed food will reduce their sodium therefore making you retain less water. Oh and not to mention most challenges will encourage you to drink more water. So why is that bad you ask? Not that this is a bad thing but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have lost quality weight that you could have done without (aka fat). Especially if you are training hard you are not doing your body any good by not consuming enough food to fuel your workouts.
- Teaches You Nothing About Nutrition – In my experience challenges don’t teach a person any quality information about nutrition. Other than some dogmatic principles to follow about what and what not to eat, a person leaves a challenge not having any real valuable idea about diet and nutrition.
- Not everyone’s goal is weight loss – These challenges seem to mostly be geared to weight loss. But what if that’s not what you want? What if you want to put on lean mass with minimal fat gain? Or lose fat but retain your lean mass? From what I’ve seen just cutting out processed food and just “eating clean” isn’t going to target those who have goals other than weight loss.
- Your relationship with food will probably get worse – Food is food, and food is good. We need it for energy and we need it to live. Plain and simple. Most of these challenges restrict certain foods and it makes our relationship with food worse. I think there is nothing worse than labeling food “good” and “bad” and “clean” and “dirty” or “cheats”. We are lucky to have food at our disposal. Plain and simple.
- Low Success and Maintenance Rate – In my personal experience of running a paleo challenge, I have seen not only low success rates but low maintenance of the diet after the challenge. I think part of this is because these challenges influence a “all or nothing” approach. Fell off the bandwagon a bit? Screw it.. Just quit the damn thing! This leads me to the next point.
- Results are Unsustainable – Often, prior to any challenge – most people embark on a “last meal/day/week”. What I mean by this is that right BEFORE they know the challenge is going to happen, they go on a crazy no-fucks given bender because that challenge is rolling around and they are going to do so good on it. Then usually immediately after the challenge, they “reward” themselves for being so good on the challenge by eating and drinking EVERYTHING they couldn’t have during the span of the challenge. What is the point of this? To repeat it all over again and then do so good, then mess it all up and feel bad about it? Results of challenges are usually not sustainable in the long-haul.
- You have to want it for YOURSELF – Overall, you have to want to modify your eating for yourself. To meet YOUR goals. Not to win some game or get points for a prize so you can be the best dieter around town. What happens when that system isn’t in place? Will you still want it as bad? There is a certain drive you have to have but you have to want it to better yourself and your own health. I’m not saying you have to be 100% 365 days a year but you have to keep chipping away, and keep working at it even when the bells and whistles aren’t there to motivate you. Take some time to educate yourself and find a nutrition lifestyle that works for you.