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The Death of the “30-Day Nutrition Challenge”

This time of year, you’ll start seeing them pop up everywhere… Claiming to be able to help you lose weight and change your lifestyle, all within a 30-day timeframe.

It’s the “30-Day Nutrition Challenge” time of year, and brace yourself it will sound enticing!

Some food (no pun intended) for thought before starting one of these “change your life” challenges: How many people that you know have gone beyond the 30 days of their challenge, with the same dedication, results, and ability to adhere? Probably not many, if any at all. There are a ton of reasons why these challenges aren’t successful long-term… here are a few:

1. They’re overly restrictive and aren’t sustainable over time. Most of the 30-Day Challenges that you’ll find are going to ask you to get rid of something. For example, with a Paleo Challenge, you’ll be asked to get rid of processed carbs and refined sugars, dairy, and a variety of other things you may currently be consuming daily. Essentially, you’re being asked to go from 0-30 with very little guidance and, as Calvin Sun from CrossFit Invictus notes, “placing yourself in a mindset of deprivation.”

Why is this bad? Well, if people want to shift their diet to one of more single-source or whole foods, we wouldn’t tell them not to. However, if someone asks you to change your current lifestyle to something on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, they’re setting you up for failure. Most diets fail because the restriction makes it difficult for people to stay consistent after the first 30 days. The new way of eating is in such stark contrast to everyday life, it never becomes habit. Therefore, it is easy to glide back into old habits after the 30-Day Challenge accountability is expired, and gain any weight back that may have been lost.

2. That brings me to my next point, you’re only being held accountable for the first 30 days… but then what? Life is a lot longer than 30 days. In fact, even 60 days may not be enough… According to Phillippa Lally (a health psychology researcher at University College London), it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes a habit – 66 days, to be precise. Considering doing 21 Day Fix or something like that this new year? Well, you may need to do it a few times.

So why not just keep doing the same 30-Day Challenge repeatedly? Well, because usually they aren’t set up in this type of way. Most challenges are meant to boost your progress quickly, get you feeling good and “bought-in” to the process, but then leave you hanging when you need it most. One of the most important things that keeps you successful during that first 30 days? Accountability. You usually have someone to answer to… after that is done, then what?

3. Speaking of accountability, there is something to be said for ways to do this right and ways it can be done wrong. The “accountability” of the 30-Day Challenge is that which is centered around “competition” or achieving more points or weight loss than someone else, or everyone else. The “all or nothing” mentality of challenges makes it hard to sustain overtime, and being in constant weight loss competition with others is certainly not helpful. Even if the competition isn’t the initial intention, it is an underlying theme. Either you’re losing weight and you’re “earning points” or you’re not.

What most people need in order to be successful, and to sustain new, healthier eating habits are: consistency, time, a learning curve, accountability and support. While the traditional 30-Day Challenge may provide this for the duration of the challenge itself, it can leave you feeling lost and alone and unsure upon conclusion. You may also feel alienated if you hadn’t “performed” as well on the challenge, didn’t earn as many points, or didn’t lose as much body fat. What these challenges fail to recognize is that each individual has distinct needs in order to be successful.

4. Putting someone in a caloric deficit is the only way to help them lose weight. No matter what method of eating they choose or adhere to, they must be in a caloric deficit to lose weight. The days of “just eat clean” are over… often these challenges are executed without guidance as to how much of the foods people should be eating, or WHY they should be eating certain breakdowns of foods, and ways to source the right foods to hit the right targets.

These challenges usually show some results in the first 30-60 days, as the person has likely “cleaned up” their act, are likely eating a bit less than they had been, and could be in a caloric deficit just by nature of eating better sources of their carbs, fats and proteins. However, if the amounts aren’t adjusted as the person’s body weight changes, the results will stall or stop. The other issue with these challenges is that they really only cater to the needs of one type of individual: the person who wants to lose weight fast. What about people or athletes who want to build muscle? There is little that these challenges can do for them, besides put them in a quick caloric surplus that is sure to create excess body fat instead of lean muscle.

5. These challenges are usually not overseen by people with the appropriate certifications or medical backgrounds to be giving nutritional guidance to people who may have underlying medical conditions, be taking medications, or have food-related intolerances or disorders that they are not qualified to handle. People who have had previous bouts with disordered eating can be negatively impacted by participating in nutrition challenges or competitions.

Most gym-owners who are hosting the 30-Day challenge don’t have the required education or certifications to provide nutritional advice to people who have preexisting conditions that could be affected by food. It is important to consider that before enrolling in any program that provides advice or recommendations for what and how you should be eating.

So, why do we do these?

They’re usually seen as a means to an end, and marketed as a way to “get fit quick” or “jump start” your progress toward your goals. Which in theory, is great. They are great for gym owners to get their members engaged and seeing quick results in a community setting. For that purpose, the 30-60 Day Challenge is great. But, is it in the best interest of the members’ ultimate goals? Maybe not.

These challenges are often easily accessible, and inexpensive. People are able to easily engage with the challenge and see some basic results at a cheaper price. Long-term though, they aren’t tailored to the individual and are less likely to get you the sustained results you’re looking to achieve and MAINTAIN. The ideal is that someone learns how to eat, they learn how to work nutrition into their lifestyle, they learn the proper way to cut or bulk, and then the maintain whatever results they are happy to achieve over time.

The challenges give people a purpose, a topic to talk about with friends, and a check in the box neat to “get healthier this year…” and if that happens, that is GREAT. But there’s something to be said for more tailored programs that provide longer-term guidance, accountability over time, a staff with the right credentials, and actual education instead of a 30-day trial by fire. Changing one’s lifestyle takes time, at least 66 days, as mentioned before. Don’t get caught up in the gimmicks, don’t go into a program that is overly restrictive and not sustainable, and don’t make progress only to gain it all back.

Learn more about the Nutrition Coaching we provide at CrossFit Off the Grid through Stronger U Nutrition by visiting our dedicated page. Programs start at 12-weeks, and can extend to 6 months or 1 year. Members at CrossFit Off the Grid get a $50 discount, but this program is not limited to the gym. In fact, Stronger U has helped over 7800 people all over the world achieve their weight loss and fitness goals. You don’t have to be a CrossFit athlete, or any type of athlete, to make a positive impact on your health this year. For any questions, or to enroll in Stronger U Nutrition, e-mail Coach Kenny (onsite nutrition coach) at [email protected] or visit StrongerU.com.

A blog by Barb.

Resources:

Why The 30-Day Nutrition Challenge Is Going Extinct

Why Most 30 Day Challenges Suck (and 3 Challenges That Actually Work)

How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed by Science)

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