Today is the day. At long last, we are starting our “Be a Better You” nutrition challenge after several indulgent months of holidays, irregular sleeping and eating schedules, missed workouts and sweatpants. In a way, we’re sad to see the holidays go, but at the same time, we’re beyond ready to get on track with helping you to be the best version of yourself!
If you’ve done a nutrition challenge before, chances are you know that the key to success is planning. By planning and being intentional during your challenge, you will ensure your ability to succeed.
We’ve decided to put together ten tips for our beginners. These are things we wish we would have known going into our first nutrition challenge or painful lessons we learned along the way.
10 Tips for a Nutrition Challenge
1. Clean Out Your Pantry
Regardless of how great your will power is, looking at Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Little Debbie Cakes on day ten of no processed sugar is no fun. Even if it isn’t enough to break your commitment, it’s enough to trigger some mega-cravings. Clean out your pantry of all your “off limits” food.
If you’re uncomfortable getting rid of it, put it somewhere else in your kitchen or in your house until your challenge is over. However, I don’t think you’ll need it because this challenge is going to change your life!
Take time to clean out your refrigerator and freezer. Toss all your Christmas leftovers (it’s past time — you can read more on safely storing leftovers here) and make a clean, new place for you to store all of your healthy food.
2. Upgrade Your Kitchen
If there’s a new set of pots and pans you’ve been eyeing or a new gadget that you know will get your spouse engaged in the kitchen, now is the time to buy it. For the next month and hopefully beyond that, your kitchen is going to become your holy space.
You’re going to spend a lot of time in your kitchen preparing food and hopefully teaching others in your family more about living a healthy lifestyle. So if a fresh coat of paint or a new food processor will make that space more comfortable and easy to navigate for you, then spend the extra dollars to do it. You can check out our favorite gadgets for cooking healthy here.
However, if you’re perfectly fine with your kitchen gadgets, don’t feel the need to upgrade. One common misconception about eating healthier is that it costs more money, which in a lot of ways isn’t true, so don’t feel like you have to have a top of the line cooking space with all the latest technology to prepare great food.
3. Think Intentionally
When you agreed to do this challenge, it was for a reason. Maybe that reason is that you’re overweight and you’re starting to see some health effects. Maybe that reason is that you want to be the best athlete you can be going into the 2016 Games season. Maybe you’re taking advantage of the New Year to be a better you. ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE GREAT! We don’t care why you’re doing it — we think working to improve yourself health-wise is always a good decision, but you need to take time to figure why you are doing this and what you hope to accomplish during this challenge.
By doing this, you can set and achieve your health-related goals. Some of these goals may be easy to knock out during this challenge — lose five pounds or break an addiction to sugar. Other goals may take longer, but this is a great first step. Read more about successful goal setting here.
4. Eat Intentionally
After you’ve decided why you’re doing this challenge, take time to sit down and really clarify what you’re giving up. Establish what foods you’re going to eliminate during this challenge. For some people like me, it’s processed sugar, grains, dairy and alcohol. For others, it may be closer to a Whole30 or if you’re truly a beginner, you may be following a little looser standards to get yourself in the swing of things.
Regardless, sit down and establish those parameters so there’s no confusion later on. Just saying that you’re eliminating “junk food” or “unhealthy things” is vague and leaves a lot of wiggle room down the line. Although that may sound appealing, in truth you’re only hurting yourself by not being the best version of yourself and sticking to the spirit of the challenge.
5. Plan Your Meals Out
This may seem like a given, but for many people, this will be their first time actually planning out meals and grocery planning as opposed to just picking up whatever strikes them at the grocery store. I cannot stress enough how important this step is. If you fail to plan, plan to fail.
Every week, we will be providing with lots of taste-tested super convenient meals to cook. Take advantage of this and plan your grocery list accordingly. There’s no worse feeling than getting ready to cook a meal and realizing you’re missing a key ingredient. Know going into your week what days you plan on eating what meal.
And for your sake and ours, take time to meal prep. Even two hours on a Sunday afternoon pre-chopping your vegetables and cooking a pack of chicken breasts can make a huge difference in the time it takes you to prepare meals each day.
6. Have Emergency Plans
Sometimes, you have to work late. Sometimes, the kids have a soccer game or you want to hit a late class at the gym. Sometimes, preparing a full meal doesn’t work with your schedule.
Hopefully most of the time, you’ll know these things ahead of time and can plan around them. But for the times that these incidents creep up on you, have an emergency plan. Whether it’s stashing a protein bar in your car or keeping an emergency chicken breast in the refrigerator at work (that you change out frequently), planning for the unexpected can keep you from most importantly breaking your challenge and from being a hot, grumpy mess. We want you to be a better you. We NEVER want you to be hungry or malnutrition.
For me, I avoid using protein bars or fruit as an emergency snack because when my sugar cravings start (and oh, believe me, they will!) I don’t want to use those as a crutch. Instead, I use Epic Bars or a small package of nuts so that I’m only tempted to eat them if I’m actually hungry.
7. Let Your Friends and Family Know
Sometimes, friends and families can be your biggest cheerleaders. Sometimes, they can be your biggest hinderance when you’re trying to improve your health. Whether it’s your mom inviting you over for your weekly Sunday night dinner and insisting on serving her homemade spaghetti and meatballs despite the fact that she knows you can’t eat it or your best friend trying to peer pressure you into grabbing a beer at Happy Hour, friends and families can present huge roadblocks on the way to being a better version of yourself.
There are several solutions to this problem. The first is to make it abundantly clear what you’re doing. Let your friends and family know that you’re participating in the Be a Better You Challenge. Tell them what it is and share #3 and #4 — why you’re doing this and what you’re not eating — with them.
If they are very supportive, thank them and ask them to sign up and do it with you. If they aren’t, turn off your phone and enjoy all the yummy cooking you’re about to do without them.
We’re kidding. Sort of.
8. Be Realistic
If you set out to lose 30 pounds in a month or give up sugar like it ain’t no thang, you’re going to be disappointed.
If you’re not Chef Emeril, don’t shoot to cook a three-course meal every night with ingredients you’ve never used and a prep-time of two hours.
You don’t have to use all fresh-picked or grass-fed (unless your coach specifies otherwise) ingredients. Do the best you can and the results will follow.
Be realistic with your goals and your methods for achieving them. We want you to be a better you, not become a new person overnight. This takes time. It’s going to be difficult. But we have complete faith that you’re going to rock it!
9. Don’t Take it Too Seriously
Repeat after me: My self worth is not derived from my weight, the way I look or what I eat. I want to be a better version of myself. This does NOT mean degrading myself, talking badly about myself, shaming myself or starving myself.
This DOES mean making better food choices, not even to look better but to FEEL better. This DOES mean taking care of myself because I’m pretty awesome and I deserve to enjoy the body I’ve been given.
10. Have Fun
Last but most importantly, have fun! Take this time to learn some new things about yourself. Sharpen up your kitchen skills, make grocery shopping for healthy ingredients a family affair and enjoy the transformation.
You’re going to be great!
What tips do you have for first-time nutrition challenge-takers? Let us know in the comments!