For the last eight weeks, the #KingfieldStrong participants have focused on an eating pattern that might be described as “primal” or “paleo-ish." They "ate clean" and perhaps, for some, it was "low-carb." The label is not important. What is important is that they refined many lifestyle habits and behaviors to prioritize their new healthy eating pattern. After all, it’s really hard to commit to avoiding convenience foods and catch an evening CrossFit class if you’re not prioritizing weekly grocery shopping, prepping satisfying meals, and eating enough of them to support great performance in the gym. We hope that what was learned during the Challenge will be carried on for months - hopefully years - to come.
Our Challenge participants removed sugar, processed and refined grains, cheap cooking oils and alcohol for sixty days. What’s next? You do not exist in a bubble devoid of office temptations, birthday parties, happy hours...
How do you reenter into the real world and still preserve the great benefits you gain from this Challenge?
The answer is there is no one way to shift away from the Challenge demands. Depending on your home life, your work demands, your fitness goals, there might be one strategy that works better for you or you might benefit from various approaches. Here are three common strategies for transitioning from a regimented eating plan or program to a more relaxed, more "real world" approach to diet:
Reintroduce food systematically to better define when it's appropriate to indulge
In other words, when should you treat yourself? Would you rather eat the sheet cake at your nephew’s third birthday party or a Sebastian Joe’s ice cream cone in the (soon-to-be) summer sunshine? During the Challenge, you’ve been enjoying benefits like better sleep, rapid recovery from activity, or minimal digestive distress. Likely, indulging, whether it's cake or ice cream, pizza or nachos, pretzels or a cookie, will begin to disrupt these benefits, with an almost certain cumulative effect over time. Use what you've learned to make smart choices about what, when and where to indulge.
The Challenge has set you up well to make these choices from a physiological perspective. Because you have eliminated certain foods, as you reintroduce them into your diet, you'll notice the specific effects that each has. You might realize after that SJ ice cream, you feel gassy and bloated for a few hours after. You might find that chowing through half a pizza leaves you comatose for the next few hours, wanting nothing but to sleep. However, be systematic with your reintroduction. You won't know if it's the pizza or the ice cream that makes you feel lethargic and heavy if you have both at once.
Social situations also factor into indulgence. By using the information you've learned about certain foods, you can use that to navigate these situations. Imagine you're at your nephew's birthday party in the afternoon and you're contemplating the sheet cake - yellow cake, chocolate frosting with more sprinkles than you can count. It looks delicious. But you have plans to go out with friends later and you know the sugar rush will leave you needing a nap. You turn down your sister's offer for a slice and you munch happily on some carrot sticks and hummus instead.
Since you took the time to find out that refined sugar and carbohydrate makes you sleepy, you decided that delicious slice wasn't worth it. This time around. Maybe the same situation arises later and you don't have plans later, so you graciously accept the slice of cake and chow down. It was made from scratch, after all.
Clean things up for a finite amount of time
You will always be more successful in your health goals if you define a specific amount of time to focus on them. The Challenge, for example, was intentionally set for a defined number of days, not because we think that healthy eating should end after this week, but because sometimes it feels a little bit more manageable to put energy towards a particular goal for a specified amount of time.
After the Challenge, you might go back to enjoying fluffy baked goods at brunch or wine with dinner. This spring might present opportunities for other eating habits that we don't have to contend with during winter - grilling season, lake life and patio happy hours are on our horizon. And while you’re experiencing some great benefits from cleaning up your eating pattern right now, it will continue to become more difficult to find a good reason to avoid outings with family and friends and stick with the rules of the program. In a couple months, if you feel you need to perform a “reset” to get back to healthier habits, set yourself a “start” and “end” date to cycle back into focused clean eating, sound stress management and restful sleep.
Once you set your schedule, you can make even smaller goals within that. Approach it like a massive set of wallballs, right? Just focus on two reps at a time and keep repeating that mantra and suddenly you're over halfway. These mini goals help us stay present in our lives too! If we're solely focused on the finish line, we miss everything we might pass on the way there and, over time, that becomes a pretty miserable way to approach each day. Find ways to break it up, make it fun - a new recipe, a cooking class, pay attention to what works and what really doesn't for you and your life.
Avoid designating “cheat days”, instead proceed with mindfulness
Remember when you were a kid and you walked into your classroom to see a substitute teacher? That I-can-get-away-with-anything-and-I-am-going-to-try feeling? Cheat days are like that.
Designating cheat days indicates to our brain that all the other days must be stringent, void of fun. Cheat days breed binge eating because of that same mentality - “If I’m allowed to eat whatever I want, I am gonna eat #allthethings because I'll be deprived again before I know it.” Try not to use food as an emotional crutch either. Just because you had a stressful day, doesn't mean you need a pint of Ben and Jerry's. However, it might mean a few spoonfuls of B & J's will make you feel happy and relieve some stress at the end of a long day. That is okay. But own that reasoning. We encourage you to make that decision based on mindfulness and not reactionary emotions and societal examples that sadness merits sugar. Instead of designating a “cheat day”, proceed through your week with mindfulness. Tune in. Decide to indulge on foods that you’ll enjoy with friends or those prepared with love and don’t settle for less. Be satisfied in the moment.
There's no doubt in our minds a diet that emphasizes whole, nutrient-rich foods will lead you to feel vibrant and strong. Scientific evidence is clear that refined sugar, processed and refined grains, and inflammatory fats like those found in industrial seed oils contribute to virtually all modern degenerative diseases from diabetes and obesity to heart disease and autoimmunity. It is your job to figure our how trigger foods fit into your life and we're here to support you however you choose to transition back (or not!) to a less restrictive diet.
Congratulations to all of our 60 Days to #KingfieldStrong Challenge participants! We could not be more proud of your dedication, your contributions, and your improvements on this Challenge. From the very start, you were engaged and eager to learn. We can only hope that this support and investment in each other and in yourselves continues well beyond these sixty days. As we wrap things up, we will continue to check in periodically to see how you're all doing and if some of our suggestions above are useful. Our goal is to continue to support you, every day, to achieving a healthy lifestyle, in and out of the gym.