30-Day Challenge Analysis Part 2: Abusing The System – How We Screw Up The Process & Ourselves

screw up

We’re human and let’s face it, we are REALLY good at f#%@-ing things up. It doesn’t matter what it is, someone, somewhere is going to figure out a way to make it a complete FAIL. 30-day challenges/transformations are no exception to this ‘fail phenomenon’. Yeah, we’ve figured out a way to take something that’s meant to change health and lives for the better and basically turned it into something about as useful as a “Thighmaster” – I don’t care what Suzanne Somers says. It’s hard to say how things got so out of control, but they did, and its escalated past the point of isolated individual fails to large groups all ‘failing’ at the same time.

What am I talking about? (As if I wasn’t going to tell you…) We talked about the general pros and cons of 30-day challenges in Part 1 of this series, so if you somehow managed to sleep through that post, I would highly recommend reading it before you proceed here – you know, background information. Always helpful, always. For those of you that are up to speed, let’s talk about the ways we screw up both the 30-day challenge process and ourselves at the same time.

The Goofed-up Group/Gym Challenge

First I’m going to call out all the gyms that run these ‘Paleo’, ‘Whole-30’, ‘Body Transformation’, etc. challenges. Most of these 30-day throw downs start with an initial assessment, which basically means the participant/victim gets weighed, body comped and measured. They are then given a list of food and/or exercise rules and set free for 30 days. At the end of “30 days of Hell” (Seriously, I’ve had a client refer to it as exactly that. I can’t make this shit up.), they are once again subjected to the scale, calipers and tape measure to see how they did. I’ve even seen some gyms that have folks record all of their food/exercise in a shared Google doc and then they award and deduct points based on the contest “rules”.  All that may leave you wondering why anyone would willingly sign-up for a “month of misery” (phrase used by aforementioned client…) and the answer to that question – there’s money involved (and glory too, of course). Yeah, folks PAY to play, and a portion of what they invest goes into a pot that, when it’s all said and done, the winner takes home. In the words of Jerry MacGuire, “Show Me The Money!”

Where these contests and challenges fail (and I mean BIG TIME BOMB…) is that most provide little to no instruction, education, support, or direction about how to go about this transformation process in a healthy, sustainable, habits for life kind of way. It’s basically 30 days of “I hate my life, but there’s money and I want to see my abs…” So, you gut it out and maybe you find your abs during the last week of the thing – but come day 31, you ‘refuel’ by eating enough to feed a family of four with two teenaged boys. And by the end of the week, those 6-pack abs you had more closely resemble a pony keg…

Another fairly common practice in the 30-day gym challenge circuit is the ‘pre-contest prep’. This basically means, you stack the deck in your favor going into the contest by GORGING yourself for several days prior to the initial measurements being taken. Can you say water retention, food babies, and skewed data?? Yeah, CHEATING. It’s not only unfair, but it’s unhealthy and STUPID. A few words of advice: DON’T BE AN IDIOT! That advice applies to both gym owners/coaches and to all eligible participants. One more time – everyone together: DON’T BE AN IDIOT!

Messing up the “I’m doing this for me.” Challenge/Transformation

This part is for everyone out there that’s laughing and saying to themselves, “I would never do one of those stupid group challenges. I’m doing this for me.” While your intent may seem superior to that of “Group Challenge Greg”, don’t fool yourself. You’re not above falling victim to the f#%@-upedness that these 30-day transformations can become. Oh no, we’re equal opportunity idiots “up in this humpy bumpy” – no one is exempt, no one (and yes, that includes you…). In the event you’re having a hard time following me, I’m going to go ahead and elaborate (surprise, surprise…).

You’re fired up. Seriously, READY. TO. GO. You’ve completely cleaned out your cabinets and refrigerator. There’s not a food in your house that didn’t or can’t live, rot, grow, and/or die. That’s right, hardcore – only REAL food for 30-days. You’ve done your first week of meal prep and your slow cooker has just seen more action than a bed in a pay-by-the-hour motel. You are set and this is gonna be awesome. The End.

You fly through that first week with your pre-packed Tupperware breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners. You’re thinking – “That was a cinch, like total cakewalk (well, maybe not cake…). There’s no way you’re turning back. You’re feeling good and it was SO EASY. Then the weekend hits and your friends are like, “Hey, let’s go out for dinner and/or drinks”, and you’re all, “Sure, let’s hit the same place we did last week.” Conversation ends. And then it hits you – there will be no drinks and the food situation is going to be tough to swing too. No burger and fries for you. So, you make up some excuse as to why you can’t go and dodge that bullet for this week. You’re okay with it because you’ve got some serious grocery shopping and meal prep plans anyway.

Well, somehow the weekend gets a little busier than you’d planned and the only meal prep you manage is to boil a dozen eggs. Come Monday morning, you’ve got nothing for the week but 12 sad, lonely boiled eggs and a couple cans of tuna. To say the next week is gonna be rough would be an understatement. There’s probably going to be a lot of salad, a lot of tuna and a lot of no fun. And by the end of the week you’re likely going to be pretty much over it. It’s at this point that you start to realize that this “life changing” stuff is a lot of work, and it’s not just a matter of revamping your eating habits, but it’s like your entire lifestyle. It’s possible that the next few weeks go a little better. You probably manage to do the meal planning and prep because there’s no way that you’re going to subject yourself to another week of living off of eggs, tuna, and salad. But when day 25 rolls around you’re starting to think about all the food you get to eat on day 31… Binge planning, yeah, that’s healthy…

If you’re not planning your ultimate destruction, you’re likely contemplating what exactly life is supposed to look like when this whole 30-day thing is over. Where do you go from here? Is there a place for your old favorites, or do you need to keep it hardcore ‘clean’ for the rest of your life? I mean, sure, you feel better, but for the past month your world has pretty much revolved around food, and we won’t even talk about your social life – mostly because you didn’t have one… How the heck are you supposed to make your new habits part of a normal life? Is that even a thing? The end is coming FAST and you’ve got ZERO idea and no plan for what needs to happen on day 31 to keep this going. Sure, you’ve learned a lot about food and how it makes you feel over the past 30 days. You’re fairly certain that you don’t want to go back to what you were doing before but, ultimately, this all-or-nothing approach isn’t going to work forever. There’s got to be a balance.

So, day 31 comes and some of you completely give up the ship – back to Burger King and frozen pizza with an occasional salad thrown in for good measure. I mean, hey, you did learn a little something, and Ranch dressing is awesome, right??? #facepalm. Same habits, just 30 days later. The rest of you slowly start adding a few things back to “test the waters” – but soon, you find that you’re pretty much right back to where you were before you “Whole30’ed” to health. You’re not really sure how you got back to that point, but you’re already planning your next 30-day elimination to get back on track – and the cycle begins. Sure, there are some folks that find their happy balance – and if you’re one of them, that’s freaking awesome BUT keep in mind, you are the minority.

Ultimately, the sudden onset and rule-based restriction of these ‘life changing’ 30-day challenges/transformations and of any and all ‘diets’ make it incredibly easy (and likely) for us to slip back into old patterns. It’s a cold turkey approach to eating – one day (usually day 1 of the ‘challenge’), you just stop eating the foods that used to be your go-to and/or favorite options. In a lot of cases this is a recipe for failure – there’s no instruction or guidance as to how to incorporate your new habits into your life for the long haul and let’s be real, complete avoidance and restriction FOREVER is not an option for pretty much all of us. Seriously, life without ever being able to have pizza, ice cream, or a drink – JUST WHY???

If you go into your ‘detox’ with the mindset that you’re only in for 30 days and then it’s back to business as usual until the ‘next round’ – you’re doing it wrong. But alternately, if you go in with the idea that the rest of your life needs to be one of complete “against the rules food” abstinence – you’re doing it wrong too. Ultimately, to make this work for the long haul your priorities need to change and it’s going to take commitment. But you’ve got the strike a balance that works for you, your life and both your physical and mental health. You’ve got to have a plan for what life looks like after day 30 and if you don’t you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

So now that you are well versed on the pros and cons of 30 day challenges (Part 1) and you have some pretty good ideas on how you can screw them up (this post), in the next nail-biting installment of this series we’ll talk about how to get these things right and quite possibly, ‘change your life’ – for real.

Coming soon – The Grand Finale:

30-Day Challenge Analysis Part 3: Changing Your Life For Real – Let’s Do This Right

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