Change is good. At least, that’s how the saying goes. Not long ago, I was in need of a whole life change. Luckily I found the Whole Life Challenge at just the right time.
For those who are unfamiliar, the Whole Life Challenge (WLC) is a wellness program focused on seven daily practices that give players a chance to score points in each category with an eye on a creating lifelong healthy habits. The seven categories are Nutrition, Exercise, Mobility, Hydration, Sleep, Reflection and Well-Being. Founded by Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck, it is essentially wellness, gamified. My experience in the Whole Life Challenge proved to be an eye-opening and wildly beneficial experience in more ways than expected.
Our team at Accesa Labs has been following Andy Petranek for a while now. Andy was the founder of CrossFit LA and a respected wellness pioneer. When Accesa Labs co-founder Matt Williamson learned about the Whole Life Challenge for companies, he decided to get Accesa Labs signed up for the next challenge as a team. We circled April 14th on our calendars and enrolled in the Spring 2018 Whole Life Challenge.
Reluctance: Was The Whole Life Challenge For Me?
I knew Matt was going to be all gung-ho about the challenge, primarily because he’s a crossfit guy and CrossFit people are gung-ho about everything. I, on the other hand, was fairly reluctant. I knew I wasn’t in great shape but figured I was still above average athletically, therefore, I must be somewhat healthy. After all, I could go on hikes and keep up with my (very fit) wife, I could still throw a tight spiral and I could bomb drives on the golf course. In short, ‘I still had it‘, I figured. I wasn’t so sure I needed any wellness challenges. Besides, a few cocktails and some dessert isn’t going to kill anyone, right?….Right?
But deep down I knew I wasn’t that young and spry anymore. As anyone who is over 45 with elderly parents will tell you, sometimes, when you lie awake at night, mortality creeps into your mind. You wonder if you’re going to live to a ripe old age or if your ticket will get punched sooner than you’d like.
The physical cues I was getting were far less subtle. Shirts that once fit perfectly were now too small. Small tasks like bending over to tie my shoes were growing uncomfortable. My daughter would often make comments like, “Daddy, you have the biggest belly in the world” or, “Was your dad fat, too?” I’ve had to explain to her several times that I’m not fat. But could it be that at 5’9″ and 190 pounds, I was actually just a little north of portly? After a little honest self-reflection, I decided I needed to do something so any doubt I had about the WLC needed to go away- and go away quickly.
Getting Started In The Whole Life Challenge
Since Accesa Labs signed up as a company, we were given a warm welcome from Jenna Gruttadauria who walked us through all of the ins-and-outs of the 7 daily habits. Not everyone on our team had the same goals and Jenna explained how we could customize the WLC into a more tailored, individual experience. Thanks to a great introduction from Jenna our team was ready to tackle the WLC head on.
A week before the Spring Challenge started I wanted to get some blood work done to get a more detailed look at my overall health picture. After consulting with Accesa Labs co-founder Dr. Chirag Shah, we opted for the following tests to establish my baseline:
Is it required to order lab testing in order to participate in the WLC? No, but I highly recommend it. Knowing your data before you ever start any kind of wellness challenge, including the WLC, is a way to start with a baseline so that you can see what kind of progress you are making.
Lab Results Come Back: An Eye Opener
“Laz, We need to talk now” said Chirag as he walked into the office.
Anytime a conversation starts with “we need to talk now” it’s not good. I knew from Chirag’s tone that something serious was going on. My weight was the least of my concerns; my blood work had revealed some real issues.
|Panel Marker||Normal Range||My Score|
|Hemoglobin A1c (glucose/blood)||<5.7%||5.8%|
|Glucose (sugar in blood)||<99||115|
|Triglycerides (fat in blood)||<150||411|
|HDL Choelesterol (good cholesterol)||>40||26|
|LDL Cholesterol (bad cholesterol)||<100||N/A|
Not good! At age 46, I was a good candidate for a cardiac event (read: heart attack.) My hemoglobin A1c and glucose levels put me in the pre-diabetic range which scared me quite a bit. My triglycerides were over 400, a score so high that my LDL cholesterol level couldn’t even be calculated. Risk, risk and more risk. No more denial or self-deception. It was time for a change. The April 14th start date could not come soon enough.
Preparing For The Whole Life Challenge
Get Your Fridge Ready
Accesa Labs keeps a pretty healthy selection of snacks on hand…or so we thought. After reading through the labels, we had to say goodbye to some of our favorites (beef jerky, trail mix, energy bars) and hello to some new favorites (macadamia nuts, pistachios). Away from work, my refrigerator at home was luckily already pretty clean but I had to stay away from staples like bread and cheese. I should also add that it helped immensely that our WLC group included spouses in the challenge (we were Whole Life Households!)
Get Your Mind Right
We knew that we had to go into the WLC with a positive attitude and maintain that attitude to succeed. The team element of the WLC offers a built-in peer support group that can lift you through some tough times in the challenge. Anytime my attitude started to slip (and it did), the team was there for me.
Be Open To Change
You may have to make some major changes to the way you live. They may seem difficult at first, but I stayed open to the idea that the new habit will bring an improvement to my life. I hated the idea of giving up bread, but, before too long, I didn’t even miss it. Embrace the fact that for six weeks you’ll be doing things differently with a goal of enhancing your life moving forward.
The 7 Daily Habits
Nutrition: Making The Right Nutrition Level Choice For You
Given my blood test results, I opted for the most demanding food plan recommended – Performance. The Performance plan is basically a paleo diet. If you’re into steaks and bacon like I am your soul won’t feel too neglected. On the challenging end of it, it does make you give up sugar, bread and alcohol. I definitely had some slip-ups (a few pieces of pie and a few cocktails over the 6 week period) but otherwise stayed sugar-free. Other people on Team Accesa chose a more liberal Nutrition Level which allowed for a nightly glass of wine. It’s up to you. Also keep in mind that the WLC isn’t about being perfect, it’s about living a better life.
Exercise: Make It Fun, Make It Happen
There isn’t a set workout so it’s up to you to make it fun and make it happen. All that’s really required of you is that you are active for 10 minutes a day. Take a walk at lunch or perhaps a evening stroll to help with digestion. Maybe you already do a set Crossfit workout. It’s all good, just do something. You may even surprise yourself- I woke up one day and decided to ride my bike 12 miles to work. I never saw that coming, but the WLC gave me an energy that I hadn’t felt in a while.
Mobilize: Move Your Body, Take Care of Your Body
My wife has a morning ritual of stretches, exercises and chants that I was always been envious of. She’s far more dedicated, flexible and determined that I am, but I knew that if she could keep this up for ten years then I could pull it off for six weeks. I started looking into stretching techniques that work well in the office and found that a modified/seated eagle pose was a favorite. Child pose was another go to, especially to settle into a night of good sleep.
Sleep: Sounds Easy…but…
Here’s the thing: I love reading and writing. I really get into documentaries and I’m a bit of a binge watcher. All of these things typically happen after my daughter goes to sleep, so I guess I would classify myself as a night owl. Turns out that when you’re living a more active and healthier life, quality sleep comes a lot easier.
Hydrate: Turning Water Into Wine
You’ll need to drink one-third of your body weight in ounces of water a day. I started the WLC at 190 pounds so for me that was 63 ounces. Tea counts, but coffee does not (you can still drink coffee, it just doesn’t count towards your hydration tally.) This practice opened my eyes to the wide world of water. Sparkling, still, spring sourced, ice berg sourced, domestic, imported- you will be blown away by the choices. Water became my wine. I would pair certain bottles with specific meals and discuss the subtle taste differences with anyone who would listen.
Well-Being: Variety and Spice for The Whole Life Challenge
Each week there is a new Well-Being practice. We enjoyed daily dedication to music, found unique way to show appreciation, employed tools for organization, and became promoters of kindness and support. I also supplemented my Well-Being practice with daily meditations. Hopefully, remnants of these Well-Being practices will spill over and become constants in your daily life.
Reflections, Personal, Teamwide and Global
If you’ve ever kept a journal, you’ll love the Reflection element of the WLC. Each day you’ll be asked to write something about your experience that day. Take a minute to read the reflections of other people on your team and around the world. You’ll be suprised by the range of emotions- comedy, drama, mystery- it’s all there. There are some absolute gems.
Living The Whole Life Challenge
As I said, going into the WLC I was scared but determined. Years of bad habits led to lab results that had me thinking about heart attacks, strokes, full-blown diabetes and other health issues. I knew I had to commit and dive in for my own sake and also for my family.
Was it hard at first? You bet. My wife and I celebrated an anniversary at the end of the first week and we took down some cocktails and apple pie to celebrate. A few days later, I played demoralizingly poor in a golf tournament and turned to the bottle to temporarily soothe the pain. I had let myself down and then I let myself get lower. You could look at these slip-ups as failures but they’re really just part of the adaptation process.
The important thing that I told myself was to stick to my commitment and just keep going. Don’t get caught in a rut. Just keep moving and do the next, best thing you can do for yourself. As I got farther into the challenge, I started noticing that I was sleeping through the night and waking up feeling rejuvenated. My lifelong morning congestion was slowly but surely diminishing. I felt hydrated, energetic, happy and about ten years younger. I was more present in relationship with my family, myself, my friends and my faith.
Halftime Check: Another Series of Lab Tests
Having access to affordable lab testing, I ordered some more lab tests at the midway point of the WLC to see where I stood. Part of me didn’t really care. I know how careless that sounds, but after three weeks of being focused on wellness, I was feeling light-years better. I could fly up the stairs with ease, my energy was soaring, and my writing was getting better (my golf game, sadly, remained a dumpster fire.) The second set of lab results came back and Chirag and I sat down for a review.
|Hemoglobin A1c % (glucose/blood)||5.8%||5.8%|
|Glucose (sugar in blood)||115||106|
|Triglycerides (fat in your blood)||411||133|
|HDL Cholesterol (good cholesterol)||26||33|
|LDL Cholesterol (bad cholesterol)||N/A||140|
Huge progress! The triglyceride level plummeted to 133 (!) Glucose levels dropped 9 points and the total cholesterol level fell to 199. With my new triglyceride level, my LDL cholesterol could actually be calculated (140). Hemoglobin A1c seldom moves in under a month so no surprise there. All things considered, these were pretty big gains in just three weeks. I was pumped.
But how could this be? I mean, I was getting some exercise (walks, hikes, bike rides) but it’s not like I was training for a marathon. And I was eating a good amount of meat – foods that I had always associated with high cholesterol levels. I wasn’t eating grains, sugar or dairy. It got me thinking; maybe, just maybe, the “recommended” breakfasts of orange juice (which contains more sugar than a can of soda), sugar-riddled cereals, breads and dairy products is the reason we have a generation of kids who are facing epidemics of obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. All I know is I was really getting into the nutrition plan and loving the results.
Second Half Stretch: The Final Run of The Whole Life Challenge
My lab results had me inspired and I continued to make different, healthier choices. I was opting to walk to the store rather than drive, doing daily meditations in the morning and again before sleep. Facets of the challenge even started spilling into my six year-old daughter’s life as I caught her reading food labels at the grocery store. (“This yogurt has 39 grams of sugar, Daddy!”) I was proselytizing to everyone I knew about how great this wellness challenge has been for me. I looked leaner, felt smarter and moved faster. I was a man, changed.
All Good Things Come To An End
I thought that after six weeks of refraining from sugar, grains, alcohol and dairy, I would be running to get my hands on everything I couldn’t eat right after the challenge ended. But I wasn’t. I had developed new habits and they rooted me into a wellness practice that was giving me a new and cleaner kind of high.
Reviewing My Labs: Start, Halftime and Finish
To finish tracking my data through this wellness challenge, I got another set of lab tests done to see how far I had come. Here are the results:
|Hemoglobin A1c % (glucose/blood)||5.8%||5.8%||5.9%|
|Glucose (sugar in blood)||115||106||112|
|Triglycerides (fat in your blood)||411||133||121|
|HDL Cholesterol (good cholesterol)||26||33||33|
|LDL Cholesterol (bad cholesterol)||N/A||140||142|
Let’s be frank – conventional medicine would tell me that it is a no-brainer to start taking daily medications based on my kick-off numbers. But I wanted to give it a try without them and have been thrilled with my progress. I fully understand that there’s more work to be done as my lab results had mostly plateaued from halftime to the finish.
The gains have been largely positive, though, as can be seen by the 14% drop in my total cholesterol, a massive drop in my triglyceride level, and a nice little jump in the HDL “good” cholesterol level. Did you notice the glucose spike? I’m not sure how that happened, but my guess is eating a boatload of fruit over the last three weeks didn’t help. I’m excited to stay on top of these markers and keep improving.
Reviewing Your Whole Life Challenge Self Assessment
As I went through the WLC, my goals were to improve my lab test results, lose a little weight, and increase my clubhead speed (golf nerds know how critical that is.) You can see all the lab data above, but here’s some other numbers that helped me see where I stand:
- Seated heart rate went down from 64 BPM to 56 BPM
- Weight went down from 190-181 lbs
- Driver clubhead speed went from 110 MPH to 118 MPH (a gain of 20 yards!)
Reflections On My Wellness Challenge
Honestly, I feel amazing. I feel like I’m on a path to a longer, more fulfilling life. I wake up feeling better than I have in years and I can’t remember when I had such stable, clean energy. We are one week removed from the challenge and I’m still largely living a ‘Whole Life Compliant’ lifestyle and I don’t intend to get off the path. The gains from the initial struggles have certainly been worth it.
“Everything you have earned, everything you have gained is the direct result of actions that you have taken everyday…..It is not always easy, and it’s rarely perfect, but commitment and even imperfect actions will take the day over perfect ideas anytime.” – Michael Stanwyck
Building A Lifetime Of Habits
I’m thinking about doing the Summer WLC in July. It’s another opportunity to get fit for some fun in the sun even though it is a season filled with temptations. Whether it is the WLC or another wellness challenge, do yourself the favor I did for myself and commit to building habits that will help you live with life and energy for the years to come.