Dozens of gyms instituted various flavors of “Paleo Challenges” as a consequence of information folks gathered from the nutrition seminars I provided for CrossFit. People left the seminar armed with a solid knowledge of food quality, how to proportion that quality food for special populations and most importantly, how to trouble shoot folks who were stuck or not succeeding with standard protocols. We have testimonials from dozens of gyms as to the efficacy of a food-quality oriented program. As a gym owner many things are important but none more so than getting your folks results. What we heard time and again was that these qualitative interventions produced significant buzz for a gym due to the remarkable physical transformations of the participants. that’s good for your folks and that is good for your business. There are a ton of ways to tackle a nutrition program in a gym but it;s important to tinker and always assume a better option is waiting for you to find it. if you take these basic ideas and improve upon them please let me know so we can pass this information on.
The first piece is from Nancy Meenen, Co-owner of Level 4/CrossFit Seattle. It describes what they did in their “Spring Leaning” and what the results were. Teh second piece is from Dave Werner, Co-owner of Level 4/CrossFit Seattle and developer of the Athletic Skills chart of which we base our class structure at NorCal Strength & Conditioning. Dave, in addition to being a dear friend is one of the unsung heroes of CrossFit. He started the first affiliate (I played a small hand in all that). Quite early Dave saw a need for a yearly competition pitting the best CrossFitters in the world against one another. This was the first iteration of the “CrossFit Games” called the CrossFit Championships. I already mentioned the Athletic Skills standards which Dave generated not with the intention of the document being a dead, end-all-be-all commentary on athletic performance, but rather an attempts at introducing order to a randomized training program for the purpose of producing better results. Ironically, I shot down Dave’s idea initially. Luckily, he new better than to listen to me as we now base our entire class structure around these skill standards.
Anyway, here is that material describing the spring leaning. Thanks to Dave and Nancy for being great friends and for running one of the best gyms in the CrossFit community.
LEANing Challenges at Level 4 CrossFit Seattle
Ideas and How-to
For years we have tried to help our clients lean out and achieve their look-good-naked goals. We would start a conversation with them regarding the principles of eating well, and then talk about implementing the Zone. What we found is that 1) it’s tough to explain the Zone quickly and 2) those who tried the Zone diet almost never made it a lifestyle change but only a temporary habit. What we needed for our clients was a healthier way of eating that could be understood quickly and implemented immediately. We also needed this way of eating to be a permanent change for our clients. 98% of our clients are not elite athletes and never will be. They are decent athletes, who are smart, hard working professionals and family people who most likely will never compete in anything. They love CrossFit, they love to work hard, and they want to be and feel healthy. The other problem we had with implementing the Zone diet with our clients is that we were not following it ourselves.
In March of 2009 Robb Wolf and Nicki Violetti came up to our box and Robb gave his nutrition lecture and also talked about a Challenge they did with their clients atCrossFit NorCal. Between learning about Paleo eating and it’s simplicity, as well as hearing and seeing pictures of the success of their Challenge with their clients, it all clicked for me and I realized we had to offer this at our place. Robb talked about the importance of the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ photos. He mentioned that he had always resisted doing this for a number of reasons, but finally admitted to it’s importance. He said this was a key motivating factor for people. They wanted to make sure there was some visible change in their ‘After’ picture. Robb had also mentioned that the people that wrote down what they ate, had the most success. Based on these principles, we came up with our own LEANing Challenges at Level 4 CrossFit Seattle. We have done 2 so far; a 2009 Spring LEANing Challenge (Dave, of course, came up with this name J) and a 2009 Fall LEANing Challenge. Below I will discuss the exact details of how we ran our Challenges and some things to think about if you run one.
-7 weeks long (Less than 2 months!! Anyone can do this)
-1 hour Lecture on Paleo eating a week before the Challenge begins
– Eating is Paleo
– Cost is $30.00 (cash) to be put into a kitty
– The kitty is divided in 2 for a FEMALE winner and a MALE winner (if you have a small group, you might want to just have 1 winner)
-In order to win, Food Logs must be maintained and submitted each week via a Yahoo Group; examples of Food Logs below
-3 ‘Before’ pictures taken: front view, side view and back view. Men are in shorts; Women are in shorts and sports bra/bikini top
-3 ‘After’ pictures taken within 2 days of the finish of the Challenge, no exceptions
-Trainers pick the top 5 men and top 5 women whose body composition changed the most (based on pictures only)
-LEANing participants vote on the top 10 to determine the Winners
-The 2 winners each win half of the kitty plus one month of unlimited classes
-The pictures taken are PRIVATE. The pictures of the top 5 men and top 5 women will be viewed on paper at the gym to determine the winners
People have asked me why we don’t weigh participants and take body fat measurements, along with other vitals. There are several reasons. In regards to weighing, some people don’t actually loose that much weight but the change to their body is significant. Again, people want to look good naked and pictures don’t lie. How the participant looks is what matters to them and determines the winner. Body fat measurements can be very inconsistent and it takes more time. Other vitals take time and money as well. The LEANing Challenges we offered took a significant amount of my time in regards to taking pictures, emailing folks details, getting people signed up on the Yahoo Group (several people found this challenging) along with our trainers time spent talking with clients outside of class about eating and Dave giving his lecture. Its all well worth it, but it is important to consider keeping things simple. The health benefits everyone receives from eating better is a given and will be numerous. No amount of tests can sum up these benefits and changes.
It’s important to emphasize the privacy of the pictures that are taken, especially these days. All the voting on people’s Before and After pictures happened by viewing these photos on paper. I do send every participant’s Before and After pictures to them via their email address. I keep the pictures on a private computer.
One of our clients came up with the good idea of sharing the food logs on a Yahoo Group. Any Group service will do, of course. We only allow people that have done or are doing the Challenge to join the Group. This is a great place for people to ask questions and share ideas.
The Food Logs have several great side benefits. One of them being that all those doing the Challenge can see what others are eating and get great ideas from it. Almost everyone gets stuck in a rut and seeing what someone else is eating for breakfast can often help them break out. The accountability that the Food Log offers should not be underestimated. Some folks said the Food Log was a more motivating factor for them than the pictures. Yes, some people will not write everything down or be totally honest. That’s okay. The pictures don’t lie.
We kept the food log requirements very simple. If people wanted to be really exact in describing what they ate, they could. Or they could be fairly general. Everything they ate, though, had to be written down, including beverages. People will fall off the wagon big time. Be sure to tell them that this WILL happen and it’s okay. Just get right back on again.
Several people told us they wanted to do the LEANing Challenge but they couldn’t give up this or that. We didn’t care. Even if our clients just made one change, such as cutting out high-fructose corn syrup, that was good enough for us. Often, once people start writing down what they eat, it’s only then that they can see for themselves the changes they need to make.
For each Challenge we’ve found that there are a few people who will jump into the Challenge by starving themselves. They come into the gym and report dizziness and that they feel awful. This is where the Food Log is really handy. Look at what they are eating and often it will let you know that they are not eating nearly enough.
We’ve also found that there are few people whose body will not switch into a fat-burning mode very quickly. Hence, they do not see any results for weeks. This can be very discouraging and makes it hard for these people to stick with the Challenge. Encourage these folks to hang in there. The changes will come. (This is, of course, a very generalized statement. They might have other underlying factors that are keeping them from burning fat).
Below are two Food Log examples from our 2009 Fall LEANing Challenge. Both of these people had excellent results – though one greater than the other.
-2 oz chicken breast, 1 apple, 6 almonds.
-12 almonds, 7 oz carrots, Omelet: 4 egg whites, 2 whole eggs, 1/3 of a bell
pepper, 1/4 cup mushrooms, 3/4 cup salsa
-4 oz chicken breast, 1 apple, 21 almonds, 2.5 cups steamed collard greens
-2 oz chicken breast, 24 almonds
-4 oz chicken breast, 1 apple, 12 almonds, 2.5 cups of rhutabaga
-1 peanut butter cookie
-12 almonds, 1/2 orange, Omelet: 4 egg whites, 2 whole eggs, 1/3 of a bell
pepper, 1/4 cup mushrooms, 3/4 cup salsa, sausage from buffet
-2 oz chicken breast, 7 oz carrots, 6 almonds
-4 oz chicken breast, 1 apple, 21 almonds, 2.5 cups steamed collard greens
-2 oz chicken breast, 24 almonds
-Arby’s large roast beef sandwich (no bun), 1 apple, 30 almonds
2 hard-boiled O3 eggs
1 can smoked trout
1 Tootsie Roll
bison burger w/ guacamole and salsa
1 Coke Zero
turkey sausage bits
2 oz cashews
hard-boiled O3 egg
1 can smoked trout
turkey sausage bits
3 mint chocolate discs
2 oz cashews
1 Coke Zero
2 chicken sausages w/ mustard
cucumber salad w/ rice vinegar
1 Coke Zero
Dave gives a one hour (okay 75 minutes but he tries to keep it to 60 minutes) lecture plus Q&A before we kick off our LEANing Challenge. We hold the lecture on a Saturday afternoon. We also take the ‘Before’ pictures of most people participating in the Challenge at the lecture. During this lecture Dave covers the ‘Why’ and the ‘What’ of eating Paleo. I have included a document that Dave wrote up called ‘Okay – What do I Eat’ which is a very practical document to help people get started eating Paleo.
No matter where you are in your nutritional knowledge, consider giving a lecture to your clients. Even if you are not comfortable with a lot of the theories and metabolic details of eating Paleo, you can certainly speak about the benefits of healthier eating habits and talk extensively regarding the ‘What do I eat’. Be prepared to answer lots of questions that sound like, “Okay, but what about protein bars?” “Okay, but what about my one glass of wine every evening?” Be practical in your answers while emphasizing the principles of eating healthy.
PROMOTING YOUR BOX:
Several of our clients have given us permission to display their Before and After pictures on the web and in a folder at the gym. Some of the pictures that are most motivating and powerful for our clients or potential clients are NOT the big losers’ but the folks that lost those 10 pounds that have been bugging them for years! This is a very compelling motivator for many of our clients to participate in a Challenge. Sure, we have some larger folks at our gym but the majority of our clients have an extra 5 – 15 pounds that they would like to loose to get their 20-something leanness back that they remember having at one point in their life. Needless to say, clients will be talking A LOT about your box if you help them look better naked.
For our first LEANing challenge in the Spring of 2009 we had 70 people sign up. We initially thought maybe 30 – 40 people would sign up so we had decided that there would be 1 winner and that person would take all. It was pretty fun handing over $2100 cash to the winner! In retrospect we thought it would be better to have a Female and Male winner for future Challenges.
I suggest announcing the top 5 or 10 winners when everyone meets to vote on the winner. We learned this the hard way. We told all the participants who the top 5 winners were in an email before we had our ‘big’ gathering for all the participants to vote on the winner. Out of 70 people only 13 participants showed up and voted! So for our second challenge, we announced the winners during the gathering and then voted. We had 30 people vote the second time around.
In our first challenge, as I said, we had 70 people sign up. 55 of those people stuck with the Challenge, turned in all of their Food Logs and almost all of those 55 saw results. We ran this Challenge from the last week in April to the middle of June. This time frame was a little problematic because people started leaving on vacation in the middle of June so taking their ‘After’ picture had to be early and many couldn’t attend the Final Vote finale. Having the challenge a few weeks earlier in the Spring would have made more sense.
In our second Challenge, we had 60 people sign up. This Challenge went from the middle of September to the first week in November. Only 29 people stuck with the Challenge! We were really surprised at the drop-off rate. We think it largely had to do with the fall-hibernation-need-for-comfort-food time of year. But it was still a great success for those who stuck with it. We will most likely continue to offer two Challenges a year, one in the early Spring and one in the Fall but we’ll know that in the Fall, to prepare people for the urge to start drinking hot chocolate every night around mid-October.
Several of our clients did both Challenges. A couple of them made dramatic results each time. But for some, it wasn’t until the second time around that they really committed to it or ‘got it’. I fall into this category. Making food changes is really dramatic and emotional for me and for a lot of people. Changing something like eating habits often takes several tries. I encourage you to encourage your clients to try, try and then try again. The Challenge is such a great vehicle to get your clients to try something new for just 7 weeks.
Best of luck to you and your box as you help your clients LEAN out!
OK – What Do I Eat?
LEANing Challenge Guide to Eating
- All of the lean meat, fish, seafood, eggs you can eat
- All of the non starchy vegetables you can eat
- Plenty of fruit
- Moderate healthy fats
- Moderate nuts and seeds
- No grains or cereals at all
- No legumes
- No dairy products (eggs are meat)
- No processed foods – make it yourself!
- No sugars. Agave, organic honey, molasses, pure spun golden sunshine….it doesn’t matter. They are all equally bad for you.
- No artificial sweeteners. These are not food! Creepy laboratory products with sketchy safety records, artificial sweeteners have been shown to produce an insulin response.
“In order to get enough protein and calories you should eat animal food at almost every meal” (Cordain, Page 101)
Many different kinds of meat will work well for you. Here are some guidelines:
- Animals, including fish, raised in commercial farms are not healthy so try to get
§ Grass fed beef
§ USDA certified organic meat
§ Wild fish
§ Locally raised animals
- If unable to do any of the above, then eat the leanest cuts you can and trim visible fat.
- Eating the fat of healthy fish, birds and animals is good for you. Eating the fat of unhealthy creatures is not.
- Eggs are good. Eggs from birds allowed to forage and run around are better.
- Buffalo, elk, venison and other types of wild game are excellent choices if you can get them.
Time to get creative. Non starchy vegetables should be a big part of each meal. Virtually all vegetables offer excellent nutritional value.
- When possible choose organic, locally grown vegetables that are in season. Each of these factors will improve nutritional value.
- Experiment with sautéing, roasting and grilling your veggies. Try different recipes and different ethnic foods. Learn to use herbs and spices. This stuff should taste good!
- Peppers, squashes, eggplant, garlic, leeks, onions broccoli, cauliflower, avocado, carrots, green, cabbage, celery, kale, dandelion (yes! dandelion) spinach, tomatoes, radish, parsnips, mushrooms….
- Avoid starchy vegetable – potatoes, etc. If you must eat starch (it happens) try yams and sweet potatoes.
- Avoid legumes. Peanuts, beans, peas, lentils and soybeans should be avoided.
A paleo diet allows and encourages lots of fruit consumption. There are a few issues with fruit consumption though. We need to consider how the fruit was grown as well as the type of fruit to evaluate nutritional value. We also need to consider pesticide exposure.
- If you can grow your own fruit or pick wild fruit – go for it!
- Scavenge the local farmers market for fresh local seasonal fruit. Organic is best.
- Try to avoid fruit from far away. Flying in kiwis from New Zealand is not really helping our health.
- Avoid GMO (genetically modified organism) fruit. Period.
- A little fruit juice occasionally can be okay but, fruit juice is really candy.
- Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly to minimize pesticides.
- Some fruits like bananas have a high glycemic load and should be avoided if you are trying to loose fat.
Berries! Eat lots of berries!
NUTS & SEEDS:
Filling and nutritious. Nuts and seeds are packed with protein, fatty acids, enzymes, antioxidants and lots of vitamins and minerals, especially potassium and magnesium. It is possible to screw up your fat profile with nuts though. Lots of nuts have an unacceptably high omega 6 / omega 3 ratio. Here are the best choices:
Nuts in moderation are very healthy but overeating them can stall weight loss. Cashews especially are delicious but surprisingly high in carbohydrate and contain too much omega 6.
Peanuts are not nuts. Do not eat peanuts or peanut butter. Peanuts contain lectins and other anti-nutrients which can cause some real health problems.
Note: Lots of packaged, shelled nuts are covered in trans fats! Read the label! Best to buy raw, unsalted nuts and spice them at home. When in doubt, buy walnuts and/or macadamia nuts.
Fat is good for you. Fat is essential to your well being and happiness. (This is not hyperbolic writing. Having the proper fat profile makes a huge difference to your mental outlook and moods). Fat is a great source of energy. Fat triggers our sense of being full. Fat is an essential part of many of your cellular and hormonal processes. We sicken and die fairly quickly without adequate intake of essential fats.
However….there are many bad fats in our food supply.
Fat from healthy animals is good for you! Chicken, duck, goose, lamb, beef and pork fat can all be eaten and is an excellent choice for cooking because of heat stability. Lard is internal fat from around the kidneys. Lard from naturally (not grain) fed pork and beef is a very good choice. Lard from grass fed animals is hard to find though, so butter can be used instead.
Butter. Not really paleo, butter contains milk solids and water as well as fat. Butter from grass fed cows is very good for cooking and enhancing the flavor of steamed vegetables.
Making butter better! (More paleo)
Melt butter in a sauce pan over low heat. Remove butter from heat and let stand for a few minutes, allowing the milk solids to settle to the bottom. Skim the clear yellow liquid from the top and strain into a container. You have just made Ghee! Ghee stores well frozen.
Coconut oil is good for you and a good choice for cooking. Choose organic, cold processed coconut oil.
Olive oil is very healthy. Go for the extra virgin, cold pressed and use liberally. Olive oil does not have great heat stability so use something else for high heat frying.
Flaxseed oil is very good but…it should not be heated at all and oxidizes rapidly. Store flaxseed oil in the refrigerator and use quickly.
Fats to Avoid:
Trans Fats – fats damaged by heat. Trans fats can be extremely destructive to our health. Trans fats can be made at home!! Start with a healthy, unrefined oil, naturally high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids – apply excessive heat and presto! Health wrecking trans fats. Easy!
Hydrogenated and/or partially hydrogenated oils. Terrible! Reread the last paragraph.
Canola – should be avoided. Canola has a very good omega 6/ Omega 3 ratio. However, to be used commercially it has been genetically modified, highly refined, partially hydrogenated and deodorized. Yikes!
Margarine – see trans fats.
Peanut, cottonseed, soybean and wheat germ oils…Not good!