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I Didn’t Think I Could Get Healthier—And I Was Wrong

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Heather Herbeck is a professional kayaker and owner of Fitness and Sport Evolution in the Columbia River Gorge

I was definitely skeptical going into this “Whole Life Challenge” thing. I didn’t have any idea what it was really about and no one around me seemed to be able to explain. All I heard from people who had done it in the past was, “It’s different for everyone.” I also didn’t think I could get much “healthier” or “fit” than I already was at the time.

Boy, was I wrong!

I played at the “Performance” Level of the WLC, which meant I chose to be pretty strict with myself. I’d lose points for eating things that were “bad” for me: grains, dairy, sugar, alcohol, and artificial ingredients. I’d earn points for doing things that were “good” for me: Exercise, stretching, drinking, taking a supplement, and reflecting every day. As the weeks went by, I’d also earn points for things like getting good sleep, being mindful, and actively supporting my teammates.

Since I was going to be playing a game about my own life, I decided to add my own rule—no caffeine. I figured as long as I was going to be accountable, I should pick something personally important to me, too.

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I found myself sipping coffee all morning long, every morning, out of habit. When my cup was empty, I’d fill it and keep drinking. This equaled way too much coffee. I was really curious about two things: could I actually follow through with this rule, being that I’m so dependent on caffeine? And, would it make a difference in how I felt?

Well, the challenge is over. I finished 294 out of about 20,000 participants (whoa!)—but I don’t really care about where I finished overall because how I feel is almost indescribable.

I have never had so much energy. Before the Challenge, I would be mentally and physically done with anything that involved focus and significant energy by 2:00 p.m. Now I have high energy all day, right up until I go to bed!

I used to hear people talk about mental clarity all the time, but I had no idea what they actually meant. I do now! I think clearer and my head isn’t in a fog anymore.

I’m already really active, and it wasn’t that important to me to lose weight, but I was surprised that I even dropped a couple of pounds. How I look changed, too. My arms, shoulders, back, abdominals and legs all look more defined and tone.

Being active, I always worry a little about chronic injuries. Because the ten minutes of stretching a day my shoulder and hips are much healthier, making the sports I participate in much more enjoyable.

I can’t say that the Challenge was easy. There were times when I was tired, emotional, cranky and I wasn’t sure how to fit all these “habits” into my everyday lifestyle. But, by mid-way through the Challenge, I felt and saw changes. And, that’s when I realized it’s worth it. Getting there wasn’t the easiest thing, but once I started to see the results, it was so much easier to stick with it.

I am 100 percent going to continue this lifestyle practice. I’ve already made a habit of setting my stopwatch for ten minutes to get my stretching in.

One of the important things I learned from playing is that I can eat foods that aren’t considered healthy as long as I am paying attention to my daily habit of feeding myself good, clean food. So I’m giving myself two indulgence tokens a week to eat foods that I really want.

I’m going to continue eliminating grains, dairy, sugars (except fruit) and…drum roll please . . . CAFFEINE!!!!!!

I would recommend this challenge to anyone. Whatever level they play at, they will definitely see positive changes.

My team’s motto for the Challenge: “It’s not easy, but it’s worth it!” If someone asks me what the Challenge is like, I will tell them, “It is different for everyone, but it’s worth it for everyone, too!”

Photo courtesy of Rick Brown of Blackfire Photography, Portland, OR.

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Michael Stanwyck
Michael Stanwyck is the co-founder of The Whole Life Challenge, an idea that developed during his seven years as a coach and gym manager at CrossFit Los Angeles.

He graduated from UCLA with a BA in philosophy as well as a degree from the Southern California School of Culinary Arts, and feels food is one of the most important parts of a life - it can nourish, heal, and bring people together.

Michael believes health and well-being are as much a state of mind as they are a state of the body, and when it comes to fitness, food, and life in general, he thinks slow is much better than fast (most of the time). Stopping regularly to examine things is the surest way to put down roots and grow.

He knows he will never be done with his own work, and believes the best thing you can do for your well-being starts with loving and working from what you’ve got right now.