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How the Whole Life Challenge Helped Me Lose 100 Pounds

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John Daniels works in computer systems in Minneapolis. He is an avid gamer, photographer, and robot enthusiast. When he’s not doing that, he’s hanging out with his wife and his dog.

Three years ago, my health was at a dangerous place: I was 34 years old and weighed 300 pounds. I smoked cigarettes, junk food was a staple of my diet, and I felt miserable.

Each night before falling asleep, I resolved to make better choices. Tomorrow, I’ll quit smoking, exercise, eat better. By the time I woke up the next day, my willpower was gone and the excuses started again. Day after day, year after year, the cycle continued.

Until, one day, it didn’t. I can’t pinpoint a single reason I woke up ready to change. Instead, it was a combination of internal and external influences: I got tired of myself as my weight grew; a desire to feel better and be happier; love and support from family and friends.

After decades of promising myself I would do something, I finally did. I set a long-term goal of losing 100 pounds by the time I was 40 years old. I knew I wanted to lose weight and keep it off, and I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Earlier failures taught me that making permanent adjustments to my lifestyle would be essential.

In May 2012, I started walking. Slowly but surely, I worked my way from two miles to more than seven miles each night. During those long walks, I listened to podcasts and eBooks to keep from getting bored. That summer, I adopted a pesco-vegetarian diet. When the weather cooled down in the fall, I joined a gym. And I stopped gaining weight.

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In 2013, I quit smoking, which had a dual benefit: not only did it save my lungs, it also kept me from buying junk food at the gas station when I stopped to buy smokes. Quitting smoking was one of the hardest changes to make, but it boosted my confidence like nothing else. Soon, I added biking, elliptical machines, and swimming to my routine, and eventually running and strength training. My endurance was increasing and I started to lose weight.

I began studying mindfulness and introducing it to others through professional development at the library where I work–and later, through presentations at other libraries. I adopted the lessons I was teaching into my personal life. The poor habits I had developed over the years had strong emotional components. Mindfulness practice has helped me to process those emotions in a healthier way.

In 2014, I learned about the Whole Life Challenge. Up until that point, my lifestyle changes were primarily around fitness. I was still drinking soda, eating chips, and consuming a lot of highly processed food. The Challenge was just what I needed to build a more complete healthy lifestyle. A coworker and her husband started a team for the fall 2014 challenge and recruited me and other friends.

One thing I love about the WLC is there are so many different paths to help you succeed. You may be motivated by the friendly competition, or inspired by your teammates’ daily reflections. For me, momentum is key to forming healthy habits. Having a visual reminder of the consecutive days I stretched, exercised, and followed the other healthy guidelines motivated me to keep going.

I felt fantastic after the first challenge. I made a permanent change from chips and soda for breakfast, to fruit and eggs. I continued to exercise and stretch, but I also let some old habits return. At night, I went back to drinking soda and snacking on junk food. I needed more practice in order to change those habits.

So, I signed up for the New Year’s Challenge and was joined by new friends and family, including my wife and sisters. Needless to say, winters in Minnesota are long and tough, but the challenge helped us to replace high-sugar comfort foods with fruits and veggies, and to combat seasonal depression with daily workouts.

By the end of that Challenge, I had met the goal I set for myself nearly three years ago. I lost 100 pounds.

This summer I will be joining the Challenge again. I’ll be supporting my mom, who will be participating for the first time, as I continue on my own path to an even healthier lifestyle.

Change is difficult and requires practice. The Whole Life Challenge provides an amazing platform for working on positive and permanent change.

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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.