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Courtney Pillsbury was there at the beginning.
The 44-year-old participated in the very first Whole Life Challenge in 2011, back when founders Michael Stanwyck and Andy Petranek offered the Challenge — then eight weeks long — as a way for members of their gym, CrossFit Los Angeles, to improve their health and fitness.
Courtney signed up for the Challenge and it changed her life.
“The Whole Life Challenge is what really pushed me to the next level as far as my own fitness was concerned,” Courtney said. She lost eighteen pounds and 9.5 inches in that first Challenge. “Cutting out the grains and the sugar and limiting the alcohol — I started seeing the results really quickly. That’s what kept me going,” she said.
Even after having a son in 2012 and moving to Massachusetts in 2015, Courtney, who works in law enforcement, continued participating. In fact, she just finished her tenth Challenge. Courtney is now a leader in the Whole Life Challenge community, with a team of more than fifty players and a private Facebook group where Challenge players can ask questions and share their triumphs and struggles.
Being responsible for other players is part of what has kept Courtney motivated over the years. She says her followers inspire her to log in, record her scores, and write daily reflections — habits that have made a significant positive impact on her health and well-being.
Even after ten Challenges (and seven years), Courtney still makes mistakes, but her success comes from understanding the road to establishing lifelong healthy habits is not a straight path, but a journey full of hills and valleys, setbacks and victories.
WLC Lessons Learned on Exercise, Mobility, and More
The Whole Life Challenge has taught Courtney the importance of moving every day. She works out four to five times a week, mixing spinning workouts with weightlifting and high-intensity interval training. “Don’t have a sedentary day,” Courtney advises. “Even if it’s ten minutes, just do something to keep your body moving. Doing the Whole Life Challenge, and combining that with my workouts, I’ve been able to pretty much maintain my weight and not see it fluctuate too much.”
While it’s often easy to think, “It’s not a good time to play the Challenge,” those are actually the best times to participate. Playing the Challenges consistently has helped Courtney maintain her weight over seven years, even through having a child, moving across country, and working full-time.
Exercise is a well-established habit for Courtney at this point, but she admittedly still struggles to hydrate and stretch. She says playing the Challenge reminds her to keep up with these healthy habits, and instead of giving up or abandoning these habits altogether, Courtney keeps working, trying to improve with each Challenge.
What Courtney Learned About Nutrition
Courtney cooks at home as much as she can. When she does go out to eat, she’s learned not to be limited by what’s on the menu, often asking for an additional green vegetable in place of rice or potatoes. She follows the same rule at home.
“When I cook meals for my husband and son, I’m always cooking multiple vegetables, so I’m not tempted to have the rice or pasta I cook them. Spaghetti squash is my new friend. You can make a big pot of spaghetti for your family and it’s so easy to just substitute the spaghetti squash,” she said.
At the grocery store, Courtney is careful to read labels, looking for added sugars or artificial ingredients. If she does eat something with sugar, dairy, or wheat, she pays attention to how her body feels afterward.
“When I’m on the Challenge and cutting out wheat, my knees don’t hurt as much. When I wake up in the morning when I’m on the Challenge, I don’t have the creakiness and the soreness in my joints. I wouldn’t have known that wheat was causing it if I didn’t cut it out for a period of time,” Courtney said.
She said she had the same experience with dairy — cutting it out of her diet during a Challenge helped her understand the effect it had on her body. This doesn’t mean Courtney never eats food that contains sugar or dairy, but now that she’s aware of how they negatively affect her, she indulges less frequently.
Courtney’s Advice for New Whole Life Challenge Players
Courtney has found the most success playing the Whole Life Challenge at the Performance Level, even though this means her score might be lower than if she played on the Kickstart Level. This may not work for everyone — especially someone new to the Challenge — but Courtney’s philosophy and approach can be a powerful one for certain players.
Because, for Courtney, the Challenge is not about gaming the system to rack up the most points; it’s about establishing habits that lead to improved health and well-being.
“I would rather play at a higher level and be more restrictive in my nutrition to really figure out if there’s something I’m eating on a regular basis that doesn’t agree with me,” Courtney said, even if this means taking off points here or there when she has a glass of wine or salad dressing with sugar.
The game aspect of the Challenge is fun and wonderful for motivation, but Courtney advises people to always consider the impact of these lifestyle changes. “Then figure out if that’s something you need or want in your life,” she said. So, even if you’re playing at the Kickstart Level, make an effort to think about the reasons behind the rules.
It’s About Progress, Not Perfection
Instead of thinking about points, Courtney focuses on keeping up with her six-year-old son. One of her goals is to continue to be able to get on the floor with him and carry him when he’s tired. “I want to be fit and healthy. I want to feel strong and capable when we go for hikes or when we are doing activities and I want to keep up with my son,” she said.
After doing the Whole Life Challenge for so many years, Courtney said it’s become second nature to go through the 7 Daily Habits in her mind and think, “Oh my gosh, I’ve only refilled my water once today and I need more water.”
“I’m on the Challenge every single day of the year,” Courtney said. And even after seven years, Courtney is still playing, learning, and improving.
“I’m an ordinary person doing this,” Courtney said, “and maybe I’m not super successful every time around, but there’s always something I’m taking from the Challenge.”