12 monthly nutrition and health challenges to thrive every year
Written by Doug Hay in No Meat Athlete
Each new year, just after the clock strikes midnight, we’re given a golden opportunity to turn the page on one year, and start writing the story of the next.
To set resolutions, and tackle the health, nutrition, and fitness goals that plagued us for the last 12 months. It’s beautiful, if you ask me.
The only problem? Health and nutrition goals like that — goals that stick and make a lasting change — take work.
There are a lot of blogs out there that promise quick fixes through hacks or other shortcuts, when what you really need is real, lasting change. And the cold, hard, nobody-wants-to-hear-it truth about achieving your health and fitness goals is that it ain’t easy.
But your 2018 goals?
Those will be different.
Those will be… magical. No no, that’s not right. No mythical magic here…
Those will be…
Sexy, it is not. But in truth an earned goal is far superior than one handed down with magic (if there actually is such a thing).
And to earn those healthy goals, I can’t think of any better way than making small-step-style progress through monthly goals. Small challenges that will make hard-to-get-started health goals easier, manageable, fun, and most importantly, successful.
12 Monthly Health and Nutrition Challenges for 2018
For the past two years, we’ve put together a plan of monthly challenges to help you push through the next year. The first year focused on running, the second happiness, and this year we’re focusing on nutrition and general health to build a solid foundation.
Because any big, lasting health change or goal only takes root on a strong habit foundation. Once that foundation is established, the options are endless.
If you stick with this plan, laid out through 12 monthly challenges, you’ll unquestionably make progress towards your larger health and fitness goals.
Here’s how it works:
- Each challenge is designed to last a month, but the hope is that you’ll keep up that new habit, or at least a similar version of it, after the month ends. If you’d like to slow it down, feel free, but I encourage you to push yourself to stick within the schedule.
- The challenges build on each other, so start with numero uno.
- Most challenges are adaptable, so if something sounds too easy (or if you’re doing it already), step it up a notch to make it harder. If what I’m suggesting is simply far too hard, take it back a bit. But let me be clear, this should be difficult. These are challenges, after all.
- Each year we set these up to start in January, but they don’t have to! If you’re finding this in August, start now!
Ready to get started? Good. Let’s make 2018 your best year yet.
Challenge 1: The Year Of…
I’m a big believer that overarching themes can help us stay focused. By setting a theme, you provide a guide for all your goals and objectives.
That way, when you’re feeling conflicted about a task or mini goal, you can ask yourself:
Does it fit my theme?
If the answer is “yes,” then great. Go for it. If the answer is “no,” you may want to rethink it.
Objective: Create a theme for your year, then brainstorm how the next 11 goals, plus any others you may have, can fit that theme. They might not all fit perfectly, but there should be a way to make the connection. Take your time on this, and spend the next weeks refining it (and the following challenges) in a way that supports your theme.
Rules: Define your theme in an objective way. Sample themes could include:
As an example, my theme this year is running related: The year of vertical gain. All the races, training plans, and objectives I set for myself will be based on big vertical gains and mastering the climb. Though many of the challenges below don’t have anything to do with running, I can frame them in a way that will set me up for success with my training.
Now it’s your turn. What will be your theme for the year?
Challenge 2: Nailing Breakfast
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
I’m not sure who “they” are, or even if they’re correct, but I know for sure that if you start your day off on a healthy note, it will get you in the right frame of mind to kick ass as the hours go on.
For this second challenge, start with nailing breakfast by having a healthy, nutrient-rich meal before you start the day.
Objective: Make a nutrient-rich, energy-rich breakfast a priority.
Rules: During each weekday, make a nutrient-rich breakfast to start your day. It could be a smoothie, bowl of oatmeal or fruit, salad, or anything else you come up with. Feel free to treat yourself on the weekends.
Note: Going back to the last challenge and tying my theme into this second focus, I’ll be eating hills for breakfast. Only kidding, but since most of my runs will take place in the morning, I’ll be designing a breakfast perfect for fueling tough workouts and big hill days.
- The Perfect Smoothie Formula
- Overnight Oats Recipes (One, two, three, four)
- Breakfast Salad (Minimalist Baker)
Challenge 3: Daily Meditation
Just a few minutes of mediation each day can make you happier, calmer, and more focused. And it’s absolutely free to do.
But anyone who has tried unsuccessfully to meditate knows that quieting the mind for five or 10 minutes is crazy hard. Despite my best intentions over the years, I haven’t been able to make a meditation habit stick, and I know you may be in the same boat.
This month let’s make it happen together.
Objective: Create a daily meditation practice to stay focused, increase happiness, and improve health.
Rules: Start with just two minutes per day, and build from there. You can do this at any time of the day, but it’s often recommended to meditate in the morning, before the day gets too involved. As the month goes on and the two minutes begin to feel like nothing, begin slowly increasing the time.
- 3 Meditation Hacks for People Who Can’t Meditate
- Meditation for Beginners (Zen Habits)
- How to Meditate for Beginners (True Wellth)
- Headspace Meditation App
Challenge 4: Meal Planning
If I could give only one piece of advice to someone looking to eat healthier, it would be to start meal planning.
Planning out your meals for the week saves time and money (fewer last-minute calls for take-out), and can be far healthier because you’re not grazing the kitchen looking for something appetizing. When you think through your meals and shop for the ingredients ahead of time, you’re more likely to stick with the healthy habits or goals you’ve set for yourself.
It may seem like a lot, but once you get into the routine of planning your meals, you’ll find it liberating to no longer have to worry or wonder what’s for dinner.
This month the challenge is to start planning your meals for the week ahead of time.
Objective: Save time, energy, and money, and guarantee you’ll get your healthy meals, by making a weekly meal plan.
Rules: Compile a list of your favorite recipes and go-to meals you don’t need recipes for, and plan out at least five lunches and dinners (remember, lunches can be leftovers from the night before!) for the week no later than Sunday. Shop for the meals all at once, so you can start your Monday off with a full fridge and knowing what’s on the schedule. The two additional days can be “free days” to go off-schedule and eat out or treat yourself to something unplanned.
- The Dr. Seuss Secret to Simplifying Your Meal Planning
- Health Made Simple Meal Plan System
- The Healthy, Practical Plant-Based Diet: A Typical Day
- 7-Day Kickstart Plan
Bonus: Heather Crosby on Meal Planning
In this short clip, recorded for a meal planning module in the No Meat Athlete Academy, Heather Crosby shares what to do once you’ve selected a number of recipes for the week.
Challenge 5: Sunday Food Prep
Got the meal planning down? It’s a pretty nice routine to get into, if I do say so myself.
Now let’s take it one step further and actually start prepping your food for the week ahead of time.
Even with the best-planned intentions, life can get in the way, and you may find yourself without time to cook what you had scheduled. By starting food prep on Sunday, or any other day when you have a block of time to focus on food, you can pre-chop veggies, soak beans, cook and freeze a meal, or sort snacks for later in the week.
The early preparations will keep you on track, and often lead to healthier decisions, since you aren’t as rushed to get something together.
Objective: Save time and make healthier choices by prepping food for the week ahead of time.
Rule: Block off one to three hours on Sunday to pre-chop, cook, and prepare food for the week ahead. You can do this in the evening instead of watching TV or as a fun family activity with the kids.
- Vegan Food Prep Tips for Healthy Meals All Week (Running on Real Food)
- Meal Prepping Tips (The Glowing Fridge)
Challenge 6: Integrated Exercise
I first learned this term from friend of NMA, Sid Garza-Hillman. The idea is simple: take advantage of the two- to five-minute breaks you have throughout the day to add in short, high-intensity exercises like push-ups, squats, sprints, etc.
Just think about the number of push-ups you could knock out in five three-minute mini-workouts, that you probably wouldn’t make time for otherwise.
Objective: Take advantage of short breaks while in the office, watching TV, between phone calls, or any other time you find yourself with a few minutes to kill, to do mini-workouts that get the heart rate up and build strength.
Rules: At least three times per day, use short windows of time to exercise. These should be in addition to your regularly planned exercises.
- Integrated Movement (Sid Garza-Hillman)
Challenge 7: A Month of Review
Phew! What a first six months this has been!
If all has gone as planned, you’re now crushing your mornings with a healthy breakfast and meditation, taking advantage of extra time to work out and get stronger, and between regular meal planning and food prep, you’re saving time and money, and eating healthier than ever.
That is pretty darn cool. But …
Chances are at least one of those challenges hasn’t stuck.
This month I want you to ask yourself why you’re struggling with a certain challenge, and really dive in to figuring out what you can do to make that challenge, or a version of the habit it encourages, stick.
Objective: Review the first six months of challenges to see where you’re falling behind and which habits have been the most successful.
Rules: Do a complete brain dump of everything you’re thinking and feeling about each month’s challenge. Over the next few weeks, review those notes and spend the time evaluating progress and hurtles to see how you can improve and set yourself up better going into the second half of the year.
- The Sacred Weekly Review: How to Stay on Track Indefinitely (Jeff Sanders)
Challenge 8: Intermittent Fasting
This one might be the toughest challenge yet, but harder challenges yield bigger results.
Intermittent fasting, or cycling between fasting and non-fasting, has recently become a popular weight-loss tool by boosting your metabolism, and it has also been shown to provide longevity benefits as well.
There are a number of approaches to intermittent fasting, including:
- The 16:8 method where you eat within an eight-hour period each day and fast for the remaining 16 hours. When you’re fasting you can’t take in any calories, but you can consume non-caloric beverages, including coffee, herbal tea, water, and sparkling water.
- The 5:2 method where you eat normally for five days of the week, and restrict your calories to 500 (women) or 600 (men) the other two days.
- The eat-stop-eat method where you do one or two 24-hour fasts each week; for example, not eating after lunch until lunch the next day.
- The alternate-day fasting method, which involves eating normally one day, and then eating very low-calorie (500 calories) the following day.
This month, the challenge is to follow one of these methods for 30 days.
Objective: Experiment with intermittent fasting to see if it helps with your energy, weight, or overall healthiness goals.
Rules: Ease into an intermittent fasting cycle by choosing a plan that works for you. Once you have a plan, give it a go for the next month. Take notes and track how you feel and your energy levels, and consider whether it’s something you’d like to continue.
Disclaimer: As with any major diet change, consult your doctor to ensure you’re healthy enough to start intermittent fasting.
Challenge 9: The Pre-Dawn Miracle
Not a morning person? Me neither. I wasn’t, anyway.
In a recent upgrade to the Apple iPhone iOS, they added something called “Bedtime,” where you set a bedtime and wake-up alarm based on the number of hours you’d like to sleep each night. Up until I used that tool, I would set my morning alarm based on what I had going on that day. Now, my phone wakes me up at the exact same time each day. And because I’m an idealist, I set that time earlier than I normally wake up.
Amazingly, after a week or two of waking up at the same earlier hour every day, my natural clock started following the alarm. I’d wake up with more energy and alertness, and the added time and energy has made my mornings more productive than ever.
This month, the challenge is to turn that daily alarm up by 45-60 minutes, and start the process of kicking off your day earlier. While 45 minutes may not sound like much by itself, in just one week that’s over five additional hours of productive time. Over an entire month? 22.5 hours. How’s that for finding time?
Objective: Begin waking up earlier to take advantage of the quiet, productive time and not feel as rushed or stressed in the morning.
Rule: Set your alarm at least 45 to 60 minutes earlier for each weekday morning. No snoozing!
- How to Use the First 20 Minutes of Your Morning to Transform Your Day
- Mornings 101: How to Become an Early Riser (Jeff Sanders)
Bonus: Jeff Sanders on the First Things You Should Do Each Morning
In this short clip with Jeff Sanders of the 5AM Miracle Podcast, recorded for a morning routine module in the No Meat Athlete Academy, Jeff shares the steps he takes first thing every morning.
Challenge 10: Morning Pages
What if you could start each (now earlier) day by dumping out everything on your mind first thing — no matter the topic?
It’s called Morning Pages, and people (including Matt) swear by it. Morning Pages is the process of writing three pages in a stream-of-consciousness format first thing in the morning. These aren’t pages anyone will ever read, and aren’t intended to be rewritten or used on a blog.
Just a massive brain dump, every single morning.
Objective: Promote clarity and productivity through stream-of-consciousness writing first thing in the morning.
Rules: Write at least three stream-of-consciousness pages. There’s no wrong way to do it, as long as you just let the writing flow. Remember, no one will be reading this or using it later.
Challenge 11: No Beer, Coffee, or Other Vice
Whether it’s alcohol, coffee, chocolate, or Doritos, everyone has their vice.
It’s time you go 30 days without yours.
I know, I know… What’s the harm in an evening beer or morning cup of joe? Probably not much, but you likely won’t know until you go without it. The discipline, clarity, and independence you’ll gain from ditching something you once felt dependent on will give you strength to take on bigger challenges moving forward.
Objective: Ditch one vice for 30 days to prove to yourself that you’re strong enough to go without.
Rules: Select a vice. Ditch it for an entire month without exceptions. If it’s hard to ditch, you’re doing it right.
Challenge 12: Tidy Up
This month’s challenge is to tidy up your life: your things, habits, and lifestyle.
If you’d like to follow Marie Kondo’s method exactly, I definitely recommend the book, but for the purposes of this challenge, let’s keep it simple:
Get rid of what doesn’t serve you.
Objective: Rid your life of the extra “stuff” that clutters your home and life.
Rules: Throughout this month, focus on one specific area of your home or life at a time, and go through it. Ask yourself, does this thing/habit/routine serve me? If not, make an intentional decision of whether or not to keep it.
It may seem hard at first, but trust me, freeing yourself from things you don’t need is addicting, and once you get going, you’ll be amazed at what you can let go.
- The Life-Changing Habit to Start Today
- Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
- Marie Kondo’s Talk at Google
Print This Out. Make a Plan. Take Action.
Reading through this all at once, it sounds impossible.
You want me to do all that, one right after another?!
But once you get started, and begin feeling and experiencing the benefits of the changes and habits you’re developing, I bet you’ll look forward to each new challenge.
Challenges that could make 2018 your happiest, healthiest year yet, and catapult you towards your fitness and nutrition goals.
So print this out. Get your friends or family involved, and start laying the foundation for a healthier, stronger you.
Remember to sign up for your free Healthy Living / Personal Development book a month.
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