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Navigating Wellness Challenges: A Dietitian’s Perspective

Published on: August 14, 2023

As we reach mid-August, you might be starting to see wellness challenges popping up in your news feeds. “Join me for a 5-day reset, 1 week detox, August fitness challenge, habit challenge before September, etc…”. Are they good, bad, helpful, or a waste of your time and money?

In the ever-evolving landscape of health and wellness, trends like nutrition, exercise, hydration, meditation, etc., challenges and detoxes have garnered significant attention. These practices promise a fresh start, improved well-being, and a reset for both the body and mind. However, like any health trend, they come with their own set of benefits and potential drawbacks. In this blog post, I’ll list out the pros and cons of wellness challenges and detoxes to help you make an informed decision about incorporating them into your lifestyle.

Let’s dive in with a dietitian’s perspective!

What’s the Purpose of a Wellness Challenge

The main purpose of these challenges are motivation boosts that teach you, guide you or inspire you to make a change. 

This August I embarked on 2 challenges, a month-long exercise challenge from my local gym, and a 4-week habit reset. 

I’ve been asked why I would join something if I’m seasoned in the gym and exercise realm. I don’t need help with sticking to an exercise routine, I don’t need help moving my body daily. I taught group fitness classes for 6 years, finished a few exercises and training certifications, can easily plan my own workouts and I’m knowledgeable enough to know how to do what. 

But sometimes, and especially at 5am when I may not be super awake, I like being told what to do for a workout or to follow a plan, rather than walk around the gym mindlessly picking different exercise machines and oftentimes defaulting to my same favs. 

Like anything in life that you do often, sometimes you need to change things up! P.s., I wrote a post all about how to find the right workout for you

I also joined an August reset challenge geared towards healthy eating habits. Now why would a dietitian join this? Well because I do work for the dietitian who’s leading it, I’m curious how it works and I too could use a boost in August. Dietitians get lazy in the kitchen too, you know! Admittedly, I haven’t done much with this challenge. And I feel like many of you can sympathize with that. You start a challenge or program only to have the excitement of starting something new dwindle and have it fall to the wayside. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, it just might not be the right time to start it. Perhaps your priorities aren’t there at the moment. Even just staying in the room, learning, but not implementing at the moment, can have a small but mighty impact. While it may not be top of mind right now, you can always gather up your knowledge and put it to use later on.

In my Clare Waist Watchers group that I started last September, I was doing weekly challenges. 1 task for people to work on for a week. Simple (depending who you ask) things like drinking more water, eating more vegetables, incorporating more fibre, using plant-based proteins, meal prepping, reading food labels, etc. But like many things, even if it changes on a weekly basis, it gets old. So in the Winter, I changed them to monthly challenges. It included a wellness bingo card, tracking your exercise for the month, tracking how often you filled half your plate with veggies, etc. 

The Two Pillars of Challenge Success: Accountability and Investment

Two things I want to mention that typically make sticking to challenges easier for someone. It’s not the challenge itself that has the biggest impact, it’s:

  1. The accountability. You can google hundreds of challenge ideas online. But trying to follow one by yourself is much less motivating compared to doing it with a group of other people.
  2. The investment makes a difference. If you pay for something, you’re more likely to use it compared to if it was free. You want to get your money’s worth!

Now let’s dive into more pros and cons. 

Wellness Challenges: Pros

  1. Wellness challenges usually have some structure or a framework for setting and achieving health goals. They encourage people to focus on a specific aspect of wellness, whether it’s physical activity, nutrition, hydration, mindfulness, or sleep. This structure can enhance motivation and accountability.
  2. There’s a deadline. Having a deadline can be really motivating because you know there’s an end to it. It’s not permanent. There’s a sense of goal-reaching that’s not too far in the distance which can be especially appealing for those who aren’t great at sticking to something long-term.
  3. Engaging in a detox or nutrition challenge can make individuals more aware of their consumption habits and the impact of certain foods on their bodies. This awareness can lead to better long-term eating habits. The same goes for movement. 
  4. Many wellness challenges are community-driven, creating a sense of camaraderie and accountability among participants. Sharing experiences, progress, and challenges with others can provide a strong support network, making it more likely for participants to stay committed.
  5. Participating in a wellness challenge often requires adopting new habits or breaking old ones. Engaging in these challenges can kickstart positive behavioral changes, leading to healthier long-term practices. And this is a big reason why I find challenges are great. They can be a great kickstarter and motivator! For many, a challenge can give you the confidence in starting out and the confidence to keep pursuing it. They’re good to get people unstuck. Many people know what they need to do, they just need a little extra hand-holding at first. But for many, it’s not necessarily starting that’s tough, it’s staying consistent with change long-term.

Wellness Challenges: Cons

  1. Wellness challenges can be unsustainable. Some focus on extreme measures that may not be sustainable in the long run. Rapid changes to diet, exercise, or other habits can lead to burnout, making it difficult to maintain the progress achieved during the challenge.
  2. Many wellness challenges are designed with a general audience in mind, which might not consider individual differences in health status, preferences, and needs. This can result in participants following guidelines that aren’t tailored to their unique circumstances.
  3. While wellness challenges can provide short-term results, they might not address the underlying factors contributing to health issues. Quick fixes may not lead to lasting improvements, and participants may revert to old habits once the challenge ends. This is the problem with most mainstream diets too. Yes, people can lose weight following any diet regimen, but once they stop and go back to eating the same foods they used to eat, their weight starts creeping back up. 
  4. Some challenges or detox programs lack scientific evidence or include supplement/product recommendations. The concept of “detoxing” is often criticized because of the lack of scientific evidence supporting its claims. The body has its own natural detoxification mechanisms, and extreme detoxes might not significantly enhance these processes. You might also find yourself in a challenge or reset that’s hosted from a “wellness coach” from a specific brand company, and they’re pushing you to purchase their supplements or promise “better results” if you take their products. 

Questions to Ask Yourself

Are challenges right for you? I believe it depends on a few things. Before committing to a wellness challenge, it’s essential to ask yourself a series of thoughtful questions to ensure that the challenge aligns with your goals, preferences, and overall well-being. Here are some important questions to consider:

  • What are my goals? Define your specific health and wellness goals. Are you looking to lose weight, improve fitness, manage stress, or enhance your overall well-being?
  • Is the challenge aligned with my goals? Does the challenge address the areas you want to work on? Ensure that the challenge’s focus aligns with your objectives.
  • Is it realistic and sustainable?: Assess whether the challenge’s requirements and time commitments are realistic and sustainable for your lifestyle. Avoid challenges that promise quick fixes or extreme measures.
  • Does it consider individual differences? Does the challenge take into account your unique health status, preferences, and needs, or is it a one-size-fits-all approach? Can it be adapted for you?
  • What support is available? Find out if the challenge offers a support system, such as a community of participants, expert guidance, or resources to help you stay motivated and accountable.
  • How does it impact my mental health? Consider how the challenge might affect your mental health. Will it cause stress, anxiety, or feelings of inadequacy? Prioritize challenges that promote a positive relationship with your body and self-image.
  • Are there any health risks? Evaluate whether the challenge poses any potential health risks, especially if you have underlying medical conditions. Consult a healthcare professional before joining if you’re unsure, especially if the program insists on taking supplements/products. 
  • Am I ready to commit? Assess your readiness to commit to the challenge. Make sure you have the time, resources, and motivation needed to fully participate.
  • What are my backup plans? Have a plan in place for handling situations that might interfere with the challenge, such as social events or unexpected commitments.
  • Am I doing this for the right reasons? Reflect on your motivations for joining the challenge. Are you doing it for genuine self-improvement, or are you succumbing to societal pressures or trends?

The Bottom Line

Like anything in life, the one you choose to follow could be hit or miss. Maybe it’s not necessarily what it’s about, but it’s the wrong timing. Perhaps it isn’t tailored enough to you to meet your needs. You can 100% take a challenge or plan and make it your own. 

My last tip is to have a plan for after the challenge is done. As it winds down, think about what you can do to continue or pivot moving forward. Will you restart it from the beginning? Find something completely different? Go back to what you were doing before just with a little more self awareness of your food choices? 

Remember that wellness challenges should be a positive and empowering experience that enhances your overall well-being. Take the time to thoroughly evaluate the challenge and its potential impact on your life before making a commitment. If you need more one-on-one help, your best bet might be to reach out to a dietitian, exercise trainer, specialized coach or professional in the area you want to improve in. 

Ultimately, the success of any challenge is really how much effort you put into it. Do the work, and you’ll likely see results. Don’t stick with it, and you won’t see any changes. Sustainable, balanced changes to your lifestyle are more likely to lead to lasting health improvements than quick fixes or extreme measures.

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Kaitlyn is a registered dietitian and fitness enthusiast dedicated to helping busy women improve their health through sustainable habits.

She’s seen firsthand how difficult it can be to balance a demanding schedule with a healthy lifestyle. That’s why she is passionate about empowering women with the knowledge and skills they need to prioritize their health, even when life gets hectic.

She aims to spread the word about the power of habits and to make healthier living more manageable for busy women who are trying to do all of the things, like herself.

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