The February Food & Fitness Challenge (FFC)

It's the second month of the new year! So since everybody (probably) already abandoned their resolutions, why not make new ones now?

It's super trendy to start a new diet or do a 30-day food challenge at the start of the year.  It's a natural time to want to make changes in your life and start fresh. However, as I'm a contrarian, I'm doing a challenge this month instead!

For the (short) month of February, I am participating in my gym's Food and Fitness challenge (FFC). The rules are: 

-no gluten

-no soy

-no added sugars (even honey!)  - though stevia is allowed 

-no processed foods

-avoid funky oils (seed oils, canola oil) 

-dairy is optional

-you must exercise at least 4 times a week, but only up to 8 times (all types of exercise count!) 

-you must also drink at least 8 glasses of water per day and take a quality fish oil once a day (here's the fish oil our challenge is using) - kombucha and herbal teas count as well

As you can see, this is not a Whole30®. It's not a 21-Day Sugar Detox. It's not a Paleo challenge. It's just about making better choices for one month of your life, maybe changing your way of thinking about food beyond the 28 days. 


And of course, as we know, I'm not one to back down from a challenge. I've never participated in a strict food challenge, so I figured, why the heck not?  What better way to face my food vices head-on than to participate in a group challenge, where I'll have the support of my friends and peers?

Food challenges are not for everyone. Some people can be obsessive, counting every calorie, every macronutrient, obsessing about exercise - all of which distracts from the point of the challenge in the first place.  

I, for one, do not, and will not, count calories. The #IIFYM ("If it fits your macros") trend is just - well, I won't go on a full-blown rant. But the logic behind it is flawed. A calorie is not a calorie.  Unfortunately, donuts do not make your body feel as good as veggies, healthy fats, and good proteins.  It's a sad, tragic fact.

For the most part, I eat a healthy, balanced diet.  I follow a mostly "paleo-ish" diet for health reasons, and it makes me feel great.  However, participating in this challenge will force me to confront those vices I never truly stomped out after going paleo - sugar, namely.  I had a habit of "treating myself" every few days to a sugary treat, but that habit became a daily one I couldn't shake.  On the challenge, it's easy - I have to say no to the Sugar, or else I lose points!* Prizes are a huge motivation, aren't they?

Challenges force you to find alternative ways to treat yourself.  Skip the mocha and go shopping instead.  Or, if you're trying to save those dolla bills, go to the beach, go on a hike, take a long bath instead. Food is usually the cure, but not in all cases ;)


If you're thinking about doing a challenge yourself, here are a few tips:

1) Do it together: Having a support system Is KEY. You don't have to struggle alone! It helps to have friends or peers participaing alongside you, and who will encourage you to keep with it (and slap your hand if you're reaching for that chocolate bar stashed in your desk...). 

2) Be realistic: What does your diet look like right now?  Are you eating bread, pasta, and pastries with abandon?  Then going 100% hardcore paleo right away probably isn't the best option for you.  Be flexible and realistic with your challenge "rules" - start out slow and see what you can handle for your first challenge.  Maybe you cut out gluten, but keep legumes and grains in.  You don't want to set yourself up to fail from the outset.

3) Prepare: Set aside a few hours each weekend (or whatever day/time works for you!) to "meal prep" for the week.  In otherwords, make a ton of food in big batches, so you'll have meals at-the-ready for the entire week.  Yes, you will be eating a lot of the same foods or "leftovers."  If you plan your meals well, you can repurpose your food and reinvent your meals each day so you don't get bored.  I recommend cooking up a ton of protein (roast a whole chicken, cook up a few pounds of ground beef, etc.) and chopping up a hefty amount of veggies to have on hand all week.  You can then throw together these basics into a number of delicious and creative meals all week.  Trust me on this one - cooking every day is not only draining, it's not realistic.  Ain't nobody got time fo' dat.  Instead, come home at night, put some meat and veggies on a plate, heat it all up, and eat.  Save some for lunch the next day.  Easy peasy.

4) DON'T BE HUNGRY - FEED THE MACHINE: So this goes along with #3...don't. let. yourself. STARVE.  How can you do that when your options are limited?  Prepare your meals (am I sounding preachy now?).  Food is fuel.  Your body cannot function without it.  If you're away from home and the only food option doesn't fit your meal plan (and you don't have backup snacks), for god's sake, forget the plan.  EAT.  Sometimes, eating a donut is better than eating nothing.  {I know, I know, there are times when eating a donut is not always the right choice.  It is tragic.  I LOVE DONUTS.}

5) Have a rewards system: It's funny how, even as adults, we need a "reward" for good behavior.  So often, we resort to food as our treat - "I worked hard all week, so I will have that cupcake!" A challenge forces you to find non-food related alternatives.  No matter what, don't deprive yourself of a reward.  We all need some type of motivation - after all, we're only human.  Maybe you treat yourself once a week, or you save up and give yourself a big reward a the end of your challenge.  Whatever keeps you going.

I'll provide a progress report on my own challenge later (spoiler alert: it's going WELL).  Until then, your challenge awaits!


*Yes, our challenge is points-based. If this seems nuts to you, don't worry, there's an after-party as well.  


Almond Pesto (GF/Vegan)

One item that has been difficult to find in Mallorca so far is good pesto. The large supermarkets have one brand (if they have it at all), and it's the kind that comes all packaged in bright colors and bubbly lettering, and you have to wonder how long it has been sitting on the shelf. Weeks, months?

So, naturally, I took it as a sign from the universe. Honey, stop buying the store-bought ones loaded with preservatives and start making the real stuff from scratch. (Don't ask me why the universe just became a Southern Belle, it just did.)

Almond pesto

Almond pesto

On Sunday I went to the farmer's market and stocked up on fresh basil. And, as it usually happens, as soon as I got home I realized that I had a ridiculous amount of basil leaves and didn't have any pine nuts. Or cheese.

But I was determined to make pesto without running out to the store again which only meant one thing: Time to get creative.

Almond pesto

Almond pesto

I had just bought a big bag of almonds, so I decided to substitute the pine nuts for almonds. And as for the cheese - well, I had a bag of nutritional yeast that I found at a small health food store in town (Halleluah, one is in walking distance to me!). I was a little wary about all the substitutions, but it not only turned out to be delicious but super healthy too.

Almonds are a great source of protein and are packed with good fat - the kind that helps with brain function and has also been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. Holla for a super food! Pair that up with an extra dose of protein and the delicious flavor of nutritional yeast, and we're in business.

Pesto is one of those great items you can just throw into the food processor and bam - you have a delicious spread in minutes. For those on a time crunch but looking to add a little kick of flavor to your cooking, pesto is always a great option.

We have a small food processor at home which turns out to be perfect for a week's worth of pesto - great for a spread on sandwiches or on a lettuce wrap, mix in with pasta, or (my favorite) on GF veggie pizza (made with a garbanzo bean crust - recipe to come to the blog soon!).


Almond Pesto (GF/Vegan)

- 1 large clove garlic
- 1 tightly packed cup fresh basil
- 2 tbs fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup raw unsalted/non-toasted almonds
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
- 2 tbs water
- 2 tbs nutritional yeast

1. Place all ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth. Note: For a thicker pesto, use less water.
2. Enjoy as a spread on a sandwich or lettuce wrap, mix with your favorite pasta, or use as a substitute for tomato sauce on pizza.