Wanted: a year-long challenge

At the beginning of November, I challenged myself to get up at 5 every morning and work on my novel. That has gone so well that I want to challenge myself to a year-long goal. This one, however, I want to be fitness- or diet-related. The caveat is that meeting the challenge has to have a payoff commensurate with the effort — success is not its own reward, but thank you for playing — and my husband will have to agree to the payoff terms. The challenge will be all-or-nothing though, so he wouldn’t have to cough up the reward unless I am 100% successful.

So I want to hear your opinions and ideas. What challenge should I undertake? What reward should I ask for? Here are some challenge ideas I’ve thought of, in order of difficulty:

  • A year of working out, a minimum of 30 minutes a day, 6 days per week
  • A year following the Primal Lifestyle workout recommendations
  • A year following the Slow Carb diet
  • A year without sugar
  • A year without grains
  • A year following the Primal Lifestyle diet
  • A year following the Primal Lifestyle diet AND workout recommendations

The degree of difficulty from the top of the list to the bottom of the list is massively different, and it would require some pretty significant motivation for me to commit to something at the bottom of the list. In all honesty, I don’t think my husband can afford the challenges at the bottom of the list. (I’m not sure he wants to afford the ones at the top of the list either, for that matter.)

As far as rewards go, I’ve come up with two: money or a trip. Money would probably be used for a trip. My husband isn’t wild about the idea of a trip, because I don’t like leaving the dogs alone — ergo, he would get stuck at home while I was off doing something fun. I won’t lie and say that’s not a risk. It would depend entirely upon the trip. I don’t think he’d much enjoy a week at Bitterroot Ranch.

So I want and need your comments on this one. What challenge do you think I should undertake? What reward should I request?

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15 Responses to Wanted: a year-long challenge

  1. Betty Watkins says:

    Personally I would go for the one at the top of the list, particularly since I’m not familiar with some of the others.

    For reward, I think you should go for the trip, but not one that leaves Jay behind. I think you’ve done enough of that. So part of the challenge is to figure out how to take care of the dogs while you’re gone.

    • Melissa says:

      LOL. I agree — If I leave home, Jay should come with me. Re: the other choices… Slow Carb is a diet I had a lot of success with early this year. Primal is the grain-free diet I think we’ve talked about. Primal is more than a diet though; it’s a whole lifestyle.

  2. christie says:

    Knowing how much you HATE to run, but knowing how good it is for you, why not work up to a 5k run? I have another non-runner friend who did just that.

    Start out walking. Then do bursts of running. Then work your way to mostly running.

    • Melissa says:

      I considered that, but here’s my thought. First, if I set a goal of 5K, then when I achieve that, the challenge is over. Also, I’ve got a bad knee that we’ve been trying to rehab and a history of tendonitis in my Achilles tendons. What if I start this, and then can’t run? There goes the challenge. On other hand, if I stay more general — 30 minutes 6x a week — then I can swim, row, treadmill, bike, lift weights, etc. I would love to run, and I think it’s a true challenge since I’m built for strength rather than cardio, but I’d be hesitant to limit myself to running or a specific distance goal.

  3. Cindy Turbow says:

    I know you are looking for our opionions Melissa. The biggest question here is what do you think/want you can do for a year to be successful? I am really excited you want to take on this challenge – that is fantastic! Realisticially you need to look inward and make this decision. Ditto for the reward – what would motivate you more?

    If it were me I would do the workouts – As you have heard me say more than once I don’t believe in “dieting.” I feel it should be a full lifestyle change – meaning eating healthy (most of the time) and exercising. I lost 108 lbs doing this. I know everyone is different but if I don’t believe diets work, I am not going to suggest one :). A diet is something you go on and go off. Healthy eating (diet if you will) with room for a little of everything (not all at once) and exercising – that would be my suggestion. Watching caleries in – caleries out is good too.

    I need to challenge myself to the exercise choice. It is easy to omit – I do walk the dog but I need to do more.

    You need to teach someone how to care for your dogs so you and Jason can get away together! 🙂

    I am here to support you in whatever you decide! Perhaps if you select the exercise one we can support each other? We can check in with each other and keep track of what and how long we exercise – maybe even meet up once in a while and exercise together – I am willing to drive – let me know! 🙂

    • Melissa says:

      Cindy, I adore you. You are such a wonderful, supportive friend. We should go on a hike sometime together. There are wonderful trails near my house. (Of course there are wonderful trails all over this area!)

  4. Jason says:

    You wanted comments, not just the conversation we’d have over dinner, so here are my thoughts…

    Rewards… We live such a blessed life that *most* rewards we’re going to come up with are arbitrary. Cash and even trips are things that we’re very capable of doing without making them a reward for something. If you really want a reward, then you have to find something that we can plan ahead for, not manage to do on a whim and yet manage in a year. Any cash or cash for travel reward goes directly against some other project that is on our list. For myself, the reward is the difference in the way I feel when I am this much lighter and I can only imagine what it is going to be like after the next 30 lbs and further…

    Goals and what goals make sense… First, the goal I would most like to see you achieve is not on the list (and rightly so since it is not a year-long challenge). That’s to get a handle on your body chemistry. We all have a good handle on the idea that exercise alone does not fix everything. It’s a balance of healthy diet, exercise and body wellness. I’m looking forward to seeing where you are a month after your annual physical and having a better idea how much control your diet is going to give you.

    Beyond that, here are some observations that I think about and unfortunately I can’t really address how they impact you and a year-long challenge. First, we both love bread and other baked goods… All the dietary changes you have take those out of life permanently if you don’t have the option to “cheat” once in a while but on the flip side I think those dietary changes, even if only in moderation, will be the single most effective change you can make in your life. This is based on the fact that we share very similar diet and that is what has made the most difference in *my* fitness. This, of course, relies on our figuring our what is going on with your insulin (for other readers, there’s been no real sign of problems until she went low-carb and never managed to convert her body chemistry to ketosis).

    On exercise and fitness in general… I think the most important exercise goal you should have is cardio/endurance fitness. This is the thing you *hate* and is the thing that is never going to change unless you make it a goal to change it. As you get more fit I would bet money that you will do resistance work by choice (time permitting). You’ll want to show off for Jenny and Bernard and anyone else who will properly appreciate your physical strength. Endurance, however, will never happen unless you work at it and that will mean hiking, especially hills, will never be fun until you fix it.

    All that said, I would list a different challenge for you… One that probably falls between 5 and 7 on your list above. Follow a Primal Lifestyle diet allowing single cheat meals (not days) as long as it has been at least 7 days (or maybe 14) since your last cheat meal and begin an exercise plan to increase endurance (an hour a day three to four times a week or something else of your choice).

    • Melissa says:

      I think you’re right on all counts. Rewards are arbitrary. However if I’m not working toward something that I couldn’t easily get, then it’s way too easy to just drop the challenge when it becomes inconvenient. I want the motivation to stick with it to the end — something more than the typical “New Year’s Resolution.” I see your point about making an exercise challenge be specifically about cardio. It would be awfully easy for me to count Pilates and weight lifting as my exercise and slack on the cardio since I despise it so much.

      Okay, so here’s my proposal:
      * Primal LIfestyle diet (following Mark’s new food pyramid and the guidelines in his book)
      * One cheat meal per week
      * 250 minutes of cardio per week

      Proposed reward for 100% success:
      * 3 weeks off work

      What we do during that three weeks can be open for later discussion.

  5. Linda says:

    I came over today to ask if I could link to your site (may I?) then I got all involved in this post and what you should do and I’m taking cold pills so I am brain dead but here goes.

    I’ve only met you at writer gatherings. Seems to me most writers are either thin little waifs desperately worried our words will never sell, or we chunky little pumpkins desperately worried our words will never sell. Either way, it would be hard to choose a more sedentary lifestyle. So I’m guessing you need motion more than you need controlled munchies, although that can’t hurt either. Since you already like outdoorsy things, I’d say the exercise would do you the most good and suit your nature. Also, speaking as one who has lost 70 pounds three times in her life and always put it back on, I am a bit sour on following diets unless they lead to genuine life modification. Never did for me.

    About the pooches? They have jobs just like you do. Part of their jobs is to leave you alone to write, and to give you and the Mr. time to travel so you can recharge. And be happier. And give them more dog bones. They have that figured.

    • Melissa says:

      Hey Linda! Of course you can link to my site. And I’ll be happy to return the link. I didn’t create a list of links when I switched to WordPress, and I need to do that.

      You’re right about the exercise. I find it difficult to adopt a consistent exercise plan. I lift weight consistently because I have a trainer — but I’m built for strength, so that’s fun, not work. The rest of it is work, so I find it hard to stay motivated. I really want to be consistent, which is part of why I want a year-long challenge.

      I empathize about the food/diets too. Jay and I actually think Primal is sustainable as a lifestyle… with the occasional cheat. It’s still hard, though, because I’m lazy and can drift right back to chips and brownies and fast food because it’s so EASY. Again, I’d like a year-long challenge because I’d like to try for some extended consistency.

  6. Peggy says:

    Sounds like a plan!

  7. Angela M says:

    As someone who is following a similar journey, I really enjoyed reading your posts and the comments that followed. I have never heard of Primal Lifestyle or Slow Carb, so I’ll have to look those up.

    I have to say I totally agree with Jason: “For myself, the reward is the difference in the way I feel when I am this much lighter and I can only imagine what it is going to be like after the next 30 lbs and further…” I still find that I amaze myself with things that I can do now that I couldn’t do 75 pounds ago. It is its own reward. I personally have not set a very specific timed goal for the precise reason that I would reach the end of that time and think, “I’m done, now I can go back to my old habits.”

    For me, it was about making gradual changes, and I continue to do that. I know that if I try to force too much at once, I’ll get overwhelmed and quit everything. So for me, first it was walking, and in June I joined a gym and started working with a trainer, and now I am starting to focus on my diet and making changes that I can maintain. There is absolutely nothing that I tell myself I can never eat, only things that have become “treats” for special occasions.

    Bottom line, I also agree with Cindy. You need to decide what matters most to you. I personally have enjoyed the reward of shopping for clothes on what I used to consider, “the other side of the store.” It was something I HAD to do and it wasn’t really “extra” money, but it was the thrill of buying sizes I have not worn since college, or maybe high school. Rewards are personal. Make it matter to you.

    Good luck in the coming year. I look forward to hearing about your progress!

    • Melissa says:

      Hey Angela! Slow Carb is part of Tim Ferriss’s book 4-HOUR BODY. Primal is very similar to Paleo, if you’re familiar with that one. A good site to check out is Mark’s Daily Apple. This article explains it pretty well:


      I’ve tried to make the gradual changes before, and they never take. The inertia of fast food and brownies is too easy to fall back into. I’m an all-or-nothing girl, so this kind of challenge appeals to me.

      I personalized the reward: Time off work and a vacation — hopefully skiing!

  8. Lynn says:

    Well, I finally got online and saw your new blog and request for input on your challenge and reward. I especially liked what Cindy and Jason had to say and I think the reward part of a vacation and three weeks off work is a great idea! I also agree that, while it is so hard to leave our “babies” with someone else, you and Jason deserve some time together, alone and just having fun!

    The diet and exercise is harder — I do like the idea of a set amount of time to exercise each day – including walking, swimming, strength training, etc. Your knee problems will probably get better as the weight goes down too — making skiiing even more fun!! I looked at the website (Mark’s) about the Primal lifestyle diet and I wish it allowed some grains (whole wheat, whole grains) that are really good for you! I used to make Sourdough Bread – you know, the kind that begins with a starter in the fridge and you make up 2 or 3 loaves every week. It was delicious and healthy and, even though, James and I ate all we could while it was hot (with butter, of course) – I never gained a pound. Probably the fact that we usually ate the bread earlier in the day and had time to use the calories may have made a little difference but I just know it was fresh hot bread that didn’t seem to hurt me!!

    I am glad you’re not doing the high protein, low or no carb diet – I really don’t think it’s a very healthy way to eat. Weight Watchers has always been a very healthy lifestyle change and it does allow moderation and “cheating” once in awhile. As you can see, I just don’t have a really good suggestion for you except to be sure that, whatever you choose to do, enjoy your life every day! I think you already know this and I’m so glad you and Jason are so good together!

    Sorry I didn’t see your post until today! I just don’t get online as often as I would like! I’ll be looking forward to hearing about your progress – maybe it will inspire me to do more too! I do agree that feeling better is the biggest reward of all!

    Love you bunches!

    • Melissa says:

      LOL. Actually, Primal/Paleo and Slow Carb *are* low carb diets. It took me a lot of years and a lot of reading to realize that grains are not our friends. The push toward “heart healthy” grains started in the 1970s because of two discoveries:

      1. That heart disease patients had saturated fat in their arteries and high blood cholesterol.
      2. That grains lowered an aspect of blood cholesterol.

      So 40 years of “heart healthy grains” and “low fat diets” began. And in those 40 years… heart disease has increased and we have gotten fatter. A lot fatter. The industry has finally accepted that dietary saturated fat and dietary cholesterol do not increase saturated fat and cholesterol in the blood, but they aren’t ready to give up their low fat, grain-based diets yet.

      Speaking from experience, when I cut grains and sugar out of my diet, I feel great. I am physically stronger — proven with 1-rep-maximum tests done a week apart, first without grains, then after a week back on grains. The difference was astounding. Also, after being off grains, when I go back on, my joints feel as though I have arthritis. I’m miserable!

      There’s actually a lot of science to back up what I’m saying. If you get the chance, read “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes. It is not a weight loss book — no eating plan or anything. But it explains the physiology behind obesity and provides lots and lots and lot of science and history. Fascinating stuff!

      Anyway, here’s a great success story:

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