CrossFit Rochester placed 7th out of over 450 gyms nationwide in the Lurong Paleo Challenge held September 17 to November 18, 2012. The top-ten result is an incredible testament to the hard work of 50 members of CrossFit Rochester who committed to eating paleo and completing weekly challenge workouts for 9 weeks. [editor's note: to place so well with a relatively large team is saying something!]
But summing up the experience with a “7th place” doesn’t feel like enough. A formidable amount of time and work went in to this challenge. What about the willpower, the struggle, and the commitment? What about the successes – large and small – that every participant achieved? I wanted to discover these nuances and any trends in our collective Lurong experience, so I asked participants – and non-participants – to fill out a survey telling me about their experience. I compiled this article based on the survey data.
The article- like the survey- is long, but poignant. Your responses were powerful, and I hope you’ll take the time to sit back and relish in this investigative article which honestly reads more like a report on your staggering achievement.
Out of 50 participants, 28 completed the survey. Most people reported 2-3 main goals for the challenge. 19 cited weight or fat loss; 9 cited performance improvement; 5 wanted to feel better overall; 4 wanted to increase strength, and 7 wanted to better understand their body’s needs or diminish their food cravings. The number one apprehension was the length of the challenge, but there was a long list of other worries as well. Four people mentioned specifically that Joe and Julie’s support and persuasion were the main reason that they decided to sign up for the challenge.
Of the 28 respondents, every single person lost weight, achieved at least some of the goals they’d set for themselves, and improved on at least 1 of the benchmark WODs (except SG1, who broke his hand. . .oops). The answers to the questions about improvement were overwhelmingly positive. Our members say they gained strength, lost weight, felt great mentally, looked better, slept better and improved performance.
One participant reported that she is “doing things [she] never even thought possible.” Jason lost 12 pounds when he’d hoped to lose 5; Alli hoped to lose 6 inches and she lost over 11; Mike D. PR’d on all the lifts in his CF total; Stephanie took 13 minutes off of her combined benchmark score. These results aren’t the exception: they are the rule. In addition to various qualitative successes, our participants lost an average of 11 pounds each.
Of course, the challenge wasn’t just about weight loss. Participants pointed out their strength and endurance gains in the gym, as well as sleeping better and feeling more focused. Not one person reported any negative physical or mental effects in week 2-9 of the challenge; the only negative aspects cited were boredom, some cravings, and some frustration amidst the obvious progress. Most participants felt great mentally and physically, and reported that eating paleo became a habit.
The beginning of the challenge, however, was understandably very difficult for some. Out of 28 respondents, 13 had done a CF Rochester eating challenge in the past. Out of those 13 veterans, 5 felt generally good from the beginning, and 3 felt good after 3-5 days. 8 veterans specifically mentioned that they felt more ready for this challenge mentally because they knew what to expect. Most veterans said this challenge felt easier than the others. Kate, who has done over 5 different food challenges over the years, reported she “did not have the lethargy and headaches that characterized the other challenges.” SG1 said, “The first challenge was the worst, even though this one was more restrictive.” Erin said that after 7-10 days, she “started to feel like [she] was on steroids or something.” Veterans Alli, Beth, Kate, SG1, Mike D., Alan D., and Hamilton all reported that they felt prepared for this challenge, and/or it went better than previous challenges.
The first-timers fared much differently, with only 5 out of 15 feeling good in the same time frame. Of of the 14 who were first-timers, only 3 felt the same or better from the beginning. Two people felt good in 5-7 days, and the 10 others described headaches, lethargy, irritability, moodiness, hunger, and fatigue. They said their WOD performance decreased and they experienced cravings and extreme crabbiness. Some felt exhausted, dizzy, anxious, or foggy.
So how did our members deal with the negative effects of renouncing the standard American diet? They rallied their support crews! Most members reported that their household members were supportive of their diet. Erin, Mike Z., the Greys, Mara, Kate, Marcie, and several other members all said that their non-paleo family members were happy to eat the paleo food they cooked (sometimes supplementing it with grains or dessert). SG1 and Jeanine “just stopped buying bread, milk, juice, dairy, etc.” and so by the end of the challenge the kids were at least 80% paleo as well. Vieden’s wife participated in the diet. He said, “She volunteered and boy was I glad she did. Honestly if it wasn’t for her I’m not sure I would have done as well. She researched, shopped, and prepared all paleo meals for the 9 weeks. I had it easy.” Alan D. felt that having Lori do the challenge with him “made it really easy.” Allison said “there’s no way” she could have stuck with it without her husband Alan’s support. Janel’s husband also participated. She said it was helpful because “He went through the high and lows with me; we helped each other.” It wasn’t just spouses providing support; Jason’s son Trent, age 12, ate paleo alongside him until Halloween! So it’s clear that having support helps. But what if you can’t convince your family to do it with you? Mike Z. says it wasn’t a big deal, and Mara felt the cookies and goodies around the house were a challenge, but she got through it. Chris, Alli, Hamilton, and others all had significant success without any other paleo family members.
The number one challenge for our members was social situations, closely followed by making time to shop/prep/cook food, sugar cravings, and alcohol limitations. Multiple people mentioned the frustration of feeling guilt- bound to the rules of the challenge. As the contest wore on, they longed to make their own choices. Cooking was also difficult for those who don’t normally cook. It was a challenge to find time to prep and create all the homemade meals. 23 out of 28 participants reported spending more time on food prep during the challenge, but most said that it was worth it, and that it got easier over time.
CrossFit Rochester members cited various strategies for dealing with the lows of the challenge. The most popular strategy, reported over and over, was to gut the house and get rid of the junk. Planning ahead was key, as well as having people around you who understand what you’re doing. To shut up those annoying friends who keep badgering you to eat, members suggest either avoiding those people (Marcie says you should “go into hermit crab mode”), suggesting restaurants that have options for you, or explaining the challenge so they respect your decision. Many members would eat beforehand, and Janel even mentioned telling a white lie that she’d already eaten. Several people shamelessly brought their own food to social situations. Beth pointed out that saying no to food she doesn’t want to eat “gets easier over time. You feel great about your healthy choices.”
When cravings hit, members made smoothies, mashed bananas with walnuts, ate almond butter and fruit, drank tea and seltzer, or just got out of the kitchen. More than one participant reported that sometimes, just getting into bed early was the only way to keep from cheating. Many people suggested thinking about your progress in moments of weakness, or “get out the tape measure and relish in the inches lost.” SG1 took a different approach when the cravings hit, preferring to eat berries while “thinking about ways to perfect functional movement.” Many cited the community of Crossfit Rochester as highly motivating, and Julie as a driving force behind the gym’s success. Stephanie said that Julie “gave a ton of support and advice.” Another member wrote that “Julie’s weekly emails were a blessing. She’s the Dear Abby of CrossFit.”
Multiple people mentioned that they chose to cheat at an important meal with others. These were often pre-planned social situations with family/friends where the challenger felt the meal was more important than explaining the challenge. Several members were happy to cheat during once-in-a-lifetime experiences, such as Mike D.’s 25th college reunion. Those occasions didn’t cause any guilt. Members said that the guilt usually hit when they succumbed to a craving, not when they made a conscious choice. Several people were also caught by misinformation about supposedly “paleo” foods that turned out to contain sugar or bread crumbs. Despite their best efforts, they were frustrated to have to enter a cheat.
Paleo haters often cite money as a prohibitive factor. Indeed, out of 28 respondents, 17 spent more or “a lot more” money, 9 spent roughly the same, and only 2 spent less. Many people wrote that spending more money was worth it. SG1 said, “Cost was not a factor and I would call it an excuse.” Kate wrote, “You need to make time to eat right. It’s important and worth it in the long run. . . YOU and your family are worth the extra effort.” Several members reported that initial cost of staples during the first few weeks was high, but the subsequent weeks were more manageable. Allison pointed out that although she and Alan did spend more money eating paleo, they probably could have modified it for a lesser budget if necessary.
In the future, nearly every participant plans to continue some level of paleo eating. 22 people said they would eat paleo with occasional indulgences, 4 said they would stick to strict paleo, and 2 plan to relax the guidelines. Indulgences that people looked forward to within their “mostly paleo” frameworks included maple syrup, parmesan cheese, grass-fed butter, white potatoes, sushi, beer, and a bite of dessert. Several people will add yogurt back in to their diets. Many people look forward to the opportunity to drink something other than 6oz. of red wine. Mike D. wrote, “I will not likely forsake beer on the occasion that I have to drink, nor will I ever again sit behind my drums with a glass of wine. Geesh, is there anything less rock and roll than that!?!?!”
Every single respondent said that the Lurong Challenge helped them gain better control in their relationship with food. Several respondents mentioned that the restrictiveness and guilt associated with the challenge was not their cup of tea, but 24 out of 28 participants said they would do this challenge again. Improvement ideas included nixing the food log, making the challenge shorter, creating an ipad app, and taking the measurements at the very end of the challenge.
Many people chose not to participate in this challenge due to the length, timing, or guidelines. Out of the 10 non-challengers, 7 said they are happy with their decision, and 3 said they wish they’d participated. Many of the non-participants were long-time CrossFitters who felt that such restrictive challenges don’t work well for them. Several of them wrote that they follow paleo guidelines, but prefer to do so on their own. Of the non-challengers, 1 eats strict paleo, 7 eat mostly paleo, and 2 eat in other ways that work for them.
So what are your goals for 2013? Do they include weight loss, increased energy, or improved performance? The results are in! Paleo works. There are other valid ways to lose weight and improve performance, for sure, but they don’t necessarily come with several dozen motivated teammates whom you’ll see every day at the gym. The Lurong Challenge was a framework that gave 50 CrossFit Rochester members an opportunity create the best versions of themselves. They did, and they will continue to do so.
[Editors note: The Crosstown Throwdown starts January 5th. Sign-up on the bulletin board and stay tuned for more details.]