This is the 3rd part of an ongoing series. Click here for Part I and Part II

challenges ahead

Here we are, a couple posts into the challenge, and I haven’t even told you what the challenge consists of. While it is called a ‘nutrition challenge’ there is a lot more to it. Staying active, pushing yourself physically, getting rest and trying to minimize stress are all major components.

You can probably guess how the challenge works, but let me spell it out the best I can. There are 4 primary daily components to the challenge. The daily measures which we assess are: sleep, diet, exercise and stress. You can get either 0, 5 or 10 points for each category. To get a perfect 40, you should be getting 8+ hours of sleep, eating a completely paleo diet (I’ll talk more about the specifics of paleo in a later post), doing a great workout, where you achieve a personal best, and minimizing your stress.

Individually, no one of these is particularly hard on any given day, but to try and achieve all four every day for eight weeks, is pretty tricky. It is tiring and exhausting. Working so hard to plan and control your eating or sleeping, can be stressful. Many people use unhealthy food to manage stress. Working out when your body isn’t fueled with any carbs, makes it hard to reach new levels. You can see how many of the factors play against each other. I think of it like watching my kids. Give me any one of them, no problem, I won’t even need to slow down. Juggling two kids, I can handle that. But with all three of them, it takes everything I’ve got for even the simplest tasks.

All of this is relative, of course, at the gym and at home. I have been able to keep the diet pretty well and I am pretty low stress in general. Getting workouts in on my off days is a challenge and the sleep is next to impossible for me. Since I workout at 6am, 8+ hours of sleep would require my head hitting the pillow before 9pm. I am lucky if I have my kids to bed by then. I score a 5 most days for sleep, because even though 6-7 hours is typical and adequate for me, I am sure I would do better with more sleep.

While the individual components are significant, I think it is even more important to have a plan, and to understand how that plan works in conjunction with the rest of your life. This challenge has to fit into a pre-existing reality that, in my case, includes several other people, a job that involves eating lunches at restaurants multiple times per week, a schedule which has me waking up before 5:20am if I want to hit the gym, and other items that I either cannot change or am not interested in changing.

There is a book I read when we were expecting our first child, The Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg. I don’t remember all the specifics of the book,  but one thing I took to heart was that having a baby should not change everything. Your baby is just joining a family that already has a routine and responsibilities.  Sure there will be disruptions (major ones) and things will change (significantly), but it is not a total reset. You need to make it work within the parameters that you cannot or chose not to alter.

The nutrition challenge is similar. While certain things will change for sure (eliminating almost all processed foods, greatly reducing carbs and sugar, focusing on my workouts, etc.), I am merely introducing certain new factors into an already hectic and busy life. Since each of our lives is different before we start a challenge, the challenge will look a bit different for each of us. That said, while the challenge has to fit into your life, it should change your life in a noticeable way, if you are doing it right.

Many diets and fitness programs market themselves by advertising their flexibility: “you can still eat all the foods you love,” “you only need 8 minutes a day,” and on and on. That was what I did my entire life, and it didn’t work. I get the concept of “minimal effective dose” (MED), but most diet and fitness plans are designed more for marketing purposes than anything else. (This probably explains the small print at the bottom of the screen, indicating “results not typical.”) You want real results? Do real work. If you want to change the outcome of your work, you need to change the inputs. The more you do, the greater the changes will be. If all you want to do is add a few pounds to your deadlift, fine, you might not have to be too extreme. If, however, you want to know what you are capable of, you need to push your limits.


Determine what you think is possible, and then try for a little more. That is how I see the nutrition challenge. I used to try and say I will only have one cookie for dessert, or I will just skip one workout, but that always snowballed. For the challenge I set my tolerance to 0 . Not that I cannot eat something if I really want it, but if I do, even mess up a little, I am not going to get a 10 for that category that day. I have only gotten one or two 10’s for sleep so far during the challenge and a lot of 5’s for my eating.

Think about your limits. Most of us really don’t push ourselves hard enough, and we don’t even realize it if we aren’t give the proper context to succeed. If you are contemplating a challenge of your own, come up with what you think is possible – then add 10% to that – maybe more. Only if you achieve that threshold, beyond what you thought is possible, should you give yourself a perfect score. Otherwise, take a 5. That is still good, but you have to really earn that 10.

A bit over two weeks into the challenge, and I’d say a 30 is a good daily score for me – a 10 for stress, 5 for sleep and 10’s or 5’s for diet and exercise. On days that I do not make it to the gym, I really work on the diet to make sure I get all the points possible for that category.

In addition to the daily categories, there are also some longer term measures we take in the form of a fitness assessment. I’ll get more into my starting measures in my next post, but the specific nutrition challenge workout consists of: (1) a standing broad jump, for distance; (2) 3 minutes of 10m shuttle sprints, for reps; and (3) a 3k Row for time. I did my test on 9/8. It was right after the Jewish Holiday of Rosh Ha’Shanah, and I was fighting some terrible allergies and/or a cold. My broad jump was a so-so 95.5”. I got 48x10m shuttle sprints in 3 minutes, which I was shocked about, because I beat the number of reps I had gotten a couple days earlier when I was feeling better. I am a good rower. Despite feeling like crap, I rowed 3k in 11:23.

We will repeat this test at the end of the challenge to see how we have improved.

Thanks for following my progress. As always, your feedback and questions are encouraged and welcomed. You can reach me in the comments section, on Twitter @showmetheberger, or via email



About The Author

Steven Schoenberger

Steven is a former estate planning and trust attorney turned life insurance and wealth management professional with Tamar Fink, in Minneapolis, MN. He is a husband and father of four. Steven is a CrossFitter and former swimmer.