8-Week Health Challenge to Drop Pounds and Beat Stress, Part I

By: Michele Wolfson

There are so many different reasons why we struggle with our weight- family, heartbreak, hectic work schedule, a love for ice cream with chocolate sauce- but they all revolve around the same thing: Stress. Tense emotions make it difficult to feel like yourself, let alone lose weight. Often, we make excuses for ourselves like, "I'm going to lose a few pounds once my work load dies down," or, "I'll stop drinking soda when the warm weather comes around and I will be wearing shorts."

Weight, stress and sex are all affected by one another, so this plan addresses all three at once. By making simple changes to your lifestyle one step at a time, you can escape the vicious cycle of stress and start reshaping yourself for the better immediately.

Start by writing down everything that you eat - It will surprise you to see it on paper. Carrie Underwood keeps a food journal and she looks amazing, so it has to be a good idea! This plan will work for you if taking baby steps is more your speed. If you're interested in giving these weekly challenges a shot, you could start at the beginning or go in your own preferred order. You could also build each week on top of the next or simply tackle one weekly challenge at a time. Now it's time to start our eight week-long "healthy living and stress reducing" challenge.

Week One: Make smart swaps - Finding healthier alternatives to fattening foods is less of an uphill battle than it seems. Instead of potato chips, munch on organic kale chips that can be bought in stores or even made at home. Love tuna or egg salad sandwiches? Mix either with Wildwood garlic aioli instead of mayo and use Ezekiel bread or Ezekiel organic English muffins for bread. Swapping out your favorite guilty pleasures may seem tough in the beginning, but it has forced me to come up with healthier alternatives that I now love!

Eliminate energy drinks and sodas that are high in sugar and limit beverages to coffee, tea, water, milk and only one cup of natural juice during the week. Drinks this week can only be naturally sweetened with a little honey or 100 percent pure maple syrup. Wine, preferably red, is allowed in moderation - an average of one drink per day. This also means no artificial sweeteners in your coffee. Drink plenty of water and if you are craving some juice, squeeze a little fresh lemon or lime into your water.

Week Two: Add two fruits and/or vegetables to each meal - Eat a minimum of two different fruits or vegetables with every breakfast, lunch, and dinner meal. Hopefully all that extra produce will bump some of the highly processed food off your plate. This rule may be especially difficult to apply to your meals if you have a family with small children. Sometimes, kids don't want to eat fruit or vegetables at all. However, this is a perfect opportunity to involve your kids in a way that makes it seem like a game. Be sure to buy organic produce since it is more nutritious (due to the fact it is grown in a more nutritious soil), and you won't be consuming chemical pesticides and fertilizers along with it (which is absorbed by conventional produce).

One of the main benefits of this challenge is to replace something else like potato chips and french fries that you may be putting on your plate. If costs are a concern, remember that instead of adding organic produce to your grocery list in addition to the stuff that you normally buy, you are actually MORE produce INSTEAD of what you usually purchase. Also, juice does not count as a fruit!

Week Three: Participate in 30 minutes of exercise five days a week - The best way to look and feel good is to exercise regularly. Thirty minutes of exercise is a realistic way to lose weight and fit in fitness on a regular basis. There are so many ways you can do body-weight moves anywhere and fast-paced cardio intervals. This way of working out is simplistic, but has a powerful side effect: Checking off multiple workouts a week instills confidence and makes exercise part of your lifestyle, which is the secret to lasting weight loss. After a week of hitting your goals, you will feel amazing. Try this one for two weeks, and you will feel unstoppable. Whether you have 10 pounds or 100 pounds to shed, this challenge will get you started.

Strength train your brain - Working out enhances production of the proteins that stimulate brain-cell growth and can help your neurons work optimally, says John J Ratey, M.D., author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the brain. Strength training can help improve memory performance as you age, says a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise. Highly intensive intervals or resistance training can spike levels of brain healthy hormones, says Ratey.

Week Four: Give yourself non-food rewards when you've reached certain goals - Keep your thighs on the prize. When you set new goals and have reached them, give yourself non-food rewards like a 30-minute massage, a new nail polish or a good book.

Stay tuned to Part II of Michele's 8-Week Health Challenge.

Photo: lululemon athletica 

Michele Wolfson is a graduate of The Natural Gourmet Institute and is passionate about all areas of food, from writing about it, to photographing, growing, cooking, and consuming it. A vegetarian since she was seven years old, Michele knows the ins and outs of enjoying a healthy vegetarian lifestyle in Manhattan, which she writes about for Examiner.com as its Manhattan Vegetarian Examiner.

For more stories and tips from Michele, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)