My 28 Day Challenge

Last April I did something that changed my life.

In the course of 28 days I went from a Hamburger Helper loving, fruits and vegetables hater, to trying my very first orange…and grape…and banana…and red cabbage…and…

Let me back it up a bit.

I started giving serious thought to the food I was putting into my body when I was pregnant with Kate.  Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution also premiered on TV a few months after Kate was born and began lifting the wool from my eyes.  It was then that I decided that Kate’s baby food would be homemade.  Shortly after that I started watching the documentary Food, Inc., and although I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, I could no longer ignore this glaring fact:

Nearly everything I eat is disgusting.

I knew I needed to change my eating habits, but it seemed like an incredibly overwhelming task and I wasn’t sure where or how to begin, so instead, I focused my energy on Kate and making sure she ate only healthy, unprocessed, homemade foods.

I turned into a total Nutrition Nazi when it came to her meals…while I sat next to her eating pepperoni pizza and chips. There was a huge discrepancy between my expectations for myself and my expectations for her, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get away with this forever.  As I’ve said before, the idea that Kate will learn more from how I act versus what I say is not lost on me.

But again, where to start?  I’m a ridiculously picky eater who survived the last 30 years on bread, pasta, oatmeal, wine and lettuce. I didn’t eat any fruit, only a few vegetables, and nearly everything on my weekly grocery list came in a box.

At the end of 2010 I started receiving Whole Living magazine, which was a total surprise because I hadn’t subscribed to it; it just started showing up at our house.  Occasionally I’d flip through its pages–skimming–not wanting to give it my full attention for fear that it’d drag me kicking and screaming from my place of ignorance to this place where I had to dig my head out the sand, really pay attention to my body, and make some hard choices.

In March of 2011, my ignorance gave up the fight and I read my first issue (from January) cover to cover.  The main feature of their January issue is what they called their “28 Day Challenge.”  The 28 Day Challenge was all about detoxifying your life, and while I was primarily attracted to it for the food-related part, it also focused heavily on additional aspects like getting to sleep sooner, switching to non-toxic cleaners, swapping frustration for gratitude, ending grudges, eliminating toxic relationships, etc.

I knew as I read it that this was it for me.  This was my answer to my ‘where to start?’ question.  Now my new question was, “Are you going to do it?”

I really didn’t want to.

I spent the next few weeks trying to talk myself out of it.  I threw up all the barriers I could think of in my mind.  This was going to be way too hard.  There’s no way someone like me could make such a dramatic change in her eating like this.  I’ll be miserable, and hungry, and bitchy.  It’ll turn me into a bad wife and mother.  We’ll all be miserable!  Nope, there’s no way I’m doing this.  Forget it.

But I couldn’t forget it.

As much as I wanted to fight it and remain in my processed food and chemical-flavored coma…I knew this was right for me.  I had to at least give it a try.

I decided to start my 28 Day Challenge on April 1, 2011.  The reconciliation I had made in my mind was that this was a great way to detoxify my body, see if I have any food allergies that have been previously masked, introduce myself to new foods and recipes that can be added into my current diet, and maybe cut back on processed foods.  More than anything I wanted to set a good example for Kate.  I had to try.

Here’s how the food-related part of the plan worked:

Week 1:  No processed foods, no sugar, no caffeine, no alcohol, no dairy, no wheat/gluten.

Week 2:  Gradually begin to add gluten and dairy back in, taking note of how your body reacts to these foods.

Add caffeine back in (optional) at the end of Week 2, and continue the rest of the month with no processed foods, no sugar, and no alcohol.

The first two days of what I called “my detox” were by far the hardest.  I kept getting awful, awful headaches, which I don’t think were caffeine-related because I wasn’t a daily caffeine drinker and had actually skipped having caffeine the day before I started the detox.  I searched out my symptoms on Whole Living’s website and discovered that my problem was I wasn’t eating often enough to keep my blood sugar stable.  Once I made that slight adjustment the headaches disappeared, and I found the rest of the month to be surprisingly easy!

After my first week of being off caffeine, I noticed that I had more energy than I think I’d ever had in my life when I was on caffeine.  And it was even energy too—not bursts of energy followed by fatigue, like I used to have.  I felt great and apparently looked great too, because I was suddenly getting a lot of unexpected compliments:

“You look so well-rested!”
“Something’s different about you…did you get your hair colored?”
“Your skin looks amazing!”

The biggest surprise for me was that (other than wine) I wasn’t battling any cravings!  It was like my body knew that it was getting everything it needed.  This really blew my mind.

I also recognized early on how quickly I jump to food as my reward.  This revelation came after a challenging morning with Kate.  I remember thinking, “Ugh, what a tough morning.  I should stop and get a Starbucks.  I totally deserve it.”  Any other time I would’ve done just that, but doing this challenge made me actually stop and think about what I was going to put into my body and why. What a light bulb moment!  I also noticed how often I turn to a glass of wine at the end of my day as a stress-reliever or to unwind.  With wine being off-limits during this 28 Day Challenge, I was surprised to find that chopping vegetables and preparing foods for the next day or upcoming week—a must in order to be successful with this challenge—became my replacement stress reliever.

One of my biggest goals with the 28 Day Challenge was to introduce new foods into my diet, and I was really proud of myself for how many new foods I attempted.  The following is a list of what I tried as a result of this detox that I had never tried before:

Oranges (love them!)
Grapes (meh)
Blueberries (not a fan)
Millet (love!)
Almond Butter (not bad)
Kale (great in a smoothie)
Banana (also preferred in a smoothie)
Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries (no thank you)
Grapefruit (hit or miss)
Red cabbage (I like!)
Fresh Ginger (I had to YouTube how to peel and cut it)
Tea (I like)
Sweet Potato (yum)
Beets (no thank you)
Brussels Sprouts (I like!)
Lentils (no thank you)
Quinoa (love!)

The food aspect of the 28 Day Challenge was such a drastic change for me that I focused almost exclusively on it, and incorporated only a handful of the mindfulness tasks here and there.  I have to admit I did cheat on Easter Sunday (the end of week 3) by having some wine and Easter candy, but other than that I stuck with it!

At the end of the 28 days I felt incredible.

It had changed my life.

It’s been nearly a year, and my diet still consists primarily of whole, unprocessed foods (for me “processed food” means any food with an unnatural ingredient).  My brain seems to be programmed so that if it’s told it can’t have something, it wants it even more, so I have to tell it that nothing is “off-limits”—even if it’s processed. If I really want it, I’ll go ahead and eat it—just not much of it, and not very often. I call it my 80/20 plan. Eighty percent of the time I eat whole foods and 20% of the time it’s okay if I don’t. If I want a plate of French fries, I’ll eat a plate of French fries. If I want a Dorito, I’ll eat a Dorito.  I think it’s this balance that has helped me remain successful.

And now I think it’s time for a booster!  After the holidays, Kate’s birthday party, and a particular rowdy weekend in New Orleans’s with some girlfriends (more on that to come!) I think it’s time to give my body a break and help get my year started off on the right foot.  Whole Living has recently rolled out its 2012 Mind & Body Challenge, and I’m eager to give it another try.  This year’s plan is slightly different, but I’m up for the challenge and am again looking forward to trying new foods and recipes.

That said, I am still feeling all of those same fears and anxieties I felt before starting the 28 Day Challenge last year.  I’m sure this is totally normal, but to give myself that added accountability I think I’ll need, I’ve decided to live out this year’s 28 Day Challenge on my All Things G&D Facebook page, posting my meals and other mind/body challenge activities I’ll be doing throughout the month.  Feel free to “like” my Facebook page if you haven’t already done so, and follow along!

Better yet…do the 28 Day Challenge with me!  I plan to start on Monday, February 6th (the plan recommends a Monday start).  Who’s in?!


  1. 1

    Ah! This is exactly what I needed to read tonight. I have been steadily putting on weight since December and despite going to the gym regularly, I haven’t been able to stop the gradual incline. I know it’s about the food I eat, which on the whole isn’t really that bad (I don’t eat fast food, I’m a vegetarian etc), but I snack and I give myself excuses (eg. “It’s so hot today, I’m allowed an icecream”, “my cat was put down so I’m allowed a chocolate bar”). Thanks for the link, I’m going to study up over the weekend and start on Monday.

  2. 2

    I’m really interested in doing this, but I think I feel like you did last year before you started…it will be so hard! Do you have any resources that you use for recipes for this type of diet that are frugal, healthy, and quick? Time in our house is a rarity right now! Thanks!

  3. 3

    I’m in! I love whole living magazine and mostly eat whole unprocessed foods already but would love to see the recipes you make and get new ideas. Plus I could use a caffeine detox, I do drink way too much coffee!

  4. 4

    I am with you that Food Inc. completely changed my life! I will defetinly check out the challenge, and (maybe!) give it a try.

  5. 5

    Very inspiring post! I am definitely going to check out Whole Living. My boyfriend and I are really ready to make some changes, primarily because we know we aren’t treating our bodies right and can feel the effects, so we may be joining you in this lifestyle change. And I love that you give yourself the 20% to play with. That’s such a great way to stay on task. Happy weekend!

  6. 6

    I’m so impressed (and inspired) by you! It takes guts (heh) to make these changes, and I really admire that you are and have been going for it. I definitely am going to try to play along!

  7. 7

    When I started running more consistently I noticed that I ran better when I was eating better. It’s not rocket science, but eating Chick Fil A and then running the next day didn’t feel so hot. Since then I’ve really focused on trying to eat more whole foods and less junk. It takes time, but it works. I definitely feel better and have more energy on days I eat more nutrious. That darn old adage is right, “you are what you eat.”

  8. 8

    I already eat like this most of the time, but giving up wine and coffee would be SO HARD. maybe that means I really need to do it…

    thanks for the “food for thought” :)

  9. 9

    Ugh. I’m in. I’ve needed to do this forever and kept putting it off, but now that there’s someone else doing it, maybe it’ll be easier together.

    Not to mention I have a doctor’s appointment on Monday the 6th, to discuss medications and my health for a possible near-future pregnancy.

  10. 10

    I think it’s great that you’re going to do this again. I certainly need to; I have WAY too much unhealthy stuff in my diet. I can’t wait to see how you do…Maybe I’ll suck it up enough to try this as well.

  11. 11

    Hi! I read your blog all the time, but I think this may actually be my first comment other than giveaways. But, you really spoke to me with this post. My husband and I are going to start trying for our first this year and I’ve really been thinking about my diet and how that will affect my baby. I think this is just what I need to clean up my act beforehand although I’m totally dreading doing it – I do really love fluorescent orange liquid cheese on my nachos, you know? But I’m heading over to Whole Living now to check it out. I keep hearing about this quinoa stuff – might as well finally give it a try! Thanks!

  12. 12

    This is something I have been thinking about a lot. I may just have to join in on the challenge. Thanks for the information

  13. 13


    Just wanted to say thanks for this! Between the copious amounts of liquor consumed over the holidays and a jokingly-yet-turned-hardcore challenge between my boyfriend and I to finish our liquor supply before we move…Lord knows I could use an exorcism….err detox…err cleanse of ethanol from my bod!

    I am so in. Although, admittedly I’m having an Aunt Voula moment from My Big Fat Greek Wedding – “what do you mean he don’t eat no meat?” If I am reading this correctly, are juicy, tasty, delicious bbq ribs off the menu? This is some hardcore shit err non-processed, sustainable organic tempeh.

  14. 14

    I’ve been catching up on episodes of Martha Stewart on my DVR and there have been a couple about the Whole Living Action Plan. I give you total props for doing it! WAY TO GO! I’ve always loved vegetables and I am not a picky eater at all….I think I pretty much will eat anything except asparagus but I definitely gravitate toward the sweets. I was raised on processed foods and now that I am adult I am learning to cook and eat fresh foods. My husband loves to cook from scratch but he hates vegetables and it seems like all the meals he makes are meat and potato intensive. I am learning to let myself be creative in the kitchen and create meals for myself to eat for lunches and have loved exploring fresh foods. I recommend Weight Watchers for recipes. :-) Keep up the good work. You are being a good role model for your daughter.

  15. 15

    We’ve been making better choices as a family since I got pregnant in 2010 but I am much much pickier about what I put on my now 15 month olds plate than myself.

    Good luck and I look forward to following your journey!

  16. 16

    So I am wondering how expensive eating like this, because I know normally fruits and vegetables are kind of pricey but I would love to do this, now to just convince the husband

  17. 17

    I think I want to try this on a more 80/20 basis since heavy restrictions don’t typically go well with me. Once the baby is here and I start my workout regimen again, I’m all about this detox!

  18. 18

    Love it! I’ll definitely be doing it with you!

    And, because I’ve fallen in love with kale…you’ve gotta try it like this:


  19. 19

    Thanks for posting, D! I’m actually really interested in trying this. I figure I can do anything for a month, right?

  20. 20
    Anonymous says:

    I’m so in! I have been trying to get back on track with clean eating and had one good week followed by two not so good ones. In 28 days I’ll be getting ready to go to the beach with someone I really want to look – and more importantly FEEL – good in front of so the timeframe is perfect. And I like the simplicity of no processed foods, no sugar (I assume you mean added sugar), and no alcohol. Other detox plans are too extreme for me.

    Check out Clean Eating magazine, too. Great recipes and they feature a product category and compare brands to tell you which qualify as “clean” meaning free of unnatural ingredients.

  21. 21

    Very interesting! I’m going to need to request some recipes and more food details… I am a SUPER picky eater and the way you descibed yourself sounds much like me… no veggies, few fruits and lots of boxed meals… What’s this diet looking like as far as time and money go?

  22. 22

    You have inspired me! I’m just wondering, though, is this something you did by yourself or did your husband join in, too? I know my husband would never go for it, he is not a big fan of veggies and lives to have a few beers with the guys on the weekend.

  23. 23

    Kudos for trying all the new food! I do have one recommendation for you, though–try some of those fruits and veggies again, only in season, from a local farmer (if possible!). The taste difference is night and day! I couldn’t get my husband to like blueberries (my fav fruit) til he had some that were really fresh. My cousin, too, with tomatoes (she’s picky like you!). I’m not sure how any one could like those anemic store tomatoes! Good luck with the new challenge!

  24. 24
    Anonymous says:

    I don’t know how you stay so skinny! If I ate like you did before you started this and was thin I’d be in heaven. Thanks for posting this and I’ll follow along too! Love your blog and I don’t even know how I found it. Thanks!

  25. 25

    Thank you for your comments, everyone! I’m so excited that some of you will be joining me in this challenge! I will primarily be using my Facebook page to track my progress, meals and snacks, post recipes, etc. so be sure to “like” ATG&D on Facebook to follow along, compare notes, and swap meal ideas!

    Below are answers to (hopefully all) of your questions:

    I primarily use for recipes during this time; specifically the recipes that are already part of the 28 Day Challenge. I also spend my evenings (after Kate goes to bed) chopping veggies, making smoothies, prepping whatever foods or meals I need for the next day or two. I’d say you should expect to set aside about an hour/night for this. Maybe less. And probably not every night. Instead of sitting on the couch and watching TV at night, I stand in the kitchen prepping food while watching TV. I can’t remember the last time I sat on our couch!

    @Heidi–YES! I definitely feel like my running is stronger when I’m eating whole foods. So true!

    @Ginger–Sadly, giving a up wine for the month was the hardest part part of the challenge for me last year. But like you said–even more reason why it was good for me to do!

    @kpotter–Do a search for Martha Stewart’s quinoa muffins. Love them!!

    @Manda–I hear ya, girl. That part’s going to be SO HARD for me. Last year you could at least have chicken and fish during week one. This year? Nope. (gulp)

    @J.Obrien–You’re right, unfortunately it’s not cheap to eat like this, but I look at it as a long-term investment in my health. I believe it will pay off in the long run, and have adjusted my budget to reflect my value in eating whole, chemical-free foods. I wish it were less expensive, and my hope is that one day, as more and more people eat this way, it will be.

    @Andrea–thanks for the recipe!

    You totally can, Jenna!!

    @Anonymous–Thanks for the tip about Clean Eating magazine. I will definitely check that out!

    @Embellished–Nope, G didn’t do it with me, but he was incredibly supportive. He did a lot of fending for himself at dinner time, although there were nights that I’d still make a meat and potato kind of meal for him and I would just eat a veggie side. He was open to trying some of the new recipes I made, but wasn’t crazy about most of them. Overall though, he did adjust his eating habits and cut out quite a bit of processed foods after seeing me go through this process which I was happy to see.

    Thanks for the suggestion, Amanda–I’ll certainly try again!

    @Anonymous–Well the truth is, I wasn’t staying very skinny eating that way. It was definitely catching up with me, especially as I get older. Plus my lack of energy was really having a negative effect on my workouts. I was starting to picture myself 5 years into the future, and it wasn’t good!

  26. 26

    Hi! I’ve read your blog for many years now but never commented. I’m totally game to this 28 day challenge-I need something to motivate me. I enlisted a couple of girlfriends to do this with me too. Can’t wait for wednesday. I hope you keep us updated on how you are doing along the way. Maybe a weekly update? :)

  27. 27

    Congrats, you can do it! I’ve been passionate about “clean” eating for the last year or two. We actually find that it is less expensive to eat even though we buy almost entirely organic veggies and hormone free meat, farm eggs, etc because we are just buying real food. We don’t buy granola bars, cereal, and crackers and that sort of processed stuff anymore, so we really aren’t spending more than we used to in total grocery bills. Also, we have a great farmer’s market in our area and I buy a ton of stuff in season and just freeze it. Super easy and saved lots of $$$, not to mention no chemicals, supporting local farmers, and tastes great. We also have our own garden to have fresh veggies through the summer, but for storing winter surplus I have to purchase. We make our own pizza – whole wheat crust with lots of veggies, so easy and honestly tastier than some “real” pizza places so you don’t have to give everything up, just find ways to make it healthier version.

    Other resources that I really enjoyed that you may like are Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, 100 Days of Real Food website…you may have already checked them out. Sorry so long, just wanted to chime in and say you are not alone and it gets easier, you can totally do it! Looking forward to your recipes and success! Mandy

  28. 28
    Anonymous says:

    good for you!! now you’ve given me some inspiration to start eating better.

    i must admit that i’m flabergasted that you had never had an orange, grape, blueberry, strawberry, etc.. before. really? 😉


  29. 29
    Anonymous says:

    wow! love this. Do you take any supplements or multivitamins? Just curious. whole nutrition is always best, but I’m looking into taking multivitamins. cc in VA

  30. 30

    So happy to have you on board MSHammond!

    Thanks for all the tips, Mandy! That’s a lot of great information. I’ll be checking into those books and that website!

    @Sally–Yep. Totally true. :)

    @CC–I take a multivitamin, vitamin B and vitamin C whenever I remember.

  31. 31

    wow!! how have you not eaten any of those fruits before?! i grew up on those, so its such a shock that people haven’t ever had them and they are so delicious


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