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Food Challenge Recap: Alejandro

Next up in our food challenge recaps?  Alejandro Soto!

I have been horribly overweight for over a decade , and for over a decade I have struggled to both lose the excess weight and not regain it. Frustratingly, gaining weight has always been easier than losing weight. In fact, the weight gain was insidious, creeping up on me even when I thought I was doing everything right (i.e. following the diet guidelines that have been giving to us for the last fifty years or so). When I rejoined Roots last August, I decided that I would try any food challenges that the coaching staff put out there. If I was to ever lose the weight, I had no choice but to use all of the help and motivation that anyone offered me. So, I signed up for the food challenges last fall and this spring, which is one of the best things that I did in the last year.


I was especially interested in the Paleo diet. I had moderate but unsustainable success with the Zone diet in the past, but the Paleo diet was new to me. Though I knew very little about the Paleo diet at the start of last fall’s challenge, there was no downside to trying this diet, one which many of the Roots coaches heartily recommended.

My success in losing weight in the last nine months is due to participating in both the Fall Challenge and the Spring Challenge. Therefore, when I talk about my success with the food challenge, I am really talking about both of them. A one or two month food challenge, in isolation, will not cut it. Instead, it was the one month challenge last October followed by months trudging through the paleo diet on my own followed by this spring’s two month challenge that led to my recent success.

Why do I call my weight loss a success? Because for me it has been drastic. In the Fall Challenge, I lost 8.4 pounds total, which included a loss 9.9 pounds of fat and a gain of 1.5 pounds of lean body mass. This meant that I went from 36.6% body fat (yes, I started off that overweight) to 33.9% body fat. After the Fall Challenge I tried to keep Paleo, but I was not strict 24/7. In that time, November 2013 to March 2014, I lost 2.4 pounds total (3.8 pounds of fat lost; 1.4 pounds of lean body mass gained), which meant I went from 33.9% body fat to 32.6% body fat. Finally, in this Spring Challenge I was able to really step up the weight loss. From April 15th (I missed the originally dunk tank dates due to travel) to June 6th I lost a total of 14.6 pounds (11.5 pounds of fat loss; 3.1 pounds of lean body mass lost), leaving me with  29.8% body fat. That’s 25.2 pounds of fat lost, which I feel comfortable declaring a success.

The numbers only tell part of the story. The weight loss in the fall was a good amount, but only a few people noticed — basically the coaches. With this Spring Challenge, the loss was very noticeable an lots of people at Roots commented on my success, which was awesome encouragement (thanks!). Plus, the weight loss helped with the workouts: running is now easier, I can suffer through more burpees, I am much closer to a rope climb, and I dropped down a band in assisted pull-ups. The benefits of eating Paleo really snowballed this spring, rewarding me for sticking with the Paleo diet during the non-challenge months when the progress was slow.

To succeed at these challenges I had to address a dominant part of my personality: I am a workaholic. I love what I do so I end up working long hours. That is when I used to eat poorly; when I got home late and was too tired to cook, suddenly fast food became an enticing option. To deal with this during the challenge I spent one of the early weekends cooking a large batch of food, around thirty individual meals, that I then stored in my freezer. Then, when I had a busy day and no time to cook a lunch or dinner, I just grabbed a soup or chili or stew from the freezer, heated it up, and had a good Paleo meal in under ten minutes. Most days I cooked a meal from fresh ingredients, but the homemade frozen food really helped for lunches and dinners when work and life got crazy. I also used a strategy suggested by Sarah Levin, another Roots athlete in the Spring Challenge: I pre-cooked a week’s worth of sausage and vegetables that I could add to scrambled eggs on the fly for a nearly instant breakfast. Basically, having ready to go Paleo meals was my challenge, which I achieved through some aggressive planning and preparation. Once I did this, the rest of the Paleo eating just fell in place.

When I traveled for work, my Paleo eating routine was completely disrupted. Airports, hotels, and conference rooms are dark pits of anti-healthy eating (and some business colleagues are the minions of these dark pits). I tried traveling with fruits and vegetables while being a picky eater at restaurants, but I still have not found a consistently successful strategy for eating Paleo while on business travel.

Beyond the physical changes, this Spring Challenge helped me with another important goal: I have completely stopped using sugar in teas and coffees. After dropping processed sugar for two months during the Spring Challenge, I can not imagine once again adding sugar to tea and coffee. This is an addiction that I am happy to have broken and will happily keep broken.

At the end of this Spring Challenge I feel great, but my work is far from over. I still have another 15 to 20 pounds I want and need to lose. Therefore, I am trying to continue the rules: eating Paleo with win meals and drinking opportunities. I have continued logging my meals everyday and tracking my weight regularly. I want to get back to four to five Crossfit workouts each week, since those workouts really helped in the Spring Challenge. I have also added a training goal to go along with the weight-loss goal: unassisted pull-ups (kipping or strict). Fortunately, the two goals go together, so as I lose more weight my work on pull-ups will really pay off. After a decade of struggling with my weight, I feel the end is in sight thanks to the Paleo challenges and the Crossfit program provided by Crossfit Roots. I just need to take the tools that Roots has given me and head for the finish.