80 Day Obsession took my winter by storm; it was a simple invitation and a seemingly simple challenge – eat like an athlete; train like an athlete; every day.
As a self-proclaimed athlete, this seemed relatively straightforward. I had committed to various exercise and training programs in the past. I had explored all the diets and food plans – from starvation-inspired cleanses (lemon juice for three days anyone?) to the “I-am-a-ski-bum-I-eat-ALL-the-pizza” (and whatever whiskey someone buys me).
For the next 80 days, I would eat less (a LOT less), and I would exercise more – a LOT more. I would lose weight. I would gain muscle. I would plateau. And then, begin all over again.
Like clockwork – right?
After day 1, however, I realized that, while the program was simple and straightforward, the journey would not be. And, in fact, much of my journey would involve shattering misconceptions about fitness and rediscovering the power of community and its importance to health, wellness, and athletic performance.
I am a 32 year old mother to a kind, happy, and active 11 month old boy, Atticus, whom I am breastfeeding. I am also a teacher, a writer, and a self-proclaimed workaholic (80 hour weeks? I love them). Prior to becoming a mother, I took pride in my label as a mountain athlete. Skier, mountain biker, hiker – even yoga star from time to time – I did it all. I was also a recovering anorexic and have struggled, in the past, with weight, body image, and nutrition. I still tended to fluctuate between extremes: eating next to nothing in desperate bid to whittle away at my already petite frame and reclaim some measure of control over my life vs. eating everything and anything I had previously forbidden in a desperate attempt to silence those insecurities and affirm that my disorder was far, far behind me.
And while I had reached some measure of stability weight-wise due to my passion for mountain sports, I still battled old demons.
I was also the queen of “cycles.” In the “on” seasons of summer and winter, I was extremely active – playing in the high alpine mountains surrounding Crested Butte, Colorado every possible moment. In the off season, I slacked and binged to equal extremes. Getting fit again for “on” season often required extreme diets and, worse, simply “diving in” – going on brutal and demanding expeditions and ever more extreme feats (I believe they call this “skiing yourself into shape”). These were usually successful; though, from time to time, they also led to injury (the “blown knee” kind of injury that comes from hucking a cliff early season with Jim Beam-soaked noodles as opposed to quads).
None of these extremes were healthy and they both had a negative impact on my mental health, my physical strength, and of course, my athletic performance.
Thus, while I looked healthy (and from outside appearances was strong and capable), I often realized that appearance through unhealthy means; my relationship with food and nutrition was particularly terrible (I would often eat a pack of Skittles prior to a bike race for “energy” – a practice I inherited from my Grandfather who, naturally athletic and opposed to “prissy things” like training, would eat Snickers and down a 40 prior to his 40+ mile swims – then feel guilty and fast for 8+ hours).
During my pregnancy I had gained about 45 pounds (which felt like 60 on my frame); my husband and I had also lost our housing (renting in a ski town is rough) when I was 8 months pregnant, prompting a cross country move, the purchase of a new home in a different state and community, the rush to find a midwife we trusted, and the chaos of giving birth at home while still unpacking.
In short, my life was chaos and my body reflected this.
Physical fitness had always been a structuring force in my life (and after a ridiculously chaotic move followed by the birth of our son and a lengthy recovery, I NEEDED structure and focus); what’s more, if I wasn’t strong and capable, I couldn’t wander in the mountains – and this was not an option. The mountains helped me to recover from and to keep the symptoms of my eating disorder at bay. They were a force of life, joy, and goodness which demanded strength, stamina, and respect. I NEEDED to get back out there (with my son in tow), and I needed to be strong to do this.
My goals were:
- To lose any remaining pregnancy weight
- To regain my previous levels of strength and endurance (and more!)
- To increase muscle mass and strength, particularly in my glutes and shoulders
- To reestablish a sense of structure and stability in my life
- To improve my mood and manage depression and anxiety in a healthy way
- To improve nutrition and cultivate a healthy relationship with food
- To ultimately get back on my bike and back into the mountains in time for a summer of adventures
And most importantly, to accomplish each of these things while still breastfeeding my son, caring for my household, and maintaining my career as a writer and a teacher.
As a new mother, I knew that my previous strategy (if you could call it that) of weight loss and strength training were NOT an option (and I refused to pass on or model any unhealthy habits to my son). Thus, at the encouragement of my yoga instructor, Keileen Dillon, I registered for 80 Day Obsession.
80 Day Obsession: An Overview
80 Day Obsession is the brain child of fitness trainer, Autumn Calabrese, and is offered through Beach Body and Beach Body on Demand. It is the “big sister” of Autumn’s previous programs, 21 Day Fix and 21 Day Fix Extreme. In my opinion, it is an ideal program for “shredding” and for muscle growth as it targets and works the abs, core, and glutes extensively.
The 80 day program combines daily 45-60 minute workouts with timed nutrition and a clean eating program. Specific foods are consumed at specific times to fuel the body, promote muscle growth, increase endurance and stamina, and slim and tone.
Key to the nutrition program is a period called a “workout block” – with specific foods, in a specific ratio, consumed at specific times before and after a workout. Shakeology and the performance line are integrated within the nutrition plan seamlessly and are a vital part of its success.
Every day, we completed a unique workout to prevent plateau and to ensure continuous results. The workouts, while unique, followed a pattern with each workout targeting different goals and a different area of the body (legs, cardio, core, etc.).
The program was divided into three key phases, each with its own goals:
- Phase 1 promoted weight loss and an opportunity to dial in nutrition and adapt to both the workouts and the concept of timed eating.
- Phase 2 involved heavier lifting; weight loss slowed; the pronounced goal was to increase strength and muscle mass.
- Phase 3 was the “shredding” phase where plyometrics were added in addition to more complex movements and strength training to elevate heart rates, promote fat burning, and increase endurance.
As a new mother, I had several key concerns (and a few blessings).
At 7 months post partum, I was still breastfeeding; we could not afford formula and thus, losing my supply was NOT an option. My son was also extremely attached – we baby wore almost constantly; he refused to sleep; I was exhausted and unsure if I could manage to separate myself from him for 10 minutes, let alone 60.
The timed nutrition added another layer of concern – I barely had time to shower, let alone prepare healthy, clean foods in specific portions, and to then consume said food at specific times. My breakfast consisted of coffee, my lunch – well, it was often grabbing some chips while racing to and from the nursery and my office. How the hell was I going to pull this off?
Finally, when I calculated my nutrition per day – I was shocked. I was going to be eating a ridiculous amount of food.
In fact, I often struggled to eat enough. I had always lost weight in the past by cutting calories and food in take – not by drastically increasing it; many of the members of my team expressed this concern as well – with some confessing that they were going to say they were eating in one food bracket while secretly cutting calories by an additional 500 or so, just to be safe. This became so common that Autumn addressed this in a live stream (and royally reprimanded us in the process).
Completing the program was one concern; committing to and trusting the program? That was something else entirely.
Phase 1 was a struggle; it took a great deal of flexibility and adaptation to make the system work. What’s more, as the program was very different from my previous fitness experiences, I was unsure if it was or would work. I was completing my workouts – but I was never “destroyed.” I was eating more than I had in years, and I was actually working out less (I wasn’t in pain, I wasn’t running 10 miles on empty and then rocking a hot yoga class, followed by a bike ride). I was fairly certain I was wasting my time. But I had committed to the process and the program. I was not going to cheat it or myself; I was going to trust it. And so, every day, I pushed play. I aimed for sobriety. I became a meal prep queen. I dialed in.
24 days later – phase 1 pictures revealed something astonishing: results.
In phase 2, those results became even more pronounced.
Phase 3? You get the idea.
I was not perfect on nutrition, unfortunately. There were mistakes and slip ups (maybe a glass of wine here or there). I needed heavier weights. My son refused to sleep. But I never missed a workout. I stayed committed. I did my best.
And in doing my best, I learned a great deal about myself, about fitness, and about life long health and wellness. Namely:
- Eating more of the right foods is critical to wellness and fitness
- Your body needs to be nourished to transform; self care and self love is critical to realizing gains and success in any fitness program
- Soreness is not an accurate measure of developing strength or transformation
- Community is the secret weapon to a successful fitness program
The Importance of Community
The key to this success was my community. As a member of the Sol Unleashed Project, I made a promise to a circle of likeminded women and men – I promised to commit, to give the best of myself, to finish strong, and to support them in the process. We each had our own journeys, goals, and destinations; but we walked those paths together, embracing each other’s successes and struggles with grace, compassion, and of course, strength. I drew upon that strength and used it nearly every day to inspire my progress and to do the hard things, day in and day out. I can honestly say that, without my community, I would have most likely quit in week 3 when the initial excitement ran dry and life stepped up to bombard me with setbacks.
Autumn is not everyone’s cup of tea; she is an incredible trainer and often a source of inspiration. However, I did not enjoy just how much talking there was, often prompted by Autumn who shouted at the cast for conversation (which I could not hear as no one else had a mic). It was a distraction, and, not only did it seem out of sorts and character, it also seemed forced and unhelpful. These conversations were often social and not particularly helpful in regards to form, advice, or recommendations. I am not one who likes to converse about anything but lifting when lifting; I like to get the form down, crank the tunes, and buckle in with minimal chit chat (but this is simply a personal criticism and preference).
I also found, at times, that the pace of workouts was varied to an extreme; there were times when each rep seemed to take much longer (with pauses for conversation and comments + unnecessary rests) and other times when it seemed like a race to finish (most likely due to those increased and unnecessary pauses and the pressure of the clock and of BOD to finish in under 60 minutes). This is something that could easily be dialed in.
The overall format and the emphasis on nutrition AND exercise (and the union of the two) was profound and ultimately, life changing. To quote Donald (one of the challengers), it “gave me a new way to live” – a new way to think about nutrition, eating, fitness, and exercise and a healthier way to integrate this philosophy into my daily life.
While there were some workouts that I preferred (and others that I dreaded), none were a waste. Each was inventive, unique, challenging, and effective. The combination of core work with cardio, and the creative use of both bands and sliders to reinvent well known movements was powerful and, well, fun.
With regards to my criticisms, I did appreciate the organic feel to the program and the workouts. There was little pressure, an incredible amount of support and encouragement, and a sense of being “in it” with Autumn and her team. We were all learning together which prompted changed, adaptations, and a true sense of community.
Would I Do the Program Again?
Absolutely! I plan to revisit both Phase 2 and Phase 3 regularly (sorry phase 1) in preparation for future mountain adventures. I also plan to integrate specific workouts within larger programs and training regimens.
Most notably, however, I plan to stick with the nutrition. It has been a revelation and has resulted in an incredible transformation, both physically and emotionally. For the first time in my life, I feel as though I have a positive and health relationship with food and that I now have the tools to care for and nourish my body for life.
In short? What I gained is more important than what I lost. I lost weight; I lost inches – I gained:
- A sense of purpose
Are you interested in joining our community and starting 80 Day Obsession? Click here to purchase your challenge pack. Next round starts May 1.
Click here to see more transformations from the Sol Unleashed Project.