TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — On Monday, 126 area residents will begin a six-week challenge to create healthy eating habits.
The Cherokee Nation Male Seminary Recreation Center is hosting the Cherokee Fitness 2018 Nutrition Challenge until April 22.
Participants will pay a registration fee of $5 each; have their body mass indexes factored; be given reusable food storage containers; have access to a specific Facebook group; be assigned a personal trainer; and receive the challenge's "simple nutrition prescription": Eat real food; not too much; and mostly plants.
"This is a lifestyle change for most people. It's a very simple nutrition plan. Oftentimes, we get in the way of ourselves succeeding," said Brandon Goad, MSRC physical activity specialist. "I did this to try it out for four weeks before we announced the challenge. My body fat went down, and my performance at the gym increased. My wife and I are doing it together."
After factoring weight and BMI, those in the challenge will be given three or four three-compartment reusable storage containers. They are to fill them with healthy, recommended foods, and that is what they eat each day. No snacks are allowed, but those under specified percentages of body fat or those who are really active will be allowed a pre- or post-workout item, such as a piece of fruit or a smoothie.
For some in this instant-gratification society, the first part - "eat real food" - may be the hardest.
"It's anything that was living: lean meats, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. Nothing that comes from a box or is manmade," said Goad.
The handout given to participants includes a list of food suggestions and breaks it down into the recommended categories: protein, vegetables, carbohydrates, and fat sources. The carbs are not breads and pastas, but sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, squash, fruits, etc. The fat category includes specific oils or raw nuts, olives, and avocados. Dairy products are not on the list.
"We're not saying this stuff is bad; we are just taking it out for six weeks. They can be reintroduced," said Goad. "Taking dairy and grains out has been shown to decrease inflammation."
The second part of the plan focuses on portion sizes. The reusable container has one large compartment, and two smaller ones. The small compartments are for the proteins and carbs; the larger side is for vegetables. A tablespoon of the "fat" is added in to the container. Participants over 165 pounds are allotted four trays a day.
"They can have as many vegetables as they want. They shouldn't be getting too hungry," said Goad. "If there is something you have to have to stay sane, do it."
The program encourages people to cook foods at home, and Goad suggests prepping and making multiple meals at one time. He and his wife will make meals on the weekend and fill up the reusable containers with their lunches and some dinners. This saves them time during the week while ensuring they eat healthy. They will also make a big breakfast casserole to have for the mornings.
"Getting veggies in at breakfast was the most difficult for me. It's not my norm. I'm an eggs-and-bacon and biscuit-type of person," said Goad. "Since I added vegetables to every meal, I've seen good results."
He will add spinach and peppers to the casserole, or make a breakfast smoothie with fruit, spinach and almond milk.
The ultimate goal is to help people create healthy lifestyles, but there will be winners after the six weeks are over.
Challenge participants will get a maximum of 4 points each day, and the top three will win prizes at the end of the challenge. Each part of the "prescription" is worth a point and 1 point is given for getting seven hours of sleep.
"Research has shown that the effects of sleep deprivation outweigh coming in and exercising. It's kind of a given that they're coming in to exercise. We want to create healthy habits," said Goad. "It is on a honor system, but we will be able to tell if someone says they are getting points and they are not sticking to it."
This isn't the first nutrition challenge hosted at MSRC, which is also known as Markoma. The one six months ago had 60 participants. That one was revamped in various ways, including the scoring system, allowing people to eat out, and no longer using an app to log in foods.
"This is a lot easier to follow. We have simplified a lot of it. We're looking for sustainability," said Goad.
His recommendations for eating out include ordering a fist-sized piece of lean meat for a protein, foregoing starchy side items such as potatoes or pasta, ordering double vegetables, and staying away from fast-food restaurants, appetizers, and chips and salsa. Keeping portions in mind, the rest would be put in a take-home box.
"Just eyeball it, but make sure you get your veggies and protein," said Goad. "It's super-simple."