Five programmes to radically change your lifestyle: your food, exercise, habits and even your mind

Having someone to share the journey (or should that be torture?!) with can be the key to changing your habits. These programmes give you goals, motivation and the support of other participants

Back in August, my friend Penny sent me an email: “Join my team to do the Whole Life Challenge.” I had no idea what she was talking about, but given that my whole life had been a challenge for a while, and my attempts to sort it a failure, I signed up.

The eight-week Whole Life Challenge, and other programmes like it, set out to help you dump destructive habits and adopt healthy ones. The approach is gentle and, because you have the support of your team, really quite motivational.

On balance, I had more successes than failures. I was exceptional good at sticking to the daily meditation and the social development, such as being nice to strangers and exchanging pleasantries with local shop owners. But pretty damn bad at exercising, saying no to foods I love and to alcohol.

But that’s why it’s a challenge. It gave me good guiding principles, and I will certainly repeat it, or perhaps sign up for one of the others.

Whole Life Challenge: the one played as a game (don’t let the team down!)         

Whole Life Challenge is an eight-week, points-based ‘game’ that has been played by 50,000 people, mainly in teams, worldwide. Participants are set several challenges, encompassing all areas of wellbeing, such as diet, exercise, sleep and connecting with others, and it appeals to a broad age range, from 18 to 80.

Some challenges (exercise, stretching, nutrition, zero alcohol) have to be followed throughout, while others (including meditation, banning technology at mealtimes, smiling at strangers) only for one week each. Players log their scores daily, deducting points for slip-ups.

WLC sounds kooky but it’s effective, perhaps because people set their own realistic food and exercise goals. It was started in 2012 by CrossFit gym owners Michael Stanwyck and Andy Petranek to help clients achieve results that went beyond purely physical splendour. Its Twitter page states its goals: “Your friends, your health, your life. Changed forever.”

The key motivator, says Stanwyck, is accountability, both to one’s self and to the team. “We realised that the best way to motivate people was to run the challenge as a team game. Players make a paradigm shift in their habits – and in their relationships to food, to alcohol and to each other.

“Nothing is forbidden, but because people lose points for non-compliance to rules they’ve agreed to, and because they’re in a team, they make more conscious decisions.”

Many people go back for more; not because they failed first time, but to build on what they learned.

Whole Life Challenge The next challenge starts on 17 January 2015 and is $49 (or $39 for the early-bird discount)

Kenzai: the one to change your lifestyle

Kenzai (Japanese for sustained vitality) has a 90 per cent success rate for helping clients achieve their goals. Kenzai takes participants through incremental lifestyle lessons that, through the course of 90 days, bring about lasting transformation.

It’s more intense than WLC but essentially follows the same ideology: exercise + diet + camaraderie = a new way of being. Participants post regular photos and updates, and this transparency, plus the online community, helps with motivation.

It was founded by Patrick Reynolds, a former Peace Corps volunteer. “Aid work was a lesson in educated reform,” says Reynolds. “It taught me how to help people change their lifestyle patterns.

“In Africa, we had to persuade people to make washing their hands a habit. Their lives depended on it. Now I use those techniques to help my clients develop healthier living practices. Kenzai is about mindfulness, choice and commitment.”

There are several great things about Kenzai, the first being Reynolds’ amazing body-weight exercise regime that can be practised anywhere. Using only gravity and one piece of kit – a resistance band – it works every major muscle group, sculpting a physique that’s lithe rather than bulky.

The other thing is that everyone gets an individual nutrition and exercise plan, and is supervised by their own online trainer and nutritionist, a level of personalisation that obviously appeals to older people: most Kenzai clients are aged 35 or over and 25 per cent are over 50.

Recent graduate James Brinck, who’s in his 50s, says his results were “unparalleled” and says: “I feel renewed from the inside out. Kenzai is not for slouches; you have to work hard, but the benefits surpass the effort.”

Kenzai The three-month course is $595, with one free month on top

Primal Blueprint: the one for cavemen (a 21-day paleo programme)

Primal Blueprint is run by primal living practitioner Mark Sisson, who says that the key to a healthy future lies in our distant past. Primal and paleo regimes use the concept that, since our poor old genomes haven’t evolved much in 10,000 years, we should adopt similar practices to our hunter-gatherer ancestors to be healthy.

PB lists ten laws for optimal wellbeing: eat lots of animals, plants and… insects; move slowly and often; lift heavy things; run (as if for your life) every now and again; sleep loads; play; expose your skin daily to sunlight; avoid trauma; ditch poisons (in primal parlance this includes grains, legumes and sugar); challenge your brain with new learning.

The information on the PB site and on its sister blog, Mark’s Daily Apple (an instructive daily tutorial) is free, but there is a charge for the 21-day Transformation Program, which “reprogrammes” your genes to burn fat faster.

It sounds so simple, and indeed that’s one of PB’s selling points: the fact that anyone can achieve lifelong wellness effortlessly and enjoyably by following the rules.

“My clients include elderly people looking for a new lease of life, the morbidly obese, the fit and young,” says Sisson. “I give people empowering tools that enable them to get the life they want.

“PB breaks through the conventional, flawed thinking on diet and exercise. I don’t want to spend my life counting calories, or pounding on a treadmill.” And he doesn’t expect you to either.

Primal Blueprint The 21-day Transformation Program is $147. Mark’s Daily Apple is free    marksdailyapple.com

The Pavelka Health Revolution: the one with a good-looking guy off the telly

Jessie Pavelka, fitness expert and host of Obese: A Year to Save my Life, launched his UK-based programme in April, but already more than 80,000 people have signed up for his motivational texts (part and parcel, I presume, of launching your business on ITV’s Daybreak). 

That said, PHR does offer an enticing range of workshops and seminars that back up the Pavelka House website, where members can get guided meditations, workout and cooking videos, and advice from psychologists, nutritionists and trainers.

When you sign up you become a member of Pavelka House, the online community of support. Like Kenzai and WLC, PHR has food, support and exercise at its core, but has added one other key element for participants to work on: ‘mind power’, which is essentially training the mind to lead the body, to control its urges and compulsions and make decisions mindfully and consciously.

Pavelka Health Revolution Pavelka House membership is £15 monthly or £150 annually

Whole30: the one without exercise

If you haven’t got time for exercise, try Whole30, a 30-day programme that focuses only on diet. It claims remarkable results: more than 95 per cent of participants lose weight and improve their body composition without restricting calories. Most also report improved energy levels, sleep, mood and concentration.

The website makes it as easy as possible for you to succeed, and is packed with recipes and advice. It also flags the points in the schedule when you might want to throw both the towel and yourself into a pool of wine.

The Whole30 diet is zero-tolerance paleo, which (same as Primal Blueprint) means no grains, legumes, dairy or alcohol. If you lapse, even by one peanut, one snifter, you have to start again.

As the website says: “Unless you tripped and landed in a box of doughnuts, there is no ‘slip’. You choose to eat something unhealthy…”

Whole30 is free. Subscription to the support service, Whole30 Daily (“Support and tough love straight to your inbox for 30 days”), is $14.95