Clean Eating Challenge inspires participants, changes lives
The new year is often a time for resolutions, many of which include eating healthier, getting more active and physically fit, and improving mental wellbeing. So, when the Viva Fresh Expo announced its second annual Clean Eating Challenge back in October, it was the perfect catapult to a healthier year for eager participants.
“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” said Blake LaGrange of Val Verde Vegetable Co., when asked why he decided to participate in the 2021 Clean Eating Challenge. “The challenge sparked my competitive nature and held me accountable to push forward during the times that I didn’t want to, so I guess you can say it fixed my ‘want to.’”
LaGrange is a Type 2 diabetic, had metabolic syndrome, and has been on many different medications, yet progressively became more and more ill, he said. As a requirement of the Clean Eating Challenge, LaGrange has eliminated processed foods and sugar, and makes sure to have at least half his portions consist of fresh produce.
“Learning how to eat has been the most difficult part even though I have been eating for 52 years,” he joked. “This challenge has had me research, study and be more aware of what I put into my body.”
Testing the “food is medicine” concept was also intriguing to Ashley Porter, produce buyer for H-E-B and participant in the challenge.
“I was diagnosed with Lupus in October of 2019,” she shared. “After getting familiar with my ‘triggers,’ I learned that half the stuff I loved to eat worked against me. Therefore, I felt this was perfect timing (to participate in the Clean Eating Challenge) since I was going to ‘have to’ make a change or face the reality of going on a chemo treatment plan.”
Much like LaGrange, Porter has noticed big changes in her overall health and mental wellbeing since starting the challenge.
“After taking the leap into this challenge, I noticed my confidence growing a little more each day,” Porter said. “Not because I’m losing weight, but because temptation isn’t winning the battles these days. Temptation to cheat on your diet, skip a workout, complain at work, procrastinate cleaning your house… it had nothing to do with motivation, just me reducing the excuses.”
Another major bonus, Porter said, is that her overall health seems to be improving.
“I realized that even if my Lupus doesn’t go into remission, the biggest win here is that each month I’ve noticed a decrease in my flare-ups and an increase in my energy,” she said.
In addition to eating cleaner, participants are also encouraged to implement more physical activity into their daily routines.
“It always feels great to push through a workout when I was battling taking a nap instead,” said LaGrange. “Training in the mornings in a fasted state leads to a day full of energy and no dragging.”
Another big motivating factor of Viva Fresh’s Clean Eating Challenge is having a group of people to hold you accountable, noted Jen Velasquez, director of marketing for Full Tilt Marketing, and participant in this year’s challenge.
“It’s really nice to have a group or a person that is going through it with you,” she said when asked to give advice on how to switch to a healthier lifestyle. “Find a friend or two to keep you motivated, that’s the first step.”
The 2021 Clean Eating Challenge features 12 produce industry members who are sharing their journey at vivacleaneating.com/clean-eating-chronicles, as well four peer mentors who have been through the process themselves and are available to offer help and advice to participants.
One of those mentors is T.J. Flowers, vice president of sales and operations for Lone Star Citrus Growers, who himself has been on a health and fitness journey for the past four years, losing more than 30 pounds and gaining a new level of confidence.
“I was encouraged to watch some of my produce peers start their own journeys last year with the first ever Viva Fresh Clean Eating Challenge,” Flowers said. “I was surprised and excited to be a mentor in this year’s challenge. I figured I could help a few people make changes toward a sustainable, healthy lifestyle by promoting our industry’s products and of course, the tips and tricks I have learned myself over the last few years.”
Flowers noted that the best way to learn is to teach, adding that by sharing the knowledge and information he has learned over the years, he is not only reinforcing good habits in his own life, but also drawing motivation from his team members as they experience the successes, challenges, victories, and setbacks that come along with the challenge of living a healthier lifestyle.
“Let’s face it, this is hard,” he said. “It is way better, easier and more sustainable to have a group of likeminded individuals to lean on for support and encouragement than to go down this path alone.”
Fellow mentor James Bassetti, chief operating officer of Little Bear Produce, admitted it is not easy being a mentor, but it is worth it.
“People are looking to you to give them guidance on how to overcome their own challenges and there isn’t a ‘one -size-fits-all’ method to accomplish that,” he said.
Despite the Clean Eating Challenge’s difficult nature, Bassetti hopes participants gain some tools and insight that can help them reach their health goals.
“Hitting a weight goal or health numbers are nice ‘carrots’ to chase, but what comes with the lessons learned from being a part of a challenge like this can help someone lead a healthier life,” he said.
As for other tips to keep you committed to living a healthier lifestyle, Porter suggested “figuring out your why.”
“You won’t change if you ‘have to,’ but you will if you want to,” Porter said. “Figure out the root of why you want to make the change.”
LaGrange echoed those sentiments, adding that food and exercise are medicine. “If you never forget to take your meds, you should do the same with the real medicine that gives you the greatest benefits with zero side effects,” he said.
At the end of the day, Viva Fresh’s Clean Eating Challenge not only serves as an opportunity to better one’s self and lead a happier, healthier lifestyle, but also for the produce industry to practice what it preaches and eat more fruits and veggies.
“All of us in the produce industry say we are committed to helping consumers increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables,” said Velasquez. “It’s really nice to be a part of a challenge that allows us to do what we’ve been preaching for years.”