Greetings from the frontier of Wyoming. My name is Shelli Johnson from http://yourepiclife.com/. I’m a wife and a mother of three sons who are ages 15, 13 and 8. My husband and I work hard to raise a healthy family, and I’m always interested in challenging myself, and my family, to crank it up a notch when it comes to our health.
Recently, I proposed we embark on what I called an Epic Wellness Challenge. For 7 days, we’d limit our use of technology: No cell phones, social media, television, movies or music. We’d also limit our transportation. Except for using the car to get to a trailhead, we’d walk and bike everywhere. And finally, we’d consume no processed foods.
I’m happy to report we made it to the other side successfully. We all survived, although at times it was quite a struggle. Below are significant takeaways from the experience.
Everything takes longer
We are lucky that we live in a small town where it’s easy to walk and bike everywhere. Before the challenge, we were already an active family. Still, giving up our cars was harder than anticipated.
We walked a lot. My FitBit reports I walked 175,000 steps (70 miles) in 7 days. That does include a training hike and a family hike, but still, that’s a lot of steps, and the stat is reflective of our family walking so many places.
Take the car away, and everything takes longer. When you’re walking to the grocery store for only 8 items, you’re walking more than you’re shopping.
Our boys felt more self reliant. As long as they were willing to bike or walk, they had freedom to go almost anywhere. (And, for a week, Jerry and I weren’t chauffeurs!)
The increased activity caused us to sleep better. And better sleep is a big deal. In fact, some of the smartest, healthiest people I know think sleep is the new #1 health habit. Poor sleep wreaks havoc on our health. Poor sleep can lead to depression, anxiety, obesity and diabetes.
In addition to sleeping better, I felt like we were more alive. We had more energy throughout the day. We Americans sit a lot – an average of 9 hours/day. When we sit this much, we’re more likely to get particular diseases and cancers, and it’s no wonder we’re not feeling more inspired. As far as I know, there isn’t a study that reports that sitting is inspiring or that sitting makes us more creative or healthy. There are, however, countless studies that indicate walking is inspiring and causes us to be more creative and energized.
We had more time together
Today it's so easy to be together, while at the same time to not be together. With our attention turned to our cell phones, iPads or the TV, we’re not really together. We’re what Sherry Turkle calls “alone together.”
Take our gadgets away though, and we have to be together. Without our devices, we played a large variety of board games, pool and ping pong, basketball, and at many of the local playgrounds and parks together. We had a blast AND I’d be lying if I said being together more often is easy. We argued more as we had to work harder at co-existing. The benefits outweighed the challenges though, because the result is we bonded at a deeper level.
An extra bonus in this category is we found we spent more time with my parents (the boys’ mommom and poppop), and even our neighbors across the street, who we seldom spend time with.
The days were longer-lasting
Each day during dinner, we’d go around the table taking turns sharing what was hardest about the day, and also, what was a surprise. In the end, a big surprise that we all agreed on is that time passed more slowly and that the days were longer-lasting. Seneca said, “Life is long enough if you know how to use it.” We have learned that our time is longer without gadgets, or at least when we have some strictly-enforced rules and boundaries around gadgets.
Shopping the perimeter of the grocery market
It was confirmed that if you want to eat the most healthy foods – real foods – you need to limit your shopping to the outer perimeter of the store. Here you will find the produce and real foods.
As a society, we are increasingly obese, and sugar is the main culprit. On average, Americans consume 22 teaspoons of refined sugar a day, and 100-150 pounds of it a year. And before you let yourself off the hook because you avoid donuts, and eat cake only on your birthday, consider that 80 percent of processed foods have refined sugars in them. What’s challenging is that most of the foods we think of as healthy, or at least as not unhealthy, have refined sugars in them. Examples are many yogurts, packaged “healthy” cereals, lunch meat, tomato sauce, ketchup, etc.
We embarked on this challenge to see if we could accomplish something hard, and to get healthier in the process. We accomplished both of those goals.
My biggest realization though, is this: I am better when distractions and conveniences are removed. I was more present in my life and my family’s life. I was a better wife, a better mother – a better everything. Time passed slower and I felt more alive.
I am so compelled by the results that I’m inspired to challenge other families and individuals to take on a similar challenge. You don’t have to bite off more than you can chew. You can start really small. Here are some ideas to get you started: Give up your cell phone for 24 hours. Give up your car for 24 hours. Give up processed foods, or sugar, for 7 days.
Any of these is a small price to pay in exchange for longer-lasting and more meaningful days.
If you’re interested, here is a more extensive post-challenge blog I wrote immediately following the challenge, as well as a post-challenge video that includes thoughts from Shelli and each of the members of her family.