My F3 Challenge: Making Positive Changes to My Food, Fitness, and Finances


f3 challenge

One year ago, I would have believed I’d have a collection of pictures featuring my super-athletic, gifted runner of a husband that were all taken after a competitive race in which he had won his division and earned a medal to prove it.

What I wouldn’t have believed was that in all those pictures, I’d be standing right next to him in the best shape of my life with my own medal to boot.

That’s because one year ago, I was pretty much sedentary and was prone to depression. I often enjoyed way too many sugary snacks and way too few meals made with 100% whole foods. I drank too much – and I spent too much money on stuff that didn’t matter.

Looking back, things were blah – or, more accurately, I was blah. Things were far from bad, but I wasn’t making the most out of my time.

I started to feel uneasy, because time was the one thing I couldn’t somehow acquire more of.. what was I doing wasting so much of it doing my best sloth impression on the couch in front of the TV with a bag of chips?

That thought that I might be wasting time, wasting money, and wasting my health was the first kick in the pants that I needed to take on the F3 Challenge. I set out to improve three major areas of my life that needed an upgrade: my food, fitness, and finances.

F3 Challenge 1: Improving Fitness

I tackled making a positive change to my fitness first, because I was most motivated in that area.

I’ve never been what you might call athletic. Actually, I’m flat-out clumsy, so sports involving hand-eye coordination or balls that fly at one’s face were never my forte. But I’ve always wanted to be able to call myself a runner, so I determined that’s what I was going to be.

The absolute hardest thing about becoming a runner was taking that first step out the front door. Once I was in the habit of running a mile, then two miles, then three and more, it was no longer a question of, “should I run today?”

Running was just what I did. There was no question to it.

Having the right attitude made a world of difference, too. Initially, I struggled. I couldn’t breathe and my legs were tired – and I’d think to myself, “I hate this. I hate running and it hates me. I’m just not a runner.

And then I came across one sentence that changed my mindset: if you run, you are a runner. It was so simple, yet to me, so profound.

It was almost instantaneous: the moment I gave up that negative dialogue in my head, running became easier and I got better at it. The more I believed in myself, the better I ran.

It sounds cheesy, I know – but the fact is that I won or placed in all but one 5k race I participated in last year.

And now that I’m in shape, I can do fun stuff that makes me look super goofy, too, like lifting logs over my head:

log liftingI’m sure this will come in handy sometime.

CSM’s Tips to Ensure Success when Making Positive Changes to Your Fitness

  • Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? It takes time to work on your fitness.
  • Pick fitness activities that you actually enjoy doing. Not a gym rat? Don’t force yourself to go to the gym! Hate to run? Try biking instead. The important thing is to get yourself up and moving for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Believe in yourself and think positive!
  • Don’t do too much too soon. This will lead to burnout and injury. Again, be patient.

F3 Challenge 2: Improving Food

To improve my diet, I eliminated all mindless snacking and emotional eating (I’d graze when I got bored). Because I knew I didn’t have much willpower, I simply quit buying the crap that was making be feel sluggish and soft.

If I didn’t have it in the house, I didn’t have access to it and I couldn’t eat it even if I was craving it.

It only took a few weeks of “depriving” myself of junk and sweets until one day I realized I didn’t even want Oreos anymore. In fact, Oreos were gross. So were CheezIts. And fried food. What now sounded delicious was a strawberry and spinach salad, or a tropical fruit smoothie, or pasta with veggies. (Now I’m hungry!)

And instead of wanting dessert after every dinner, I made myself a cup of tea with honey in the evenings instead. Making a few exchanges like this, combined with stopping the bad habit where it originated – buying junk at the store – allowed me to develop better eating habits.

The challenge I took on to make my food and fitness better was like the opposite of a vicious cycle: it was a happy and healthy cycle! The better I ate, the more capable I felt when it came to working out and going for a run. The more I worked out, the more I craved the good stuff my body could actually convert into fuel.

CSM’s Tips to Ensure Success when Making Positive Changes to Your Food

  • Set goals that are positive in nature and healthy, and celebrate all your little successes and milestones.
  • Don’t diet. Instead, focus on making lasting, healthy lifestyle choices that you can turn into habits (a few ideas to get you started: try switching out candy for fruit or incorporate Meatless Mondays into your meal plans).
  • Kick unhealthy habits that are hurting multiple “F3″ areas. For example, stop wasting your money and health by buying soda and two six-packs of beer every week.
  • Find your support system. This could be your significant other, your sibling, your mom or dad, your best friend – or it could be an online community of like-minded people that have similar goals.

F3 Challenge 3: Improving Finances

Making positive changes to my food and fitness paved the way for change to my finances, too. It’s pretty amazing how much less you spend on groceries when you don’t buy soda, chips, cookies, or breads. It’s also amazing that when you spend time on physical activities that improve your fitness, you suddenly find you don’t need to spend money to alleviate boredom or to cheer yourself up.

But eating right and exercising won’t automatically cure all your financial woes. You have to make some positive changes specifically to your money habits, too. For me, that change came in the form of education.

I always thought that because I made so little, I had no option but to do what most everyone else does: keep thinking I could only afford to put away the recommended 10% of my income and then work at a job I hated for the paycheck I needed on into my 60s. Then I learned there was another way.

I learned that if I was willing to get frugal, I could save more. And the more I saved, the more I could invest. The more I invested, the more I cut down on the amount of time I’d have to work at a job I hated. That part really got me to sit up.

I decided to look and see what was truly valuable to me and worth spending my precious dollars on – dollars that I suddenly understood were capable of producing more dollars if I only invested them.

I cut my expenses and saved even more, eventually getting our savings rate up to 30%. I quit comparing what I had to what other people had, and instead made and focused on my own unique financial goals. We developed a long-term plan and suddenly I had something big and meaningful to work toward.

I also learned what was truly important to me: my loved ones and my freedom.

Suddenly, it was easier to prioritize (and cut down on) my spending. My expenses could either get me closer to or take me farther away from my goals – and my goals revolved around spending more time with people I cared about and having more fulfilling experiences.

That’s what I’ve been financially working toward ever since.

CSM’s Tips to Ensure Success when Making Positive Changes to Your Finances

  • Make it fun. Try savings challenges like the no-spend week. Or find cool ways to make more money.
  • Prioritize. Understand what is truly valuable to you and what brings you genuine happiness. I’m willing to bet it’s not the latest and greatest material stuff, but instead the experiences you have and the relationships you cherish.
  • Take it one step at a time. Improving our finances is a never-ending process for most of us; we’re always looking for ways to spend less and save more.
  • Read a variety of personal finance blogs and books to learn how other people manage money, live well on less, and earn and invest their money. Never stop learning.

It’s a new year, friends. Time to turn over a new leaf and make more than flimsy resolutions that you’ll forget about before President’s Day. Yes, changing your food, fitness, and finance habits takes some work – but the return on investment is absolutely incredible. So, ready and willing to take on your own F3 Challenge this year? Head on over to Ready for Zero’s F3 Challenge, where you can pledge to make a difference in these three crucial areas of your life and receive 14 days’ worth of tips, support, and advice. 


39 Responses

  1. DC @ Young Adult Money

    January 2, 2014 7:30 am

    Really great post to kick off the New Year! While I’ve been really good about fitness the past two years as well as working on improving my finances, there’s plenty I could do to improve my nutrition. I eat both really healthy food and really terrible processed food on a daily basis. I also am unsure whether I can ever give up my 1 can of pop each day. Guilty pleasure. All those race pics at the top of your post make me want to sign up for one this year.

    • Kali @ Common Sense Millennial

      January 2, 2014 4:26 pm

      Thanks, DC! I think nutrition is the hardest one for me to keep on track. I have an enormous sweet tooth, and I loooove stuff like pasta – not bad for you on it’s own, I just overeat when I have it because it is delicious! If you’ve ever heard Louis CK’s bit where he says, “the meal is not over when I’m full, the meal is over when I hate myself,” that pretty much describes me. I just love food and I am always sad when my plate is clean!

      You should definitely sign up for a race! They are fun (and addicting). It’s so cool to get to run with a crowd of people.

  2. Catherine

    January 2, 2014 7:39 am

    I really love this post! I know exactly what you mean by a few weeks of not eating crap and no longer wanting it. I was doing really well until about 6 months ago when I totally just let my eating go. I am officially back on the no crap in my mouth bandwagon because I know how much better I feel. I also need to get back into running (though with temps at -27 with windchill it will have to be inside for now).

    • Kali @ Common Sense Millennial

      January 2, 2014 4:28 pm

      Thanks, Catherine! I feel ya – I slacked off my nutrition and fitness over the last month or so. What can I say, I have a tendency to hibernate in the winter :) But you’re so right, it just feels good to eat clean and healthy!

      I think it’s fair to run inside with those temps. Yikes! I am the world’s biggest baby – I “can’t” run outside when it’s less than about.. oh, 50 degrees F.

  3. Holly@ClubThrifty

    January 2, 2014 9:16 am

    Good luck on all of your goals! I went vegan this year and I think it will help with my overall snacking. Most of the junk food I used to snack on at night isn’t vegan so I have no desire to eat it!

    • Kali @ Common Sense Millennial

      January 2, 2014 4:29 pm

      Thanks Holly! Keeping on track with my goals this year should be much easier, since I made that big overhaul last year – when it got cold, I fell out of my healthy habits a bit. Time to straighten back out and get on the right path!

  4. Erin @ My Alternate Life

    January 2, 2014 9:25 am

    I’m always getting better with finances and slowly working on fitness, but food is just a whole other story. And I love healthy foods! I dig fruits, veggies, and whole grains. I also dig Chipotle and pizza. The problem is, the latter is much more convenient, so I’m a work in progress for now.

    Perfect post for the new year, Kali!

    • Kali @ Common Sense Millennial

      January 2, 2014 4:30 pm

      I am right there with you girl. Burritos are the best thing in the whole wide world and I would eat them daily if I only had a burrito place closer! I’m lucky that my favorite restaurants – which serve burritos and Latin food – take a drive to get to ;)

  5. Alicia @ Financial Diffraction

    January 2, 2014 10:29 am

    It’s so interesting how connected all of these things are. I came across the same negative self-talk when I was starting running. In my head I felt like people thought I looked ridiculous with my walk/run intervals. Then I realized it didn’t matter – other people thought I was a runner. I realized that when two super runners (probably like your husband) said hi to me in passing – and I felt like we were the same. “If I run, I’m a runner” is exactly what it is all about.

    • Kali @ Common Sense Millennial

      January 2, 2014 4:32 pm

      You’re so right, Alicia! They really all tightly interconnected, which can be a great thing – I’ve found when you make progress in one area, progress in another is quick to follow.

      It can be hard to get that nasty little negative voice out of your head at first (I was worried about what people would think of me as they saw me and passed, too), but once you realize it doesn’t matter – and that most other runners are just happy to see a fellow runner! – it makes the whole thing a lot easier :)

      But yeah, the super runners still annoy me. Especially since I do live with one. The guy could sit on the couch for months and then hop up one day and go run a sub 20-minute 5k. It’s ridiculous!

    • Kali @ Common Sense Millennial

      January 2, 2014 4:34 pm

      Races are so much fun! Being prepared for races is always my motivation if I can’t find it anywhere else. I love to run with a whole lot of folks, and I want to make sure I can keep up! Whenever I have an off day, I remind myself of that and the thought of racing again always picks me right back up :)

  6. anna

    January 2, 2014 11:44 am

    A lady after my own heart – I can run from Point A to Point B, but add any hand-eye coordination or anything involving flying objects and I’m a hot mess. ;) Running didn’t come intuitively to me, as well, but once you get in the habit, I agree it becomes something that you just do on auto-pilot (otherwise, something feels like it’s missing). Congratulations on turning your life around on three really important factors in life! Like you’ve stated in your article, healthy habits can take some time to cultivate, so be patient with yourself and realize you’re in it for the long haul!

    • Kali @ Common Sense Millennial

      January 2, 2014 4:35 pm

      Haha, I’m so glad I’m not the only one, Anna! But I’m also glad we both found our athletic, physical “thing” in running. And your half-marathon is coming up pretty soon – that is so exciting! I hope you guys have a blast doing it and have a great race.

  7. Charles@gettingarichlife

    January 2, 2014 2:11 pm

    Stop eating like crap and definitely improve on my health. I drink way too much soda and that makes me very lethargic. I have to get into the right mindset with my eating and exercising. To a healthier 2014.

    • Kali @ Common Sense Millennial

      January 2, 2014 4:38 pm

      Getting your diet right will go a long way towards improving your overall health, and just making you feel better. Definitely cut the soda! That’s an easy place to start (try replacing it with something like green tea at first, and drink lots of water too), although I know it won’t feel like it at first. But once you cut back, and then cut it entirely, you will feel so much better. Good luck!

      I’m with you – to a healthier 2014! Cheers!

  8. Done by Forty

    January 2, 2014 2:56 pm

    Love the advice on setting positive goals, Kali. And the tip on replacing habits, rather than breaking them.

    I’m establishing a daily habit of exercise, too. Small steps at first, as right now running 2 miles SUCKS, but it’s all downhill from here. :)

    • Kali @ Common Sense Millennial

      January 2, 2014 4:40 pm

      You’re so right – those small steps will add up and you’ll be running comfortably soon! And it will be soooo worth it the first time you go for a two mile run and think, “man, was that it? I want to keep going!” Stick with it and best of luck! Keep me updated, I love hearing all about my fellow runners.

  9. Dee @ Color Me Frugal

    January 2, 2014 4:22 pm

    Great post! I’ve got a pretty good exercise routine going on these days, but eating is sometimes my downfall. My biggest vice:I often grab a bag of chips (baked lays, but still) when I’m at lunch -provided by my work- to snack on in the afternoon. I then eats chips at my desk. Gotta work on that one!

  10. Heather

    January 2, 2014 7:52 pm

    This is so inspiring! Congrats on a successful year! This post is sort of motivating me to get off my butt and go workout and hopefully conquer my sweet tooth!

  11. Micro

    January 2, 2014 9:58 pm

    I remember for a while when I was hard core eating paleo and didn’t allow any cheats. One day I was about to visit family and decided to buy some Reese’s for the road. Oh god, it tasted awful. I was amazed how much my tastebuds could pick up on the artifical crap. I got to the point over the holidays where I was craving just a simple salad because of the abundance of junk food.

    • Kali @ Common Sense Millennial

      January 3, 2014 7:21 pm

      I was the same way this year, Micro! Usually I love sweet stuff but after the holidays I was so, so sick of sugar. I’ve been eating super clean for the past week or so to make up for all the Christmas treats and I already feel much better.

  12. Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank

    January 6, 2014 4:59 am

    Good luck in 2014 with your new goals. I think it is great that you are so passionate about your health and your finances, they are both big things on my agenda as well and it is something that I want to continue throughout 2014.

  13. Syed

    January 13, 2014 5:16 pm

    What a great post. It’s great to see how all the 3F’s come together. It’s almost like humans are MEANT to be fit, eat well and not spend money frivolously.

    • Kali @ Common Sense Millennial

      January 13, 2014 7:54 pm

      Thank you! I agree, it’s amazing how they are all interconnected and how one aspect can seriously impact another. But that’s a good thing when you’re making positive progress – start with one “F” and the rest will follow.


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