“You have to wake up and be happy with the person who puts the jeans on, despite how tight or lose they might be,” said thirty-year old Melissa Jennings. “Happiness is a choice.”
Melissa Jennings is definitely happy she made the choice to shed 75 pounds by adopting a Paleo Diet and doing CrossFit. She won a JERF challenge (JUST EAST REAL FOOD) one year ago at her box and has maintained her weight loss through meal planning, exercise and maintaining “balance.”
“Every single day I ask myself, I need that cookie? Do I need pizza?” said Melissa who works in Quality Control at a pharmaceutical company. “And most days, I don’t. On occasion I do, and I’m reminded of why I chose this lifestyle in the first place. I eat off plan and instantly feel the effects.”
Melissa was a confident woman when a friend talked her into trying CrossFit two years ago but was not feeling her best at 5’3 and almost 200lb. She shed 30lb. her first ten months by working out 3-4 times a week and making smarter food choices. When her 90-day JERF challenge began just before October, she committed to the Paleo lifestyle 100%.
“The challenge taught me everything I was capable of being,” said Melissa. “The nutrition knowledge and emotional support that my coaches gave me was invaluable. Dedicating myself to the rules of the challenge kept me consistent 7 days a week.”
At CrossFit 1Force, the stakes of the annual nutrition challenge are high and so are the goals. In order to be considered for the top prize of ONE YEAR FREE at 1Force (a $2,000 value) the participant must agree to follow a paleo diet strictly for 90 days. No cheats.
“Going for the top spot is a huge undertaking,” said Head Coach Jesse Crespo, who has roughly 60 of his 300 members participate in the challenge each year. “But the pay off is life-changing. We do not expect anyone to eat strict paleo indefinitely, but the structure of the program not only educates the participant, it drives performance, improves mental well being and completely changes body composition in three months.”
There are tier systems in Crespo’s JERF challenge, and since it’s held during 90-days that includes major holidays, most participants select 5 cheat occasions and follow Paleo principles strictly the other 85 days. But to be considered for the top prize, the participant must be ALL IN for 90 days.
When Melissa told her family she was going to eat strict paleo for 90 days, they were in disbelief. They were more than a little skeptical about her choice to forgo Halloween candy and Christmas cookies for meats, veggies, fruits, nuts and healthy fats. Melissa fueled their doubt into inspiration.
“I wanted to prove to everyone that I could succeed, but I’ll admit that I lost my mind a little at the end,” Melissa said, who took a 5-day vacation to New Orleans and managed to eat completely clean. “I had to lose myself to find my new self, and I love who I am today.”
Melissa missed pizza during her 90 days of dedication, but found her new favorite Paleo recipe to be a great substitute. Juli Bauer of PaleOmg has created a delicious Paleo version of everyone’s favorite Friday night treat that Melissa still makes once a week.
“Pizza Spaghetti Pie is easy to get on the table and reheats really well,” said Melissa. “And my husband loves it too.”
Alex Jennings didn’t officially participate in the JERF challenge with Melissa, but ended up losing 40 pounds by nature of her cooking better. They make their home in West Deptford, NJ, with their dogs Dexter and Archer. They have been married for three years.
“I wish I had made these changes before my wedding,” said Melissa. “No one is ever glad they waited to improve. This year my New Year’s resolution is simple. I want to keep finding the best me. Life is never going to be easier, so mentally and physically I have to keep being stronger and better.”
Melissa attributes her ability to maintain her weight loss over the past year to preparation.
“Packing everything I eat is key,” said Melissa. “I enjoy my Sunday afternoon cooking day. I pack and weigh 5 lunches and 3 dinners for the week. All of the to-go choices near my work are either pure junk or way expensive. If I want something healthy, I have to spend $20, and that’s too expensive.”
Both Melissa and Alex use Steve’s PaleoGoods as a supplement solution for eating on the go. Her favorite are Moist and Meaty PaleoStix, while Alex prefers Hawaiian Heat Beef and Pork PaleoStix. But one thing is clear between the couple. They will not share.
“We buy our PaleoGoods at 1Force, and we hide them so we can’t steal them from each other,” said Melissa. “He puts them on shelves I can’t reach, and I have secret spots he won’t look. We could live on PaleoStix and PaleoKits. Alex is on the road for his job without access to a microwave, so they are invaluable.”
Many of Melissa’s family and friends think her Paleo lifestyle is too expensive, but she maintains the money she saves by not eating out balances the investment in quality groceries.
“I love when someone tells me eating healthy is too expensive,” said Melissa. “I ask them if they would rather have grocery bills now or health bills later. I knew I had to make a decision to get healthy or get sick at a young age. I’m forever grateful that I decided to change, no matter what the cost.”
Even though her FREE YEAR prize is coming to a close, Melissa will continue her membership at CrossFit 1Force.
“We are spoiled at our box,” said Melissa. “There’s no room not to succeed. Our coaches help us in and out of the box, and tell us what to do in terms of diet and sleep. They give us the tools to set ourselves up for a better life. Success comes down to the choices you want to make.”
CrossFit Endurance is Melissa’s favorite class, and she attributes 1Force programming to making her a better runner, something she does a lot in her part-time passion. Melissa has been a referee for youth soccer leagues for almost a decade. She does between 5-13 games each week and has even done up to 12 in one day.
“When I was overweight, I was not a great ref,” said Melissa. “I couldn’t keep up with my games. Now, it’s a breeze. I get higher level games now that I am so fit. It’s nice hearing feedback from coaches that I am so good at engaging the kids. I have the wind to explain the game rather than just making the call from 20 yards away.”
When asked about what she loves most about finding wellness, Melissa does not hesitate.
“I love having more confidence,” she says with a smile. “I was in denial for a long time that I needed to change. The whole process was humbling, and I learned so much.”