Keeping Healthy with Holiday-Themed Challenges

By Erin Hughes | Posted on January 10, 2018

blog healthy holidays 410

Challenging your community members or participants of your programs with food and activity-based challenges are great ways to encourage healthier behavior while having fun at the same time. Erin Hughes of the U.S. Marine Corps shares how MCCS Okinawa encouraged healthier behavior through a 12 Days of Christmas Food Log Challenge. She also shares how this can be applied to many holidays and occasions.

In December, Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS) Okinawa promotes Home for the Holidays where various branches of MCCS host events for all the military members and families who are unable to travel home. One event in particular, The 12 Days of Christmas Food Log Challenge, encouraged participants to record their food and beverage intake for the first 12 days of December to enter a prize drawing. Embedded in the challenge were additional “gifts” participants could choose to complete to get the most from this event, while also earning extra entries for the prize drawing.

The 12 Days of Christmas Food Log Challenge is an improved version of MCCS Okinawa’s 2016 Holiday Spice Food Log Challenge. The Wellness section upped the ante this year by aligning the theme for the challenge with this beloved Christmas carol to uplift holiday spirits.

The addition of the gift-like challenges to this event was an effort to task individuals to become more aware of their daily food choices and portion sizes. The challenges were as follows: (Feel free to sing along!)

  • 12 days of food logging
  • 11 days without fast food
  • 10 days without liquor
  • 9 snacks prepared
  • 8 glasses of water per day
  • 7 days without sweets
  • 6 minutes of mindfulness
  • 5 days asleep before midnight
  • 4 group fitness classes
  • 3 days of packed lunches
  • 2 evening strolls
  • and 1 selfie with Santa Clause

Prospective participants could pick up a beginner packet at their local fitness center on each of the six MCB bases across Okinawa. Each packet included a list of the 12 challenges, a copy of the regulations for entry and food logs that the Wellness section prepared specifically for this event. These logs included space for recording food and beverage intake as well as for reporting sleep time, lines to write a response to the mindfulness prompt and exercise reporting. Participants were not required to use the food logs provided and were encouraged to use websites or cell phone applications to log their food and beverage intake, if they preferred.

Participants were asked to be detailed and to honestly document their challenges. For example, if they packed their lunch, they either needed to take a photo of their lunch at work/school or make a note on their log that it was a packed lunch. At the end of the challenge period, participants were asked to email their 12 daily recordings (or screenshots of their website or app) to the Wellness section. Twelve was the maximum number of entries into the prize drawing each participant could earn: one entry for completing the 12-day food log, and one additional entry for every gift-like challenge completed.

This event was open to everyone with base access, including active-duty, civilians, locals and contractors. MCCS Okinawa Health Promotion expected 200 participants for this holiday event.

Patrons at the MCB Okinawa Fitness Center participate in group fitness classes and challenge participants earned prizes for completing tasks.

This food log challenge could easily be replicated by non-military agents. The act of logging food and beverage intake is, in and of itself, a challenge for many people. If agencies do not have the time or resources to create their own food log, they could also ask participants to use websites and cell phone applications. Theming food log challenges makes them more exciting and enticing to participants. An example is a St. Patrick’s Day theme where participants try to include more, and try new, green vegetables into their diet for the entire month of March.

If themes aren’t your thing, weekly challenges are a great alternative. This could be as simple as avoiding, or adding, a specific item each week. Examples include not eating any fast food, going without added sugars, avoiding liquor and drinking eight glasses of water each day. Challenges could even be doubled during the week (no fast food and added sugars), last longer than seven days, or even build on each other so that by week four participants are avoiding fast food and added sugars and liquor and drinking eight glasses of water each day.

What healthy food challenges have you used in your programs? What made participants excited about participating? Share your ideas in the comments.


Erin Hughes is the Health Promotion Wellness Educator for Semper Fit at MCCS Okinawa.