F&F Holiday Hustle Challenge: Reflections and Sponsor Shout Out

Where do I even start?

In the few years that I’ve had this blog, I’ve run a couple different challenges for my readers. There was my 31 Day Ab Challenge, April Arms, Fall Into Fitness, and Jingle Well Time. None of these even come close to the experience that hosting the Holiday Hustle Challenge for five weeks this holiday season gave me.

Fitness & Feta Holiday Hustle Challenge

I never know what to expect when launching a challenge on the blog, but this one far exceeded my expectations. All the other challenges I’ve run had a very specific check in item (different abs exercise each day, different arm exercise each day, etc.), but I left this one much more open-ended and up to individual interpretation. Each day of the month had a suggested check in theme, and I tried to make the daily themes span all areas of wellness for a holistic approach that would appeal to everyone. After all, there is no one size fits all approach to wellness.

Here’s a recap of what the daily themes were:

Holiday Hustle Check Ins

Week 2 Check Ins

Week 3 Check Ins

Week 4 Check Ins

Week 5 Check Ins

Every Sunday, I sent the group of women who signed up for the challenge a motivational email. Along with the suggested check ins, the email contained whatever inspiration I felt like throwing their way that week. I provided sample 30 minute or less workout suggestions for moving at work, bodyweight, strength, cardio, circuits, ab burners, and stretching. Some of the workouts were on the blog already, while some were new that I created videos for and put on YouTube. I also gave three stress less tips and multiple recipe suggestions for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and something sweet each week.

During the week, participants were encouraged to share their check ins and experiences on the social media channel of their choice using a hashtag specific to this challenge, #ffholidayhustle. If you are interested, check out the feeds from Twitter and Instagram! It’s fun to scroll through and see what types of things people posted.

Holiday Hustle InstagramHoliday Hustle Instagram

I won’t lie, I did expect more posts to come in via Instagram and Twitter. I’m also not sure how to gauge how much the participants used the suggested workouts, recipes, and stress less tips other than what a few people told me and my open click rate in my MailChimp stats. However, the most surprising and eye-opening part of the challenge was how active the group was on the private Holiday Hustle Facebook group. It was so incredibly inspiring to see a group of strangers with varying degrees of fitness levels and health connect with each other in this way. People shared their personal take on each day’s word, and whether it was sharing a small daily success or opening up about a personal struggle, EVERYONE was so encouraging to each other. My favorite days were strength (the conversation took a turn toward mental strength), kindness (we learned how much harder it is to be kind to ourselves than it is to be nice to others), hydration (got so many good ideas from everyone!), and weight (shit got deep).

Holiday Hustle Post 3Holiday Hustle Post: Weight Holiday Hustle Post 2Holiday Hustle Post 4

I want to take a minute to share what some participants had to say as the challenge came to an end because what they have to say sums everything up way better than I ever could:

“I have really enjoyed these 5 weeks. Not only having a focus every day to help keep on track thru the holiday season, new meal ideas, workouts, etc. – but the camaraderie has been awesome. I have really enjoyed interacting with all of you.”

“Thank you to everyone for all the inspiration, encouragement, and kindness over the past 5 weeks. This was a great experience in so many ways. One surprising way – I realized the positive power of social media. I so often get depressed by and yet sucked into social media.This experience showed me it can be different. Thank you Athena for bringing us together and continuing to be a source of positivity!”

“Oh my – really I can not believe 5 weeks is up! I must say this has been one of the best challenges I have been a part of! I loved checking in daily seeing everyone’s honest posts! This group is incredible everyone showed so much motivation, inspiration and dedication! It’s great how it connected a variety of people unfamiliar with one another. Everyone opened up and shared strengths, weakness, helpful tips, and much more! It’s been a great 5 weeks! Truly inspired!”

“Thank you Athena for creating our holiday hustle group! It has been wonderful motivation and so inspirational for me, especially during a hectic and stressful season. I am looking forward to carrying these thoughts and new ideas into 2015. I have loved “meeting” all of you.”

“I have to say, I am loving that this challenge has really gotten so many people to open up and share-both struggles and triumphs, as well as ideas and tips! What an amazing group of women! It is eye-opening to see that we all struggle with something, whether it be body-image, getting enough water or miles or sleep, everyone has something to work on and everyone has something to offer. I have enjoyed this month and seeing all the motivation and positivity!”

“It has always been hard for me to be honest about various struggles and still have people by my side, and it sounds like so many of these women have experienced similar things or are just genuine in that they don’t judge people the way I have been judged in the past. I’m sure you never know what you’re going to get when you start a challenge, but I want you to know that the posts have been inspiring and encouraging for me, and have been a great way for me to seek support throughout a difficult time of year. This group is absolutely amazing, and though we don’t know one another personally, I feel a connection to these beautiful people who have shown me that it’s ok to be honest and “imperfect.”  I hope you recognize the impact these posts make in people’s lives, even if just for a few weeks!”

Wow. Just wow.

Hosting this challenge was so incredibly fulfilling to me, and I’ve never felt more inspired to take this blog to a new level than I do now. The holiday hustle pretty much clinched that I need to be doing MORE of this kind of thing, in whatever capacity I can, and LESS of the things that no longer serve me. I’ve realized that inspiring people to be kind to themselves and show themselves self compassion while on their healthy living journey is my CALLING. I won’t lie, there were several times during the challenge that I was brought to tears by some of the stories participants shared, especially when it was someone having an a-ha moment. I am so grateful to have made a difference in people’s lives. I wish I could offer something like this year round, but I don’t have the time or manpower at this point in my life since, well, this isn’t my full-time job, and it’s a lot of work on my end!

we rise quote

My goal with the F&F Holiday Hustle was to inspire women to take care of themselves and thrive throughout the holidays. I wanted everyone to focus on fun, community, small things they could do for themselves and their health, making connections, kindness, and living in the moment. And I think everyone would agree that we’re all starting 2015 not only a little healthier, but with the right mindset because of the positive choices we made for ourselves in December.


My heart is happy. Thank you to everyone who participated!

Before I go, I want to give a special shout out to the companies who sponsored the F&F Holiday Hustle Challenge by donating prizes so I could also incentivize the challenge and select a weekly check in winner:

F&F Holiday Hustle Sponsors

Readers, let’s chat! Did you participate in my Holiday Hustle Challenge? If so, what was your favorite part? How did it help you through the holidays? How do you think I could improve the challenge for next year? If you did not participate, do you think it’s something you would want to do next year?

To stay apprised of future F&F challenges, news, and upcoming events, and to receive material that’s not always on the blog, make sure to subscribe to my newsletter! I will be sending another one out in the next couple of weeks.

Journey to Fit: Jackie’s Story

Let’s start the week off with some inspiration!

Journey to Fit features an F&F reader with an inspirational weight loss or weight gain story to share. The men and women featured in Journey to Fit each paved their own path to a healthy lifestyle, and I am thrilled they are willing to share their journeys on my blog. Everyone has a unique story and approach to healthy living, and each person had to start somewhere. I hope you find this series inspiring. Enjoy!


Today I am featuring Jackie! I went to college in Providence with Jackie, and I’m thrilled to share her story on F&F today.

Journey to Fit: Jackie

Jackie, tell my F&F readers a little about yourself.

Hi! I’m Jackie, a 29 year old pre-k teacher living in Baltimore, Maryland. I’m originally from New Jersey, I went to college at Providence (where Athena and I met!), and I moved to Maryland after college to teach and live with my best friend from high school. I taught elementary special education for five years and am currently in my third year teaching pre-kindergarten at the same elementary school. I love traveling, spending time with my family and friends, and volunteering my time to teach sailing in the spring/summer.

When did your fitness journey begin? Was there a specific moment or event that triggered it for you? 

My fitness journey is a long one! I swam competitively in middle school, high school, and for 2 years of college. During that time, I had a fairly muscular build, but I was never ‘skinny’. I was in awesome shape, working out at least 2.5-3 hours a day, 6 days a week. After I stopped swimming, it was much harder to stay in shape. My muscular build turned soft as college cafeteria food and beer caught up with me. I would work out…but when things got busy, I didn’t go to the gym because it clearly wasn’t a priority. Also, this was the first time in as long as I could remember where I had TIME and didn’t need to plan everything around practices.

After college, my first couple years of teaching were stressful and exhausting. I was dealing with that stress by making poor food choices and going too many happy hours. I would try to go to the gym but again, when things got busy or I was just too tired from dealing with small children and a terrible boss all day, I didn’t go. I then started grad school part time… so I would work, go to class until 10pm twice a week, and do grad school homework on the weekends while still trying to have a social life and navigate my way through living in a new city.

Several years ago, I wasn’t feeling comfortable in my own skin and wasn’t fitting into any of my clothes, so I decided to do something about it. I joined Weight Watchers and lost almost 40 pounds simply by being mindful about portion control and making better food choices. The program made me do some serious self-reflecting about my relationship with food, which was needed. The WW program, however, is very driven by the scale. After a while, I was starting to obsess over the numbers. I was planning out my meals and counting points, but soon that’s all I would think about, and I knew that wasn’t healthy either. Once I fell off the wagon, the pounds started to creep back again. I wasn’t in control, and I gained almost all of the weight back.

Last fall, after the beginning of the school year, I decided it was time to make a lifestyle change. I was now living by myself, loved my current position at work, and I had the time and energy to devote to making a commitment to MYSELF about being healthy. Things just mentally and emotionally felt different, in a good way. I re-joined the gym and started going to group fitness classes (spin/RPM and Body Pump) every single morning before work and on also weekends when I was in town.

I don’t own a scale (see above, re: obsessing over numbers), but will check my weight every so often. My starting weight was 260, and I am around 180 now. I still have weight to lose and don’t have a ‘target’ number in mind–I am concentrating on doing what feels right for me and my body.

What lifestyle changes have you made since the beginning of your journey?

Journey to Fit: Jackie

1. Exercising consistently. I learned (the hard way) that for me to keep the weight off, I need to exercise often. I was too tired and had other commitments that kept coming up after teaching to keep a consistent exercise routine for the afternoon, so now I take a 6am class every weekday morning, no excuses.

2. Learning my triggers. Doing Weight Watchers helped me really look at my food choices and THINK about what I was putting in my mouth. I learned that some foods I simply have to stay away from or not even have in my apartment because it’s a trigger. Once I start, it’s very difficult for me to stop. (Pasta, sweets, soda).

3. Eating cleaner. It was eye-opening to me how when I started to eat cleaner foods, I felt better almost immediately. I try as much as possible to cut out processed food, extra carbs, (bad) sugar, and artificial sweeteners. 2 cups of coffee with half and half is my daily processed splurge because some sort of caffeine is needed to work with 4 year olds all day, every day!

Did you encounter any challenges along the way, and how did you overcome them?

Honestly, every day is a challenge. I have to actively make choices all the time, and that’s not always easy or fun. I had to learn to literally walk away when the temptation for food was too much. I had to learn to control myself in social situations or when I was out. Waking up at 5:00 am to go out in the freezing cold during a terrible winter was many times not pleasant, but I did it. It was also challenging to not see immediate results. In the beginning, I was working so hard, but my body wasn’t changing yet. I knew I was losing weight the healthy way, but it was difficult at times to just have faith and not give up.

Aside from the weight loss, what has rewarded you? What differences do you notice in how you felt then versus how you feel now?

Physically, I have found that I have more energy. I’m a better teacher because I come to school refreshed, awake, and ready to start the day, having already had my workout. Emotionally, the way I feel about myself has changed drastically. I’m not embarrassed by the way I look, so I don’t avoid mirrors or dread clothes shopping like I once did. When I first started to lose weight and people would compliment me, I would thank them but think, ‘that means they noticed that I was bigger before.’ Now I am in a much better place mentally, and when people tell me I look great or ask what I’ve been doing, I sincerely thank them and take the complements to heart. It’s amazing to know that the people who you love care about you, want to see you succeed, and be happy and healthy.

Other small things have been rewarding too, like being a size where I can shop in regular stores, being able to borrow clothes from my friends, and having people notice my progress. I recently had a former co-worker not even recognize me!?

Journey to Fit: Jackie
What are the next steps in your journey?

I’d love to get more into running. Growing up I did a pretty great job of choosing the one sport (swimming) that did not involve running! Whenever we had to do cross training with running, I will tell you that it was not a pretty sight. In the past couple months, I’ve slowlyyyy started to become more comfortable running and over the summer when the weather warmed up, I was actually excited to get out and run.

What tips would you offer others you are trying to lose weight or exercise more?

1. Give yourself some grace. No one is perfect. Bad days happen, pizza happens, beer happens, LIFE happens. And when those things happen (because all of them will, I promise), be accountable, take responsibility, and then move on. Tomorrow is a new day.

2. Don’t be scared to try new things. I never thought I would be able to make it through a spin class, and now I do it at least 3 times a week. I tried yoga this year and really enjoyed it. I never, EVER thought I would be a person who runs outside, but this season, I got over it, laced up my new sneakers (that I won from this blog!), and tried it. Was I fast? Did I look good? Was I wearing the right ‘gear’ for any of those activities? Probably not, but I was doing a lot better than people sleeping or sitting on their couches. Give anything a try because you never know what you’ll like or be good at!

Journey to Fit: Jackie wearing Fresh Foams
3. Set a routine and follow it. Don’t have time to go to the gym in the afternoon? Go in the morning. Have to take care of the kids before work? Go to the gym straight from work in the afternoon. I had too much going on after school to consistently be able to make it to the gym, so I decided I would go in the morning. Growing up I often got up early for swim practice, so it was not a jarring thing to see the 5 o’clock hour every day. I quickly found the group fitness classes and instructors that I enjoyed, and doing so helped me keep this routine of going every weekday morning for 7 months. It’s fun to see familiar faces at 5:30 in the morning and the instructors help keep me motivated.

4. Get out of your own way. The mind is a powerful yet tricky thing. Think you can’t run another 5 minutes? You can. Think you can’t lift that bar for 8 more reps? You can. Think you can’t put on a gear higher during a spin class climb? You can. Think you can’t walk away from the delicious looking bagels in the coffee room at work? You can. Think you can’t wake up at 5 o’clock every single morning? You can. Get over yourself and just do it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks so much Athena for allowing me to contribute to this series!  I am usually a private person when it comes to this stuff, so it was a big step for me to put myself out there to all you wonderful F&F readers. I hope anyone who is just beginning or is struggling with their own journey can use my story as an inspiration and motivation. A HUGE thank you goes out to all of my family, friends, co-workers, and especially my fitness instructors for always being positive and helping me along the way. I certainly could not have done it without you all.

Journey to Fit: Jackie


Thank you for sharing, Jackie! I’m so happy you shared your story here, and you are definitely an inspiration to my readers!

Readers, leave Jackie some love! She deserves it!

If you or someone you know has a weight loss or weight gain story to share, please email me at fitnessandfeta@gmail.com. I would love to feature you. This series will run as long as I receive enough content to keep it going.

For past Journey to Fit posts:

Inspiring People Is What It’s All About

Sometimes it’s tough working in the world of wellness. Those of us who are fitness instructors, registered dieticians, personal trainers, wellness coordinators, health coaches, massage therapists – the list goes on – we are PASSIONATE about what we do. We work hard at getting others to work hard. We so desperately want our clients and the world around us to realize the importance and value of eating nutritiously, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and managing stress levels. And then we want everyone to take the actions that will lead to long term behavior change. It’s our jobs to make health and wellness more manageable and accessible for the people we work with.

Fitness Portfolio

But not everyone is ready, not everyone wants health to be a huge part of their lives, and not everyone is going to be where we as wellness professionals want them to be.

It’s tough sometimes when we KNOW our clients/staff/loved ones have the drive in them. When we have faith in them, but maybe they just don’t have the faith in themselves. It’s tough to plan wellness events and programming, only to get minimal participation. It’s tough when we pour our hearts into our work — our passion — only to feel discouraged when it seems like we really aren’t making that much of a difference.

Anyone else ever just take a step back from the daily grind only to throw your hands up and ask, WHY?!

I recently did. But then in the same week, two people came forward in different ways. And their simple, yet genuine words served as a reminder to me. A reminder to keep on keeping on. A reminder that even if your message and intentions only hit one or two people at any given time, it’s worth it.

Today I am going to share their messages with you.

The first is from a girl who recently moved away and had to stop taking my group exercise classes. She was a regular in my class since 2012, and on her last day, she gave me the nicest handwritten good-bye/thank you card.

Katie and Me

“Athena, I wanted to take the chance to thank you! Back in 2012, all I ever did was cardio, but I rarely saw results. When I joined the Y back in October 2013, my fitness life completely changed. Within months of your strength classes, I was in the BEST shape of my life. Thank you for teaching me how important strength training is. More importantly, thank you for making 6am workouts so FUN! I always looked forward to your class and was excited to find out what crazy workout you had in store for us. Your passion for fitness is contagious and I’m so grateful I was part of it. It will be impossible to find an instructor as motivating, fun, and sometimes awkward (as we all are) as you. I’m so sad to be leaving your class, but I will still be a dedicated F&F reader. Thank you for all your 5am wakeups, even when you almost lose an eye like that time with your car door. Best of luck with everything!”

The second is from someone at work who follows this blog. She recently reached out to me to tell me about a tough conversation she had with her daughter.

“Just had a long conversation with my daughter about healthy, mindful eating. And focusing on strong, not skinny. It was a great talk, and it made me think of you and how you inspire people. The conversation started by her off-hand comment that she sometimes felt fat and didn’t like her body. Then we ended on such a good note, and the whole thing empowered me to continue my renewed efforts to set a good example. Just wanted you to know.”

You guys. Amazing. Even though these two women reached out to me about how I inspired them in a certain way, they honestly helped me feel re-charged that week. After reading their words, I didn’t feel as discouraged.

Because inspiring people is what it’s all about.

And I never want to stop doing it.

–Let’s chat–
What helps you feel inspired? How do you inspire others? What keeps you going when the daily grind gets tough? What’s your own motivation, or your WHY?

Before I go, I just want to announce the winner of my BosFIT giveaway. The winner is LINDSEY! Congrats! Email me today at fitnessandfeta@gmail.com to claim your registration code. Have so much fun at the event. I’ll be thinking of you!