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A taste of The Good Life

Plant-based diet challenge is a family affair

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taste of the good life

Organizers of the whole food plant-based diet challenge want the 2022 effort to be a family affair.

“Ask your family to join you this year,” says Rick Amundson, wellness consultant for Smola Consulting. “Give it a try. You can do anything for 10 days.”

For members of the Finger Lakes Area School Health Plan in upstate New York, The Good Life Challenge runs Jan. 10-19. Participants have been asked to encourage family members to join them in an initiative proponents believe can contribute to a better long-term health if its concepts are applied.

“The family becomes a support center,” adds Doug Schmidt, the former Victor Central School District teacher who organizes the challenge each January with his wife, Shari.

Schmidt adopted the whole foods plant-based diet and changed his life after a serious heart attack that nearly killed him.

The Good Life Challenge asks participants to modify their eating habits for 10 days by avoiding meat, dairy, eggs and highly processed foods, as well as oils, alcohol, juice, carbonated soft drinks, and food with added salt and sugar.

Instead, they’ll be eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains — from breads to pastas — as well as legumes and greens, while avoiding creamers and sweeteners in their coffee and tea. Participants are also urged to drink plenty of water.

While it may appear to be a big sacrifice to forsake foods many people grew up eating, Schmidt and Amundson offer this advice: Go easy on yourself.

“Even if you don’t faithfully do it, keep going,” Schmidt says. “It’s a process. Some are going to jump in with both feet and some are going to dabble.”

The results don’t take long to emerge, says Amundson, a whole foods plant-based diet convert.

“I am the typical person,” he says of the positive effects on his health. “More energy, less aches and pains. There are a lot of people who don’t know what it feels like to feel good.”

Amundson understands people fear they’ll miss a juicy steak or cheeseburger, but he’s learned through his own experiences that those urges fade.

“I know that Doug and I do not feel deprived whatsoever,” Amundson says. “I have wonderful food that is very tasty, that is mouth-watering.”

Many of those mouth-watering recipes can be found in the cookbooks that Doug and Shari have published, and which will be provided by challenge participants.

Instead of veggies being a side dish, they’re the star of the dinner plate, infused with flavors that make them satisfying, Schmidt explains.

“We want it to taste good,” he says.

The January 2022 Good Life Challenge is the sixth for the Finger Lakes Area School Health Plan, with as many as 3,600 participating in a given year.

“We’d like to break the 4,000 mark this year,” Amundson says.

The Good Life Newsletter QR Code

To sign up for the 2022 Good Life Challenge, scan this QR Code or go to

They stress that you’re not on your own. Each district has a wellness coordinator, and most also have a plant-based coach to provide guidance and encouragement.

“We want to make sure people know they are supported,” says Schmidt.

Schmidt points to the daily newsletter he provides that is filled with information and tasty recipes to help participants succeed and, hopefully, adopt a healthy-eating lifestyle.

Success stories can be found throughout the consortium, with many losing considerable weight, with drops in blood pressure, cholesterol and other health biometric screening measurables.

A participant featured in a YouTube video in on Schmidt’s newsletter illustrates that success.

Cassie Montemarano, a teacher in the Naples Central School District, says the plant-based, whole food diet is transformative.

“I’m here to tell you this challenge will change your life,” Montemarano says, and notes she lost more than 90 pounds since changing her eating habits. “My health is fantastic. I’m now doing types of exercise I hadn’t done in a long time.

“I have a new lease on life, and it’s due to all the amazing things that I’m healing my body with. I hope you stick with this as a lifestyle change.”

Schmidt and Amundson are hoping for the same for those taking part in January.

“Without good physical health, you can’t do the things you want to do,” Amundson says.

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