The "100 Day Challenge" --

A Success Story About Exercise and Smarter Eating


Written by Rik Littlefield, May 5, 2016

For more info, email me at .


Background and Summary


The "100 Day Challenge" is a 14-week program of exercise and nutrition designed to help people improve their health.  It's developed and offered by the Columbia Basin Racquet Club (CBRC), near where I live in Richland, WA.  I have been a member of CBRC for decades, but had never done any of their group programs. 


I signed up for the 100 Day Challenge (Jan 22 - Apr 30, 2016) as what I thought would be a convenient way of taking off a few pounds and getting back in shape after some stressful times in recent months. 


However, the results went far beyond what I was expecting.  Turns out, I'm now 5 pounds lighter and noticeably  stronger than I've been since I was 14 years old -- and I'm now 64.  According to Bod Pod measurements, I started the 100 Day Challenge at 168 pounds with  22.2% body fat, and finished it at 144 pounds with  4.2% body fat.  To be honest I think the Bod Pod gave me too much credit on that last number, but I do have to admit that the mirror now shows muscles like I certainly never expected to see on my own body.  Apparently 64 is younger than I'd been led to believe!


Anyway, and most important, this feels like it's going to be a permanent change.  No doubt it's a case of "when the student is ready, the teachers will appear", but over the course of the Challenge, I've come to a whole new understanding about food, physical activity, and my relationship to those things. 


Regarding food, an important part of what I've learned can be boiled down to just three basic ideas:

·         Set a solid target

·         Act OCD -- measure everything

·         Optimize for pleasure -- maximum "hedons per calorie" -- while still meeting the target


I'm writing this web page mostly so that I can record information for my own use later.


But with luck, perhaps some of it will be helpful to other people also.  If so, I will be pleased. 


With that said...


More Details


Here is a summary of my results from beginning to end of the Challenge:



These results have caused a lot of very surprised expressions when I've shared them with other people. 


The results are far better than anything I expected, and yet I found the process to be shockingly pleasant, despite that I ended up running about 900 calories per day deficit throughout the challenge. 


No surprise, I lost a lot of fat.  Expected, but nice to see, that happened while also getting more muscle.  (The Bod Pod probably gave me a little too much credit on the split between fat loss and lean gain.  But there's no doubt about the 24 pounds of overall weight loss and 25% average improvement in repetitions to exhaustion at same resistance.)


Big surprise, I've not suffered any sense of deprivation in doing this.  Fact is, I'm quite enjoying the meal plan that I've been on.  As I write this, I'm working on increasing my calorie input in order to stabilize at a safe amount of fat.  But I have no urge and no intentions to go back to my previous diet.  This old boy has learned some new tricks!


So, what are the tricks behind this unexpected success?  As it turns out, there are only three of them.


1. Set a solid target


The initial Bod Pod exam said that my RMR was 1597 calories per day.  The nutritionist suggested 1800 calories, and certainly nothing below the RMR.  So I just locked in 1600 calories per day, figuring that if my body complained too much, I could bump up the allocation as needed.  Turns out, it never complained enough to care about, so I just left the allocation at 1600 per day.


2. Act OCD -- measure everything  (estimates are not good)


At the beginning I estimated and then measured a few things.  It quickly became apparent that my ability to estimate portion sizes and calorie density basically sucked.  So I gave up that approach, and just started measuring everything.  For most of the Challenge, pretty much everything that went into my mouth went onto a gram scale first.  I've learned a huge amount from that attention to detail, most notably a much improved feel for stuff I like to eat, that doesn't have a lot of calories.


Armed with that information, I did one more key thing:


3. Optimize for pleasure!               (while meeting the target...)


Of course the target was a little more complicated than just 1600 calories per day.  I also wanted to be sure I was getting enough protein to support muscle development, enough fiber to keep me regular, enough veggies to do whatever veggies do, and so on.  I did some thrashing around for a few weeks using pick-and-choose from stuff that I already knew I liked to eat, but that was less than fully successful.  Then I had the bright idea to get aggressive about modifying recipes and combinations so as to throw out or cut down ingredients that were contributing lots of calories but not lots of satisfaction.  That worked out quite well, as discussed below.



Example: only 400 calories, almost 1 pound of food

Components (see recipes below):

1 Braised Chicken Thigh

1 cup Light Pickled Veggies

1/3 cup Pumpkin & Rolled Oats "Cookie Dough"

1/2 cup Dannon Oikos greek yogurt, plain nonfat (Triple-Zero), topped with raspberries


Nutritionally, this plate includes about 3 standard servings of vegetables and 1.5 servings of protein, with carbs and a bit of oil to fill out the budget.  And it's hard to complain about antioxidants and so on -- lots of color to go around.


Perceptually, it's all stuff that I really enjoy eating -- crunchy veggies (with added flavor), tasty moist chicken, and what feels like two deserts!


It turns out that, for me, "hedons per calorie" are mostly driven by taste, not texture.  (The "hedon" is a semi-joking unit of pleasure.)  As a result, it's been simple for me to swap out dry foods that are heavy in calories (typically 4-5 calories per gram) and replace them with moist foods that are much lighter (averaging about 1 calorie per gram). 


When asked how I lost so much weight so quickly, I joke that "All I did was to cut out seven major food groups: cookies, cakes, pies, ice cream, alcohol, deep fat fried, and almost everything baked." 


But in truth, almost all that stuff did disappear from my diet, being replaced by things like fresh or roasted veggies, lean meats (often in the form of entree salads), yogurt, soups, and so on.  This matters because (as previously noted), all those things average in the range of 1 calorie of gram, which permits me to eat relatively few calories while consuming lots of tasty food. 


Feelings of deprivation have not been a problem at all.  (Your mileage may vary, of course!)






Light Pickled Veggies


Cauliflower (3 cups bite-sized pieces, about 300 grams, 1/2 small head)

Carrots (1.5 cups sliced, about 200 grams, 4 medium carrots)

Celery (1.5 cups sliced, about 150 grams, 2 large stalks)

Broccoli (3 cups florets and sliced stems, about 260 grams, 1 medium head)

Apple Cider Vinegar (3/8 cup)

Sugar (1 tablespoon)

Poppy seed (1 tablespoon)

Mustard powder (1 teaspoon)

Salt (1/4 teaspoon)

Onion, grated (about 65 grams, 1/2 small onion)

Sesame oil (2 teaspoons) (use a dark version, like Sun Luck)


Clean and cut veggies, place in large container with sealable lid.  Whisk together vinegar, sugar, poppy seed, mustard powder, salt.  Grate onion, whisk into vinegar mixture.  Whisk sesame oil into vinegar & onion mixture.  Pour liquid over veggies, immediately seal container and shake vigorously to distribute well.


Nutritional analysis:  The ratios above give about 0.46 calories per gram, with 15.5% calories from fat (essentially all from the sesame oil, which is in there for taste).  1 cup, lightly packed, measures about 140 grams = 65 calories, with about 6 calories = 1/3 teaspoon added sugar.


Pumpkin & Rolled Oats "Cookie Dough"


Whole wheat flour (2 teaspoons)

Brown sugar (1 teaspoon)

Nutmeg (1/16 teaspoon)

Cinnamon (1/8 teaspoon)

Canned pumpkin (3 tablespoons)

Water (1 tablespoon)

Rolled oats (2 tablespoons, dry)

Walnut (1 half nut, chopped, about 1 teaspoon)


Mix together flour, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon.  Add pumpkin and mix until uniform.  Add water and mix until uniform.  Add rolled oats and chopped walnut, mix thoroughly.  Eat immediately or refrigerate -- do not attempt to bake.


Nutritional analysis.  Using standard tables, this single-serving size totals out to 117 calories, with 1 teaspoon =17.5 calories of added sugar. 



Plain Nonfat Greek Yogurt with Fresh Raspberries


Dannon Oikos "Triple Zero", greek yogurt, plain (1/2 cup)

Raspberries, fresh or frozen (2+ tablespoons of crushed berries, 35 grams)


Nutritional analysis.  This particular yogurt is interesting because it has no fat, no added sugar, and no artificial sweeteners -- the plain version doesn't even use stevia.  It also has one added ingredient, chicory root fiber, which Dannon adds for its creamy mouthfeel, but which in the context of a restricted calorie high protein diet also provides some helpful insurance against constipation.  The listed 1/2 cup gives 11 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.



Braised Chicken Thigh


4 thighs, skinless boneless, trimmed of all visible fat including internal pockets.

4 tablespoons flour (of which about 1 tablespoon will stick to the four thighs)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

1/4 cup water

large covered frying pan


Carefully clean and trim thighs.  Here is an example -- that pile on the left is almost all fat.



Mix together dry ingredients and dredge meat -- only a thin layer will stick on.  Coat frying pan with non-stick spray, heat to medium-high (just starting to smoke).  Add meat.  Brown for 3 minutes on first side, flip, cover, brown for 2 more minutes then reduce heat to simmer.  At 3 minutes on second side, add water to make braising liquid (will steam furiously for a few seconds).  Continue simmer for 45 minutes.  Drain and discard liquid, refrigerate cooked meat.


Nutritional analysis:  Estimates of the calorie and fat content of chicken thighs vary widely between sources.  Foster Farms Fresh & Natural Thigh Fillets are rated at about 130 calories in 4 ounces (112 grams), with 60 calories from fat ().  The website gives a more favorable assessment, listing 110 calories with 36 from fat, for "Fresh Boneless Skinless Chicken Thigh Cutlets".  In either case, those counts surely include a lot of fat.  In the photo shown above, the pile of fat trimmings ended up weighing 97 grams, leaving 593 grams of fairly lean meat.  No doubt thighs are not as lean as breasts, but if you take the time to trim them thoroughly, I don't consider that they're fatty enough to stay away from.


"Been There, Done That, Made The T-Shirt"


Part way through the Challenge, when I started to see how things were going, I decided to look around for a T-shirt with some suitable inspirational saying, that I could wear to group exercise sessions. 


Turned out, I had to have one made special for me.  It's a full custom job:





According to Google search, I'm the first person who has ever posted this very simple sentiment.


That sounds crazy, but it's true.  As of this moment (6:10 pm on 5/5/2016, before posting this page), Google reports that

No results found for "getting old is automatic, aging well takes effort".


I investigated trying to get copyright for the saying, but turns out there aren't enough words to do that. 


So, if you'd like to have one of these shirts made for yourself, or even make them and sell them to others, that's fair game.  Mine was made by Rik Jones (no kidding, same first name as me) at  Tell him I sent you -- he'll find it amusing.


Update: as of 11:55 am on 5/31/2016, Google confirms they heard it here first:


And DuckDuckGo hasn't even found this one yet: