Winter Molt Challenge: The Method

Yesterday I introduced the first challenge I’m going to undertake as a part of our Road to Epic project, losing 56 pounds in 141 days (20 weeks and 1 day). Today I’m going to outline my plan for how to accomplish my goal.

Boiled down to its essentials, losing fat and building muscle is a process determined entirely by two variables – how you use your body and what you put into it. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, it’s diet and exercise.

The Diet Parameters

For me, since my primary goal for this challenge is weight loss and muscle gain is a related but secondary goal I think the most important variable for me to focus on of the the two is going to be diet.

The obvious scientific option would be to come up with 3 meals that fit a desirable nutrient profile and stay within a set caloric range. For example, three meals that include items which have a full range of micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and have the right balance of Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates, which all add up to an amount of calories that would keep me nourished but in a state of overall caloric deficit.

Each of these meals would be carefully weighed when prepared, and I would eat nothing but one of each of those three meals everyday for the duration of my challenge. That way, for the entire 141 days, I would know precisely my daily caloric intake and all the work of eating healthy would be done for me since I would have removed the option of choice.

Unfortunately, I see two problems with this. The first is the issue of willpower, temptation and my current situation. Not only do I think I would lack the willpower to not deviate from the set diet, even if a weekly off day were allowed, I currently work at a Korean restaurant and most of my meals are provided by them. Due to the somewhat unique situation there it would be really difficult for me to take my own meals.

The second issue is the fact that, like a lot of fad diets, this very robotic plan doesn’t really help me build good eating habits for when the challenge ends. There would be a very good chance that, upon reaching my goal and terminating that diet ritual, I would just fall back into old habits and pack the weight back on. I need to find ways to shift my eating habits that instill new good habits, rather than just temporarily removing my freedom of choice to engage in the bad ones.

I need to build eating habits that I can stay with for the rest of my life. That means that those eating habits need to be optimized for at least three things, losing/keeping off weight, promoting optimal health and building muscle.

Based on those three parameters, I think the best option is to follow something akin to the way Jack LaLanne has professed to eating – a rough paleo/primal diet. I don’t strictly mean the Paleo Diet as outlined by Loren Cordain, there are some points he advocates that I find doubtful, but rather an adherence to the more general core principles shared by the majority of primal eating advocates.

Distilled into a list, it goes like this:

  • Lots of meat, particularly including organ meat.
  • Lots of vegetables, with the few restrictions listed below.
  • As few grains as possible, as few legumes as possible and as few carbohydrate heavy vegetables as possible (starches, etc.)
  • No processed or refined foods. To quote LaLanne, ‘If Man made it, don’t eat it.’

That’s it. Lots of protein, lots of fat, very few carbohydrates and no processed garbage. Additionally, I expect this to realistically encompass about 95% of my actual diet. In other words, I expect to deviate from those rules at least 5% of the time, and that’s fine. I intend to research and refine these principles as we go, in order to do this as efficiently and scientifically as possible.

The Exercise Parameters

I don’t yet have nearly as solid of a plan formulated for how to manipulate the exercise variable in my favor as I do for the diet variable. I do know that, like the parameters set for my diet, those set for my new exercise habits need to fit some set criteria.

First, I want it to be something that is sustainable. I imagine, like the robotic diet mentioned above, I could formulate a very rigid, scientific exercise program that would achieve my challenge goal, but fall apart after I was finished. Any fitness plan I come up with needs to help me reach my challenge goal, but also be something that is feasibly able to continue indefinitely.

Second, it needs to be built around principles of increasing all areas of my physical fitness. While just focusing on calories burned would likely be the most efficient for my short term goals, partially in order to satisfy the first parameter, I want something that will improve as many areas of my physical fitness as possible.

Third, it needs to be built around things that I can do with my severely limited amount of equipment and extra funds. Exercise on a serious budget.

It will take some research and testing to figure out what will work best. In the interest of getting started with something immediately, I plan to do as follows:

For the first week I’ll start with only strength workouts to get back into the habit of exercise. The strength workout will be done 3 days out of the week with at least 1 rest day in-between each and will consist of 5 sets of 5 reps of squats with my sandbags, handstand pushups, and pull-ups as well as 5 planks for as long as possible.

In the second week, I will add in daily high intensity interval training. I’m not sure if I’ll go for sprints or some other exercise since the weather is quickly turning very cold, but we’ll see.

Eventually, I would also like to add in some flexibility training, but I’m going to worry about that later since it really doesn’t directly contribute to the goal of the challenge.

Does anyone have any other suggestions? Let me know in the comments.

Adam is a former English teacher turned personal trainer and writer. He’s addicted to learning, parkour and martial arts. In addition to being a voracious bibliophile Adam’s fascinated by anything related to health, fitness and language. When not studying or training he can usually be found curled up with a good piece of fiction. You can e-mail Adam at