I stole this classic expression from coach Scott Abel:

“Force the body and it reacts, coax the body, and it responds.”

The gist is that if you take aggressive steps to lose fat, such as slashing calories or add hours of cardio, your body will react against the deprivation, for example, by making you feel tired and stressed.

But when you gently coax it, say, by reducing daily calories by 100 or adding a 20-minute walk every day, the body responds by moving in the direction you want it to go.

animated gif of Bryan's son jogging with dog as example of coaxing, and then the dog refusing to run despite the leash pulls as an example of forcing

You see this with fat loss plateaus. Most will panic and either cut calories or crank up cardio—or both.

Now, both will “work,” at least in the short term, but do this too often and energy and performance will suffer.

Plus you very quickly run out of available runway (i.e., calories). Not to mention the risk of metabolic adaptation, common among chronic dieters.

A better way to bust a plateau is to work with your body and take things slow and easy.

Let’s say you’ve dieting for eight weeks but in the past week the scale hasn’t budged. Rather than “cut carbs” or “add HIIT cardio” or both, try any of these:

  • Verify your calorie intake—were you REALLY eating according to plan or were there subliminal snacks in the mix?
  • Verify your daily movement—are you moving enough? Do you get up from your desk every hour to walk around?
  • Evaluate sleep—are you getting enough, consistently?
  • Evaluate stress—we can’t escape but there are ways to help manage it.
  • Give it another week. Even if you’re doing everything right, always give it one more week before making changes.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen plateaus suddenly break simply by taking a deep breath and resuming the same old plan. (This partly has to do with the body just being weird, but it also has to do with the stress thing.)

The body doesn’t care about your timetable and it doesn’t follow a calendar. Sometimes it just needs a little time to catch up.

  • Take a break. Sometimes the best adjustment is to rest a stressed mind and metabolism. Many diet too hard for too long, too often. Theres an ebb and flow to everything and you can’t just keep pressing. PRESSING IS STRESSING.

By operating this way you and your body are teammates, working together towards a shared goal.

As opposed to a demanding coach yelling at their exhausted player to start sinking three-point jumpers NOW.

– Coach Bryan