Don't be insane: Try something different to break plateaus (and make life easier)

Updated: Aug 21, 2020


The body is excellent at adaptation. It listens carefully to the signals it receives and adapts to suit.

So, what does this mean for our attempts to diet?

All diets work ... at least at first. People can have success on all kinds of diets. Low fat, low carb, Paleo, keto, you name it. If it puts your body in a caloric deficit and it's new, chances are that it will trigger different results.

In other words, it wasn't the diet that worked. It was the new diet that worked.

The body responds to change, not just restriction. This means that you can manipulate a meal plan in all sorts of ways to break plateaus and accelerate results.

If change triggers results, then a lack of change tends to lead to a plateau. It's a common scenario. You start a diet, you see your body fat drop. After about 4 to 6 weeks, your results slow. You follow the rules, but things don't budge. You feel like you've failed. Clearly the diet works, so it must be your fault, right? You break the rules. Your body fat climbs back up ... and then some.

The problem isn't that it's too hard to follow the rules. The problem is the rules. If your results slow to a halt, this is often a sign that it's time to change things. For your diet to continue to work, you need to change it.

You have to change the stimulus to change the results. It may not be a huge change. In fact, it's far better to implement small, smart changes and test the effects.

It's the same for training. You can't train the same exercises in the same way for months on end, and wait for your body to transform. You have to change the stimulus to change the results.

It may not be a huge change. In fact, it's far better to implement small, smart changes and test the effects. This gives you more bang for your buck because you can milk each and every change for all it's worth. It also allows you to keep some tricks up your sleeve for later.

Let's be clear - this is not a license to alter your diet at random. If your priority is body recomposition (whether it's to lose fat or build muscle), you need a method to the madness. Each time I adjust my meals, it's not on a whim. It's a planned technique that I use and monitor to see what happens.

For example:

  • Before a competition, I use higher and lower calorie days and refeed meals to nudge my body fat to very low levels.

  • To complement a hypertrophy training phase, I increase the amount of carbs that I eat and consume ample amounts of simple carbs after I train.

  • Sometimes, I will eat less carbs for a period of time to resensitise my body.

  • I rotate protein shakes and supplements, so I don't continue to take any one product all of the time.

Take home message


The body responds to change, not just restriction. This means that you can manipulate a meal plan in all sorts of ways to break plateaus and accelerate results. You don't need to opt for a simple linear calorie cut. If all you do to continue your fat loss is cut more calories, you might set your body up to suffer unnecessarily. Instead, try techniques like nutrient timing, macro cycling, refeed meals or high and low calorie days. If you listen to your body and trial and monitor different tactics, it's likely that you won't need to take your calories ridiculously low to lean out and stay lean.