Minimum Effective Dose: Small Changes for Big Results

January hits.

No more sugar. Cut out the carbs. Leave the dairy. Get rid of all the junk in the house.

We are now slowly making our way towards March (Spring, are you here yet?) and most of the all-or-nothing New Year’s Resolutionists are long gone. They give in to a co-worker’s birthday cake. Then mom’s the weekend after. Oh, an extra helping of pasta won’t hurt. Why not pick up a bag of chips that are on sale this week?

It’s unfortunate that so many people fail to last more than a couple months before old habits set in.

Change is hard. Most people just don’t have the time, energy, motivation, will, or desire to keep up with such drastic changes over the long haul. It’s not impossible, just improbable.

Enter the Minimum Effective Dose (MED).

MED is the smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome. The concept is attributed to Arthur Jones (inventor of the Nautilus machines) and popularized by Tim Ferris in his book, The Four-Hour Body.

Weight loss is a matter of expending more calories than you consume. You don’t have to get your clients to make such drastic changes in order to see results. Transformations can occur if they consistently go under their caloric needs over a significant length of time. And yes, significant does mean more than just a couple of months.

Go for the low hanging fruit


candy calories

Let’s say that a 200 calorie deficit is all that is required for someone to lose weight. Here are a few examples from wiseGeek that shows you what 200 calories looks like.

As you can see, you would have to say no to a lot more broccoli and apples before you can hit that 200 calorie target. However, simply resisting a donut here and a handful of candy there without changing anything else is all it takes to achieve weight loss.

The key is consistency and it is much easier to consistently get your clients to remove an extra 200 calories per day than it is to give their lifestyle a complete overhaul.

The best part is that once clients realize how something so simple could give them results, they end up being motivated to do more in order to achieve faster results.

Motivation is always welcome, but I would exercise caution in terms of how many more changes they should undertake. Remember, you don’t want your clients to end up like the all-or-nothing folk who end up quitting when the changes become too overwhelming. If you get to know your clients as well as you should, you will be able to judge how much they can handle.

Unless you have a client who is training for a specific competition or athletic endeavor, most general fitness clients don’t need very big changes. Start with the minimum effective dose and work from there. Change is already hard enough. Don’t make it any harder.

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