Undergoing a radical physique transformation parallels the highs and lows of this dish

Is there a better dish, a better flavor profile, than sweet and sour chicken? Wait—don’t bother answering that. It’s not open for debate. No, there is not.

The sweetness from the sugar and the tartness from the rice vinegar live together in a world of perfect harmony. Tasty notes of brown sugar are set against a melodious backdrop of ketchup, corn starch and soy sauce. It could be an elegant rendition of this Asian classic presented at a five-star Chinese restaurant downtown, or piles of scrumptious slop scooped out of a tray at a mini-mall buffet. Everyone knows that sweet and sour anything easily takes the dish up into uncharted territory, from its non-sweet and sour status.

Why? Call it increased friction. Call it variable rewards. Call it any number of things.

The yin from the sweetness is paired with the yang from the sourness. The ups from the crunchy breading are met with the downs from the softened rice. The entire dining experience is nothing but an amalgamation of highs and lows.

And at its core, dieting down to new levels of leanness is no different.

Ask people who have undergone a radical physique transformation, and their stories will share the same characteristics in a similar pattern. The highs from a new personal record on the gym floor are coupled with the lows of some stalled readings on the scale. And the eventual lows in those body weight readings are sometimes followed by some celebratory high carb days. All too often, it can feel like ups are canceled by downs, and every win is washed away by an equal and opposite loss. 

No ground is gained. No progress is made. 

But every physique athlete knows that stagnation finally breaks and progress eventually resumes. Stalls and sticking points are followed by gains and growth. Stay long enough with a sound strategy that’s grounded in caloric deficits, resistance training and ample patience, and the victories start to overshadow the defeats. The triumphs outnumber the trials. Really? It’s nothing more than the cliche of three steps forward and two steps backward. Or in the present circumstance, three bites of pan-fried chicken to two spoonfuls of sauce-soaked rice. 

The basic tenets of portfolio construction are no different. Winning positions are followed by losing positions. Good trades beget bad trades, and profits beget losses. Every winning streak eventually ends, and every losing streak eventually turns. Active trading in the world of stocks, options and financial products is nothing if it isn’t an indefinite series of ups and downs. Inevitable highs are followed by eventual lows. Or for the trend-following crowd, higher highs are followed by higher lows.

But in the end, with either training or trading, the noise eventually quiets and the chaos calms. Sure, anything can happen with body weight during a random weigh-in, and there’s no telling what’s in store in the gold markets on any given day. But when the dust finally settles, the scorecard of wins versus losses is strategically driven. The player with the highest level of execution on the best laid plan comes out on top. In short, strategy wins and spontaneity loses.

Follow the sweet and sour lead of Americanized Asian food. Set physical or financial life against a backdrop of ketchup, and watch as higher highs are followed by even higher highs. 

Jim Schultz, Ph.D., a derivatives trader, fitness expert, owner of livefcubed.com and the daily host of From Theory to Practice on the tastytrade network, was named North American Natural Bodybuilding Federation’s 2017 Novice Bodybuilding Champion. @jschultzf3