Behavior Change & Healthy Choices One Step at a Time


Working out plus eating right: Feel free to choose only one

In my line of work, I often speak with people who have physique goals (most people want to lose weight).  Often these folks are eager to exercise.  They like to lift heavy objects and sweat.  For them this is fun!  When the conversation turns to nutrition though, the mood often changes. These enthusiastic exercisers often express mild to severe dread at confronting their various dietary Darth Vaders.

“Yeah… I know I should eat better.  I’ve tried but it’s hard…”

Many a New Year Resolution starts with the idea of getting in shape via “eating better.”  But what does it mean to “eat better?”  Could be any combination of eat more vegetables and fruit, eat less sugar, eat less processed food, eat less gluten, drink less soda and/or booze, eat more “natural” foods, eat more organic foods, eat less meat…  “Eating better” can mean a great many things.  There are a lot of choices and it’s tough to pick a place to start.  If we try to take on all these changes at once then we’re looking at climbing Mt. Everest.  Couple this with efforts to “work out more” and now we’re looking at climbing K2 as well.  Typically the individual will try hard for a while, fail and then bum out at their defeat.  Gloom and doom at the end of another effort to get in shape.

The problem is, we may not be ready to tackle both of these issues-eating better and exercising–at the same time.  We may be ready to exercise but we may plain ol’ not be ready to change our eating habits. We may realize the importance of changing our current behaviors, but trying to change too many things at once may be too difficult.  The solution: Pick one.  Then at some point in the future–when you decide it’s time–start changing the other.

Find easy success first

With regard to eating, instead of trying to “eat better,” which is very general, can you make one single concrete decision on one of your eating habits?  Can you pick one single better thing to eat today than you did yesterday? Can you make a specific choice–just one–that’s better than a previous choice you’ve made?

Ideally, it should be an easy choice to make.  (Don’t try to give up your favorite food altogether.  That never works.) Just today can you get fruit instead of chips with a sandwich?  Instead of drinking three sodas today can you drink only two?  Can you have dessert only four times this week instead of five?  In other words can you make a very small painless yet definite modification to your behavior?

Psychologically, small but definite victories will give you a feeling of success.  And these victories actually matter!  They’re small steps but they are steps. Deal with the easy stuff first and you’ll develop truly healthy habits that will stick.