If, like many Americans, your New Year’s resolution is to lose some of that extra weight you’ve been carrying, we’ve got good news — you don’t have to make big, sweeping changes to your diet and exercise habits in order to lose weight and enjoy better health. In fact, some health experts think that it’s best if you don’t.
Trying to completely overhaul your diet or launch into a six-day-a-week exercise program all at once isn’t likely to stick. It’s the rare person indeed who can manage to summon the sustained willpower to make drastic changes in diet and exercise, and maintain them over the long haul. Depending on your current state of health, pushing yourself too hard when you start a new exercise regimen could even be dangerous.
Catherine Champagne, Ph.D., a professor of research at Louisiana State University System’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, tells WebMD that the best way to move towards a healthy lifestyle is to make a series of small, manageable changes. “You’re more likely to succeed by making small changes,” she says. And even a small amount of weight loss — just 10 percent of your total body weight — can significantly improve your blood pressure and cholesterol and reduce your dependence on medications like Lipitor.
Change Your Diet Slowly
The typical Western diet is chock full of fat, sugar, and salt. Many Americans eat too much saturated fat and trans fat in the form of fast food and pre-packaged baked goods. Added sugar in processed foods and sugary soft drinks don’t help matters much.
Tear a page from the book of Teena Henson, a woman who lost over 160 pounds just by making small lifestyle changes. Rather than attempt to change her eating habits all at once, Teena started small by cutting out soda and artificial sweeteners. A month later, she had lost 18 pounds.
Next, Teena stopped hitting the drive-thru. Then she started making healthy substitutions when preparing her favorite foods. Instead of beef, she began using ground turkey; instead of eating French fries, she began eating salad. Nine months later, she had lost an additional 46 pounds. Though Teena now tries to make healthy choices, she told Medical Daily that if she wants a treat, she has one. “I just don’t overdo it,” she says. “To deprive yourself of something just makes you want it more, and then you wind up over-indulging.”
You may not have as much weight to lose as Teena. But you can still benefit from small dietary changes like:
- Cutting out sugary soda and other sweet drinks
- Switching to one-percent milk instead of whole or two-percent
- Eating frozen yogurt instead of ice cream
- Making your own pasta sauce — homemade sauce is fresher, tastier, and lower in sodium
- Eating an extra portion of fruit or vegetables per day
- Use vegetable or olive oil instead of margarine or butter
When it comes to eating your favorite unhealthy treats, just control your portions. Take a handful of chips out of the bag and put them in a bowl so you don’t sit and mindlessly eat the whole bag. Go out to your local ice cream shop to satisfy your sweet tooth, instead of eating out of the carton at home. Reduce temptation by not keeping sweets and snacks at home.
Ease Into an Exercise Regimen
If you’ve not previously been active, starting an exercise regimen is tough. Even if you’re already pretty active, it can be hard to find time to increase your activity level — but the health benefits of exercise are cumulative, meaning that if you exercise more than the recommended two-and-a-half hours a week, you’ll see more benefits. But by burning just 100 extra calories a day, you can burn up to 10 pounds in a year — you don’t even have to cut your calorie intake, you just need to avoid increasing it. You can also sidestep the one to two-pound-a-year weight gain that causes many Americans to continue gaining weight little by little as they age, until they’re starting obesity in the face.
Add just a little more exercise into your daily routine. A half-hour walk, or 15 minutes of more strenuous aerobic exercise like yard work or stair climbing, can help you burn those extra 100 daily calories. If you cut your daily calorie intake at the same time, you can see an even bigger weight loss. Gradual weight loss is the way to go — crash diets and drastic weight loss carry health risks, and studies show that most people can lose up to 10 percent of their body weight over a two to three month period without feeling deprived.
If you’re hoping to make positive changes to improve your health, you don’t have to do them all at once. Start small and introduce new, small lifestyle changes periodically over time. That way, you can move toward a healthier lifestyle without pushing your willpower to the limit.