This article started out as an email response to a client’s comment that “nutrition is a challenge in my home.” As I typed, I realized the challenges he is having are far from unique and decided to turn this response into a blog post.

For nutrition, the best advice I can give is to pick one thing that you can change or improve upon, where you can say with certainty that you will succeed. The key is that it has to be an improvement, and you have to be 90% sure that you can do it. Really think about that: you want to be 90% sure you can do it.

This is where  most people get themselves into trouble: they set themselves up for failure by deciding to do something like completely giving up sugar or alcohol.  Those are great options for some people. If you can do it, great! But for most people, those options will be great for a few days and by the end of the week they are back to their normal habits. Sound familiar?

If you’ve tried the big change approach without success, maybe it’s time to give the small change approach. Again: pick a change that you are 90% sure that you can do, and remember that no change is too small.

Examples of changes (this list is not exhaustive):

  1. If you eat dessert every day, make a pledge to yourself to eat dessert every 2nd day instead. Now when you stick with this, don’t beat yourself up on the days that you have dessert – as long as it’s only every 2nd day, you are meeting your goal: congratulate yourself, don’t flog yourself.
  2. If you have seconds at dinner, make a pledge to yourself to only have seconds every 2nd day.
  3. If you eat out (take out counts as eating out) every day for lunch, make a pledge to yourself to bring your lunch twice each week.
  4. If you get less than 7 hours of sleep each night, make a pledge to yourself to get 7 or more hours of sleep every second night. (lack of sleep can have a big impact on your metabolism)
  5. If you drink a beer every night, make a pledge to yourself to only drink beer every second night.
  6. If you drink multiple beers every night, make a pledge to yourself to drink one fewer each night (or one fewer every 2nd night).
  7. If you have a large or unhealthy late night snack every night, make a pledge to yourself to either cut the quantity in half every day or to eliminate it every 2nd day.
  8. If you drink pop (diet drinks count) with meals, make a pledge to yourself that you will drink water instead every second day.
  9. If you drink juice with meals, make a pledge to yourself that you will drink water instead every second day.
  10. If you buy fancy beverages from Starbucks every day, make a pledge to yourself that you skip your Starbucks visit every second day, or buy drip coffee, espresso, americano, or tea instead.
  11. If you feel that you don’t eat enough vegetables, make a pledge to yourself to add one serving of vegetables every day. (you can even add spinach to a smoothie!)
  12. If you eat cereal and juice for breakfast, make a pledge to yourself to have something with more protein and less sugar every 2nd day.  options include an omelet, protein shake, oatmeal, peanut butter on whole grain toast (if grains and peanuts agree with you).

Whatever change you decide to make, say it out loud. Yes, I realize this sounds hokey, but please try it. No, there is no hidden video around. Or at least if there is, it’s nothing to do with this. You don’t have to say it in front of anyone, but you have to say it out loud. I don’t know what the psychology behind this is, but there’s something about saying something out loud that calls out our internal BS. If you can’t say it out loud; you probably can’t do it. If that’s the case, pick a different change, or an easier one. It’s really okay if you chose a very small change.

Every time you succeed at your goal, give yourself a high-five. If you’re in public, it can be an inner self-high five, unless you yearn to be more like Liz Lemon…

This may sound silly, but really do it. Acknowledge your victories, no matter how small. Seriously! Most of us give free reign to our inflated inner critic, while we silence our inner cheerleader. Dust off the pom-poms, people!

At the end of each week, pick another small change and add it to the first one. It doesn’t have to be a different change – it can be more of the same change. For instance, if you picked “add a serving of vegetables each day”, you can add a second serving of vegetables each day as your small change next week. Just make sure you pick something that you are at least 90% certain you can do.

Think of this as a one year plan.

Be the tortoise.

Make one small change successfully each week = 50 small changes at the end of the year. See that – I gave you two weeks off for vacation. You deserve it!

Remember that no matter how insignificant each successful change feels on its own, 50 of them will be big. And manageable. The really cool thing is that once you have 5 or 6 successful changes under your belt, your body will actually encourage more healthy habits. Your body will actually want you to give it healthier foods. No, really!

Do you have any small changes that you have made that have helped you reach long term health goals? If so, please share them in the comments section!

Are you interested in getting leaner, but need a little help? If so, check out our Get Lean program. It is an 8 week habit-based program.

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada.

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