Big Changes Start Out Small

This week’s fitness information is two-fold. Making changes requires a big commitment, but when you are talking health and fitness, most changes that are able to be maintained occur in small increments. Such changes can be made for life, especially when we encourage our children to incorporate those modifications in their lives as well.

People I train often ask me to put them on a diet, and give them strict guidelines as to what to eat. I could probably make a lot of money if I agreed to do so, but I refuse to give them a program to follow.

Sometimes I ask, “Have you ever gone on such a diet?” They may answer “Yes.” 

“Were you successful at reaching your weight-loss goals?”  Again, the answer may be “Yes.” 

Were you successful at maintaining that weight loss?”  Here the answer is usually a sheepish “No.”

Instead, I ask that they keep a log of everything they eat and/or do for two or three days. After reviewing it together, we identify one or two small changes for them to make in their nutritional intake, or in their exercise program. Once they are able to maintain those few small changes for one or two weeks, we repeat the process, trying to identify one more small change they can make while continuing to maintain their new habits. Gradually, their eating habits change, or exercise becomes a part of their normal daily routine without a second thought.

The second part of this week’s two-fold message is that big lifestyle changes do not have to seem so incredibly overwhelming. When healthy eating and exercise habits are learned at a young age, when our children are small, they tend to remain a part of life well into and throughout adulthood. Such “changes” then seem to be nothing out of the ordinary.

When thinking of some changes you can make, keep in mind that a small change may consist of removing something negative and replacing it with something healthy and beneficial. In other words, remember - “I can giveth, and I can taketh away!”  Here are some suggestions I often give my clients for making small, manageable changes to their diet or workout habits.

· Put twice as many colorful (green, yellow, orange, red) vegetables on your plate as you normally do, but decline yourself that second (or third!) piece of bread and butter. Better yet, can you eventually have only the occasional piece of bread and butter, filling up on the vegetables instead?

· When baking, substitute applesauce for 1/2 the amount of oil called for.

· Still drinking whole, 2%, or 1% milk? Try switching to the next lower percentage of milk.

· Reduce the amount of starches (bread, pasta, white rice, white potatoes) you have at mealtime by ½, and add a salad to your meal.

· Cut back on the amount of juice you drink. Fruit juice is often loaded with added sugar. Instead, try either cutting your juice with water or soda water, or reaching for a piece of fruit as a replacement altogether. And when packing your child’s lunch, include a bottle of water instead of a juice box.

· When dining out, make a conscious decision NOT to choose red meat one night when you normally would have opted for steak, and order a fish entrée instead.

· Try to take in one more glass of water at each meal.

· Add one piece of fruit to your diet daily.  And add one to your child’s lunchbox everyday, too!

· Instead of snacking on chips, reach for pretzels. 

· Add one serving of low- or non-fat dairy to your diet daily. Again, add one to your child’s (insulated) lunchbox, too.

Regarding exercise habits, some small changes may be:

· If you currently exercise regularly, add something to your routine. Perhaps ten minutes to your daily walk, one more day of weight-training, or a whole new mode of exercise once a week altogether. This needs to be a consistent part of your week – on the same day, at the same time. Make sure it’s in your daytimer, Outlook calendar, or Blackberry!

· If you currently do NOT exercise at all, begin by walking for 10 minutes every day. Yes, your goal should be EVERY day. Then it becomes a daily ritual that is a part of your routine. Also, there will be days when weather, family commitments, or other conflicts prevent you from walking. Making a goal of every day allows for some missed exercise sessions. And don’t worry that it is just ten minutes. That is 10 minutes more than your current routine, and we can always add five minutes a day once you have accomplished this small first step.

Again, to make big changes in your life, start with some small ones. And to make changes in the lives of your children, start them out when they are small, and they won’t even recognize those lifestyle adjustments as big changes!

Meredith Nelson, M.Ed. is a certified personal trainer, owner of Prime Time Fitness on Sullivan’s Island, and a Daniel Island resident. She can be reached at 883-0101. Email questions to

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


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