One Healthy Change Leads to Another

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Whether you hope to lose weight, improve your diet, get active—or a combination of all three—sometimes it's just getting started that is the hardest part. Giving up bad habits and implementing new ones can be overwhelming. It's a big reason why so many people just keep doing the same things instead of changing their lifestyles.  They think they have to change everything overnight to be successful. And since changing everything is going to be so difficult, they might as well not even try.
Well what if I told you that you could do just one thing and see noticeable improvements? That taking one step—making ONE healthy change—could change your outlook and set you on the path to better health? I doubt you'd say "that's too hard." More likely, you'd say, "Let's do this!"
I heard a fascinating study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine that looked at this very idea. When researchers had people change just one habit, the results were amazing. When they changed TWO habits—look out!—results were even better. And that is all they did: Change two things to improve their lifestyle. When they asked people to watch less TV (or spend less time on the computer), they automatically snacked less on junk food and consumed fewer calories.

No one told them, "Hey, you should eat less." They simply said "Be less sedentary," and the rest took care of itself. When they were less sedentary, their time spent in physical activity also increased, even if they weren't told to exercise more. Not only that, but their new habits (and results) lasted long-term! At SparkPeople, we call this the Criss-Cross Effect, and it can be an amazingly effective and motivating way to look at your goals.
Here are more details about the study, which you can easily apply to your own healthy lifestyle journey.

Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine recruited 204 adults who all exhibited four unhealthy behaviors:
  1. Eating too much saturated fat
  2. Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
  3. Spending too much time being sedentary
  4. Not getting enough physical activity
Participants were randomly assigned into one of four interventions, all of which focused on improving just TWO of these habits for three weeks. They were paid $175 per week to meet their new goals (like eating more fruits and vegetables) and log their progress. Not surprisingly, they did better, going from 1.2 to 5.5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, for example. But then, that big payday (certainly a motivator) was over! For six more months, they had to continue tracking their habits, for which they earned a much smaller check ($30-$80 per month) that was not dependent on adhering to their goals—just tracking what they did or did not do. To the researchers' surprise, people by and large continued their healthy habits. In fact, 86% said they tried to maintain their new, healthy habits during the second phase of the study. Their results weren't quite as good as the previous phase, but were still markedly better than where they began the program.
What I loved about this study was how well it fits into SparkPeople's philosophy. We're all about taking small steps, which build momentum and confidence, and lead to bigger steps and better results over time. Taking just one small step has a "domino effect" in other areas, improving health across the board and encouraging people to take additional steps.

No one can expect to completely alter their lifestyle overnight. But almost anyone can start with one, two or three small and easy goals to get started. In fact, the entire SparkPeople program begins with just three simple goals like the examples in this study. It's our Fast Break phase of our program and it does wonders to get you over that first hurdle of "getting started" and helping you find motivation to continue.
The truth is that small steps do matter. They do count. They do have a positive effect. And as we all know, they lead to one more step and then another. Before you know it, you're nearing the finish line. And it all started with one step in the right direction!
Do you believe in the "small steps" approach to healthy living? What small actions have helped you get started and stick with it?

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USMAWIFE 6/18/2021
Thank you Report
SES823 5/25/2021
good info-- one step at a time in the right direction is always better than no steps Report
NEPTUNE1939 5/20/2021
ty Report
USMAWIFE 5/10/2021
thank you Report
PWILLOW1 4/28/2021
Great plan, thank you Report
1CRAZYDOG 12/4/2020
baby steps! Report
RAPUNZEL53 10/18/2020
Great Report
JUDY1676 9/15/2020
Thanks Report
This article is so correct, one positive change leads to another. Report
Exercising, but my gym is closed today!!!!!!! Report
Great information! Report
Interesting article! Report
Wow...this is a short but powerful article. Thank you so much for sharing! Report
I started w/ small changes.
H20 - Drinking water first thing when I awoke & another glass when brushing my teeth after breakfast. Increased to 8 cups a day slowly from there.
Produce - Then it was a vegetable @ breakfast; added 2 fruits packed for work, lunch & snack. Added 2 veggies for dinner, 5 a day!
Activity - Took stairs in my ofc bldg & walked the halls during breaks. A couple times a week would walk a bit @ lunch alone or w/ a coworker. Added a yoga class once a week. Weekend in front of TV, turned on music & danced. Parked further away in parking lots. It added up.
You can make it happen, don't give up.🐨 Report
I started w/ small changes.
H20 - Drinking water first thing when I awoke & another glass when brushing my teeth after breakfast. Increased to 8 cups a day slowly from there.
Produce - Then it was a vegetable @ breakfast; added 2 fruits packed for work, lunch & snack. Added 2 veggies for dinner, 5 a day!
Activity - Took stairs in my ofc bldg & walked the halls during breaks. Report
great aricle Report
Great article Report
Great article thanks for sharing Report
Thank you for the info Report
This is the journey I followed when I lost 50 pounds. Setting those small obtainable goals and reaching them. It takes a couple weeks to make them a habit, and once that takes effect, you are on your way! Great Article to read and re-read. Report
The important thing is to take the first step. You cannot ever get to second if you don't leave first base! Report
Excellent information Report
Excellent information Report
Good information Report
This is very interesting. I have been dealing with overwhelming myself by trying to change too many bad habits, all at once. I get frustrated and give up. Obviously, as a result, I am getting nowhere. I have actually gained more weight from stress eating! Report
I love this idea! And further, I think it can be applied not just to habits of eating and exercise, but also habits of mind. When we change our perspective, feel proud of whatever we've done to be healthy, accept ourselves as we are, see the joy in taking care of ourselves, it all leads to wanting to do more to keep the good feelings coming! Report
Step by step is easier. so far I changed to drinking water and trying to get to 8 cups a day. When i go out to eat now, I just order water to drink. I am learning the difference between being thirsty or hungry. When I get a headache now I drink water, instead of taking a pill. Drinking water has been helping me Report
You are right so far. I started a month ago and was only going to track my food intake. Now I'm aiming to stay in my recommended range, drinking my water, and exersizing 10-30 minutes at least 5 days a week. Then, when I don't feel like doing anything, I tell myself to do just a little bit and I've found it always ends up being more! Report
Yes, sometimes we want too much too fast. This week I'm focusing on two things: no sodas (I still have my morning coffee) and spending 15 minutes a day just trying to listen to whatever God has to say---no noise, no distractions, no requests. It's Wed and I'm aching for a diet pepsi, but I'm determined. Report
One change I've been making recently is to drink more water. I stopped ordering a beverage when I'm out to eat, except for water. At work, we're not allowed to have drinks other than water where members of the public can see us, so I've been bringing a 20 ounce bottle of water to work every day and actually DRINKING it! I know that 20 ounces isn't 8 glasses, but it's a start for me! Report
It may sound crazy, but I've started bribing myself to make changes. Everyday that I exercise I pay myself $2.00 and $5.00 for every pound lost. This makes me want to exercise, and if I do that, then I don't want to blow the calories burned by eating junk. Each little change I make in my diet, makes me want to see what else I can substitute or try different. Report
I wrote a blog today on how I cannot seem to get it together and stick with it. I know, partially, it has to do with expecting too much of myself. I try to do it all at once. I even wrote I should start with one thing and focus on only that. What a timely blog!
I started this journey with 10 minutes a day of exercise, drinking more water and adding more fruit/veggies into my food plan. Also started tracking everything. By starting small I was able to "tweak" my plan along the way...adding/subtracting things that did/did not work for me. Today I workout five days a week (30-60 min), take a water bottle with me where ever I go and eat 5-7 fruits/veggies a day. Starting with small steps definitely works. Report
I totally agree! Make one small change and it can trickle into a waterfall of other positive changes. Just being aware can create change as well. I am living proof. Report
I definitely buy into this way of thinking. The all or nothing approach never works for me, but the little bit at a time, slow and steady way totally works. Right now, my little step is weekly meal planning. I just know if I do this one thing, it will have a ripple effect. So, that's what I'm trying, starting today! Report
Interesting. Report
Thanks for the reminder!! After a setback these past two months, I'm starting over, and remembering that small changes lead to bigger changes will definitely help me! Report
I really enjoyed the blog and truly believe that long term success at anything comes starts with small steps. I am in the habit of drinking at least two litres of water every day. I started small and also began using a jug with the number of cups marked on it. It makes tracking easy. I also add fresh lemon to add flavor to the water. Anytime I find myself off track, I ask myself: how much water did I drink today? Report
The final paragraph says it all. Report
"Start small" and check out is what I tell everyone who now asks me about the change they see in me. I started with 10 min of exercise and drinking water. Now I run, cycle, drink copious amounts of water with 9 servings of F/V daily. Incredible! Report
Thank you for your honesty it helped alot. Report
I started by walking. That was my first small step. It lead to clean eating, lifting weights........and becoming a better healthier me. Report
So true, I have made large goals in the past and gave up after a few weeks. This time I made smaller goals, and started with one change (stopped drinking sodas), now my goal is to stop eating fast food. I am cooking more at home, making sure I cook enough to freeze for lunches and quick dinners when time is pressing. Report
Very much agreed with the title of this blog. Too often when people start out changing, they see all these things they want to do different and overwhelm themselves with stuff to remember to do, stuff to remember not to do, and just stuff in general.

It's much like learning to juggle. If we grab 20 balls and throw them all into the air, we're going to be lucky to catch two. Many will end up cowering under the shower of balls falling and catch none. At that point we spend extra time trying to pick up the mess or we just quit because obviously it's too hard for us.

If we instead pick up 1 ball and toss it hand to hand until that's easy, then add in a second ball, we feel accomplished. We add in a third and sure, we might drop it a few times, but it's just one ball to pick back up and add back into the mix - and we know we managed two, so we should be able to learn how to manage three. Report
Small changes definitely add up! Trying to be perfect from day one is not only difficult on the mind, but also on the body. So it's not just that it's mentally hard to stick to it, the body resists making a lot of changes all at once. By focusing on just one change and working to sustain it for a week or a month will make it easier to keep the change going. Then it can be followed by another change, and another, and another, etc.

Think about it: if you worked on making one small change each month, in 12 months you've made 12 changes! If you put in the effort to make a new small change each week, that's 52 changes you'll have done in a year! These could be as small as adding in an extra 100 steps a day, learning to leave 3 bites left on your plate after every meal, doing a new exercise, or even making the choice to be kinder to yourself and say something positive to yourself every day. None of these will add much time to your day or take a lot of extra effort, but keeping them going for a long time will add up to make a big difference! Report
I now wear a pedometer to keep track of my steps. As a result, I am motivated to do more more and to become more active. I aim for 10,000 steps daily. Right now, I am averaging 8,000 steps. am heading in the right direction. Report
The only thing I gave up in this lifestyle is drinking soda. The trickle down theory there has been wonderful! Because of giving up soda, I learned how much dislike the taste of the fake sugars. I stopped eating chemically sweetened food and now eat more REAL food that fill me up better and have better nutrition. Instead of pre packaged, chemically laden, "peach flavored" yogurt (look at your ingredients folks, not just the calories!!) I now eat Greek yogurt with real peaches.
I also drink way more water so that I can eat my calories and not drink them. One small step has paid off in many ways. Report
"They think they have to change everything overnight to be successful. And since changing everything is going to be so difficult, they might as well not even try."

Nailed it. Report