It’s the New Year again, this is a time when we focus on how we can make this year better, this article will focus on how to make long lasting changes.
The secret is to focus on tiny changes rather than trying to change everything.
Have you ever decided to finally stick to a health or exercise routine and get yourself into the best physical shape that you have ever been in?
Or finally, lose those extra pounds, or try and improve your digestive health to prevent that embarrassing situation where you are frantically looking for a washroom?
But it only lasted a few weeks before you life got too busy, or it was too hard to stick to.
It’s 2021 and the start of a new year, and many people are super excited that 2020 is finally in the past, and ready to commit to making positive changes.
Noteworthy: There are so many great health and fitness programs out there, and a ton of great content on the internet, to help you transform your health.
However, it is not a lack of knowledge that most people have a problem with but it is making long-lasting changes to their diet and lifestyle that is the issue.
But no matter how much you pay for a health program, or how much information you know, if you can’t change your habits and mindset it is going to be difficult to make permanent long term changes.
Put simply, don’t focus on “going on a diet”, but instead change your attitude and how you identify with what you eat so that changes are long lasting – as diets don’t work.
This changing of habits is the key to success when implementing changes to your health, so how can we make this easy and almost effortless?
Nobody likes being told what to do, in fact, most people will do the opposite or make changes reluctantly which will not stick.
So if you want to make changes to your health you need to focus on why you want to make changes, what is your motivation.
Sure everyone would like to be at their optimal weight, but that is not motivation enough to put in the effort to change diet and lifestyle habits, you need to have a good reason to lose weight so that when things get tough you will keep going back to your reason for making changes.
Reasons for weight loss can range from:
Noteworthy: Everyone’s reason will be different and there is no one right answer. What is your motivation?
I had one client whose weight went up and down over several years, this was causing many chronic health problems, but their “busy” life led them down the path of eating junk food, one day they walked into my clinic smiling and looking amazing!
When I asked them what changes they had made to finally lose the extra pounds it caught me by surprise, sure the reason they were looking and feeling so good was that they cut out the junk food and started eating real food.
…. But the motivation to eat real food (and stick to it long term) came when they realized that the way they were eating was supporting multinational corporations interested in profits, with no regard to the environment or sustainable farming ….. So for this person it was caring for the environment that motivated their change
Noteworthy: Everyone’s motivation will be different, what is your motivation to make positive changes to your health?
The main issue is not chronic disease or obesity in our society ….. we have a problem with our diet and lifestyle habits. Our habits are what causes our health issues.
If we could eat better, sleep well, exercise, practice stress reduction, and spend time with friends and family there would be a big reduction in chronic health problems.
This is why changing our health is so hard, because changing our habits is hard.
There are very few people who can suddenly start eating well, exercise, practice meditation, journaling, and all of the other things that we know that are good for us, and keep it up for the long term.
Noteworthy: Once you have found your motivation to make changes to your health, the next step is to start with small tiny, almost seemingly insignificant steps until they become habits.
Also, most people are already practicing some good habits, so also focus on what you are doing right. If you regularly exercise but eat poorly then you just have to start by making some small changes to your diet, or if you exercise and eat well but not sleeping and highly stressed then this is where you can make some tiny changes.
It is important to acknowledge what you do well, even if you have a long way to go to change your health I am sure you are doing something great.
The tiny steps that you start are going to depend on your motivation, and what you feel that you can successfully achieve. Even if you think that you can implement 4 or 5 of these steps just focus on one for an entire week, then you can either add another step or continue to challenge yourself with the first step.
Wherever possible get a friend or partner to join you in these changes, that way when you start to lose motivation you can encourage each other.
The work by BJ Fogg and his book Tiny Habits: The small changes that change everything have helped inspire this article, so if you want to get more details I highly recommend this book.
Sleep is so important to both our physical and mental health, yet many people are not consistently getting the minimum of 7 hours a night and many people need at least 8 hours of sleep.
Start with small changes, if you are staying up to midnight every night, start going to bed 15 minutes earlier, or if you are in bed watching T.V or your iPad try switching to reading a book for 15 minutes instead (this will also help you sleep).
Wear blue blocking glasses at night, especially if you are watching screens or install the free app called Flu.x on your computer.
You can track your sleep with a free app like sleep cycle or a Fitbit, but make sure you have your device in flight mode at night to avoid the extra electromagnetic frequencies.
A consistent sleep routine is the most important thing to focus on before adding supplements or medications.
Diet is so important, but if changing what you eat is too challenging to start with, just focus on eating slowly and with awareness. This means no screens or T.V watching while you eat, but good company is encouraged, by being more aware of what you eat this will help to start to make small changes to the quality of your food.
Make extra food 1-2 days a week so you have a back up supply of health meals to choose from.
Get an Instapot to make cooking easier and faster, or a good blender like a Nutribullet to make healthy fast smoothies.
Breathe, of course, we all breathe but many people are taking small shallow breaths or not breathing deep into their diaphragm.
Completely changing the way you breathe takes time, so start will what is called Box Breathing, this is where you breathe in slowly for 4 seconds through your nose, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out slowly for 4 seconds and hold for 4 seconds. This is great for anyone who is feeling stressed or anxious, try this for one minute a day and slowly increase to 2 or 3 times a day.
The Wim Hof Method is my personal favourite breathing exercise, it can help to increase your energy and overall wellbeing, nobody explains it better than the crazy Dutchman Wim Hof.
Walking, you don’t have to sign up for classes to start exercising. but if you find that you are not moving enough in the day start by increasing the amount you walk, there are a lot of fitness trackers out there which can help you to increase your awareness of how much you move.
If you’re busy at work this can include more standing at work rather than sitting at the desk, doing walking meetings with clients or standing up and walking around when taking phone calls.
Weight training is fantastic for men and women, old and young but you don’t have to go to a gym to do this. Start small, try doing 5 squats a day, this could be done while waiting for the kettle to boil, you can slowly add different body weight exercises like push-ups into your day.
If you are already doing basic exercises you can step it up with a TRX machine which can help you do 100’s of exercises at home or when you are travelling – this has been my favourite exercise equipment this year.
Eat more vegetables, rather than focusing on cutting out the junk food and sugar just focus on having vegetables with every meal that you have. Yes, you can have vegetables at breakfast in a smoothie or my favorite way is added to my scrambled eggs.
Noteworthy: Once you increase the healthy foods you maybe less inclined to reach for the junk foods – or they will start to taste sickly sweet.
A gratitude journal can help you to focus on the positive things in your day, I like the 5 minute journal app as it is quick and easy and helps me focus on what I am doing well, and what I can improve.
You can find out more about the 5 minute journal here. This is a tip that I learnt from Tim Ferris.
Spending time in nature has been proven to increase your physical and emotional wellbeing. You don’t have to head to a national park to do this, every city has many parks and gardens that you can spend some time in.
There is even scientific research into spending time in nature, it is called Forest Bathing and this article has some great tips on the benefits and how to do it.
Change one meal at a time, if changing your diet feels overwhelming, focus on just one meal like breakfast or lunch. Especially if you don’t have control of all of your meals there is usually one meal in the day that you can improve.
Work out what the easiest meal of the day to change is – for many people, this is breakfast or lunch as they are eating with their family at night.
Do you need help with meal plans or knowing what to eat? Check out Real Plans
Start a bedtime routine, I have already mentioned the importance of sleep and part of having a good quality night’s sleep is to start winding down in the hour or two before bed. Start by having no screens for one hour before bed, avoid stimulating activities like work or high intensity exercise, invest in some blue light blocking glasses to help increase melatonin levels.
One day at a time, by focusing on the small things one day at a time you will start to make big changes to your health. Also as you get more consistent with the small changes and start to see the results you will then find it easier to maintain and implement bigger changes.
Now it’s over to you, leave a comment below on what strategies you have found to help you make changes to your health and well-being.
Or if you are struggling to change your health, let me know what your biggest struggles are.
If you need more help with changing your habits check out the book by James Clear called Atomic Habits
Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions. He is a registered naturopath with the Australian Natural Therapists Association (ANTA) and works with clients from all over the world via video or phone consultations. He is a degree qualified naturopath from the Endeavour College of Natural Medicine in Australia with 18 years of experience. He uses advanced testing methods, nutritional medicine, herbal medicine, and lifestyle advice to help you stay healthy. He is a Kalish Method-trained practitioner that keeps updating his education with Chris Kresser. Michael completed Dr. Terry Wahls practitioner training program, a 12-month program with ongoing training that helps understand the underlying cause and treatment of MS and autoimmune conditions. He keeps up to date with the latest research into health and natural medicine through the Metabolic Fitness Pro course with Dr. Bryan Walsh.