(Watch for Emotional Eating Part 4 next week.)
Eating sanely means losing weight and keeping it off. This, of course, requires learning to live in a way that maintains healthy weight. Toward that end, knowing just how hard it is to do, I sometime encourage changing “one small thing.” (See the 1/4/10 blog, for example.) Last Tuesday’s New York Times took up this issue in an article on the nation’s obesity epidemic. This overview reminded me once again of both how hard weight loss and maintenance can be, and of how and where the “one small thing” strategy can help.
If you have many pounds to lose, or if you’ve been heavy for a long time, changing one small thing may not lead directly to burned calories or melted pounds. Cutting a hundred calories here or there may make a difference for some….but for many, such changes only cause the metabolism to slow down and accommodate the new change. In other words, the body adjusts to the new calorie input and conserves the weight. This is discouraging to remember, as more drastic dietary cuts increase hunger. They require much more radical habit change and can feel extremely disconcerting. As anyone who’s dieted knows, trouble begins soon after drastic changes are introduced.
But here is where the one small change can lead to better weight: it prepares the body and mind for more and bigger changes in time. If you start skipping a dessert, say, or bringing your lunches to work more often, or substituting eggs for breakfast donuts, the value may not necessarily lie in immediate pounds lost. Getting used to these ways, though, will make the next change, and the next, easier to do, more likely to happen. The same holds true with exercise habits. Start with that one day’s walk, and you’re more likely to add other activity in time.
This is the good news. We may be hard-wired to overeat certain foods or to hang onto unhealthy weight. But we have some ability to forge new habit pathways in our brains—and that leads to better choices and better self-care in the end. So: if you have to start with drastic changes, prepare yourself. Get help in weathering the hard transitions. If you’re not ready or able to do so….definitely start with that one small thing.