Think small. See why small steps can help improve health and wellness.
Every few years, a new fad diet lures people in and promises to transform their lives with drastic lifestyle changes. These diets often come with a long list of foods that are off limits; carbs, wheat, fruit, beans, fat, sugar, caffeine and countless others. Occasionally, they focus on a few “superfoods” that promise to boost metabolism, keep you energized, and prevent all health problems. These fads gain a lot of media attention and often contradict one another. Not surprisingly, people are confused about what they should eat to stay healthy and many doubt the food choices they make.1 Meanwhile, we know that approximately 70% of adult Americans are overweight or obese2 and that obesity-related diseases continue to rise because of an unhealthy lifestyle.3-4
Ideally, everyone would adopt an overall healthy eating and exercise pattern across their lifespan. However, this amount of change is unrealistic for most of us. People have significant barriers that prevent them from reaching the ideal eating pattern, and previous efforts to encourage big changes had limited success.5-7
How Nutrition Professionals Can Help
America did not enter the obesity crisis overnight. Over the course of years, the population’s body mass index crept higher. On average, Americans only gain 1-2 pounds per year. This equates to overeating about 15 calories each day causing weight gain.5-6 In addition, about 78% of American adults do not meet the government’s national physical activity recommendations for both aerobic activity and muscle strengthening.8
A growing body of research suggests we may have more success improving the health of Americans by promoting smaller, consistent changes. This theory suggests making small, incremental lifestyle changes over time, instead of attempting to address all behaviors in a single intervention.4-7 Advocates of this approach hypothesize that it could first prevent further weight gain, and in time, lead to a slow, sustainable weight loss.5-6
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans also promote a small steps approach by encouraging healthy shifts in eating. Shifts are small changes people can make to achieve an overall healthy diet. These shifts are adaptable and can be tailored to a person’s culture, taste preferences, and lifestyle.3,7
Go Beyond SMART Goals
Health professionals often encourage patients to set SMART health goals when trying to make a dietary change. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound goals. This is a well-accepted approach to making lifestyle changes and a great way to start small. This year, take SMART resolutions a step beyond cutting calories or eliminating negative nutrients:
For years, health professionals encouraged small, gradual changes to improve the health of patients. The theory of small changes, however, suggests an even slower approach to improving health that starts with first preventing weight gain, then working towards weight loss. This year, focus on small, positive changes to improve physical and emotional well-being for yourself and your clients.
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