Lasting Change Comes With Slow Small Steps

My role model
My role model

2014 is here. Time to start doing all those things I’ve been waiting for the new year to do. The temptation is to dive into everything, to make huge changes, to hurry up so I get the results I am longing for, whether they are weight loss, greater fitness, or more regular creative output. When I decide I want something, I want it now. That time and effort may be required are just inconvenient details.

When I was younger, I followed crazy lose-weight-fast diets. They required extreme efforts, major deprivation, and big changes that I couldn’t hope to sustain for an extended period. I could follow a diet for a few weeks or maybe months, and I could lose weight. But I couldn’t keep eating that way forever. It would be bad for my health not to mention my sanity. As soon as I went off the diet, I regained the weight. A fast solution, but the results never lasted.

In my 30s, I hit a point where I couldn’t even follow a diet. I’d swear off desserts when I woke up in the morning, then be into the sweets before lunch. I stopped trying to diet or control my weight. I got heavier, even though I knew it wasn’t healthy.

The day came when I decided to try something new. I wanted to be healthier even if I couldn’t be thinner, so I started by making one small change. I stopped eating between meals. I didn’t change what or how much I ate at meals. I didn’t try to get rid of the sweet stuff, even though I knew it was a problem for me. I just made one small change, something I felt I could manage.

I did manage it — just barely. It turned out to be harder to stop snacking than I thought. But I also got a pleasant surprise when I got on the scale. For the first time in years, I was losing weight instead of gaining it.

After a few weeks, not snacking became easier. The new habit replaced the old and I was ready to make another small change. I limited the amount of candy I ate in a day. When that got easy, I started making my meals more balanced.

And so things have evolved over the last ten years. I have gotten healthier, one small change at a time, and as a lovely side effect, I have also lost weight. While my change from a vegetarian to a paleo diet seems like an enormous one, it’s not, because it comes on the heels of a lot of other changes to my diet. Many of the processed foods the paleo diet shuns have been out of my diet for years already. Even giving up the grains and legumes wasn’t that hard, because I’d spent the previous year weaning myself off them.

Gradual, I-can-deal-with-this-today changes can pay off big, as long as I stick with it. All I have to do is keep trying, until the new behavior becomes routine and I have developed healthier habits.

Slow is real. I want fast to be real, but it has never worked that way for me. Fast doesn’t last. Only slow results in long-lasting change.

Slow is also the path of the patient, and I’m not a very patient person. Fortunately for me, stubbornness is a good substitute.

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