It’s the little things that work

You may hold back from making important diet and lifestyle changes because you think they must be big and dramatic. And marketing mavens know this. So, they offer you a “quick” and “easy way out.” They make breathless promises, claiming you can transform your life in a week (or a weekend) just by using this one product, doing this “one thing,” or buying this one device or gimmick.

First of all, I agree, the expectation that you have to make big changes — like adopting an extreme, unbalanced diet, or going out and running a daily marathon — is totally intimidating. It makes it seem just too difficult and, frankly, too unpleasant to even get started.

Plus, these get-healthy-quick claims are simply misleading. They do not lead to sustainable improvements in weight and health, even if you could achieve them for a time. In fact, you are destined to fail at them. And they only lead to discouragement. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Especially when it comes to your diet, health and wellness.

I always recommend modest, sustainable, pleasant steps that you can adopt over a month, a year, and a lifetime. These small steps will make real, permanent progress for you.

For example, say you start taking a dietary supplement. You really must give it at least two to three months to derive the full benefits. (Although, with some, you can feel some almost immediate benefits.)

All-or-nothing extremes don’t work

Medical mavens try to pigeon-hole different activities or habits as either “all good” or “all bad.” This kind of thinking leads to dietary and health disasters, as I all-too-frequently report. Plus, your body doesn’t work on an “all-or-nothing” basis. I advise that indulging in almost all activities in moderation is safe, or even beneficial, compared to taking things to excess.

For example, science shows that moderate alcohol (which some prohibitionists still condemn outright) is actually beneficial. And physical activity and exercise, which is supposed to be the universal answer for everything, is also good in moderation. But like alcohol, exercise can be harmful in excess.

It’s also misleading to think that simply adding on more and more exercise can counteract the effects of taking in empty calories, like sugars in beverages and foods, as I recently explained.

Take a balanced approach to physical and mental health

Moderation is the key. And this philosophy fits very well with ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.

In fact, in China, there is a concept of “taxation fatigue,” which comes from doing too much of anything, or everything (without regard to what are “evil,” or beneficial, influences).

Your body can’t handle too much of anything.

(In the U.S., taxation fatigue is something we experience — at least the half who pays taxes — every April 15, now rapidly coming up again. But it would be helpful to consider the idea when it comes to your health and wellness.)

Moderate lifestyle changes will do more for your health than tackling a bunch of overly ambitious “interventions” all at once. Particularly in this overly political year, practice kindness — starting with yourself.

When harsh ideas or voices emerge, step back “mindfully” and try to identify where they come from. Acknowledge your achievements, whether from a lifetime of advancement and hard work, or from doing that extra little thing today.

For example, if you want to cut sugar from your diet, try to consciously choose not to eat that food or menu item with added sugar. Do it one decision at a time.

You can incorporate this kind of approach as a way of practicing mindfulness in everyday life, as I have reported before. You can get into a virtuous cycle with the little changes.

Plus, cutting sugar from your diet will help you avoid the ups and downs that come with eating sugar. You will have more energy to do a little more exercise, and get up and move around more frequently during the day.

These steps, in turn, will help your metabolism. And it will also help you get to sleep this evening. Then, just adding one more hour of sleep will, in turn, help you feel better starting the next day. (And studies show most adults need to get an extra hour of sleep than they typically do.)

The next day you will find that cutting just 100 calories from your dietary intake, and adding just 1,000 steps when working around the house or the yard, or taking your daily walk, has positive effects you will feel right away. Over the course of one year, you will have lasting health benefits.

Be patient and celebrate the small victories along the way. These simple steps will help you feel better, improve your energy and mood, avoid diseases, and ultimately, live longer.

It is wise to follow the old adage, “don’t sweat the small things.” But if you just do the small things, you won’t have to sweat it so much.