There are many easy things we can do to change our lives and be slimmer, fitter and healthier – right now.
We often look for 'magic' solutions: things that involve little or no effort, yet promise big rewards. It's why detox diets are often a popular option.
But as most of us who've tried and failed know going all out for a couple of weeks doesn't work for long. Real change means long term. Luckily it's not so hard to achieve real, positive change by doing small things; lots of small things can make a big difference.
How to make changes that stick
The first thing we need to understand about making change is that it's not a simple one-off event. You don't wake up one day and suddenly decide to change your entire lifestyle to become some new super-fit bean sprout-eating radiantly healthy person your friends wouldn't even recognise. You think about it for a while; you ponder what the benefits might be and what you'd need to do; you make a commitment to change; and then you put in place some ways to make it happen. And along the way you probably fall over and have to kick-start yourself again.
Making change is a process and it takes time. It's important to understand where you are in the process so you can help yourself move forward.
Small steps: Don't set yourself up for failure! We all know if you wat to run a marathon you have to train over a long time. Impatience will work against you: when you want to develop new habits start slow and build up over time. Choose a few small changes and work on those first. When you've got them nailed – it might take you a few days, a few weeks or a few months – add more changes.
"It is better to make many small steps in the right direction, than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward."
– Chinese proverb
Specific goals: If your overall goal is to 'eat more healthily', how will you know when you've got there? Break your overall goal into smaller specific goals. Examples might be: to have takeaways once a week (instead of the current 2-3 times); to have a smoothie for breakfast twice a week; to make a brown rice dish each week; or to use hummus instead of butter on sandwiches. Because they're specific, you'll know if you've achieved them and you're making progress towards your overall goal.
Positive goals: Rather than saying "I will not skip breakfast every day", make your goal positive: "I will eat breakfast every day".
Written goals: This helps you make the right goals (for you) and to make a commitment to them. It doesn't mean they won't change: review them and update them along the way. The compound effect: each small change you make will be added to by the next change and so forth.
Reward yourself: The long-term reward might be extra energy or looking better, but that may not happen in the first few weeks. Plan rewards for yourself for smaller steps achieved. If you've been going to the gym diligently for three weeks, reward yourself with something new to wear at the gym; if you've changed your cooking habits to low-fat, reward yourself with a new non-stick fry pan; if you've been getting up earlier to go walking in the morning, reward yourself with a massage or pedicure. Reinforce your new behaviours until they really are new habits.
Putting it into practice
Plan: Decide on your goal. Be realistic. Be specific about the end goal and maybe some key milestones. Put it in writing. Put a timeframe on it. Share it with others. Decide on the changes you[ll make to achieve your goal.
Action: Look at our list of 50 changes and choose the ones you can relate to. Start with only a few small changes: don't be too ambitious. Once the first changes have become habit, you can add on some more. Keep adding small changes in this step-wise way.
Review: How's it going? Are you being realistic? Should you slow down so that you don't set yourself up to fail? Or have you not stretched yourself enough? Revise your plan accordingly.
Reward: Key milestones deserve a reward! Make sure you plan rewards and that they support, rather than undermine, your goal.
Easy changes for a healthier you
1. Become a planner. Plan your meals for the next week. It doesn't mean you can't be flexible if you get a better offer – but at least you won't get stuck for ideas halfway through the week. Plan your exercise for the next week, don't leave it to chance. What will you do each day, for how long and how fast? Get into the routine of exercising and don't forget to plan a rest day.
2. Downsize your meal by using a smaller dinner plate; if you need to gain weight, do the reverse.
3. Don't stand or sit still. Become a fidgeter; it uses more energy.
4. Put your dessert in a smaller bowl and eat it with a teaspoon.
5. Invest in a good non-stick frying pan; you'll use less oil.
6. Choose grainier bread. To introduce grainier breads, try a sandwich with one white/one whole grain slice.
7. Eat breakfast, every day, no excuses. If you're always in a hurry, plan things you can prepare quickly like a smoothie or toast and spread, or prepare a simple Bircher muesli the night before. If you have more time, egg on grainy bread with fruit and yoghurt to the side will set you up for the morning.
8. Need a cold drink? Choose water. Keep a jug in the fridge with a slice of lemon. Need a hot drink? Try green tea (with lime or lemon for extra zing).
9. If you like soft drinks, always choose 'diet' drinks.
10. Walk up the stairs. Start with as many flights as you can; add more as you get fitter.
11. Never eat while standing up.
12. Avoid hunger (it's a 'let's eat crap' trap). Eat regularly. Lower GI, higher fibre foods fill you up for longer.
13. Choose the smaller size treat and savour it.
14. Shop to a list. Don't shop when you're hungry.
15. Ditch the margarine or butter on your toast. Once you get used to it, you'll be surprised to find you don't actually need it under your marmite/jam/peanut butter!
16. Take a salad to add to your lunch. It's often impossible to get vegetables at lunchtime when you buy your lunch. A small container of chopped raw vegetables with hummus as a dip makes a great snack.
17. Put a pepper mill on the dining table, but don't put salt out.
18. Experiment with an unfamiliar whole grain like barley, quinoa or bulgar wheat. Search out recipes and give it a go.
19. Add nuts and seeds to your day: sprinkle on salads or make them a treat. (Find a small container to put them in; you only need a few.)
20. Take a break at lunchtime. A walk will lift your spirits.
21. Always add extra vegetables to casseroles.
22. Substitute brown for white: bread, rice, pasta, breadcrumbs.
23. Don't peel vegetables and fruits unless they're inedible – just wash well.
24. Stir-fry or grill rather than roasting in oil.
25. Steam or microwave vegetables in as little water as possible to retain nutrients.
26. Use a rack when roasting so that fat drips away rather than being absorbed into the meat.
27. Keep a record of what you eat and what exercise you do. Be honest with yourself.
28. Remember the ideal plate: 1/2 low-energy vegetables; 1/4 protein foods; 1/4 carbohydrate foods.
29. When available, always choose the salt-reduced option, e.g. stock, soy sauce.
30. Try going around the supermarket in a different order from usual to break yourself out of 'auto pilot' mode.
31. Reduce salt in cooking by using herbs, spices or lemon or orange zest to add more flavour; always taste food before adding salt.
32. Use all the goodness from vegetables by using the cooking water as stock for couscous, risotto, soups or casseroles.
33. Walk to the dairy instead of jumping in the car.
34. Always eat at the same place at home, e.g. the dining table, not in front of the TV.
35. Share your chocolate bar with a friend or break it into pieces and individually wrap each one for micro-treats you can savour.
36. Help yourself and others as well by changing your environment: get rid of the vending machine; get a fruit bowl at work; don't use chocolate as the school fundraiser, try dried fruit instead.
37. Become a label reader: compare similar products and choose less saturated fat/sugar/salt (sodium).
38. Dairy: always choose low-fat milk, yoghurt, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese.
39. Chill casseroles and soups overnight so any excess fat can be skimmed off the top.
40. Write down your food and exercise goals; record your progress; celebrate small steps achieved.
Adding health to your day
41. Add calcium to your day: have a smoothie; include yoghurt; order a trim latté; eat canned sardines; add tofu to your stir-fry.
42. Add omega-3 to your day: put smoked salmon under your poached egg, in a pasta salad or in your sandwiches; use canned salmon in your lunch kit; use flaxseed oil on salads.
43. Add more vegetables: make half your plate low-kilojoule vegetables at dinner; use vegetables and hummus or salsa as a snack; take salad as a side for lunch – make it as you're doing dinner the night before.
44. Add more legumes: use hummus in sandwiches or as a dip; use falafel mix to make falafels; add lentils to soups and salads; add chickpeas to couscous; add red kidney beans to casseroles or spaghetti bolognese.
45. Add more fruit: top your breakfast cereal with canned fruit; add frozen berries to your smoothies; chop fruit into a bowl, top with a dollop of Greek yoghurt and call it dessert; take a small container of dried fruit and nuts to work as a snack; use ready-packaged fruits for work or travel – apples; bananas; mandarins etc.
46. Add more whole grains: every second time you cook rice, make it brown; add lentils to soups; use grainier breads; add oats to your breakfast cereal.
47. Add exercise: improve your social life at the same time by joining a group or club; use the stairs; buy a pedometer; walk around the block at lunch-time.
48. Add sleep: get enough sleep so you're at your best physically and mentally; consider going to bed earlier if you need to, both eating well and exercising will help you sleep.
Reducing the bad stuff
49. Reduce sugar in your cooking and baking: sugar can be essential to the texture, colour and body of many foods but often you can reduce the amount in the recipe by a quarter to one-third without noticing. Use this guideline to reduce sugar when baking:
- Cakes and biscuits: 1/2 cup sugar to each cup of flour
- Muffins and breads without yeast: 1 tablespoon sugar to each cup of flour
- Breads (with yeast): 1 teaspoon sugar to each cup of flour
- Added chocolate: reduce the amount and add some cocoa
Reduce sugar by using:
- Fruit purée
- Spices that sweeten: cardamom, coriander, ginger, mace, nutmeg
- Essences that sweeten: peppermint; vanilla
- Alternative sweetener (read the label to ensure it's suitable and to use the right amount)
Reduce fat in your cooking and baking: have a go at modifying your old favourite recipes. As well as substitutions, it's often easy to reduce amounts of higher fat ingredients.
|Instead of||Try this|
|Cream||Lite evaporated milk; thick yoghurt; 1/2 ricotta, 1/2 lite milk|
|Coconut cream||Lite evaporated milk (coconut flavoured or add coconut essence)|
|Sour cream||Buttermilk; low-fat yoghurt; 1/2 ricotta, 1/2 yoghurt|
|Cream cheese||Lite cream cheese; cottage cheese; ricotta; quarg|
|Cheddar cheese||Reduced-fat cheddar; Edam; use 1 tablespoon of parmesan for 1/2 cup cheddar|
|Mayonnaise||Low-fat yoghurt with lemon juice; low-fat cottage cheese and yoghurt mix|
|Frying: butter, margarine, oil|| Reduce the amount; use rice bran, soy, safflower or olive oil; a spray|
of oil can be used to fry onion and garlic; mince can be dry-fried
|Baking: butter, margarine, oil|| Substitute half the fat with apple purée (and reduce the amount of|
added sugar as well); use low-fat spread (at least 60% fat for baking)
How much exercise is that muffin going to cost you?
So you just gave in to that double-choc muffin and want to know how you can burn it off.
We all know our weight is dependent on the balance of kilojoules consumed vs kilojoules burned (to convert kilojoules to calories, divide by 4.2). Take in more kilojoules than your body needs and you gain weight. Take in less and you lose weight.
Metabolism, then, is the engine that burns these kilojoules and is the scale that influences your kilojoule needs. Simply stated, metabolism refers to the process that converts the kilojoules from food into energy.
However, figuring out your energy balance is not an exact science as there are many factors that influence how many kilojoules you need each day.
- Age: Metabolism slows naturally each year. As you get older, the amount of muscle tends to be replaced with fat. Together these changes reduce energy needs.
- Gender: Men generally have more muscle than women of the same height and weight. This is why men burn more kilojoules than women.
- Body composition: A bigger body requires more energy compared to smaller bodies. Also, muscle burns kilojoules at a much faster rate than fat, so the more muscle you have in relation to fat, the higher your metabolic rate will be.
While you cannot change these factors, increasing the amount of exercise you do will get that engine working harder. Regular exercise is great for burning kilojoules and will make your body more efficient at burning fat. As a result, your daily metabolism will be significantly higher.
So is that treat splurge-worthy or not? The table below shows you how long you would need to exercise to burn off the kilojoules in some favourite foods.
|1 chocolate muffin (60g)||710||25 minutes of brisk walking|
|1 pottle hot chips (150g)||1255||1 hour of vacuuming|
| Meat-lover's pizza|
|2240||2-hour bike ride|
|Roast chicken with skin (100g), roast potatoes and gravy||1580||Gardening and mowing, each for 30 minutes|
|Lasagne (400g)||2300||70 minutes of swimming|
|Mars bar (60g)||1145||Walking up 53 flights of stairs|
|Packet of chips (100g)||2090||45-minute run|
|Apple pie (150g)||1755||1-hour aerobics class|
|3 glasses champagne||1005||40 minutes of singles tennis|
Note: Figures are based on a person weighing 70kg and all activities listed denote moderate exertion (as opposed to vigorous activity). Times given should only be used as an estimate of kilojoule expenditure.
How to burn extra kilojoules
- Kilojoule burning is higher when exercise is performed for longer periods of time.
- If exercise is performed at a faster pace, more kilojoules will be used.
- A higher number of kilojoules are burned when exercise becomes intense.
- The heavier an individual is, the more energy is burned during exercise.
- Fitter people tend to burn more fat when exercising than unfit people.
Exercise for good health
Whether you're trying to lose or maintain weight, the general recommendation is to aim for 30 minutes of exercise each day. You can start with three 10-minute sessions a day and build it up from there – it doesn't matter how you start out as long as you are active in some way on a daily basis. This is a practical and safe (low risk of injury) way to burn body fat. And try to balance your food intake with your physical activity. You don't have to count kilojoules, but you need to be consistent in the size and content of your meals.
The psychology of change
Changing behaviour is not a simple one-off event, it is a process. The Stages of Change model has been used to help people lose weight, stop smoking and other behavioural changes. Understanding what stage you're at can help you identify how to continue the change process.
1. Precomtemplation: "What problem?"
Your GP says your blood pressure has gone up; your colleagues point out the dark bags under your eyes; your friends wonder aloud if you are the miracle male pregnancy. You are oblivious. You can probably even list the reasons why exercise would be bad for you. (Alcoholics Anonymous call this stage 'denial').
People at this stage may have little understanding about the consequences of their unhealthy habits. Or they may have tried to change in the past and become demoralised.
Help people move on from this stage with information about the need to change and encouragement about the change process; specific action-oriented advice will fall on deaf ears.
2. Contemplation: "Ok, I have a problem"
You're thinking about making some changes, but you're not yet committed to taking action. This can last for weeks, months or even years. Seek information. Make a list of the pros and cons of making change. Identify barriers to making change and find ways to overcome them. Involve others: they may see benefits you hadn't though of, different ways to overcome barriers, and they may be able to offer support. For example, if I get 40 minutes' exercise every morning (change) it will help with weight control (benefit) and my state of mind (benefit). I'm not very good at getting up in the morning (barrier) but if we exercise together (support) it will be easier.
3. Preparation: "I can change"
You've made the commitment to change and you're putting things in place to make it happen. You've checked out the local gyms/Tai Chi classes and decided which one to join; you've talked to your family or friends about eating more healthily and found some recipes in Healthy Food Guide magazine.
It's tempting to rush straight into action mode but it's important to plan. If you're sedentary and your new goal is to run a marathon, you need to break that down into smaller steps or you'll set yourself up for failure.
4. Action: "I'm doing it!"
You're getting regular exercise; going to the yoga class; eating a healthy diet. You're experiencing life without the Sunday binge; the king-size chocolate bar at 3pm; the feeling of never having enough energy.
5. Maintenance: "How do keep I avoiding the traps?"
It takes time for new habits to take hold and in the meantime, you're vulnerable to relapse.
You've been working longer hours; you're upset because you've argued with a friend or a pet has died; you've over-spent your budget this month. The ups and downs of life continue regardless, so you need strategies to keep your changes in place.
Now is a good time to go back to the list of pros and cons you made in the contemplation stage: remind yourself why you're doing this; it can be surprisingly easy to 'forget'!
6. Relapse: "Here we go again"
Relapse is normal; some say inevitable. Accept it and move on. It's not about failure; it's about learning and about finding ways to help yourself. Identify high risk situations and how you can avoid or overcome them. Remind yourself again why you started the process and enlist support where you can. Get back on track.
Did you know? Just 1kg of body fat contains the equivalent of 37,000kJ. To lose 1kg of body fat in a week, you would need to burn an additional 5000kJ a day.