Resolve to Start Small

When it comes to making health changes, sometimes we feel it comes down to drastic all or nothing choices, but Dr. Todd W. Eichelberger of Ocala Health’s Family Care Specialists proposes that small measures can be more achievable and lead to healthier habits down the road.

As another year comes to a close, you may be thinking about the things you want to change in your life. Many people want to make changes that will improve their health and well-being.

My fellow physicians and I spend a good part of our time with patients asking them to make changes that will benefit their health. Stop smoking, lose weight, get cardiovascular and resistance exercise, and cut down alcohol intake to moderate levels are pieces of advice given daily by virtually every physician. For example, one serving of alcohol (12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or one-and-a-half ounces of hard liquor) for females and two servings of alcohol for males is the daily recommended limit for “moderate” consumption considered safe for your body and brain.

Some of our patients may struggle with our advice and reactions range from skeptical about the actual benefit of any of those changes for that individual to believing that the task is too difficult to even start. Believing it’s too hard to make changes is what I’d like to address. These changes take time and some effort to take effect and to be meaningful.

I confess that I myself have struggled with maintaining a comfortable weight and to get regular exercise off and on throughout my life. I’ve been more consistent with it in the past and have started to be consistent again only recently. What I would like to say to everyone reading is simple: Some change in the right direction is better than no change at all!

If you want to quit smoking, but don’t have the drive to quit completely yet, smoking just five cigarettes a day is obviously better for your body than an entire pack. And when you’re down to just a few cigarettes a day, the nicotine has less of an influence on your brain. Quitting can then be easier than it was before.

If you’re one of many people who think, “I need to lose like 100 pounds to be at a ‘healthy’ weight,” then set more manageable goals. The goal is health, not necessarily a specific weight. There is good evidence that improvement of diabetes, cholesterol levels and high blood pressure can be accomplished with a 5-10 percent reduction in body weight. That’s only 10-20 pounds for a 200-pound individual.

Consider small changes for exercise too. If you are overwhelmed by the idea of committing 30 minutes, five times a week to exercise, then start out for 10 minutes once a week and increase as you can tolerate. The small steps can include parking at the far end of a parking lot and walking into a store or your work; taking stairs when you have the option; and getting up and marching in place during commercial breaks when you watch TV.

If you think the only way you’re going to lose weight is by eating bland food and that you have to be overly restrictive with the kinds of foods you eat, think again. You don’t have to cut out carbohydrates to be a better version of yourself, even if you’re diabetic. Find diet changes that make sense to you and are sustainable over time so that you don’t fall into yo-yo dieting.

You might track your current intake to identify problems through a food log app like MyFitnessPal or Lose It! If you’re always skipping breakfast or eating too infrequently during the day, it may seem like you’re reducing calories, but either of these problems can actually make losing weight more difficult. With food log apps, you can also set a goal weight and suggested calorie amounts will be provided for you to reach that goal.

If you consume too much alcohol, cutting back is much better than doing nothing, even if you’re still above the recommended moderate intake levels. Alternate alcohol with water when you do drink, and that small change will help your health as well.

Many goals you may have for yourself and recommendations made by your physician can seem too lofty to attain. Setting shorter-term or more reasonable goals for yourself might be more effective for making the desired changes. The point of my message today is simple. Don’t psych yourself out. Scale down your expectations and just get started! Right now is a great time to work on small, achievable modifications to behaviors and any of the larger issues you want to address, rather than attempting to make radical changes that will potentially overwhelm you before you even get started.

Dr. Eichelberger is a board-certified family medicine physician with Family Care Specialists, part of Ocala Health’s outpatient program. Learn more at www.ocalahealthfcs.com

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