I can still remember my son's first steps. My wife stood across the room with her arms held wide open, while I held him up for the big moment. We had tried before over the preceding weeks without success. This time we felt his legs were strong enough, and he was ready. As I released his arms, my wife called out to him. "Who's mommies big boy. Come to mommy". As I released his arms he took a tentative step, stretched out his arms and moved towards my wife. As he picked up speed his body leaned forward as if he would fall at any moment. Somehow he maintained his balance, and continued his journey before falling safely into my wife's waiting arms. It seems that anything worth achieving in life requires small steps. From a child's first tentative steps to learning to read and write to getting that first job.
Through experience, I've learned that endeavors usually fail because we rush into them. We want instant gratification. We want to see results right away. If things don't happen quick enough we become discouraged, and sometimes give up. This can be especially true when starting a personal health plan. The other night I couldn't sleep and I turned on the TV at 2:00am. Almost every channel had some new and miraculous wonder diet, fat burning all natural supplements, exercise videos, or devices to tone and shape my body. Everything was guaranteed to transform me in a few days, weeks or months. Two rules to remember are #12-Walk before you run, and #23-Realize that life is hard. We should constantly remind ourselves that anything worthwhile takes time. Nothing is easy. Small steps. Everything should be small steps. The only way to be successful in improving your health and to attain your goals is to start with small steps. You have time. By following these 25 rules you're looking at improved health for a lifetime.
When I first started my journey to better health I looked back at all my past failures. I've had a lot of failures. I've been on multiple diets and exercise programs. My garage is full of weights and every known piece of exercise equipment. I swear, I can't even remember how to use some of them. I have a shelf by my TV with at least 20 exercise videos. I'm embarrassed to even name some of them. I joined and quit 6 gyms over the past 10 years. Why did I fail so many times? Why did my weight go up and down like a Yo-Yo? I think its because I make things so complicated and I want quick fixes. I forget about small steps.
Let's take a look at what it means by taking small steps. I'll use myself as an example. You have a man in his early 50's whose not only over-weight, but has multiple health issues. I don't like the way my body looks, but my body likes itself. It's comfortable. The body is an amazing organic machine. I eat too much food and my body will convert any surplus into fat and store it for future use. If I go on a drastic diet, my body won't like it. It will use some stored fat, but it will also lower my metabolism to conserve fat stores. If I try to start an exercise program, my body will rebel if I put to much strain on it. The secret to my health plan is to take small steps. To get your body to slowly change the way it works. Remember-think long term. Instead of short-term goals, think of longer term goals. This is meant to be a lifetime plan, but if it makes it easier set a plan of five years.
The first small steps I did was to slowly alter my eating habits. I didn't go on a diet, I didn't drastically change my eating habits and I didn't start a crazy exercise program. My initial steps included: going from whole milk to skim milk, eliminating sodas (including diet), cutting fast food to one day a week, changing my ice cream to frozen yogurt, eating breakfast every day, eating pretzels instead of potato chips, cutting my red meat intake by 50%, taking one multi-vitamin, and drinking more water. On the food front those were my only changes for one month. My caloric intake was cut, but only by 20%. The secret is to ease into a health program. Small steps and small changes. As a warning-do not fall into the low-fat, no-fat trap. Calories are calories. The sneaky item is sugar. It's hidden everywhere. Your body will quickly and easily convert sugar into fat.
On the exercise side I started walking my dog. I took it slow. About 2 miles a day.I bought some 5 and 10 lb. hand weights. I did exercises at home including push-ups and crunches. In the first month I did nothing crazy. I wanted to start building muscle to support my joints so that I could up my exercise routine in the future. I also was building lean muscle to boost my metabolism.
I found out a few things in that first month. I started to feel better and sleep better. I also started to feel better about myself. I began to smile more, to start conversations with complete strangers. As you've seen, good health isn't just about appearance. When you get to step #10 you'll see how reaching out to others is good for our own health. I also wasn't starving all the time. I didn't feel deprived because I didn't cut out all my comfort foods. I was also eating small healthy snacks all day. My stomach size was shrinking, and I wasn't always hungry. In the first month I only lost 2 lbs, but I looked better. People at work were saying that I looked like I was losing weight. I was losing fat, but I was also gaining muscle and bone density. As you'll learn in rule #9- don't let a scale rule your life. As you start this journey your accomplishments won't always be measured on a scale.
As the months went by I continued with small steps in my life.I started to implement some of the other 25 rules along with changing my eating habits. I started to learn about nutrition and began reading labels on food products. I learned about fructose and sucrose and how to avoid them. I learned about good fats and bad fats and started eating more nuts.I went from white bread to whole wheat. Instead of buying convenience foods I bought whole foods and cooked at home. I've heard it said that its more expensive to eat healthy. I don't believe its true. I just saw a jumbo bag of potato chips in the store for $3.99. I used to sit down and eat an entire bag in one sitting. I bought red delicious apples at 99 cents a pound. I got 6 medium size apples for $3.25. Some healthy foods are still expensive. Rather than buy expensive fish, I'll eat canned albacore tuna. Nuts are expensive, but they're very calorie dense.You might only eat a handful. Peanut butter's always a good buy. I also continued to cut my red meat consumption. I would look for specials on skinless chicken and buy in bulk. I invested in a small freezer which I put in my garage. It's full of chicken and frozen vegetables.
As I started feeling better I increased my dog walks by a mile a day. I started riding my bike with my family. When I was at the grocery store I would park far away and walk. I would help elderly people load their groceries into their car and I would take their carts back for them. I started taking the steps instead of taking the elevator. I bought 15 and 20lb. hand weights.
Small steps. I'm still taking small steps. Everything hasn't been perfect though. I've gone on food binges. I've had a number of injuries from pushing myself to hard. I'm starting to find that if you slowly change your eating habits that a lot of your cravings stop. I still like chocolate, but I control it with one Hersey's bar a month as a reward. I can also now drive past Burger King without pulling in for a Double Whopper with cheese. I was never a heavy drinker, but I limit alcohol to weddings and special occasions. What I keep finding out is that becoming involved in life is just as important as what you eat and how much you exercise. I met a man a few weeks ago who is 92 years old. He's thin, in good shape and has the energy of someone half his age. We got to talking and I asked him his secret. He said his secret is living life to the fullest. He volunteers at a retirement home, drives for Meals on Wheels, and has so many friends that there's no time to slow down or worry. I think I'm going to follow his advice and start taking some more small steps.