6 Small Changes for Big Health Improvements
- Jennifer Slattery JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com
- 2014 5 May
You’ve tried it all: Juicing, fasting, calorie counting, and nearly every diet fad making the social media rounds and then some. You’ve even considered removing a limb. The one with the most cellulite, of course. But you’re insurance won’t cover it, so you returned to dieting; only nothing worked. In fact, you’ve tried and failed so many times, you’ve decided to quit trying altogether.
Only to get heavier, more tired, and to feel more defeated, and yet, God doesn’t want us to feel defeated. We are his chosen, redeemed beloved children!
Consider Jesus’ words in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Part of grabbing hold of the abundant life Christ offers is releasing all those things that keep us in bondage. I believe this includes releasing our expectations, our weaknesses, and our failures when it comes to health and allowing God to replace those things with his perfect wisdom and strength. For this battle begins and ends in the mind, and yet, 2 Corinthians 2:16 says believers have been given the mind of Christ. More than that, the power of the risen Savior lives within us. Therefore, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
We tap into this strength, I believe, by making Christ the center of our efforts. Most often, I believe, God leads us to make small, gradual and consistent changes over long periods of time. Even so, we will mess up, and in fact, he’ll expect us to.
Psalm 103:13-14 tells us: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
Perhaps we should offer ourselves that same compassion. In other words, we must learn to resist “pass or fail” type thinking. Standing on the scale, there’s a tendency to see one thing: added weight. In a pass-or-fail mindset, this equates to a fail. This kind of thinking allows for two options: an A (weight loss or maintenance) or an F (weight gain).
The problem with this type of thinking is it either cripples us or leads to unrealistic and unsustainable actions. For analogy purposes, consider college academics. Few people maintain a 4.0, nor expect to. Rather, they study and do the homework, working harder at some points than others. When they notice their grade begins to slip to a B or C, they study more, raising it point by point. Progress is made when one recognizes areas of weakness and begins taking steps toward change.
1. Start small
This is how Melissa Keller, a Missouri resident and runner, lost over 100 pounds and has kept it off.
“The best advice is to implement small changes one at a time,” Keller says. “I think the biggest struggle comes when a person decides they need to make a change, lists all the things that must change, and attempts to do them all at once. It sets you up to fail right from the start. I'd say find something that is the easiest to change and start there. Maybe it's giving up soda and replacing it with a sparkling, flavored water. Or taking a 15 minute walk after dinner each night. It might be picking up a new hobby that is more active and involving a friend.”
This works for two reasons: First, it keeps the change manageable. Second, it builds positive momentum, and success often leads to increased success. Conversely, failure often leads to negative thinking, and negative thinking often leads to increased failure.
For example, perhaps an individual begins the New Year resolved to lose weight and embarks on a stringent diet and fitness plan. They start out strong, going to the gym five to six days a week and completely change their eating habits, going from steaks to celery.
But then life happens and they give up entirely, celebrating with a giant piece of cake. Before long, they’ve gained back every pound lost and then some. But more than that, they’ve gained a healthy dose of discouragement. With discouragement come the lies. Lies like: I can’t do this. I’ll never change. Diets simply don’t work for me.
The problem, however, isn’t with them but rather with their approach. In their enthusiasm for improvement, they made too many changes too quickly. They would’ve found more success, and more motivation for future success, if they’d started small instead, finding little ways to make favorite foods healthier.
2. Add fresh fruits and vegetables to meals
For example, if making a dip, we can add chopped bell peppers or fresh spinach. The fiber will help us feel full sooner and will provide our bodies with necessary nutrients. Or perhaps use plain Greek yogurt rather than sour cream as the two taste very similar. Many times ricotta can be substituted for cream cheese. This reduces the fat intake while adding protein and calcium.
3. Look for ways to decrease starch intake
For example, cauliflower, turnips, or parsnips can be added to mashed potatoes. The amount of added vegetable doesn’t have to be huge. In fact, if we add too much it can become self-defeating because we’ll hate it and revert to the high-fat, full-starch variety.
There are many ways recipes can be tweaked ever-so-slightly to increase their healthfulness. The goal is to focus on a raised grade, even if it is raised by only half a percentage point, rather than obsessing over an A.
4. Add variety to meals
Scientists continue to discover new nutrients in our food. By adding a variety of foods into our diet, from fruits and vegetables to legumes, we’ll be increasing your health. This will in turn reduce our cravings as these often come from unmet dietary needs. For example, that sweet tooth that always does us in? I believe God has a purpose in it. He created our taste buds, after all! I believe that purpose is to draw us toward sweet, nutrient rich fruits.
Also, we must be prepared to experiment. Just because we don’t like, say, black bean humus, doesn’t mean we won’t enjoy the equally healthy green variety.
5. Choose home-made and all-natural foods when possible
New studies are published continually revealing the dangers of additives in even the simplest of packaged foods, some of which, like MSG, actually increase hunger. Therefore, any time one chooses a home-made muffin or cookie over its purchased counter-part, we can claim this as a win.
Every step, big or small is a win that can be celebrated, as is every positive choice.
6. Bathe your efforts in prayer
“It takes tremendous effort and determination for one to change old habits and inch toward creating a healthier lifestyle,” Wendy Harris from the Sarpy County YMCA in Papillion, Nebraska, says.
In other words, to make sustainable changes, we’ll need a great deal of diligence and self-control. Through the Holy Spirit, God grants us both!
Many times, people believe they lack the self-control to resist that additional cookie or be diligent about going to the gym. Galatians 5:23, however, says differently.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (NIV emphasis mine).
Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit, therefore, through Christ we can overcome our cravings and make healthy choices. But you can’t do this alone, especially if you’ve been practicing poor health for some time. Rather, you’ll need to be diligent about taking your thoughts captive. (2 Corinthians 10:5) This means, the moment we start thinking about those cookies we’d love to devour, we divert our thinking to something positive. We may need to even remove yourself from the situation.
Our efforts will be greatly helped if we consistently ask for God’s help, asking him to remove the stronghold food has over us, to grant us the self-control to make good health choices consistently, and give us the motivation to get and stay active.
That doesn’t mean we’ll become a size four or that we’ll go from couch potato to marathoner, but it does mean we can make positive and consistent progress. When we do that, big or small, we can claim it as a win, knowing every win will add up.
Here are some relatively pain-free changes you can make today:
- Choose tomato based sauces rather than cream.
- When eating starches (potatoes, pasta, breads, crackers, etc.), match or even double your fruit or vegetables to the amount of starch consumed.
- Learn to cook with quinoa, a high-protein grain.
- Keep fresh, washed, and cut fruits and vegetables on hand to avoid convenience snacking on chips and crackers.
- Eat home more as restaurant foods are often loaded with fats and chemicals (then used the money saved to treat yourself with something nonfood related).
- Choose water over sugared drinks.
- Choose nuts and sunflower seeds over chips.
- Choose fruit with whip cream over cakes, cookies, and pies.
- Choose avocados over mayonnaise and butter
- Add raw spinach to your sandwiches and dips
- Choose stairs over elevators.
Do you have any other healthy but easy to implement ideas to share? What has worked best for you? What would you like to do differently?
Jennifer Slattery lives in the midwest with her husband and their teenage daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, Internet Cafe Devotions, and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and compilation projects.