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Where Do I Begin?

If regular exercise or mindful eating are brand new for you, it can be overwhelming just to contemplate how to start. Ask a bunch of people who manage their weight successfully what their number-one suggestion is, and you get some highly specific answers:

— ”Figure out your TDEE using online calculators, and then decide on an appropriate deficit, and count calories.”

— ”Whole30 [a diet program] or 20 or 15 and then adding the no-no foods back in one by one to see which ones are your triggers.”

— “Drop all refined sugars and wheat products.”

These approaches can work, but they can also require a total overhaul in how you think about food. Total overhauls rarely work for long, and failure can sap the confidence to try again or try something else.

Here are my top 3 suggestions for sedentary people who know they should eat better:

— Take two 5- to 10-minute walks every day (especially if you work in an office!)

— Eat more lean protein (that is, not deep fried; if you eat meat, favor chicken, fish, and turkey)

— Eat more vegetables (chopped vegetables make a crunchy, satisfying salad, and are easy to pack for lunch)

And this is the next level — thinking about your personal style:

— Are you a “plunger” — who jumps right into the deep end? Then maybe building a formal exercise program right away, even buying a new gym membership, is an option. If you’re more of a wader, look at tips like parking further from the door, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and other ways to make daily life a little more active.

— Do you like working with numbers? Learning to “calculate a food record” (count calories, and count up the amount of protein, fiber, fat, and carbohydrate) might work well for you. If that sounds overwhelming, take a look at the Weight Watchers “Points” system (from vegetables at values of 0 to 2 or 3 to cheeseburgers at values of 25 to 30!) to get a sense of which foods you can eat more freely and which more sparingly.

— Are you truly ready to change one thing in particular and just plain not ready to make other changes? What’s easiest to think about: food changes? Exercise changes? What about sleep changes? Start with what sounds easiest!

Change always involves some problem-solving — and some of these issues are pretty big:

— You may have logistical constraints at home or work — like a carefully balanced childcare situation or no easy place to store food for the day at work

— You may have financial constraints that put even low-cost gyms, let alone trainers, well out of reach

— You may have a physical disability or other constraints — your doctor may be able to give you a physical or occupational therapy referral to learn more about how to work around them

Give yourself permission to make small changes, one at a time, while you work through some of the bigger issues. The beauty of living in a healthier way is that even small changes can make a difference over time, and they help build habits — and a track record of success — that make it easier to make more changes.

More about establishing small habits: Tiny Habits
More about food and habit changes: Beating Mindless Eating and Slim By Design

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