You’ve nailed step one. So…what’s step two?
Have you ever wondered why the company I founded is called “Step One Foods”? The name comes from a recommendation that most patients with high cholesterol should concentrate on changing diet for at least 3 months before trying anything else. Back in 2001, the National Cholesterol Guidelines recommended exactly that and advised that we resort to cholesterol lowering medications only when adjusting diet didn’t work.
In other words, leveraging nutrition is supposed to be the first step in lowering cholesterol and improving heart health. “Step One”, I thought, was the perfect name for a company created to make it easy for patients to try that diet-first approach. Especially since doctors, who at the time were not required to have much in the way of nutrition training, had largely been failing at helping their patients eat better.
Just twice per day. Instead of something you’re eating already. Couldn’t be an easier Step One!
Fast forward to today, and I find myself a bit of a victim of my own success. A predicament I could not be more proud of or more excited about! So many of our customers have conquered Step One that they now want to know: What’s Step Two?
You might think that at this point I’m going to tell you to start cooking everything with kale. Or get you to start training for a marathon. Both of those would be amazing goals, but that’s not Step Two. Step Two is about taking that small first step you took in the right direction and committing to sustaining that first step as a lifelong habit.
Turning a trial of eating better into a lifelong habit of making better dietary choices doesn’t just happen by itself. It takes work! And I’ll be honest: Step Two can be the hardest part. Which is why, this month, I’ll be sharing evidence-based tips for how to build those habits as successfully and as painlessly as possible.
To start with, think small. Turning ourselves into yoga-practicing vegans overnight would be way too overwhelming.…most of us would fail on our first day of slurping green smoothies and practicing sun salutations. And I’ve seen this again and again in my practice: Big changes are really hard to maintain (just think about how many people fail at keeping their New Year’s resolutions).
Plus, we’re not going for big changes right now anyway. We’re just trying to make something good that we’ve started….stick. Build just one positive habit. Habits are practices that are so ingrained that you don’t even think about them. Like driving your car to work – if you’ve done it often enough you don’t even think about where you’re going anymore. You just drive and you get there, even while thinking about a million other things.
The people who live in Blue Zones don’t think about how much they exercise or what they eat. No one wears fitness trackers or counts carbs. They just have routines that are so ingrained the actions almost happen on their own. Bean soup may be the regular daily lunch - and preparing it is automatic. Going for a walk with friends might just be how every day starts. No one is setting reminders for these things to occur. They just do.
But here’s the great thing: You’re already well on your way to building at least one healthy habit because you’ve already taken Step One! Step Two might be sticking with eating Step One regularly. Breakfasts and snacks are typically the easiest meal occasions around which to set a routine. But if Step One is already firmly built into your day, or if you want to work on something else, set another specific small goal that you can stick with. Like eating an apple before you settle into every lunch. Eating an apple a day might not sound like much of a change, but if you munch one Granny Smith or Honeycrisp every day for a year, you will have consumed three bushels of apples! That’s the equivalent of 1,600 grams of whole food fiber -- and a whole lot of antioxidants.
For now, don’t think beyond that. Just celebrate every bite of that daily apple. In no time at all an apple before lunch will just become what you do. And how great is that?
Next week, I’ll be back to talk about barriers to healthy habits.
And if you need more tips on what you should be eating, take a journey to the grocery store with Dr. Elizabeth Klodas.
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