Rule #8 Small Steps (25 Rules For Better Health)

by Patrick Dykie

      I can still remember my son’s first small, tentative steps as a toddler. My wife stood across the room with her arms held wide open, while I held him up. We had tried before over the preceding weeks without much success. This time we felt his legs were strong enough, and he was ready for the big moment. My wife called out to him,

“Who’s mommy’s big boy. Come to mommy.”

     As I released his arms, he took a small shaky step, stretched out his arms, and moved slowly and awkwardly towards my wife, wobbling from side to side in a series of short, shuffling steps. 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 a series of small steps before we’re able to walk, and then eventually run. From a child’s first tentative steps to learning to read and write to getting that first job it seems that everything involves small steps.

     Through experience, I’ve learned that many of life’s endeavors or personal goals, often fail because we rush into them; sometimes without thinking. We want to achieve instant gratification, and to see results right away. If things don’t happen quickly enough we become discouraged, and sometimes give up. This can be especially true when we decide to go on a diet, start an exercise program, eat healthier, or begin a personal health plan.

     The other night I couldn’t sleep, and I turned on the television a little after midnight. It seemed that almost every channel had a fit-looking spokesperson explaining a new and miraculous wonder diet, selling an amazing fat burning, all natural supplement,  pushing exercise videos, or demonstrating complex devices to tone and shape your body. Everything was guaranteed to transform a person in as little as a few days, but no more than a few months.

     Two rules for better health which I’ll be posting in the future are #12-Walk before you run, and #23-Realize that life is hard. We should constantly remind ourselves that anything worthwhile takes time. Nothing in life is easy, but if we preserver, anything is possible. The only way to be successful in improving your health and to attain your personal goals is to start with small steps. Picture yourself as a small child taking its first baby steps.

     When I first started my own 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, and my garage is full of weights and almost every piece of exercise equipment ever invented.  I don’t even remember how to use some of them! I have a shelf by my television with at least twenty exercise videos, from the PX-90 system to one called Insanity. I’ve also joined and quit six different health clubs over the past ten years. Until a few years ago, I hadn’t made very much progress in improving my health, as well as losing weight.

      Why did I fail so many times? Why did my weight go up and down like a Yo-Yo? I think it’s because I make things so complicated, and I want quick fixes. I forgot to take my own advice about taking small steps.

     Let’s take a look at what it means to take small steps. I’ll use myself as an example. Over the years, I’ve struggled with my weight, which led to many health issues, including high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels. I also didn’t like the way my body looked or how I felt. I tried so many supposedly quick fixes, which inevitably led to failures.

      The body is an amazing organic machine. If we eat too much food our bodies will convert any surplus into fat and store it for future use. If we go on a drastic diet, our body won’t like it. It’ll use up some of our stored fat as we drastically cut calories, but it will also lower our metabolisms to conserve fat stores. If we try to start an exercise program, our bodies will rebel if we put too much strain on them. 

     One of the key premises of “25 Steps to Better Health,” is to learn to take small steps. You need to get your body to slowly change the way it works. Remember to 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 for you, set a plan of five years.

     The first small steps I did to improve my health were to slowly allter my way of thinking. I didn’t go on a diet, didn’t drastically change my eating habits and I didn’t start an intense exercise program. My initial steps included: going from whole milk to skim milk, eliminating sodas (including diet), cutting fast foods 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 twenty-five percent, taking one multi-vitamin each day, and drinking more water. 

     On the food front those were my only changes for one month. My caloric intake was cut, but only by twenty percent. My actual quantity of food didn’t change, but my total calories decreased. The secret is to ease into a health program. Small steps and small changes are what’s important. 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.

     In terms of exercise, I started walking my dog every morning. I took it slow; going about two miles a day at a nice easy pace. I got my five and ten pound hand weights out of the garage, and started a simple program to build muscle and increase my strength. I also 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, increase my stamina, and boost my metabolism to help my body burn more calories.

     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. 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 two pounds, but I looked better. People at work were saying that I looked like I was losing weight. What was happening was, I was losing fat, but I was also gaining muscle and bone density. In rule #6 we learned to not always base our accomplishments on what our scales say.

     As the months went by I continued with small changes in my life. I started to implement some of the other 25 rules for better health, 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 just 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 continue to cut my red meat consumption. I look for specials on skinless chicken, and buy it in bulk. I invested in a small freezer. which I put in my garage. It’s full of chicken and frozen vegetables.

   As I’ve started to feel better I’ve increased my dog walks to three miles a day. I started riding my bike with my family. When I go to the grocery store I park far away and walk. I also look for people who need help loading their groceries into their cars, and then take their carts back for them. I started taking the steps instead of  riding the elevator. I pulled my ten and fifteen pound hand weights out of the garage.

      I still have a long way to go to reach all my health goals. Everything hasn’t always been perfect. I’ve gone on a few food binges, and I’ve had a number of injuries from pushing myself to hard. I’m still learning to stop every once in a while, take a deep breath, look down at my feet, and remind myself that it’s all about taking small steps.

3 Comments to “Rule #8 Small Steps (25 Rules For Better Health)”

  1. I do think it’s way more expensive to eat healthy, but it’s an investment. It saves you in the long run on filling cavities and medical bills for things like diabetes. Still, I wish there was a way to get more healthy foods for your dollar, my kids eat $400 a week! It’s damn near impossible to keep the food on the table.

  2. Wow, I thought my bills were high at almost three hundred dollars a week! I shop at a place called Bottom Dollar for basics. Their staples are cheap. Every day a dozen eggs are 98 cents, yogurts are 39 cents each, whole wheat bread is 99 cents a loaf, and fruit is very cheap. What kills me is when I need things like soap, laundry detergent, cleaners, deodarant, toilet paper, and mouthwash. Oh, I almost forgot about turkey lunchmeat! Too bad my family won’t eat bologna and pimento loaf..

  3. Walk before you run and nothing worthwhile comes easy: two very powerful lessons, Patrick!

    Your journey toward more healthful living is so sensible (if expensive). It’s inspirational, too. My healthy diet and lifestyle are all about taking it easy on my immune system so I feel better. I will sacrifice spending in other areas of my life so I can eat good, pure food.

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