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10 Weeks to a New You - Part 1

This nutrition and exercise thing can be really overwhelming. No gluten, perhaps no dairy, more protein and vegetables, drop the processed foods, limit sweets; it’s so much to take on that it can be hard to know where to start. Those who can jump in with both feet and completely change their nutrition, lifestyle and exercise habits can see some dramatic changes. For others, however, it’s too much change at one time. If you have a busy schedule, a full-time job and haven’t paid attention to your health in a while, trying to do everything right, and right now,  can be a recipe for disaster.

If you’re not ready to take on everything necessary for optimal health all at once, this article (and an upcoming one) are intended to make things a little easier. Each of the following habits are intended to provide a significant impact on your health and fitness levels with your focus placed on only one habit each week. We’ll start with five, not in any particular order, and then give you five more in our next article. You’ll pick one, and then another the following week. Of course, you don’t want to forget about the habit you started the week before. The goal is to make each of them a habit over the next ten weeks, but you can tackle them in any order you like.  

Eat Breakfast

Contrary to what is often said about breakfast, it doesn’t speed up metabolism, but it does affect what you eat later in the day. Eating breakfast has been shown to help reign in appetite and control blood-sugar during the day.[i] A 19-year study, which began with 9-15 year olds in 1985, looked at the same individuals in 2004 and showed those who skipped breakfast had a larger waist circumference, higher fasting insulin, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol than those who ate breakfast.[ii] Did skipping breakfast do something bad to their bodies? More than likely, those who skipped breakfast simply made poorer dietary choices later in the day.

Now, before you run to the store and buy three boxes of cereal, the quality of your breakfast meal does make a difference. Cereal may be the easy route to eating breakfast, but the carb-heavy, low-protein choice isn’t going to provide the same benefits as a higher protein breakfast.[iii] Among other benefits, protein has a significant impact on controlling hunger and maintaining blood-sugar levels. Think about the last time you had a high-carb breakfast—like a bagel, scone, or a bowl of cereal. Were you hungry again a couple of hours later? How about the last time you had a big omelet, scrambled eggs, or leftovers from dinner the night before? Did it hold you over longer? Probably. Getting plenty of protein at breakfast can have a big effect on the rest of your day. Three to five eggs, three to five ounces of another protein source or a couple scoops of protein powder mixed in a shake make a great start to the day.

Eat More Vegetables

Notice that this doesn’t say “eat more fruit and vegetables.” Americans with their sweet tooths tend to lean toward fruit instead of vegetables, if and when they actually eat produce. According to the National Fruit & Vegetable Alliance 2010 Report Card, only 6% of individuals consume their recommended vegetable and 8% consume their recommended fruit intake on a daily basis![iv] Time and again, people realize how much better the rest of their diet becomes once they eat 9-11 servings of vegetables each day. With health benefits ranging from longer life,[v] to reduced cancer risk,[vi] to improved weight management, it’s unfortunate people don’t put more emphasis in eating more produce.

Try it for a week. Before lunch and dinner, eat a big salad with a little olive oil and vinegar dressing. A serving of greens is a cup, so a three-cup salad knocks off three servings of vegetables. You’ll likely be surprised at how your appetite changes. Of course, there are a variety of other vegetables you can try. It’s pretty easy to grill or sauté some eggplant, steam some Brussels sprouts, or bake some squash as well. A half cup of chopped vegetables usually equals a serving, so you can see how easy it is to actually hit the 9-11 servings each day.

Eat More Protein

Contrary to what many people think, most Americans don’t eat too much protein. In fact, when they begin dieting they may eat even less. With the perception that a low-fat diet is the best way to lose weight, people often choose low-fat, lower protein and higher-carb foods to fit in their nutrition plan. These may include low-fat snacks, microwaveable meals and low-fat cereals. However, protein has a significant impact on controlling cravings, so when people begin limiting their protein intake, they may find themselves unusually hungry.

If this is the habit you’re going to tackle, make it a point to eat a reasonable amount of protein with each meal or snack. “Reasonable” could mean 15 grams, or it could mean 50 grams depending on your goals, training program, current lean body mass, etc. If you’re not sure, it’s best to talk with a registered dietitian. Generally speaking, healthy people may find that 0.8-1.0 grams per pound body weight per day  is where they want to be. For those looking to lose weight, it is likely better to use the equation based on their goal weight, rather than their current weight to avoid excess protein intake.

Work Out at Least Four Times Per Week

Exercise must become a habit. Although people may lose weight without exercise, more of the weight lost will be lean body mass if working out isn’t part of the program. Maybe your goals aren’t about weight loss, but about longevity and health. Exercise is important for reducing the loss of bone density, maintaining strength and joint integrity, as well as managing stress and maintaining a positive outlook on life. Why the suggestion for four workouts per week instead of three? The four workouts each week means you’re getting a workout in more often than you’re taking time off.

Not sure where to start with your exercise program? Although it might seem like a magazine or video will teach you all you need to know, it isn’t true. Every person is different. We all have movement constraints, past injuries and postural issues that affect our ability to do certain movements. Connecting with a certified personal trainer, even for a couple of sessions, can make a dramatic difference. Resistance training is a critical part of any healthy way of life fitness program. Walking isn’t enough, although that could suffice once or twice a week, depending on your goals.  

Get Eight Hours of Sleep (Every Night)

Looking for an easy way to turn back the clock? At least in how you look? Get more sleep! A recent study published on the British Medical Journal website showed that getting enough sleep makes people look younger than when they’re deprived of sleep. You probably already knew you felt older when you missed out on sleep, but you may look that way as well.

Missing out on sleep is a major problem in a society of 50-60 hour workweeks, constant access to others, commutes, family responsibilities and late-night television. The health complications associated with lack of sleep are significant (see also: Sleep: It Does the Body Good). Getting more sleep may prove to be one of the most challenging habits to stick with. Adding an extra hour to your sleep schedule may mean the sacrifice of something else. When you consider all the benefits of sufficient sleep, the sacrifice will be well worth it.

Getting to bed on time is a great first step. Falling asleep might be the next one. With so much going on in our lives, it can be difficult to relax enough to shut our brains down. Turning down the lights prior to bed can help. Reducing noise and excitement can as well. Nutritional supplements can be a great support to sleep as well. At Life Time, one of our most popular products is Relora-Plex from Douglas Labs.  


These are your first five habits to tackle. Next Sunday we’ll take a look at five more. Again, don’t try to take on more than you can handle. Pick one habit, stick with it for seven days (or until it becomes a habit), then focus on a new one.

Share comments and ask questions below.

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition and Weight Management


This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.



[i] Pereira MA, Erickson E, McKee P, Schrankler K, Raatz S, Lytle L, Pellegrini A. Breakfast Frequency and Quality May Affect Glycemia and Appetite in Adults and Children. J Nutr. 2011;141(1):163-168

[ii] Smith KJ, Gall SL, McNaughton SA, Blizzard L, Dwyer T, Venn AJ. Skipping breakfast: longitudinal associations with cardiometabolic risk factors in the Childhood Determinants of Adult Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;92(6):1316-1325

[iii] Leidy HJ, Racki EM. The addition of a protein-rich breakfast and its effects on acute appetite control and food intake in ‘breakfast-skipping’ adolescents. Int J Ob. 2010;34:1125-1133

[iv] National Fruit & Vegetable Alliance. National Action Plan To Promote Health Through Increased Fruit and Vegetable Consumption. 2010 Report Card.

[v] Reuters. Eating orange and dark green vegetables linked to longer life. Nov 23 2010 Health on

[vi] Christian Nordqvist. Plentiful and Varied Vegetable Consumption Lowers Lung Cancer Risk Considerably. Medical News Today. Sept 1 2010

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Reader Comments (29)

High protein intake is the biggest myth that is around and probably more harmful than helpful to any one for good health. Just like everything else.. one just needs a balanced diet. The portions should be reduced and one should cut out excessive part of just one particular part of food components. But I wouldn't concentrate on any one side.. its a sure way to hurt oneself.

Rest of the suggestions are good.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDesh

It doesn't say "high' protein, it says "adequate" protein based upon what you're trying to achieve. You come across as a know-it-all, who is actually a know- nothing. Just saying

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary Ann

I had a roommate who ate 1 g of protein for each pound of body weight. He worked out and bulked up, but your body just simply can't process that much protein. He was constantly passing gas that was toxic. No one needs that much protein.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

It's exercise 4 times/week for me ..... it's my biggest challenge.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDi

I calculated my how much protein I should eat per meal based on the 0.8g/lb calculation. It says I should eat 4oz of protein per meal and I'm 142lbs. I don't think that's outrageous. For someone who's much heavier due to muscle mass, they may want to adhere to a different formula for their body type as the article indicates.

The hardest goal for me would be working out 4x a week. Good luck to whomever tries this!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCandice

I am all over this and am going to tackle my first challenge. I'm going to bed.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenny

I think eating more veggies & sleeping 8 hours a day are going to be my biggest challenges from this list. I will chose the veggies the first week and see how that goes. I hope to make it a habbit...

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

I love veggies, sleep well regularly, and am getting back to the gym. The protein is the biggest problem for me, because I don't eat meat. I love dairy and eggs, but the fat/protein ratio is a concern. I'll up the numbers gladly, but I'll feel compelled to work out harder to compensate.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

@Mary - it will be better if you comment on the topic and not go around sharing your presumptions about who or what others are... right?

I totally agree with Greg. Protein need is purely a commercial campaign. It has very little basis in actual science.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDesh

These five habits to start are very helpful. I am also a vegetarian, with various food combinations a person can intake plenty of healthy balanced proteins and good fats. I keep track of my exercise circuit on my calendar (iPhone) and the app Lose It the visual helps me stay motivated when i can see progress.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteralisa

I follow this program. Why am I a lard axx? Just kidding. I found that four days swimming with the vegetables has helped with weight and stress. I don't function without 8 hours sleep. All and all I agree with the article. I have protein starved myself and it was an unconstructive diet program. I was skinny Minny but crazed for food. Not pretty.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlton

I have adopted some of these habits about 8 weeks now and I can see a big difference in the way I look and feel. My goal was not to lose weight, but I wanted to be stronger and more lean. My visit with a personal trainer showed me that in my efforts to maintain low weight, I had actually slowed my metabolism. So now, exercising four times a week, having equal amounts of carbs and proteins during the day, making sure I have a low cal snack between meals, and making sure I have breakfast; I have lost inches and become much leaner, my weight is the same, but I am more muscular. Good luck everyone!

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCTolman

my biggest challenge is going to be eating breakfast. I JUST CANT eat in the morning.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShilpa

I have been working out 5x a week, changed my eating habits dramatically and sleep minumum of 7 hrs 5x everydays seven days a week for the past two months and have lost only 1/2 inch.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMahubo

I would like some breakfast suggestions that would be good with this plan since I eat cereal most mornings and I do notice I feel hungry about an hour later.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNancy

I just seem to have slept enough after 5-6 hrs. How can I extend this cycle?

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Nancy: some breakfast options include- organic or cage-free eggs (scramble w/ veggies, fry in coconut oil, hard boil for a quick option); whey protein shake (Whey Protein isolate w/ little fresh or frozen fruit and unsweetend almond or coconut milk, add some ground flaxseed for a super healthy fat- blend and go!), Fast Fuel Complete, which is a higher protein meal replacement. It is made up of whey protein, fiber, glutamine, and a fruit and vegetable complex. You can blend it with a little fruit and non-dairy milk or even just shake it with some non-dairy milk in a shaker cup for a quick option. Another easy option is organic, nitrite/nitrate-free chicken or turkey sausage (Applegate Farms has a good pre-made frozen variety)- add a slice of gluten-free bread or fruit or just have it with some eggs for a great high protein option. Lastly, you can always do leftovers from dinner :)

Hope that helps,

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea McDaniel, MS, RD

It sounds like Nancy is a first time breakfast eater. Why throw gluten free, whey protein powers, Fast Fuel Complete, organic cage-free, almond & coconut milk at her. No wonder people struggle.
I think she was just asking for a simple suggestion of good old oat meal with nuts and dried fruit, egg & veggie omelet, Greek yogurt & fruit, boiled egg and a multi grain toast or perhaps a whole wheat waffle with a nut butter. Why does eating better have to be so complicated!!! Once she stops eating high card and eating more protein rich breakfast options then she can refine her options based on her goals. Plus Eating better doesn’t mean buying everything on the market. Some things are good, but some your fine without!

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

To Nancy & Beau, what we eat at breakfast can set us up for the rest of the day in regards to blood sugar drops, low energy, and sugar cravings so Beau is correct in encouraging more protein and healthy fats vs. just carbs/starches. To build a solid nutrition foundation, starting with breakfast, we want to strive for high-quality protein options (organic is brought up to decrease exposure to hormones, antibiotics, pesticides/chemicals), healthy fats (nuts/seeds, ground flaxseed, olive oil, hummus, all natural nut butters), and fresh veggies or fruits. More important than total calories or grams of fat/sugar/sodium is the "quality" of nutrients to fuel our bodies & cells- whole, natural foods vs. processed with ingredients we can't even identify or pronounce. Also, many Americans have difficulty processing gluten & dairy and no research out there confirms we HAVE to have them in our diets.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCindi Lockhart, RD

I totally agree Cindi. Thanks, Beau

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

Nancy... I have become completely hooked on pancakes made from: 4 egg whites, 1/2 cup cottage chz, 1/2 cup oats (steel cut), 1 tsp vanilla. Mix it up in a Magic Bullet type contraption and make your pancakes. I have a 4 yr old and 8 yr old daughter that like them too. You literally can't tell that they're not 'buttermilk' style pancakes. We typically make ours with BlueBerries (put them on the pan then poor the batter over them) so that you don't need syrup. If you mix it the night before and stick it in the fridge you can be ready to eat in 5 minutes.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick B

I really like this concise, well written article. I've made some great changes over the past 2.5 years that are in this article. The best thing I did was to hire a personal trainer. He has made me a much stronger person and holds me accountable. I strength train 2x per week, and he checks regularly to see that I get my cardio in, get my vitamins, and checks my daily diet (my protein is definitely good, because I love making protein shakes!). Working out at least 4X per week (I actually try to get in 5X per week) and breaking a sweat is what works for me! Getting enough sleep and veggies in is my challenge. I like the suggestion of having a salad before lunch and dinner. That will help a lot. I do eat a lot of processed prepackaged meals for lunch-time convenience, and am working on changing that. I love stir-fry, so I need to make more dishes like that regularly. Another tricky thing is getting in the 8 hrs of sleep! -not getting enough has been aging me. :( My trainer suggested the Relor-plex, so I've been taking that for the past two weeks and it seems to be helping-now if I can just get to bed a little earlier... Sometimes it can be challenging, especially trying to keep up socially and with work expectations, but the healthy choices I've already established have really helped in all the day to day stressful challenges. My husband has noticed a huge difference (for the better) of how I deal with daily work related stresses. So anyone just starting, note that it has been a process for me and after over 2 years, the healthier habits are part of my lifestyle. I'm still working on getting better, but articles like these help me learn what else I can do to keep on working at being healthier. Thank you for this article!

January 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristi

There is some great commentary and discussion out here! Thank you Kristi for explaining that achieving long term success is a process and it involves talking on one behavior or obstacle at a time. First, pick something to change, do it consistently, and do it well. Then, repeat with a new change while maintaining the original change (unless it flat out didn't work).

For most people, the change that makes the biggest difference is committing to re-balancing the diet to one that is more apt to help the body be energized and begin to burn fat. Science has proven that it takes a fair amount of protein to ensure this happens in active adults (it's not marketing at all; it's a physiogic demand). However, eating this much protein in the absence of adequate vegetables which provide the necessary minerals to neutralize and "acidic" reaction the body has to protein is just plain dangerous in the long run. We HAVE TO EAT PLANTS TOO!.

These are facts. We have know them for quite some time. When we finally decide to commit to changing our life enough to eat with these patterns, weight loss becomes a mere side-effect of a better life. Kristi would agree. Thanks again Kristi. Please clone yourmindset for others to borrow:).

January 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Kriegler, RD/LD, CPT

Thanks Paul for the positive feedback and yes, I definitely agree! Many positive changes show up from making healthy choices. Also, thank you for sharing about how vegetables help neutralize the acidic reaction the body can have from the protein. I didn't know that, so it just reinforces my need to increase my vegetable intake! And thanks to those that shared breakfast recipes! Breakfast has always been my favorite meal, so I'm looking forward to trying them out, especially Patrick's pancakes!

January 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristi

I am proud to say I have finally begun to conquer my anti-veggie stance! The most difficult of these 5 for me is the exercise and veggies. Exercising before I had kids 3 years ago was no problem. I exercised 6 days a week for 1.5 hours. Now I don't want to miss a second of my babies when I am not at work. But I have started to stay the course now with my veggie challenged eating (and protien at breakfast). How? By making simple meals in my wok or steamer basket and jumbling the veggies in with other things. I picked a few veggies that over time I could tolerate. So I have been using the same ones each week for the past 3 weeks. Now it is habit to have them at dinnertime. Here is what I have selected being conscious of color variety: orange and yellow bell pepper, sweet onions (Vidalia), asparagus, broccolini, zucchini, yellow squash, butternut squash. Here is a sample of how I use them: stir-fry with little to no oil, combine with strip cut beef or chicken, rice or noodles, pick a sauce like spagetti, homemade orange sauce (I looked at the ingredients of store bought Chineese orange), lemon pepper, garlic and Parmesan cheese... Layer stripnsliced veggies in with spagetti sauce and sausage and you hardly notice them!

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTutusntoes

Be careful about how you get your protein. I began having 2 servings of a whey based protein shake for breakfast and increased my intake of eggs. I was in for a big eye opener when I got the results from my yearly physical. My normally good cholesterol was suddenly 220 with a dangerous portion as bad cholesterol. Looking back at my protein shakes, it turns out that each one had 45% of the rda for cholesterol. My MD said high protein diets were a huge culprit in producing unhealthy cholesterol levels. He said he got in arguments with his daughter all the time. She is a personal trainer. Bottom line - make sure you read all of the label on protein supplements, not just the protein and carbs.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterroy

WOW! I just read about the cholestrol problem with protein. I too was just at the Doc for a physical. My levels were suddenly up too as I started with my double scoops of Whey in the morning with my shakes. I need to go back after another blood test he ordered and see what he has to say about the change in the protein I am ingesting. I also take more after my workouts which are 4 - 5 times per week plus the protein bars when I wanted a snack. Sounds like I have a wee too much protein going in.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDH

Roy, DH
I'm not sure if your doctor requested it, but before getting too worried, I would suggest having your doctor look at what kind of LDL cholesterol increased. Saturated fat, which you'd get some of in the eggs, tends to increase large, fluffy LDL cholesterol which has been shown to NOT affect heart disease risk. It's the very-low density lipoprotein (VLDL) which is the most atherosclerotic. VDLD is often increased as a result of excessive carbohydrates in the diet. The other thing with saturated fat is that it also raises HDL cholesterol (often called the good cholesterol). Protein itself isn't likely to affect cholesterol levels. High-protein diets have a reputation for raising cholesterol, but it's not becasue of the protein itself, it's the saturated fat associated with many protein sources. Again, though, this doesn't mean it's necessarily bad. As for the small amount of cholesterol in the protein shakes, dietary cholesterol has not been shown to increase the body's cholesterol levels. Anyway, there's a lot more I could add on the subject, but it's probably worth writing an article on it in the near future. You both bring up concerns a lot of people have, so it's worth a discussion on what the research has shown on the subject. We'll get an article written in the near future. Hope that helps.
Tom Nikkola

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Nikkola

To follow up with what Tom said in regards to the higher protein intake (especially via the essentially fat-free Whey protein) causing higher cholesterol levels, this is oftentimes not the culprit. If anything, extra protein could tax the kidney function but only in individuals with kidney dysfunction NOT healthy individuals. The biggest nutritional components in raising cholesterol & LDL levels are processed trans fats & high fructose corn syrup. I would suggest looking at the rest of your diet intake and assessing the quality of foods coming in during other times. Plus, how are you doing with fresh veggies & fruit intake as well as the "healthy" omega 3 fat sources such as EVOO, almonds, walnuts, ground flax, wild fish which have been shown to help manage lipid levels as well as blood pressure, glucose levels, etc?

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCindi Lockhart, RD

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