What would you anticipate are the six most potent changes you can make for real transformation?
Do your thoughts tend toward the extreme? Slashing calories? Exercising hours a day? Depriving yourself of great food or regular fun?
What if I told you none of those even begin to make this list? What if I said true transformation doesn’t come from extreme measures but from disciplined but do-able commitment to key behaviors?
And let me add the little appreciated truth that change begets change. Your efforts and motivation over time become compounded. It’s a phenomenon you can’t anticipate at the beginning of a journey, but I see it every day in my clients. What you do today will make you a person who next week can envision and take on that much more.
True, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and genuine transformation rarely completes itself in six weeks, but in that short amount of time all the essential components could be in place, which means you’ll be fully engaged (and well on your way) to big change.
Read on for those six habits that can make the most difference in your initial six-week window....
Week 1: Switch out your beverages.
You can probably guess where I’m going with this, but stick with me here.
First, do me a favor and jot down all the drinks you had today. Take whatever time you need, but record all of them right down to finishing your child’s juice box. Now imagine what a dietitian’s response would be to this list and what he/she would suggest in this first week. Yup, I’m going to tell you to drink more water (half your weight in ounces)—and for two very critical reasons.
These days people drink enough sugar and calories to constitute sometimes multiple meals—often without one iota of nutrition. As a result, you’re tripping your insulin (and fat storage signals) for no good reason multiple times each day.
First order of business this week is to begin losing the unhealthy beverages. That means flavored coffee drinks, most bottled teas, sodas, energy drinks, fruit juices, etc. For flavorful substitutions, check out Paul’s Drink This, Not That post.
But most of all, commit to increasing your water intake. Simple, filtered water. It doesn’t get much easier than this.
And start early—as in first thing in the morning. While you’ve been at rest for a good eight hours of sleep (right?), your body has still been working. Make your first priority to replenish water levels before your a.m. coffee.
Doing so will jump-start your metabolism, and you’ll actually feel the natural energy boost—rather than relying on your daily dose of caffeine.
Increasing your water intake will encourage you to cut down your consumption of other beverages—and quite possibly your cravings and hunger cues!
So, this week down one glass of water first thing in the A.M. and substitute water (or other healthy substitutes) for other drinks in your day.
Week 2: Start a supplement regimen.
Trust me, this is strategy through and through. In early weeks you want results and sustainability. You lock into a change of routine and start with a small “win” for behavior shift—that offers bigger dividends than you might believe!
I’m talking about metabolism here. It’s how to begin making a significant impact today with easy effort. To function properly and allow your body to be the best fat burner possible, your metabolism needs to be fueled by nutrients in abundant quantities.
The physiological processes and reactions that occur every second in your body depend on vitamins and minerals. Have you ever really stopped to think about how you feel after eating highly-processed or fast food—in other words, foods that are virtually empty calories? Do any of these sound familiar—sluggishness, lethargy, distended stomach, headache, or energy crashes?
Without proper nutrients, it’s very difficult to create energy (ATP), to burn and utilize fat stores effectively, or to perform any metabolic function above and beyond the necessities just to exist.
The best way for the body to digest and utilize vitamins and minerals is from a nutrient-dense diet of 9-11 servings of vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, and quality protein sources from grass-fed and pasture-raised animals.
That said, most people aren’t ready to jump into the deep end of the pool right away. Dietary change comes over a series of weeks.
In the meantime, you can kick-start metabolic shift today. Enter nutrition supplements—most essentially a quality multivitamin and fish oil.
Why these two supplements specifically? A pharmaceutical-grade multivitamin is not meant to take the place of eating well, but it’s a great way to help “fill in the gaps” in nutrient deficiencies and start benefitting your metabolism from day one. A fish oil supplement is recommended to help meet our needs for omega-3s and to offset our intake of too much inflammatory omega-6s.
This week’s to-do? Set a time (and an alarm) for yourself each day to take these supplements.
Week 3: Choose one thing to track each day.
Real world fact: we change what we track, or at the very least we build awareness of how we rate in a particular habit.
Keep your method of tracking EASY. If you’ve dabbled with journaling your nutrition intake and have found it helpful, by all means have at it again. However, if this is your first time tracking or journaling a lifestyle habit, start simple.
A good recommendation is to choose an area that you feel you would like to improve the most AND an area that you are ready to start making changes in. This could be the number of steps you take in a day, your minutes of exercise, the miles you run, the ounces of water you consume, the servings of veggies you eat, etc.
Think of it as an area you want to maintain or increase the amount of, rather than limit or avoid (that has more of a negative connotation which may quickly lead you in a downward spiral of defeat).
One of my favorite methods is a compliance tracker. I print out a weekly or monthly calendar and for each day include the activity I’m focusing on (e.g. take daily supplements, walk 10,000 steps, etc.). At the end of the day I record with a Y (yes) or N (no) to indicate my progress toward that habit. If you want a slightly more detailed compliance tracker, swap out the Y or N with a quantity (e.g. took 3 of 3 supplements; walked 8,000 steps).
Transform in week three by tracking one habit for the next seven days, and discover how you’re really doing at making changes to see where you can improve.
Week 4: Establish a pre-bedtime, tech-free buffer.
Believe it or not, this may be your biggest game-changer yet, and it’s not just about benefitting your sleep.
Electronics directly disrupt our cortisol levels in the body (stress) and may actually stimulate brain activity to disrupt our circadian rhythm—therefore delaying sleep.
Our bodies naturally start the day with higher levels of cortisol (and low levels of melatonin). Cortisol gradually decreases throughout the day so that by nighttime we’re winding down and ready to sleep (as our bodies increase melatonin levels).
When we’re exposed to bright light for an extended amount of time, it signals our brains to be alert and awake. In turn, our brains stop secreting melatonin—our hormone to help us sleep and regulate the sleep cycle. Insufficient and disrupted sleep doesn’t just impact our energy levels and mood either. Oh no, it does WAY more than that.
Take a peek at some of the ways it even impacts your weight and waistline!
Changing the time that we go to bed can be a tough transition. For starters this week, benefit your sleep habits by turning off the TV, putting your phone away, and ditch the meaningless iPad use for some quality time with your family, a warm bath, a good book or a relaxing yoga/stretch routine. Use a bit of time to also prep your lunch and clothes for the next day.
Week 5: Bring out the protein—first and foremost for breakfast.
It’s time to change out those macronutrients—in the interest of nutrition and satiety.
Whenever your “breakfast” is, whether it’s first thing when you get up or later in the morning, prioritize protein. It offers your body energy it needs from recovering overnight, replenishes muscles and cells, spares you a blood sugar spike, and quite possibly may also provide some healthy fat as well. Now we’re cooking with gas!
Compare this with the standard American breakfast, which typically consists of sugar-laden cereal (yup, even those “whole-grain” versions), fat-free milk and juice. In other words, sugar with sugar, and sugar to drink. This is not the breakfast of champions....
“Becca, I GET that I should have protein for breakfast, but what should I actually eat then…?!”
An easy go-to is always eggs. In three minutes or less you can whip up scrambled or over-easy, or if you have some time the night before you could batch-cook hard-boiled eggs for a great on-the-go breakfast or snack. Some weeks I even make an easy egg-bake to serve as breakfast for the week.
Other great options include nitrate-free bacon (which you can also batch-cook to save time), leftover protein entrée from the night before (eat as-is or added with greens to an egg scramble), protein shakes, or Greek yogurt with almonds, pecans, and flaxseeds with fruit.
Just by making one simple change in your morning and focusing first on getting protein, you’ll be reseting your dietary routine for the day by staving off blood sugar spikes and carb cravings.
This week: swap out your staple breakfast items for protein (with sides of vegetables, fruit, or true whole-grains).
Week 6: Experiment with veggies—and DON’T forget the butter!
By now you’ve probably noticed what this list hasn’t been. It hasn’t been a series of directives on what to give up but rather a succession of tips on what to add to you life. This especially goes for nutrition.
I’ve had numerous clients in the past struggle initially with behavior change, and one of their central stumbling blocks was emphasizing what they couldn’t eat.
In my experience, defining change through the negative rarely works—particularly long-term. It focuses us on creating and maintaining a void in our behavior without close attention to what we should be filling it with. Talk about setting ourselves up for discouragement!
When you focus on what you ARE having on your plate (i.e. protein and veggies), you quickly start to crowd out other foods that don’t serve as much of a purpose—at least for your transformation. Very few people that I meet with initially love vegetables, but the good news is that there are tons of ways to gradually add them into your day without really noticing. This repeated exposure, even small, will help expand your taste preferences.
Other good news: the more you shift your nutrition intake to nutrient-dense foods, the more your body will crave them (and less of the sweet/salty foods). Rest assured that research confirms this….
This week your focus is experimenting with and adding in as many vegetables as you can—ideally with every meal. Prioritize non-starchy varieties, but consider the sky the limit otherwise. Seek out as many kinds of vegetables and non-processed preparations as you can. Visit restaurants and browse cookbooks/websites for appealing recipes. Commit to experimental kitchen time throughout this week to settle on several new favorite recipes by the week’s end.
And potentially the best news yet: be sure to add some healthy fat! Many vegetables are fat-soluble, which means in order for your body to best use and absorb the nutrients in them (e.g. vitamins A, D, E, K), you also need fat to help absorption.
Commit to experimentation with healthy fats and oils, too. (Just remember a little fat goes a long way!) A few good options to add to vegetables include avocados (for salads, burgers, chicken, eggs, etc.), coconut oil (for sautéing), olive oil (use at room temp), and butter—or better yet ghee.
Top off your transformation commitment in week six by including vegetables with each meal and actively expanding your eating horizons with new veggie-based recipes for salads, stir-fry, baked/roasted mixes, and crudités style snacks. (Start slow with cruciferous veggies if your intake has been minimal to avoid too much fiber at once).
This six-week plan offers a phenomenal start for your transformation to a healthier you! Add fitness to these dietary and lifestyle changes, and you’ll be on the road to impressive change. You don’t necessarily have to proceed in this order if you feel eager to start with one before another. The central question is always what can you start this week to get one step closer to your ideal you?
Thanks for reading. Would you like individualized support and guidance for your transformation journey? Set up a consultation with a registered dietitian or personal trainer today!
In health, Becca Hurt, MS, RD, Assistant Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss
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.