THE BLOG
05/06/2013 12:25 pm ET Updated Jul 06, 2013

When It Comes to Healthier Eating, Sometimes the Smallest Changes Can Usher In the Biggest Rewards

Often the thought of making major life changes can be so daunting that it scares us into not making any changes at all. Think of it as the "all-or-nothing syndrome." For some reason, wrapping our heads around big changes is almost too much to bear. Thus, we can end up giving up before we even start trying. But sometimes? Just one small change can set things into motion and lead to substantial, lifelong rewards.

For years (and years) while I was morbidly obese (topping out at over 450 pounds), I would wake up every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, ready to change every single thing about my eating. This would entail throwing out all junk food the night before (after eating as much of it as humanly possible) and buying only diet-type foods to replace it with. Then, at some point during the next day (be it Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday), I would become overwhelmed with change (and/or celery) and give up until the next day. This is until Thursday, when I would usually give up until the following Monday. Ah, cycles... This went on not for weeks. Not for months. But for years.

Then, one day, I discovered the power of a small, positive change. Instead of taking on an entire war all at once, I chose one, single battle -- and was surprised that it resulted in a successful win. This was because I had dropped the all-or-nothing syndrome, which, it turns out, was setting me up for failure time and time again.

One example of a small change was the day I changed how I drank my coffee.

Those that know me will tell you I'm a big caffeine addict. Granted, I treat caffeine (in the form of coffee) with the same regard I treat all food and drink in my life: with moderation. But back in the day, having coffee meant having a whole lot of cream and sugar with it. Actually, way back when (or weigh back when, as I like to say), I would drink coffee with artificial sweetener and artificial, nonfat creamer. The thought of consuming these totally unnatural, chemically-altered substances makes me shudder today.

As I learned more about health and nutrition, I gave up those artificial substances and replaced them with real sugar (Sugar in the Raw was my choice) and real cream (half n' half, in this case). You might be surprised to read about the sugar and half n' half. But based on how my body metabolized these more natural substances, I knew they were better for me than the artificial "fat- and calorie-free" crap (key word) that I'd been using up until then.

One. Small. Change.

But wait. There's more.

Having succeeded with my "small change, big reward" theory with the artificial sweetener, there was a day I decided to take it one step further. Thus, I gave up the cream and sugar entirely and, instead, started to drink my coffee au natural (aka black). This took some getting used to because I like my coffee strong and bold. So the first couple sips of black coffee would elicit the kind of facial expressions that not even graduates of clown colleges could make.

But eventually? I got used to the taste of black coffee. And -- surprise, surprise -- I even began to prefer the taste of black coffee. I liked how the flavor worked in tandem with my morning cereal or toast (never overwhelming the taste of breakfast and never being overly sweet like a milkshake). Another small change. Not to mention another big reward in that I had reduced my calorie intake by no longer having cream and sugar with my coffee.

For a time, I would allow myself to have cream and sugar on special occasions. At first only on weekends. Then only on special occasions (like my birthday). But eventually? I went all black coffee, all the time. And since then, I've never looked back. Although I do still occasionally make the ridiculous clown faces during the first, somewhat bitter sips. But I've learned to enjoy that moment for what it's worth, figuring these "facial exercises" might be burning up a few additional calories.

The great thing about small changes is that once you've successfully achieved them and made them part of your life, they will start to affect other decisions. For example, if I'm running around town and have to grab breakfast on the run, if I'm getting a black coffee I don't want to completely negate that healthy choice by having a donut with it, and instead will opt for a bran muffin or piece of fruit. Again, everything in moderation.

Now, I'm not telling you to join me on the black coffee bandwagon. But I am suggesting you look at different areas of your life and see where there might be room for one small change. Accomplishing that change could affect the rest of your life -- and perhaps your health -- in a very positive, very beautiful way.

Planning a small change? Or have a change you accomplished to brag about? Do tell! I'm waiting over my cup of coffee with bated breath (and a promise to not react with a "clown face").

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For more by Gregg McBride, click here.

For more on personal health, click here.

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