Quit cold turkey. Run a marathon. Cut out carbohydrates. Reduce calorie intake by half. You may believe that drastic changes are the only ways to achieve the results you want, but that's hardly the case.
"When changes are too big, they may be too overwhelming," said registered dietitian Ellie Krieger, author of "Small Changes, Big Results: A 12-Week Action Plan to a Better Life." "People don't want to start, or they don't know where to begin so they don't at all."
Small lifestyle changes are easier to achieve and maintain. When successful, they are more likely to become habits and can lead to increased self-confidence.
"Most successful goals or changes are things you can literally check off and say, 'I did this,'" Krieger said. "If you say, 'I am going to eat better,' you can't track or net that goal. But when you set and accomplish small, tangible changes, you get an immediate sense of gratification, and that is self-motivating."
So whether you're looking to improve your finances, health, fitness or relationships, focusing on frequent, achievable little goals will lead you to success.
Stop Before You're Full
"On a scale of one to 10, with one being you're famished and 10 being you're Thanksgiving full, stop eating when you're at a five or six," said Krieger.
To stay satisfied yet never stuffed, give your snack or meal undivided attention. So-called "mindful eating" means not eating in front of the TV or anything that would distract you from the food.
Take small bites. Chew slowly. Smell your food. Focus on the texture and taste. After a few bites or one serving, ask yourself if you want more or are satisfied.
Using smaller plates and bowls can also help.
In a Cornell University study published in the September 2006 issue of the "American Journal of Preventative Medicine," 85 nutrition experts were given either a small or a large bowl for ice cream. Participants with the larger bowl served themselves and ate 31 percent more calories than those with the smaller bowl.
According to Brian Wansink, Cornell Food and Brand Lab director and lead author of the study, people are likely to serve themselves 22 percent fewer calories if they use a 10-inch plate instead of a 12-inch plate.
Portion half of the dinner plate with vegetables and fruits, says Elisa Zied, registered dietitian and author of "Nutrition at Your Fingertips." This way you fill up on fruits and veggies instead of the high-caloric food.
Take a Relaxing Bath
If you're struggling to fall asleep at night, Harvard University sleep experts suggest establishing a soothing pre-sleep routine. Read a book, practice relaxation exercises or take a bath (the rise and fall in body temperature induces drowsiness). Keep your room slightly cool, and avoid the glow of your computer at night.
After all, sleep is important for your well-being as well as your waistline. A study presented at the 2011 meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies shows that not getting enough shuteye may make junk food more tempting. Researchers say daytime sleepiness may impair your brain's inhibitory control when viewing tantalizing, high-caloric food.
Shower With Your Eyes Closed
Blocking or combining one or more of your senses, such as showering with your eyes closed or eating blindfolded, can improve memory and your mental fitness, according to the Franklin Institute.
When you use your senses in unexpected ways, you're stimulating nerve cells in the brain so that pathways and circuits get activated.
Listen to the rain and tap your fingers, or smell flowers while listening to music. Close your eyes when buying fresh produce and rely only on your spatial reasoning and sense of smell and touch.
Eat More, Drink Less
Whether it's a 140-calorie can of soda can or a 190-calorie soy latte, "liquid calories add up," said Zied.
Limit beverages that add to your daily caloric intake yet do little to make you feel full. And although low in calories, diet soda is not the solution. Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio reported that drinking diet soda is associated with a wider waistline. And a second study found that aspartame -- an artificial sweetener in diet sodas -- raised the blood sugar levels in mice.
Stick to water or unsweetened coffee/tea, or make fresh-fruit-infused water: Blend two cups of water with a cup of melon and pour over ice.
Sprint Your Workout
Burn fat, build muscles, boost endurance and improve your cardiovascular health in the shortest time possible with interval training, or short bursts of high-intensity exercises, says Jeff Plasschaert, an exercise physiologist at the University of Florida.
An effective way of incorporating interval training is to make part of your workout a circuit, such as a six-exercise set completed for one minute each with 30-second rests and repeated three times for a 30-minute workout. Be sure to include a warm-up and cool-down routine.
"If you know how much time you have to work out, then you can pick a set number of exercises and repeat those exercises for the duration of the workout," said Plasschaert.
Spend 15 Minutes Saving
The average U.S. family carries $8,000 in credit-card debt. Rather than making drastic sacrifices --- such as downsizing from a two-car to a one-car household --- financial expert Ellie Kay suggests small, workable changes that add up to major savings.
Before you shop, Kay recommends seeking online coupon codes and promotions. Cut your grocery bill in half with deals from the newspaper or other online coupon sites, and before traveling, use sites that let you know where the cheapest gas is along your route.
"Devote 15 minutes a day to saving, and determine to never pay full price for anything," said Kay.
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