THE BLOG
10/19/2014 05:56 pm ET Updated Dec 19, 2014

Change Is Hard, So Start Small

Any change is hard. I know this because as I visit with my clients I learn most of them actually do know what healthy eating and behaviors look like. Most people know eating more fruits and vegetables, decreasing portions or exercising consistently will be beneficial for them, yet they are not putting this knowledge into action. Intention seems to be very popular. A statistic that impacted me greatly when I first heard it is that only 20 percent of what makes us healthy is related to our genes but 50 percent is related to healthy behaviors. Healthy diet and physical activity are a big part of healthy behaviors so it has become a passion of mine to teach nutrition in a practical way that works for each individual.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist at Mayo Clinic Health System educating people about the benefits of a healthy eating plan (individualized to their diagnosis) and what that looks like is a big part of my job. But then comes that word "change." Whether it is weight loss, an improvement in diabetes control or lowering blood pressure, in order to get results, some changes need to be made. How can people make changes to their diet when they have eating habits and patterns that have been around a long time -- maybe since childhood? The plan should be one that is intentionally set up for success -- much more than just "willpower." This includes several things, including the healthy diet changes, to ensure behavior change both in the short and long-term.

Find what motivates you.
In order to make a change, people need some sort of motivation. Many people are motivated by a medical event or diagnosis. Motivators can be small or big -- like new clothes or a decrease in medications. It doesn't matter what motivates you as long as you define what does. Thinking about your motivators can often be difficult -- but it is an important piece of taking action on intentions. Literally writing them down and keeping them where you can see them often (even daily) is a great start to any behavior change.

Set challenging but realistic goals.
Goals are good to have but they are more often than not long-term, broad and unrealistic. Goals should be focused on the steps you are going to take to get to the end result. For example, your goal might be to lose twenty pounds. That is a great goal but add specific behavior-related goals focused on actions you are going to take to get there. An example of a specific short-term goal in relation to losing that 20 pounds may be, "I will exercise three times each week for 30 minutes," or "I will eat five servings of fruits and veggies each day."

Set up accountability.
Adding accountability makes it much more likely you will take action on your goals. For example, if you pay for an exercise class and meet a friend there, you are much more likely to go. There are many ways to provide yourself with accountability -- here are just a few examples: dietitian meetings, support groups, healthy cooking groups, exercise classes, setting a time to meet a friend for a walk, keeping a food record, or weighing yourself weekly.

Find support.
A big change like diet and lifestyle is too hard to do alone. Tell the people you know will be supportive, especially the ones you are eating with, what you are doing and they will help you with the above.

Changing your diet and your lifestyle is hard but it is important and doable. The results that happen when just a few small positive changes are made can be tremendous. Most people who have lost weight or improved their health through diet will tell you it was well worth the challenge. Healthy eating isn't black and white or good and bad. It is about small changes and better choices and in the end it is the small repeated efforts over and over that lead to success.

Statistic above is from: F as in Fat - How Obesity Threatens America's Future, 2013