My New Year’s resolution was to bike to and from work Monday through Friday. It lasted three days, until El Nino storms hit Los Angeles, and I ended up spending half the day at the office soggy and miserable. Willpower is one thing, wet pants are another.
Like me, many people set big, optimistic goals that motivate us strongly at first, and then wane just as quickly. “How many people have tried to become a vegan, go gluten-free, or commit to daily spin classes only to burn out two weeks later, despite our best intentions?” asks fitness and nutrition expert Harley Pasternak, author of 5 Pounds and trainer to numerous A-list celebs.
The answer? I can’t count that high.
Thankfully, Pasternak has a better approach — one that is simple and sustainable. He calls it “Gain One, Lose One,” as in “gain one new habit, lose one pound or inch.”
Gain One, Lose One
The basic premise of Gain One, Lose One, is to introduce one new thing into your lifestyle every week. To work best, these should be tiny shifts that you know without a doubt that you can achieve.
For example, Pasternak says, for the first week, skip the free cookie sample you always grab while visiting your favorite coffee shop. “While this is a small step, it’s still a step in the right direction and one that I know I can actually stick to,” he reasons, adding, “It symbolizes my effort to get leaner, fitter, and healthier.”
And skipping cookie samples is much more doable than, say, committing to cook a full breakfast at home every single day. Over time, these tiny changes add up.
Related: 30 Healthy Habits Fit People Live By
During the second week, Pasternak suggests taking a walk around the block before having breakfast. “Again, it’s a small, four-minute exercise commitment,” he says. But consider the cumulative effect: Taking 800 steps around the block adds up to nearly three miles a week, or about 150 miles per year.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Every week, the changes can become more difficult or build upon the habits you’ve adopted in previous weeks. Your personal plan might include drinking more water, having a healthy snack in the afternoon, or doing 10 push-ups every day.
Here are some more of Pasternak’s suggestions — use them to spark ideas for your own small, sustainable changes.
Week 1: Cut out one stealth snack, like the candy you grab after lunch every day (even though you’re not still hungry).
Week 2: Walk around your block once before breakfast or after dinner. Choose a time that you know you can do it, and link it to an existing habit (i.e., a meal) to make that your cue to get outside.
Week 3: Commit to a better breakfast. “I make the apple pie smoothie from my The Body Reset Diet book. It has apple, almonds, cinnamon, plain yogurt, a frozen banana, and organic milk,” Pasternak says. “It’s easy to make — if it wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t stick to it — and it tastes like heaven.”
Week 4: Add in a second walk around the block — boom — that’s another five miles per week.
Week 5: Build a satisfying salad for lunch every day that includes lean protein, such as shrimp, shredded chicken, or salmon. Then pile on as many vegetables as you like, plus a healthy fat such as roasted almonds or avocado slices.
Week 6: Start tracking your steps with a FitBit or Jawbone. 10,000 steps a day is a good goal, but again, start with a challenge that you know is within reach. Add 10 minutes to your morning or dinnertime walks, or start taking a 15-minute walk around the office to ward off the afternoon slump.