The Unexpected Big Benefits of Small Changes

by DavalosMcCormack on March 3, 2008

A few years ago I gave up drinking beer for Lent. Now, I’m not a fanatical Catholic or anything, I just thought it would be good to give up something I liked for a while, so that I would appreciate it all the more. At the end of the 40 days and 40 nights (the days were easy, but some nights I really missed my pint – but I’m getting distracted here) I found not only had I stuck with my goal, but I had also lost a few pounds.

I was reminded of that the other day when I heard about a study in England where children were asked to stop eating chips, and other salty snacks, for a short time to see what impact that had on their sodium intake. Well, not surprisingly the researchers found the kids were consuming less sodium. But then they found something they hadn’t expected. Because the kids weren’t eating salty snacks they weren’t as thirsty as usual and so were not drinking as many sodas and sugary drinks. The kids lost weight without even really trying.

It made me think about how sometimes making small changes can have big impacts, often in ways we had not expected or planned.

For example, with the economy hitting a rough patch many people are cutting back on expenses such as eating out. That might turn out to be a great move – except of course for the restaurant industry – because restaurant meals have a lot more calories than meals cooked at home, and the portion sizes tend to be larger. A study in 2003 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that when people eat out they tend to consume more calories and saturated fat, and fewer nutrients and fiber, than when they eat at home. Not eating out so much could not only help their pocket book, it might also help their waistline.

There are other examples of course. Some people getting botox injections found that not only did they have fewer wrinkles on their face but they also had fewer migraines. And people who were morbidly obese and underwent a stomach bypass operation not only lost a lot of weight, they also found that they no longer had diabetes and that their blood pressure returned to a more normal level. Neither of these were what the people originally went in for, but it was a very nice side benefit.

Too often we tend to dismiss small changes as not being enough to produce a difference. We think “oh why would I even bother switching from cream in my coffee to low fat milk, what difference does that make?” Well, if you have a couple of cups of coffee a day, seven days a week, 30 days a month, 12 months a year, it can make a big difference. Half and Half (according to the wonderful calorie counter tool on About.com’s site) has 315 calories a cup and 250 of those come from fat. Low fat or 2% milk by comparison has only 122 calories, and only 43 of those are from fat. So over time, that makes a big difference.

And there are lots of other small changes we can make. For example, lots of people like to snack on a candy bar mid-afternoon to give them a little zip between lunch and dinner. Why not substitute a banana or other piece of fruit for that candy bar. It’s a lot cheaper (banana cost only around 20 cents each) just as tasty and a lot healthier for you. Lots of fiber, nutrients and great for helping regulate blood pressure.

So maybe sometimes it pays not to look at the big picture. That can be a bit overwhelming. Just focus on making small changes, the end result might surprise you.

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