Monday Motivation: One step at a time.

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I originally wrote this post when my blog was called “Mindful Health” back in November of 2006. While the content and direction of my work has changed to a degree, the fundamentals of my approach have not. As much as I love a challenge or a real-food detox (like my 21-Day Sugar Detox) as much as the next person, I know that often people need or want to take baby steps. In fact, for many, even a Paleo challenge or detox for 21-days is just that, a baby step. Often people use that time to take two steps forward, then take one step back after the set timeframe is up. That’s okay. You learn so much in the time of a nutritional challenge, that it’s nearly impossible to fall 100% back into your old ways. At least not without being mindful of how new habits felt versus the old.

That all being said, I wanted to revamp and revisit one of my very first posts:

“One step at a time.”

I recall writing this post for a friend who was feeling overwhelmed by all of the new information about health and nutrition being presented to her in the media, and even from people like me. It was all too much, and she felt like she needed to know just one first step to take to start her journey.

Every journey begins with just one step.

Many people fail at making a lifestyle shift/change because they set themselves up for failure. It’s like trying to pull a U-turn on a one-way street when you try to go from one way of living to something that may be completely different. It just doesn’t work because it’s not practical, and you haven’t got the space to make it work!

Looking back at when I had about 30lbs to lose, I realize that taking small steps was exactly what I did. I took steps that were manageable and that I felt confident I could tackle. When I got those down to where they were things I did without thinking twce – choices I made instinctively – I added on from there. This is how change will stick for most people.

I actually remember my very first “step,” in which I included three small but monumental changes for myself:

  1. No fried foods. At the time I was not cooking things at home in appropriate oils, so this meant I was nixing french fries, mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, etc. I grew up in New Jersey so this also meant giving up things like funnel cakes and zeppoles on the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore.
  2. No ice cream. In hindsight, don’t know why I made this rule for myself, but perhaps then, as now, when faced with a pint of the cold, sweet, creamy, and delicious treat, I simply can’t eat just one serving. The entire pint becomes the serving. Oopsie!
  3. Soda only on Sundays. And just one. I didn’t even drink much soda at the time – so this was not a habit that was hard to kick. But it was one of those things I knew I shouldn’t be consuming, so I reserved a single Dr. Pepper for my weekly Sunday dinners with my girlfriends at our local Panera. It was a ritual and a treat, and it kept me in-line the rest of the week knowing that this was a rule I had made for myself.

This was back in 2001 and these rules worked for me. I was getting healthier week by week, and making progress on my weight-loss journey.

Now that I teach about a Paleo diet, and many of my friends and colleagues do the same, we’re in this bubble where people often forget how monumental even those three changes above can be in a person’s life. Someone doesn’t need to be grain-free from Day 1 to be making progress. It’s a new attitude about food and making positive choices that feeds-forward into even more of the same. And, bear in mind that Paleo Perfectionism is often not a useful approach.

I applaud those who make one small change, succeed at maintaining it, then continuing on their own journey.

So, please don’t freak out and think about all of the things you’re doing “wrong.” Focus on doing just one thing right. Make one right choice at a time. Change one thing about the way you eat and choose things to eat at a time. When you have “mastered” making that choice, move on to the next one and add to your knowledge.

Knowledge is power and the ability to make changes based on knowledge is the absolute key to success in any new lifestyle action-plan. Once you know what you should be choosing to eat (or not eat) and why, you can’t pretend like you don’t know. Once you know that you’re perfectly capable of making at least one change, you are empowered to move forward and continue with more.

What was, is currently, or will be your first step?

  • Stephanie

    Thanks, I really need this today! I’ve “technically” been paleo for 6 months, and I keep telling myself I need to be very strict with my food in order to rein in my leaky gut and adrenal issues, but I keep falling off the wagon. Lately I’ve been thinking going step by step would be more effective than all-out. I’m going to start today by making a few simple rules for myself!

    • Ellen


      I identify really strongly with your points (same issues, plus a very funky eating schedule I’m addicted to). I’d love to know how it goes for you!

  • Melissa

    I am so guilty of this. I wake up Monday morning thinking I’m going to workout 5x this week and eat strict paleo and by Tuesday I’m throwing in the towel and ordering a pizza. Just recently I have forced myself to have one goal a day whether it is working out, not eating sugar, no alcohol, etc. Sometimes having attainable goals means starting small. This way I am ending each day having achieved my goal for that day. Eliminating the failures gives me the motivation to keep going.

  • Orla

    This is exactly what I did,
    1st change the quality of the food
    2nd add a lot more vegetables
    3rd start cutting down on the wheat

    About 1.5-2years in and I’m still learning, it’s a slow process but now I’m looking at ways to improve my thyroid health, I can’t seem to get anything like armour here so it’s going to have to be all down to my diet. I already got TSH down from 9+ to 4.5, without trying too, I didn’t know my TSH was out until the 4.5

  • Alexi

    Thanks for the personal insight Diane! It is always encouraging to hear stories that others have gone through, because most people have been there before in one way or another. I am currently trying to cut wheat out of my diet. This has become very hard because I never realized how many convenient options have some sort of wheat in it. Being a college student is especially a challenge because it is more difficult to cook and prepare wheat free meals. After reading wheat belly, I have more recipes to make this experience a little easier.

    I know this will be a slow process and agree that I will be successful with small steps towards my goal. It was great to hear all of the input and experiences, nice to know we’re not alone. :)

  • Naz

    Hi Diane,

    First of all just wanted to say that I love your blog! I’ve only recently discovered it and spent this past weekend sick in bed pouring over it and catching up on podcasts.

    I agree with you to a point on the baby steps, although I feel like some people work better when they go into things full swing. I’d say I’m somewhere in the middle, I am currently doing the Whole30 and so far so good but I don’t know if I would be as successful if I hadn’t done a program on quitting sugar before hand.

    About 6 months ago I did an 8 week quit sugar program that worked by allowing you to go through steps before quitting sugar and well 6 months on and only a few slips later I’m still going strong.

    But I’m also one of those people that can also head first into things and stay focused, currently no dairy, grains and legumes are what I’m focused on right now. I feel though for some or perhaps most people doing all these things at once might be too much and hence why I’ve read of a lot of people ‘failing’ to complete the program and having to start over.

  • Jillian

    I really needed this today as well. I haven’t been able to work out lately – other than jogging – and I haven’t been eating as strictly as I know I can (I follow the Primal diet mostly). And, I’ve been beating myself for being unable/unwilling to go fully Paleo, when I should be remembering that I’ve already made huge changes in how I eat. I don’t need to completely overhaul everything overnight. Baby steps…

  • Stacey

    Thanks for this reminder. I went Paleo last April and have really been struggling the past two months. I can say that getting good sleep is a huge obstacle for me. I have a toddler with bad sleep habits. So my first step is to work on her sleep so I can get some.

    I’ve also started making at least one batch of soup per week. If I freeze single servings, it is an easy meal to thaw when I don’t have time to cook. I love a meaty sausage soup on a cold fall day!

  • Laura

    Thank you so much for this post Diane! Like many of the other commenters I really needed this today. I have been playing around with the whole paleo thing for a couple of months, and have found your blog, book and podcasts a hugely helpful set of resources.

    My problem is just when I start to feel really good something stupid causes me to fall off the wagon. I have so little will power, and often it happens before I even realising that I have just scoffed down a huge piece of cake or chocolate bar. Then I fall into the whole cycle of being angry at myself and it all spirals out of control. I think this strategy of setting a few simple goals to start with will really help me

  • Dena

    Hello, when my husband and I just started this learning process about 1 1/2 months ago and I knew that taking small steps would be key for my husband. The one thing that we thought would be the biggest struggle is bread, so I told him that we would use what we had for his breakfast sandwich and that would give us time to figure out what to do in place of the bread. Here is the really great news, just last night my husband asked “how much bread do we have left?”, he has been seeing great changes in how he is feeling and looking and now can’t wait to get rid of all bread/wheat. I almost did the happy dance right there!! Small changes are key and as we incorporate more and more changes we can feel how good these changes are for us. It is a learning process for sure, but to finally have found something that makes sense and to have something that you can continue to improve upon has been the best experience! Thank you for all that you do!

  • Cate

    This post is great! That’s how I made changes for myself too. First for three months I had nothing that didn’t come from “nature” (I still ate whole wheat bread and pasta and loaded up on fruit). I lost weight for a while. Then I went gluten free. 3 months later I was paleo and have never looked back.

    I was at your BB workshop yesterday. I’ve read so much about paleo the past year and a half I didn’t think there would be much new information for me. Totally wrong. You gave me some hope for my skin. This is a very big deal:) After listening I think I have a vitamin A deficiency (I was thinking I was getting it from sweet potatoes and carrots). I have STRUGGLED with hormonal acne forever (I”m 31 and started breaking out when I was 10). I took antibiotics and topical creams for years that didn’t work. Had high DHEA sulfate and was diagnosed with PCOS. I don’t have any other symptoms besides that and acne though (No facial hair, irregular periods etc.). But….I started taking birth control pills to treat it. They worked! No acne for the six years I took them. I started paleo almost a year and a half ago and my trainer told me to get a copper IUD and go off the pill. I did and for 3 months didn’t have a problem. Now nothing has worked. I felt like I had done every nature thing under the sun and it’s so frustrating! It was also making me so frustrated to hear testimonials of how weeks into eating paleo acne went away.

    However, I also have small bumps on the back of my arms. I always have. I’m going to try taking the Cod Liver oil butter blend. You spoke of an oil but I could only find capsules at green EIther way, thank you!

  • KristenK

    “So, please don’t freak out and think about all of the things you’re doing “wrong.” Focus on doing just one thing right.” – I just told my girlfriend that the other week when she was talking about how “after the holidays she’s going back on her diet” and I’ve been talking to her about “her diet” and maybe just making a few changes that are in the paleo guidelines because they’re working for me, maybe they’d work for her. When I told her not to dwell on the ‘failures’ of her journey you could tell a light bulb when on. So glad that I had shared that with her and that you just used almost the exact words to motivate. :) Keep up the awesome work you’re doing!

  • Lynn

    Thank you for this post today. I gave up sugar in March, wheat in June, grains in August and finally dairy in October. I definitely found it helpful to give things up in phases while figuring out how and what to cook. It isn’t perfect, but I try my best. The worst is going over to the mother in laws and telling her I won’t eat lasagna. Wheat & dairy! I have taken to stashing jerky&nuts in my purse!
    Thanks for the continued advice!

  • Alissa

    Thank you for reposting this, I needed this reminder. My goals are:
    1) Slowly cut out sugar
    2) Eat 99% home cooked meals
    3) Workout 3 times a week

  • Cara Bolton

    Tho couldn’t have come at a better time. I always throw myself in head first, go cold turkey, start really restrictive diets. All because I want a quick fix. I know that if I lose weight quickly it won’t be sustainable but I just don’t have very much patience with myself. So when I fail, I can say the diet was too hard & I have a ready made excuse not to blame myself. I still feel guilty & usually try to stifle those feelings with more bad food or alcohol. I started the 21DSD because I want to be rid of sugar cravings forever. I tried going paleo before xmas (with the exception of well sourced dairy initially) but i found it quite overwhelming. I failed 21DSD on day 4 (yesterday) and scoffed a load of sweets but for once I’m not going to beat myself up. I’m going to focus on the positives like no grains (bread and pizza are hard for me), no alcohol and no processed foods. Those are all good steps and great achievements for me. One little set back isn’t going to ruin it all like it has in the past! It’s a gradual process and I will get there! Thanks to lots of help from Diane too!

    • Rachael Lewis

      In some ways I was blessed to be plagued with sudden, excruciating and chronic heartburn. Because of this, I needed help, and I needed it fast, so my first step, via “Wheat Belly”, was, you guessed it, wheat. The heartburn was gone in a week. Amazing that when you cut out the wheat, you automatically cut out most processed foods and sugar. From there, I found paleo, and I found “Balanced Bites”, which made the whole process so much easier. You have been a blessing. Thank you for this article. I have so many friends who ask what I am doing, but then get overwhelmed,
      so I am sharing today’s post.

  • Kat

    Lovely reminder. I’ve been “primal” for several months, but with sugar being the one thing that’s difficult for me to avoid. Going “squeaky clean” hasn’t worked, but for the past small but mighty six days I’ve been refined sugar free. Still allowing dried and fresh fruit without restriction, dairy, and the occasional glass of wine, but haven’t touched the sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc. Feeling great and empowered by this small/big step forward.