One Small Change: The Three Week Challenge

by in Healthy Tips, January 13, 2013

apples with peanut butter
If your New Year’s resolutions have you making more than one major change to your physical activity or eating habits, I recommend you stop most of them right now. Sounds preposterous for me to ask you to stop making healthy changes, right? Well, what if I asked you how many of those healthy changes do you expect to be doing one month from now? Three months? Six months?

Research shows that it takes, on average, about three weeks to form a new habit . . . and that may be if you’re not trying to break old ones. Many of our habits are the result of “the path of least resistance.” We choose to do what we do, and eat what we eat, based on what’s easiest for us considering our current schedule, priorities, skills and preferences. In other words, you may be really good at whipping up dinner when you get home from work, but during the workday, the vending machine is the closest thing you have to a lunch break. And cooking from scratch every night means you may not be able to make it to the gym or go for a run as often as you like. All actions have consequences, so it’s important to consider whether the new actions you’re taking are leading to the results you want. If you’re making ten changes at once, it’s hard to know which one(s) are sustainable, if any.

According to John Berardi, founder of, you have about an 85% chance of maintaining one healthy change, about a 33% chance of maintaining two changes and a near 0% chance of maintaining three or more healthy changes in the long run if you start them all at the same time. So rather than choosing to make many changes at once and lowering your chances that any of them stick, try choosing one of the six ideas below that seem most sustainable to you, focus on performing it consistently for at least three weeks . . . and then tell us how it went!

Exercise: Add one more day of exercise or physical activity (running, gym, hiking, biking, etc.) to your weekly routine.

Healthy Snack Substitution: Review your daily routine and think about whether there are certain times of day when you consistently find yourself hungry and susceptible to cravings, or eating snacks that you know are not ideal. Come up with one or two healthy snack alternatives, and start packing them with you every day. Some ideas could be: veggies and hummus or guacamole, an apple with some peanut butter, a yogurt or a piece of low-fat string cheese and a piece of fruit.

One Fewer Indulgence: Consider when you indulge during the week, which indulgences bring you the least satisfaction or when you indulge a bit more than you think you should. If you go out for drinks with friends, try cutting back from three drinks to one or two. If you tend to go out to big dinners on the weekend, try cutting out a dessert. Are you used to having a candy bar at 3 PM, just because the vending machine is there or it’s been hours since lunch? Try having a healthy snack substitution instead (see above).

Cook More at Home: Cooking at home one more day or evening per week can have a significant ripple effect. If you cook at home rather than eat out, odds are you’re cooking healthier food with less added fat and sugar. If you make a batch meal and refrigerate or freeze the leftovers, you’ll have more easy, healthy meals available the rest of the week for lunch or dinner. Finally, cooking at home promotes physical activity: it involves standing, chopping and moving, compared to eating out which consists of sitting, ordering and eating the free bread or chips. Here are some recipes to try out:

Three-Bean and Beef Chili
Chicken Stir-Fry
Black Bean Salad

Get Hydrated: A simple, yet amazingly effective habit to improve is drinking more fluid, particularly water (flavored with a squirt of lemon if you prefer). Being even 1 to 2% dehydrated can reduce focus, energy and performance. So if you’re chronically dehydrated, you’re chronically underperforming – and potentially overeating. Sometimes the body drives us to eat when it’s actually thirsty.

Get healthy for good, one step at a time!

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