1-4-5 Challenge: Can you maintain one change per week for five weeks?

1-4-5 Challenge: Can you maintain one change per week for five weeks?

James Donovan, MD, Family Medicine, Miller Creek Medical Clinic

By the time March rolls around, our willpower and commitment to the changes we wanted to make in the new year fall by the wayside. Often it's because we try to do too much all at once. "Think of your body as a system," says James Donovan, MD, family medicine physician at St. Luke's Miller Creek Medical Clinic in Hermantown, MN. "If you try to make too many changes at once, the system can't handle it. It's easier to start with one change, and make it stick."

Dr. Donovan has a list identifying one change you can make each week for five weeks. "To be successful, you need a plan that's specific and measurable." The five changes Dr. Donovan suggests are easy to implement and can help you better reach your health goals.

1-4-5 Challenge

Week 1: Use the NEAT Program

Week 1 is designed to increase your activity, using the NEAT Program. NEAT stands for non-exercise activities of thermogenesis, and it's about everything you do that is not exercising or eating. "This is not an exercise program," explains Dr. Donovan. "It's designed to take into account all the activities you do during the day that can burn calories, and then maximize those activities." The NEAT Program has been written up in a number of publications, including USA Today and The Huffington Post . "If you haven't exercised in a while, it's easier on your body to start by increasing the activities you already do," says Dr. Donovan. "Then when you've lost ten or fifteen pounds, you'll feel better, your joints won't ache and moving won't be painful. Then you can increase what you're doing with exercise or other activities you enjoy."

How do you increase your activities using NEAT? When you bring in groceries from your car, carry only one bag per trip so you take extra steps. When you get to work, choose a parking spot farther away from the door. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. "This doesn't mean you're going to walk up ten flights," says Dr. Donovan. "You can take the stairs for one or two flights, and then take the elevator. Every little bit helps."

Week 2: Add or subtract one food

For Week 2, add or subtract one food from your meals. Dr. Donovan suggests adding a vegetable or fruit to a meal or for a snack, or subtract a serving of wheat each day.

Week 3: Manage your body builders, protectors and energizers

Food constituents are the elements of food that help your body run efficiently. Food science describes these constituents as: protein (the body builder), vitamins and minerals (the body protectors), and carbohydrates and fat (the body energizers). "Don't worry about portions," says Dr. Donovan. "Ask yourself, are you getting enough of each of these constituents? Review how much protein you're eating, how many vegetables and fruits, how much bread and pasta." If you are eating a diet properly balanced with body builders, protectors and energizers, you'll be eating fewer empty calories and feel more full.

Week 4: Stop drinking pop

For week 4, eliminate soda pop. "Many people are addicted to pop," says Dr. Donovan. "If you can replace pop or diet pop with water, that's a strong, measurable goal." To help manage the caffeine withdrawal, it can be helpful to taper down your consumption the week before and even switch to caffeine-free pop for a day or two before you get to Week 4 and remove it from your food plan. Switching to coffee or tea can also help.

Week 5: Journal your food intake

Recording what you eat is the goal of Week 5. "Keeping track creates mindful eating," says Dr. Donovan. "When you have mindful eating, people limit their foods because they realize what, and how much, they're actually consuming each day."

Easy Ways to Keep Track

There are a number of options for keeping track of your 1-4-5 Challenge. One way to gauge how much more you are moving is to invest in a pedometer. "You can get a pedometer for under $10 and use it to measure your steps," says Dr. Donovan. "When you use the NEAT Program, you'll find you're walking two or three more miles a day than you were before."

While you can always use a pen and paper, there are also many electronic programs that can help you track your progress. SuperTracker is a free website from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that helps you track food, physical activity, weight and up to five personal goals. MyFitnessPal is both a website and a free app you can use on your smartphone, tablet or computer.

Managing Setbacks

One of the challenges of maintaining change is allowing for setbacks. "We know stress is going to happen in our lives so we need to plan how to handle that," says Dr. Donovan. "Instead of eating when you feel stress, have a plan to take a walk or meditate. If you plan for the pressure situation, you're less likely to fall back into bad habits."

Reaching Your Goal

At the end of each week, assess how you did. Was it easy? Was it hard? How do you feel? The goal of the 1-4-5 Challenge is to make manageable changes that have a healthy impact over time. "The key to managing weight is to eat less, eat more of the right foods and stay active so you don't gain it all back," says Dr. Donovan. "Have a vision for where you want to be in a year. Taking one step each week will get you there."

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