Big changes are dramatic, exciting, and...a bit unrealistic. Researchers have looked at how small changes can lead to better outcomes.

The phrase "go big or go home" is catchy but doesn't really apply when it comes to moving the needle on important types of changes. Researchers have examined the impact of small changes in nutrition and physical activity and the impact on weight gain. The upshot? Small changes can prevent weight gain.

Why Small is Good

Small changes are more feasible than a complete diet and exercise overhaul. People are generally more responsive to making one small change, then another, and another, which ultimately leads to a major change. A team of research scientists in Australia found that decreasing food intake by 200 calories per day--a very modest amount--was an achievable sweet spot. They also found that increasing activity levels to the equivalent of 100 calories per day was helpful, too--getting people moving without increasing hunger from a lot of vigorous activity.

The American Psychological Association concurs: lifestyle changes are a process. Think of big goals (drinking less alcohol, losing weight, seeing your doctor regularly) as a marathon not a sprint.

"This study and many others confirm that incremental change is the way to bring people into the fold, to nurture them and pave the way for larger changes," said Eileen O'Donnell, Creative Director and Managing Partner at Odonnell Company. Odonnell believes strongly in "the winner effect," in which small wins or successes actually change the brain to be able to take on bigger challenges. "We all want to win," she explained. "Incremental success allows that to happen and paves the way for meaningful change."


'Small Changes' to Diet and Physical Activity Behaviors for Weight Management
Making lifestyle changes that last