Small Equals Large

In early 2011, I decided to stop eating French fries. Why? I’d read that they are a leading causes of weight gain, right up there with potato chips. Aside from that, fries have little nutritional value.

This was a relatively small change because I didn’t eat a lot of French fries, but if I ordered a sandwich and they were served with it, I’d dig right in. I’d tell myself not to eat all of them, but most of the time I cleaned my plate.

When I decided to stop eating fries, I announced that goal to my wife and friends loudly. This helped hold me accountable. Within a few weeks, I was out of the habit and didn’t miss fries at all. (Incidentally, telling other people your plan is a good technique for any commitment you make.)

So what were the results of this seemingly small change? About a year later, I had a physical assessment as part of a fitness program in which I’m a participant; it compared my fitness level to a year earlier. It turned out that I’d lost 8 pounds and 3 percentage points of body fat — the latter is a big deal.

I told this story recently during a talk I gave at a community in southwest Florida, and one of the attendees looked at me incredulously and asked, “How many French fries did you eat?” It was a good question.

The answer is not near enough to lose 8 pounds in a year. But, I think the act of giving up French fries led me to become more aware of the other things I ate. I ended up also eliminating potato chips, except the non-fat variety; reducing the amount of red meat I consume; and even trimming my food portions. More often than not, I stopped eating in restaurants while there was still food on my plate.

Small changes can produce large gains over time. And small changes can lead to other small changes. Success begats more success. It breeds that wonderful quality of self-efficacy — confidence that we can achieve goals because of previous success.

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