back to basics | small, simple, sustainable

Small, simple steps. There’s a reason my health coaching practice prominently features the word “Simply.”

Many of us feel that re/claiming our best health is complicated. That it takes LOTS of time. That there really ought to be a magic pill that undoes years of bad choices overnight.

The bad news: magic pills are like crash diets. If you don’t make some changes behind the scenes, when you stop taking the pill or go off the diet, the pounds come back. And they often bring their friends. And it’s the same with lifestyle choices: the on-again off-again approach to sleep, physical activity, socializing, work, etc. is not a sustainable solution.

The good news: when we commit to taking small, simple steps over a long period of time (read: forever), the changes we make become sustainable.

And that brings me to the final post in our  exploration of the basic principles of Integrative Nutrition®. While I don’t think anyone at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition® ever set down the principles à la Moses and the Ten Commandments, this style of health and wellness coaching comes down to a few basic tenets.

Here are the principles as I see them:


How small are we talking?

One of my favorite questions to ask clients is, “What would it look like if it were easy?”

  • If you’re a couch potato who plans to run a marathon, “easy” means you walk down to the mailbox today. And tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. Until “easy” looks like a walk around the block.
  • Are you an inveterate fast food junkie who plans to meal plan and cook 21 meals a week from scratch? For you, “easy” means you cook yourself some mac + cheese tonight—even if it’s the agent orange kind from a box.
  • Dying a slow, painful death in your current job and desperately want a new career? “Easy” means spending as little as 5–10 minutes a day scanning the job postings or tweaking your résumé or reflecting about what you really want to be doing.
  • Living at the mercy of the streaming service’s tendency to automatically play the next episode even though you really need to get more sleep? “Easy” means changing the setting on the auto-play feature.


One of my mantras is that the healthy choice must be the easy choice—or it ain’t gonna happen.

So not only does your step need to be infinitesimally small; you also need to set yourself up for success on a regular basis.

  • Put your walking shoes and clothes where you’ll literally trip over them, whether it’s by your bed or in the front hall.
  • Pick up a box (or three) of mac + cheese when you’re at the store.
  • Block off 10 minutes a day that you will devote to your career change.
  • Move the television out of the bedroom.

I’m always intrigued by the creativity of my clients when it comes to setting themselves up for success. A few have had success with sleeping in their workout clothes—no excuse when they get up! A few have carved out time for their career change by using their commute time. One, who wanted to stop snacking between dinner and bed, realized that simply turning off the kitchen light and closing the kitchen door removed that temptation entirely.

Do these sound weird or ridiculous or, as my kids would say, like a “duh” moment?

Well, here’s the most important point: THEY. WORKED. (And of course, as we learned about in the post on bio-individuality, you need to remember that your small, simple step will be specific to you.)


There are some theories out there that claim it takes 21 days to solidify a habit or 10,000 hours to master a skill, and both of these are now heavily disputed. Again, bio-individuality rules.

And from my own unscientific observation of client success rates, here’s what I’ve noticed. Clients succeed in sustainably shifting their food and lifestyle choices when:

  • The activity is rooted in bio-individuality.
  • They make changes in their primary and secondary foods (not all at the same time!)
  • Changing their mindset is a big part of the work.
  • The changes are small and preparation for success is part of the process.

I’ll also say that “forever” and “permanent” are words I try not to use about food and lifestyle changes.

Because clients may, in the future, drift away from a habit. In which case they know how to get back on track. And because a habit that may serve us today doesn’t necessarily serve us forever.

That’s why “sustainable” is a better word for the shifts: they can be made as long as they serve us, then change direction.

make the connection

I recently facilitated a break-out session at an HR conference, and at the end of the session, I asked for feedback. “Well,” said one participant, “it’s not exactly rocket science, is it?”

I was initially taken aback, thinking she was saying that the session hadn’t been helpful. And then I realized that her face was showing nothing but relief. “That’s right, it’s not rocket science.”

If it’s not rocket science, though, why are so many of us not re/claiming our best health? Well, it’s one of the ironies about health coaching: the information we can provide as coaches is all out there (and inside you); what’s missing for most people is support and accountability and someone to ask the right questions. 

And that’s what I do as a health coach: I’m not the answer person, I’m the question person. And the support and accountability person who will poke you—daily if necessary—to see how you’re doing!

Whether you’re an employer looking for wellness options for your team or an individual, if that sounds like a person you need in your life, let’s talk!