Less Really Is More
I had an enlightening discussion with a fellow naturopathic physician the other day that got me thinking about the phrase less is more. She and I were out for a friendly chat over a glass of wine and (of course) the discussion turned to our practices and patients. We were talking about patient compliance – a fancy term for how we sneaky physicians get our patients to do the things that we suggest would be good for them – and how interesting it is that, even when we know something is good for us, making a change to our diet or lifestyle can be excruciatingly difficult. Like a smoker who knows cigarettes are terrible but can’t seem to give them up, we all have the tendency to stick to what we’ve been doing forever, or what seems easy, even when we know it’s not serving us.
This chat wasn’t just about our patients – it was also about ourselves. It was about human nature. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve embarked on a 12-week supplement protocol only to lose steam at week 6. Two months later I’ll clear out my supplement cabinet and remember what I was taking them for. I’ve been vegetarian, paleo, gluten free, keto – for anywhere between three weeks to a couple of years. So when you come back to my office and have ‘fallen off the wagon’ with the changes you’ve been making, hear me out: I get it. I’ve done it. And it’s a totally normal part of human nature. That’s why we schedule follow ups in advance! When you see my name on your iCal in two weeks, it’s a reminder to stick to the commitments you made to yourself when we last met.
If all of my patients got it all figured out after the first appointment, I wouldn’t have a job (which would actually be pretty amazing, and is definitely #goals – you all not needing me any more). And if I had it all figured out, I wouldn’t be human.
Change is hard. And changing your diet – as one of my mentors so eloquently described it – is often harder than changing your religion. I concede that point. But it’s also my job to inspire you to make consistent healthy choices that add up to healthy change in the long term.
So why am I rambling about less is more? Because I understand that taking on all too many changes at once can feel overwhelming, and I want you to be successful. When you practice less is more – ie. small changes add up over time to big results – you’re more likely to stick to your new habits and we’re more likely to achieve lasting change.
Especially at the beginning of the year we seem to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make changes. It’s a new year, a blank slate. The gym is packed, yoga class attendance has doubled, the liquor stores have no customers, and before you know it you’ve signed up for a juice cleanse with 6 of your closest girlfriends (and the rest of Vancouver). This is all very well intentioned, but often leads to a dramatic drop in attendance and a week of binging on junk food by the first week of February. I’m not saying that New Years resolutions are a bad idea, I just think we should be mindful of making reasonable, sustainable choices.
Let’s remember that in the beginning, healthy choices take effort and planning. You’re literally training your nervous system to do something new, to form a new habit. And the slower you go, the more sustainable that change will be.
Changing one thing at a time, making it a habit so it no longer requires effort, and then moving on to the next change is a highly effective strategy.
I often suggest to patients struggling with change to choose one thing per week that they can reasonably commit to that will be a step in the right direction. This week, drink enough water every day. Take your body weight in pounds, divide by two, and drink that many ounces of fresh clean water every single day this week – and that’s it. Make yourself a checklist, jot it in your planner, or download a cute water drinking app to keep yourself going. But make hydration the single thing you focus on this week. Create the habit so you no longer have to put effort into it, and then next week, make a different commitment.
Over time, by adding healthy habits incrementally you will find that they become automatic. Your body will wake up thirsty in the morning, because you’ve trained your system to drink 500ml of water before you leave for work. Sunday will roll around and you’ll be itching to get to your favourite yoga class – not discouraged because you don’t have any clean workout gear after doing 5 other yoga classes this week, which could be enough encouragement for you to stow your mat deep in storage and not take another class until next January.
Take it slow with one change at a time. Be mindful of what is reasonable for you at this stage. Track your progress. And form tiny habits that, over time, will take very little effort to sustain and will build to big rewards.
Most importantly – be kind to yourself when you fall ‘off the wagon.’ I promise I’ll never chastise you for getting off track, and hope that you will extend that kindness to yourself too.
Best of luck sticking to your tiny resolutions, one at a time.
Vancouver Naturopath, Dr Kali MacIsaac HBSc, ND