Make simple swaps for big results

By focusing on one or two habits at a time, you will be more likely to be successful in the long term, says Tanja Shaw.

I love reading stories in magazines about how someone cuts out pop from their diet and easily drops 15 pounds.  Or, the well-meaning article on how to swap your supersized meal at McDonalds for a regular hamburger, water and side salad to save a thousand calories.  The author usually goes on to calculate that a pound of fat is approximately 3500 calories, and if you make a simple swap once a day, you can effortlessly shed 1-2 pounds per week without trying.

I use the word ‘love’ with some irony.  After all, it is wonderful that people can get fast results when they are starting out with a few simple swaps.  Getting results when first making lifestyle changes will greatly reinforce positive changes, and help to make those behaviours stick.

But what about the rest of us?  What about those people who are already getting at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, drinking only water and the occasional glass of wine, and dines at fast food restaurants once or twice a year?

My inspiration for this article came from two of our clients.  Last week one client shed three pounds in two weeks by cutting out plum sauce and ketchup.  How much ketchup and plum sauce?  You may not want to know.  Another client was baffled that he shed two pounds in a week.  After much thought, he remembered that he had swapped his regular lattes for black Americanos.

Admittedly, until I heard these two stories, I thought I had lost my faith in simple swaps.  Then I recognized that I just needed to change the definition of a simple swap.  After all, I had unknowingly made my own simple swaps.  Two weeks ago I also started doing my work on a treadmill desk.  Last week I began to take a moment to express gratitude toward my food before eating.  As a result, I’m sitting less and eating my meals more mindfully.  I feel more vibrant, energetic, and my jeans fit looser.

Even if you are already eating relatively healthy, and getting in your sweat sessions most days of the week, you will likely be able to find a few small habits to change that can help you get closer to your goals.

In my experience with coaching clients, I have found that by focusing on one or two habits at a time, you will be more likely to be successful in the long term.  Once you’ve mastered that habit, you can move on to a new one.

To get you started, think about your regular habits.  What one thing could you change that would yield the best results?

Here are some examples to get you started:

• Add interval training to one cardio session per week

• Eat you dinner on a smaller plate

• Do two Sun Salutations each morning to improve flexibility

• Increase your weights in your strength routine

• Change up your strength routine every 2-3 weeks

• Stretch each afternoon at 3 p.m. when you start to feel your energy levels dip

• Swap ketchup for salsa to cut out the sugar

• Skip the dried cranberries and candied pecans on your lunch salad

• Pack your lunch for work more often

• Commit to eating all your food sitting down (ie. Not while standing in front of the fridge, or while making your kid’s lunch, or while putting away the dinner leftovers)


Remember to focus on one, or possibly two things at a time.  Be patient and gentle with yourself as you adopt a new habit- it can take time!  One you’ve mastered that habit, reward yourself and move onto the next ‘simple swap’.


Tanja Shaw is a Kinesiologist and Fitness Coach, specializing in weight loss, group fitness, pre and postnatal fitness, and health and wellness programs.  She owns Ascend Fitness Coaching, home to Ascend Fitness Boot Camp, Stroller Boot Camp, and personal training programs.  For more fitness tips go to

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