Make Changes, One At a Time

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14 Jan 2016

changeswebTovi is a 36-year-old mother of six came to me with two main problems: She was 22 kilo (approximately 48 lbs.) overweight and she had just been told by her doctor that she was pre-diabetic.

Tovi had a full time job as a systems analyst in addition to her family responsibilities. She knew that she had to be able to fully function and she certainly couldn’t afford spending time in the doctor’s office on a regular basis. Her doctor explained to her that if she would make the proper lifestyle changes, she would take care of the problem of overweight and get her blood sugar levels down to normal levels without medications and all of the side effects that comes with them.

She was encouraged by the prospect that her future health was in her hands but like anyone else in Tovi’s position, this would require changing some very ingrained behaviors.

Tovi was someone who had to get her kids out of the house early and be at work on time.  So, she skipped breakfast—opting for a cup of coffee at home and a glass of water at the office.  By 11 a.m. she would be very hungry so she grabbed a cheese danish or three rugalach together with another cup of coffee depending on what was available in the company snack room.

When it got to the 1 o’clock lunch break, she would eat a very large lunch as she was very hungry. She had a cup of tea and half a chocolate bar for dessert almost every day. Her workday was over at 4:00 p.m. and she had to get home to make sure she had supper ready for her kids. Usually while preparing supper, she picked at the food and then after eating with her kids, she might sit down and eat yet again with her husband when he arrived home from kollel at 7:30 p.m.

Tovi was also pretty sedentary. The company picked her up and others in her neighborhood with a van every morning and she took a bus home. She worked at her computer all day and the only movement at all was going to the snack room and going to the cafeteria to eat.

Instead of just telling her to lose weight and exercise without instruction, Tovi’s doctor sent her to me for professional advice and coaching.

At our first meeting, she seemed very anxious to get going and to accomplish everything as quickly as possible. It was almost as though she thought that we would meet once and then she would meet my staff dietician once and she would be all set.

I explained to her that the only way behaviors are going to change and stay changed is if we take baby steps.

We need to do things one step at a time.

Although she was disappointed, she understood that when habits are so ingrained, there is just no such thing as pushing the “undo” button for a quick fix. And so we began our journey to good health.

Her first assignments? Use the staircases at work, get off the bus one stop early on the way home, and walk an additional 20 minutes each night. The dietician had her pack up breakfast each night to bring to work and eat when she got there and to change the morning snack to a yogurt and a fruit.

And so we started.

One of the changes we agreed she had to make was to walk 20 minutes every night. She was unaccustomed to this, often spending that time catching up on things with her husband while snacking on unhealthy choices, like ice cream. To accomplish her new task, Tovi needed to stop eating ice cream each night and she needed to do her walk.

I enacted three of the criteria of behavioral change by Dr. B.J. Fogg to help Tovi stay focused on her goals:

These were the techniques we used over time to get Tovi healthy. It didn’t take terribly long and she was walking 35 minutes briskly each night. Three times per week, she eventually did a small 12 minute routine of muscle building exercises (and I made sure she recorded how good she felt afterward as positive reinforcement).

She began eating three moderate size meals daily with two small snacks in between the meals and was drinking 10 cups of water per day.  Although we slowly got Tovi to switch over to healthy choices for meals and snacks, twice a week, we built in ice cream for her in small but enjoyable amounts.

Three months after our initial meeting Tovi had dropped 9.5 kilo (about 20 lbs) and her blood sugar numbers were firmly in normal range. She was functioning better, had more energy and was meeting her responsibilities both to her family and to her boss at work with more vigor and with energy to spare at the end of the day.

Her feeling good was now motivating her to slowly but surely get to her weight loss goal too.

How did she accomplish it? One small step at a time.

Tovi made sure that each behavioral change she chose to make was somehow attached to a behavior that had become firm and anchored. She also learned how to tell herself or write down a positive emotion after she accomplished each change.

The Gemora tells us in Baba Kama—“Tafasta meruba, lo tavasta.” In a language we might understand better—“don’t bite off more than you can chew.” Trying to change a lot of things at once is a recipe for failure, but using Dr. B.J. Fogg’s methods and taking tiny steps can bring the desired results and “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”



Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a BEHAVIORAL CHANGE and WELLNESS COACH with over 19 years of professional experience. Alan is the creator and director of the “10 Weeks to Health” program for weight loss. He is available for private coaching sessions, consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs both in his office and by telephone and skype. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at Check out the his web site – US Line: 516-568-5027.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.