Resolving to lose weight in 2020? Try doing it a little at a time | Danny Heitman

Resolving to lose weight in 2020? Try doing it a little at a time | Danny Heitman

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As we enter into a season of New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, I’m starting 2020 a bit lighter, having dropped about 30 pounds since last January. This isn’t because I’m especially virtuous, I’ll quickly add, but speaks more to the fact that I’m really no saint.

When a routine health exam revealed that my medical numbers were going in the wrong direction, the doctor suggested I reduce my middle-aged waistline. I was offered no miracle diet — and probably wouldn’t have been able to follow one if it had been prescribed.

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Instead, my doctor recommended what’s often blandly called “sensible eating.” That meant cutting back on office snacks, staying away from the nearby vending machine, avoiding pasta and skipping dessert.

I didn’t starve. In fact, as I changed course, I never truly felt hungry. There were also times, with my doctor’s blessing, when I gave myself permission to indulge in a nice steak and an occasional slice of cake.

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But by putting a little more salad on my plate and a little less spaghetti, or having a cup of tea in the evening instead of ice cream, I gradually went down two pants sizes. It happened slowly, as most long-term improvement usually does.

Some good things resulted. My heath numbers improved, and my knees no longer ached from carrying the extra weight. During a vacation trip to England, I was able to climb the steep stone tower of Oxford’s University Church of St. Mary the Virgin without getting winded.

I mention all of this because each January our national conversation typically turns to the idea of bold, radical change in personal improvement. The assumption seems to be that only big change can really make a difference. It’s an idea that permeates our civic, too — this notion that progress is inevitably driven by sweeping alterations in the status quo. That’s why so many of the political candidates who will be campaigning this year promise huge agendas and widespread transformation. Those are the kinds of ideas that inevitably capture the collective imagination.

Sometimes, events call for that sort of broad reinvention. But in his new book, “A Thousand Small Sanities,” Adam Gopnik paints an alternate, yet equally compelling, picture of human progress.

As his title suggests, Gopnik argues that positive change more typically emerges not from one big thing, but hundreds of smaller, incremental changes that add up over time.

“Epidemics seldom end with miracle cures,” he writes. “ Most of the time in the history of medicine, the best way to end disease was to build a better sewer and get people to wash their hands. … Chipping away at a problem is usually the very best thing to do; keep chipping, and eventually, you get to its heart.”

For the coming year, I’ve resolved to walk more. I’ll tackle it as I did with my weight loss, taking one small step, then another.

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