How to Create Changes that Last (the small change model)

Updated: Dec 6, 2019



I had a conversation with my husband recently that really struck me. We were discussing making some changes to his health because he hasn’t been feeling the greatest, and what it came down to was we realized he, like so many of the women I work with, feels like making changes means overhauling his life.


NO WONDER he is resistant to change! I call this overhaul overwhelm. The problem is, it is pervasive in our society. I know I felt like this before, as well. We are told that if we just overhaul everything, entirely, for however many days-- we’ll suddenly be a completely different human.


But this isn’t actually how change works.


REAL change in our lives, whether it’s with healthy living practices or our relationship with food, or our relationship with anything or anyone, comes from a series of small changes that turn into habits.


In order to combat the idea of overhaul overwhelm, we need to reframe our thinking around making changes to our food and our health journey in a positive and lasting way, without feeling overwhelmed by the idea of an overhaul.


CS Lewis once said, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?”


In order to combat the idea of overhaul overwhelm, we need to reframe our thinking around making changes to our food and our health journey in a positive and lasting way, without feeling overwhelmed by the idea of an overhaul.

I think this is SO true in our journey to finding balance in our health as a mama. Some days, many days, it’s going to feel like absolutely nothing has changed, or you’re not doing enough to make real change, but the truth is, it’s the small consistent changes that matter the most.


If you’ve ever heard of the butterfly effect theory, this applies here too. The basic concept is the idea that a butterfly, flapping it’s wings can create a typhoon across the world. Of course, this isn’t reality because we would have constant typhoons. But the idea remains that even the slightest changes can have a major impact-- not just on the linear, but on the complex whole.


For instance, learning to eat intuitively can help you better tune into decisions. Learning to cope with your emotions without turning to food can help you better cope with emotions overall, becoming a better version of yourself. Getting more sleep will boost your energy, but it can also play a part in balancing your hunger hormones, and productivity, helping you better live out your purpose. Including more healthy fats can help you better absorb nutrients, boosting your energy and improving your immunity. Boosting your gut health is important for digestion, but also brain health and immune function.


We are whole beings, the changes we make affect more than just the immediate, but when we try and overhaul everything at once, we become overwhelmed.


We are whole beings, the changes we make affect more than just the immediate, but when we try and overhaul everything at once, we become overwhelmed.

What REALLY happens when we try to overhaul is we set ourselves up for big overwhelm, ending up right back where we started. Think about your journey in creating positive change around health like a balloon. If you shove the helium pump in the balloon and send it, the balloon is going to fill, FAST and pop. Now, if you slowly and incrementally add more and more the balloon will slowly fill to it’s maximum fullness and fly. And maybe you let some air out as you’re filling it, that’s ok, you can always add some more in. But it’s little by little. Not all at once.



When I was in the cycle of on-again, off-again dieting, I was HUGE on sweeping overhauls. I LOVE change and self improvement, and I pride myself in going all-in. If I thought about eating less animal products, I was going to go raw-vegan, rather than just adopting a meatless Monday.


What this did was kept me in a cycle of on-again, off-again, and this is true for MANY, many people. And I find most people, when it comes to change, most fall into two camps: either they’re on-again, off-again, or they’re paralyzed by the idea of change. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and you can make positive changes in your life, whatever they may be, by incorporating the small changes model and reduce this idea of overhaul overwhelm, or the on-again, off-again mentality. Because sweeping overhauls create massive downfalls.


You can make positive changes in your life, whatever they may be, by incorporating the small changes model and reduce this idea of overhaul overwhelm, or the on-again, off-again mentality.

Small changes create big shifts over time.


The Small Changes Model is a model of behavior change that is believed and proven that clients will maintain smaller behavior changes more easily and will continue to build on them over time.


The basic theory? Small changes add up. The acronym SMALL stands for:

S: Self-selected. It only works if it’s a change YOU are inspired to make.


M: Measurable. This doesn’t mean it needs to be a number- it just means you will be able to see the result of the action you’re changing.


A: Action-oriented. There needs to be an action you take in order to make the change. Becoming healthier is not an action. It’s a result of actions.


L: Linked to your life. If it’s not linked to YOUR life, it’s not going to last. How can you relate this change to your REAL life?


L: Long-term. Whatever changes you make need to, realistically, be something maintainable long-term. Now, I know seasons happen-- but you need to be confident that long term, at least for a season, this change is a realistic.

So I want you to consider today, if you are looking to make changes in your health, nutrition, movement, relationship with food… what do you want the outcome to be? How can you break this down into small changes?


When you break it down, do you still want to make those changes and do they still align with your values?


This is where intuition comes in. If the changes you need to make to get the results you want don’t align with your values, then chances are, that change isn’t going to last. Another way of looking at this, is is there another way to achieve the results I want, other than what first came to mind?

Here's an example: The idea of losing weight in the name of health is ubiquitous in our society, but you can actually become healthier and more fit without losing a single pound.


Health is based on behavior change. If your desire is to become healthier, and you think in order to do this, you need to restrict your food intake and lose weight, and that’s not desirable… consider instead, is losing weight actually going to make me healthier? This might be a step along your path- there's nothing wrong with losing weight, but there are a hundred ways to lose weight that won't improve your health, AT all.


So instead, ask yourself: What ELSE can I do to improve my health without focusing on weight? What measurable action step can I take to improve my overall health that is positive, and maintainable?


Weight loss could be one result of making those changes. But when it comes down to it, it’s about the behavior, not the number. So what behavior sounds positive and doable? Maybe it’s trying a satisfying smoothie for breakfast, instead of cereal, and that’s the ONE thing you focus on.


Same thing with fitness. Say you want to improve your fitness, but think in order to do this, you have to do Crossfit. But that sounds like complete torture. Consider instead, is there another way to improve my fitness? OF COURSE! Simply moving your body on a consistent basis and challenging yourself is going to improve your fitness, and you are MUCH more likely to stick with it, if it’s enjoyable. So what sounds enjoyable and what action can you take? Maybe signing up for a once a week fitness class or calling a friend to go for a walk on Saturday mornings. The key here is this: you need to WANT to make the change. It needs to be small, and specific, and once you make that change, you can move onto the next change, and you’ll build momentum in that way, as well.


Overhauls create overwhelm, which sets us up for not making changes at all. With Intuitive Eating and Living, there is no failure- just feedback that we can take and decide if the changes we are making are really truly serving us. THIS is why we take the changes, step by step, creating progress, and eventually, looking back and realizing how much has changed.


With Intuitive Eating and Living, there is no failure- just feedback that we can take and decide if the changes we are making are really truly serving us.

Do you want support in making changes that last in the new year (without sweeping overhauls?? Join me for the Healthy Habits Restart, where we will be addressing three areas of habit change to create the life and health we desire in 2020. Join for free at the link below:





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© 2020 Kristin Rugg Dovbniak for Healthy Mama Kris. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use

Headshots Marie Guagliardo Photography & Sarah Zollo Portraits