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Divide & Conquer: Small Changes Add Up

By Marc Perry / July 1, 2017

I believe body transformation requires developing healthy habits to replace unhealthy habits. You may feel overwhelmed with all the suggestions I make on this website to improve your health and achieve a leaner body. My advice: Divide and Conquer. Let me explain…

As I’ve followed the entrepreneurial path the last couple years, at times I feel completely overwhelmed by all the various tasks and projects I need to complete. But when I break apart the tasks by prioritizing (divide), then complete them over time (conquer), managing a business becomes a lot more well, manageable. If you apply this same “divide and conquer” approach to improving your health, then changing your habits and striving for optimal health is far more achievable.

Here are three examples of people I know who (1) focused on their unhealthiest habits (prioritized), (2) then made small changes over time that added up to impressive results:

1) I had a friend who was just about addicted to Coke and would drink 2-3 cokes per day. He slowly cut them out of his diet, added moderate exercise and dropped 20 pounds. 3 Cans of Coke per day is close to 3,000 calories per week, which is 500 calories shy of 1 pound of fat (1 pound of fat = 3,500 calories).

2) A close friend of mine ate Lemon Drops Candy about 1-2x per week and would drink Arizona Iced Teas like water. What he didn’t realize is that only 4 Lemon Drops are 13g of sugar and 60 calories and he’d probably have at least 20 of them in a sitting. Only 1 bottle of Arizona Iced Tea with lemon is 59g of sugar (that’s 15 teaspoons of sugar!) and over 230 calories. He also jogged frequently with almost no strength training. He cut the sugar out over time, added in some strength training, and dropped 15 pounds of fat in the next couple months. His physique looks much more impressive and he can now complete 70 pull-ups in a single workout.

3) I have a client who almost entirely cut out alcohol, then started eating breakfast, then started eating cleaner foods (less processed foods etc.), worked out consistently with cardio 1-2x per week and strength training 2x per week, and now he’s down about 15lbs of fat and counting. Prior to us working together, he had significant trouble losing any weight.

Here are some ideas to making small changes over time:

• Limiting alcohol (maybe slowly drop the number of drinks per week)
• Limiting sugary drinks, replacing them with water
• Committing to 1 session of exercise per week, then 2, then 3 and so on.
• Shifting carb sources from processed to natural (white bread to multi-grain)
• Fatty meats to lean meats
• Adding more vegetables (I still need to work on this), or fruits to your diet
• If you only do cardio, adding in 1 strength training workout per week, then two

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg, but I’m just trying to give you some ideas to help make changing your habits and striving for optimal health more manageable.

By making small changes over time there’s no doubt you will reach your goals!

P.S. Do you have any habits you changed that helped you improve your body?


  • Marc Perry says:

    Leave your comments here! One small change I made was switching from processed carbs to unprocessed carbs. Now I eat brown rice, multi-grain bread etc. which helps me stay fuller, longer. After making the change, I can't even eat candy bars etc. anymore. Not satisfying!

  • JILL says:

    I differ my exercise. I do water aerobics a few times per week, do yoga and meditation at least 1x and some other floor exercises. By diversifying I don't get bored or feel like I'm "exercising" and want to continue from week to week.

    I now want to try to eliminate "Equal" or "Splenda" and return to sugar since I only would use 1-2 tsp. a day anyway.

  • Darryl K says:

    I recently stopped using sweetners in my coffee, making a bad habit a little better... Important first steps in changing a bad habit are awareness that the habit's been formed and acknowledgement that its bad.

  • @ScottBradleyOC says:

    Marc great post! I think another great "small change" we all can make is: making a conscious effort to drink more water throughout the day. Since starting this my body just feels "cleaner" and more alert during the day.

    One question about water intake...

    What are your feelings/thoughts about using a brita filter, zero water filter, or Pur filter to drink "cleaner" water...compared to drinking just out of the tap? Is there a noticeable difference from what you have learned on how it positively or negatively affects the body if you just drink tap water?

    • Marc Perry says:

      @ Jill - Sounds like you have a sensible plan. One big challenge many of my clients face when they achieve the body they want is, "what next?" I tell them to try different exercise methods to see what they enjoy the most, as you are doing. Nice job. Eliminating sugar substitutes is a healthy choice. After I lay the groundwork for BuiltLean.com in another couple months, I'm going to tackle the sugar substitute debate!

      @Darry K - Couldn't agree more about the importance of being aware of unhealthy habits, which are by their nature subconscious, then taking responsibility for them. Thanks for the comment.

      @ScottBradelyOC - that's a good question. I guess it would depend on where you live. Tap water in New York is among the best tasting and cleanest in the world. Other cities and countries, not so much. I personally think it's a smart idea to use a britta/pur filter because the water has a better taste when I use the filters vs. the tap, and the purifiers have been proven to filter out lead, copper, and other minerals that would be noxious to humans.

  • Toni says:

    I implemented the 'no eating after 7 p.m.' rule. I used to snack mindlessly when I put the kids to bed; almost as a reward for a hard day's work. My downfall was the carbs: a huge bowl of cold cereal or a couple of pieces of toast smeared with margarine. While my weight didn't increase per se, I'm almost positive that my body fat percentage had changed (for the worse) because I wasn't any leaner even though I was working out. I heard Dr. Oz say on one of his shows (on weight management) that eating after 7 p.m. can kill anyone's diet so I put this into practice. It's a hard habit to break but I counteracted the temptation by brushing AND flossing my teeth so I won't snack after that hour. Try it, it works.

    • Marc Perry says:

      @Toni - The brushing the teeth trick is a classic for preventing late night eating. Thanks for sharing.

  • Dmytro says:

    Recently I met a friend from university, whom I lent my stereo system half year ago. I live in a house and have a small gym, therefore mostly I work-out at home. Once I had to do a strength training, but felt reluctant. Suddenly I heard one of my favorite song on the TV (my brother usually watches music channels) and felt how motivation fills my body. I instantaneously turned my stereos on and next moment I was doing bench press under "Bad to the bone". Music is a great source of motivation.

    • Marc Perry says:

      @Dmytro - Thanks for sharing. That's great.

  • Dmytro says:

    Another small step, to my mind, are morning exercises. Marc, I bet you have something to add here. Also, I play basketball and every morning my knee joints are stiff. Knees are the most sensitive area of my morning exercises. Maybe someone has some tips on stretching knee joints and legs. I will be grateful for any information!

  • ibk says:

    Just found your site, and I'm loving all the wisdom on it. By tracking my calories closely every day, I've found lots of ways to incrementally trim hidden calories from my diet (like going from high fat salad dressing to low fat then to just high quality vinegar (saved me 200 calories per day)). I’m down to eating about 1600-1800 calories per day, although I’d prefer to be eating closer to 1500 (difficult because I exercise a lot and it makes me hungry). A year ago, I was 240 lbs (and 5’7”), and now, I’m down to 165 lbs and 17% body fat. I watch what I eat, run 6 miles every other day, and lift weights. I’ve been happy with my progress, but I’m now working on the dreaded last 10-15 pounds.

    My question is about caffeine and diet. My routine is to drink about 4 (8oz) cups per day. I thought coffee and its caffeine were ok, but a co-worker of mine told me “research” suggests that because caffeine can stimulate production of cortisol, it could actually make it more difficult for me to trim the last several pounds. By contrast, many sites including yours have people describing coffee (with no added fats or sugars) as a guilt-free part of a daily diet. What is your take? Would it be better to switch to de-caf?

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      ibk - Congrats on your weight loss success. That's absolutely fantastic. You are right, losing those last 10-15lb can be very challenging, but I'm sure if you've come this far, you'll make it happen. You question is best answered in an in depth article, which I added to my list of questions to answer, but the short answer is that caffeine in moderation will not affect your ability to lose fat. If, however, you have a lot of it, which is what you seem to be doing, it can throw off the quality of your sleep, which definitely will impact your ability to lose fat and shift hormones in a negative way. My opinion is 1-2 cups is plenty. Any more than that and caffeine is likely being used excessively as a stimulant.