The Power of One Small Change

Shannon Wagner is on the Community Engagement team at DailyFeats, a website and mobile app that helps make small actions a force for positive change. You can chat with DailyFeats on Twitter (@DailyFeats) or check out their blog for a healthy dose of inspiration.

This is a guest post for October Unprocessed. If this is your first time here, welcome …and it’s not too late to join in!

Starting a challenge like October Unprocessed is similar to taking on a New Years resolution in that you’ve resolved to make a change. Now, you’re probably thinking about all the New Years resolutions that fall by the wayside each year, but I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to drastically change your lifestyle. You can take on this challenge at your own pace, and really learn a lot about yourself along the way.

You might be at the point of experimenting with a few unprocessed foods, or you might be looking to completely overhaul your diet; but whatever your end goal, your starting point, your enthusiasm, or your willingness to say “no” to Hostess cupcakes, your journey will be powered by your daily choices. And whatever measure you choose – a week, two weeks, or the full month – you’ll have a brand new perspective on your relationship with food by the end of it.

To start, let me ask you this: When you go grocery shopping, do you find yourself buying basically the same items each week without really thinking twice about it?

Well, you are not alone in that. A 2007 study by Wendy Wood, Duke University professor of psychology and neuroscience, revealed that, though we tend to think we have a lot of control over the decisions we make each day, 45% of our daily actions are actually habits. See, we’re not actually fully mentally present when we make nearly half of our daily decisions.

But what’s great about that stat is it shows just how much of our own potential we can tap into. We actually have the power to create a shift in our thinking toward better general health just by making small changes in our daily decisions – simple things like choosing to cook at home more, adding more fruits and veggies to the grocery list, swapping out one processed food for an unprocessed alternative.

The little changes you make to your eating during October Unprocessed have the power to make you more mindful of not just what you put into your body, but also how you spend your energy and time, and how you think about your well-being. In turn, that mindfulness can have a ripple effect on your overall health and happiness.

You might be thinking, “Really? All that just from eating an extra piece of fresh fruit a day? Or just from cooking an extra meal at home each week?” You bet! Any little thing you can do to break with some of your regular (unhealthy) routines will keep you more present and mindful about your choices. One small step like swapping out your usual breakfast on-the-go for eating a bowl of steel cut oats with blueberries for breakfast each day can lead to another step, then another, and so on. Before you know it, you’re doing 10 good things for your health that you weren’t doing just a short time ago. After all, have you ever heard of someone regretting a healthy choice after the fact?

Need some inspiration? Here are just a few ideas for small changes you can make today:

  1. Replace just one meal with unprocessed options.
  2. Eat one more fruit or vegetable a day than you normally eat.
  3. Replace a snack a day with unprocessed goodies like dried fruits or nuts, or make your own trail mix!
  4. Shop at a different grocery store so that you won’t feel tempted to make a beeline to your usual processed foods. You’ll be able to view what’s around you with a fresh perspective and be more mindful of your unprocessed options.
  5. Make a game of it and have fun! Explore a new food each week, or see how many colors you can eat in a day. Giving yourself creative prompts will help expand your food horizon.

Charles DuHigg, author of The Power of Habit, says, “Things we really enjoy are usually easy to establish as habits, whereas exercising takes a bit longer. There’s no hard and fast rule. But there is one rule: a habit has to deliver a reward that you actually enjoy.”

So make sure you’re enjoying what passes across your mouth. Let good food sweep you off your feet with new tastes, flavors, colors, and aromas.

With that said, here’s a bit of advice to keep in mind from Andrew: If you try to be perfect, you’re setting yourself up for failure. So be flexible.

Don’t feel guilty if you weren’t successful yesterday, and don’t be overwhelmed by the days in front of you. Just think, what unprocessed foods can I eat at my next meal? Because each small positive action you take will build upon the last, and the overall effects you’ll experience will be greater than the sum of their parts.

As you take on October Unprocessed, what are some of the powerful, positive side effects you’re experiencing? Share with us!

“Little Snowball” © 2009 by Chris Marquardt, used under the Creative Commons License.

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

Welcome to Eating Rules!

Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

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October 6, 2012 8:11 am

That is exactly what I did when I decided to switch back to unprocessed. Growing up that is what I ate without knowing it…when I went to college and moved out that all changed ( I guess it was the rebel in me). Anyway, as an adult I decided to change back and I just took it one meal, one day at a time. These past couple of years with #October Unprocessed, I change even more. it’s great! Thank you for sharing.

October 5, 2012 5:56 am

LOVE THIS!!! I even spent the last few minutes of my vlog yesterday talking about this exact topic!

Reply to  Mo
October 5, 2012 6:10 am

Nice! Will be watching now 🙂

October 4, 2012 7:42 pm

I gradually eased my way into the October unprocessed challenge at the end of September and while it helped, I’m still finding it hard to eat completely unprocessed. I went to Whole Foods and my local grocery store today and I was so surprised at how many things have added ‘stuff’ to them. Reading the labels (which isn’t a new thing for me to do) and really thinking about what the ingredients are got me to thinking about the things that I’m putting in my body. On that note, can someone please tell me if citric acid, ascorbic acid, soy lecithin, and fruit pectin would be considered unprocessed? I was surprised to see soy lecithin on so many things and to really not know what it was.

Reply to  Savannah
October 4, 2012 10:07 pm

Hey Savannah, great work so far! That’s why it’s called a challenge. 😉

Soy lecithin can’t be made at home (it’s the third item in this FAQ post:, but it’s pretty ubiquitous in packaged foods.

Fruit pectin is naturally occurring, but it looks like it’s chemically extracted for use as an ingredient:

Similar story for the acids: ;

What are you finding them in that surprised you? I’m just wondering if there is an option around them or not for some products.

Paula Perez
October 4, 2012 6:07 pm

The October Unprocessed challenge is not a huge leap for me: a couple years ago I started a daily green smoothie breakfast habit, and we have gradually converted to almost-entirely organic produce, I make my own kombucha, and we are eating more whole grains vs. processed grains. The thing that I’m enjoying about the challenge is holding the line at COMPLETELY unprocessed: not having the bag of Pirate Booty, but making a bowl of air-popped corn with butter. Learning to make whole-wheat tortillas last night (which were INCREDIBLE) because I was too tired to make a trip to Trader Joe’s, which is the only place that sells “clean” tortillas I know of. I know the holidays are coming and the temptation to indulge will be greater than normal – this challenge is a good way to set the bar for the months to come.

Reply to  Paula Perez
October 5, 2012 6:06 am

Awesome, Paula! My mom has been making whole-wheat tortillas for a few months and loves them too.

October 4, 2012 3:50 pm

I love playing “stump the cashier” with unusual raw fruits and veggies.

Laura B.
Reply to  Jolene
October 4, 2012 8:28 pm

That is fun! I’ve done it, too! (“What is this?” –“It’s a Thai eggplant!” (Actually, a group of them–they’re quite small!) “What do you DO with them?” –“I stir-fry them with several other veggies and serve with brown rice…” Or: I dice them up and steam them with some other vegetables and make it into what we call a ‘steam-pot’, a medley of different vegetables and I serve another vegetarian dish or food alongside it, like pasta and sauce or beans-and-rice…” Where I live, the local supermarket produce is predictable. However, if I look and shop carefully–here in my town or in the nearest larger town–about 30 minutes from here, I can find some very interesting foods and much of it is in the fresh produce section of the store. Sometimes, another customer and I will get into a fun conversation about what’s in the produce department. It’s fun to… Read more »

October 4, 2012 12:33 pm

One great benefit I’ve found is that I’m spending more time in my kitchen and remembering what I like about it and what I don’t. I stopped cooking as much because I didn’t like the dinner rush, which usually gave me crabby hungry kids, one of whom would then directly stare at my meals and say “I don’t like it” without trying a bite. I’m remembering that I like to cook when nobody’s expecting to eat a few minutes later and when I can immerse myself in the experience.

Laura B.
Reply to  Jacqui Gonzales
October 4, 2012 8:20 pm

Replying to jaqui: Yes, I agree! If I am under a time crunch, even now that my husband and I are “empty nesters” and I only cook for 2…If I am being rushed for time when I prepare meals, I want something convenient and FAST–predictably fast. That doesn’t always lend to making a quality, nutritious meal. Most of the time, I try to cook at home and make something as “less-processed” as possible from “whole” foods. I LIKE cooking. I like finding the right seasonings–herbs, spices, various healthy ingredients–to bring out good FLAVOR and be healtbier for Husband and me. I’ve been learning to make most of our meals vegetarian. I find it often saves money AND is lower in fat, lower in “empty” calories and is higher in fiber and nutrients that “count” for health. I also LIKE shopping for foods–when I am not in a hurry and especially… Read more »

October 4, 2012 10:39 am

Excellent posting today. This challenge has opened my eyes to less healthful purchases I make at the store automatically because it’s what I always buy. I never checked the ingredients in my cottage cheese because I figured it was natural cheese, right? Wrong! Tons of ingredients I don’t want or need were listed. Today I checked the dairy case and found one that has milk, cream and salt. This is not a new brand, but because I was stuck in my routine, I was making a poor choice. One may think, “Cottage cheese…big deal”, but it feels really good to be more aware of what I am putting into my body.

Reply to  Lisa
October 4, 2012 10:40 am

Thanks, Lisa! It’s all about mindfulness… glad the challenge is helping with that 🙂

October 4, 2012 9:45 am

That statement makes sense: “A habit has to deliver a reward that you actually enjoy”. The difficulty with making a new habit is directly proportional to the ease or lack of ease in experiencing the “reward” part of the proposed new habit for me. The challenge is to know what the “reward” is going to be… and benefitting from that as I start working on new habits. Eating vegetarian-style meals is a rewarding thing for me. Not because of a philosophical payoff (re: animal ethics), but because I actually FEEL better physically when I do this. My skin problems begin to clear up and I have a great deal of energy and a feeling of mental alertness. It’s subjective, of course, and I can’t say this will be the case for every person who goes “veggie”, but my overall health is improving because of a less processed and lower-fat, higher-nutrient… Read more »

Reply to  Laura
October 4, 2012 9:47 am

Such a good point Laura. I think especially with something like changing your diet drastically – to eat more vegetarian style meals or what have you – the payoff is much more immediate than with other things because your body so quickly physically reacts to it. Definitely helps with the process of changing your habits. I noticed that too when I cut way back on gluten.

October 4, 2012 8:39 am

I’m trying new things at each meal. I had no idea high fructose corn syrup was in so many of the food choices i made…:( but i’m learning to expand my territory.

Reply to  kim
October 4, 2012 8:42 am

It feels a bit overwhelming to realize that, huh? It’s a great idea to focus on trying new things and incorporating them slowly into your routine. Before long, you’ll have new staples and favorites you can rely on long after October is over 🙂

October 4, 2012 8:05 am

Every November, for the past 3 years, I’ve done “NaNoWriMo” – National Novel Writing Month, for which I challenge myself to write a 50k word novel in 30 days. And I’ve completed all three years. It’s a personal challenge – the hardest thing I’ve ever done, times three! This October, #unprocessed is my month’s personal challenge. It’s hard, but with all of your inspiration and support, I know I can do this, and stick to it past October!! Here’s to living an #unprocessed life 🙂

Reply to  Christina
October 4, 2012 8:10 am

Also, positive side effect: my roommates are eating healthier simply because of my cooking! They don’t have time to cook, so they eat what I make, which is now much less processed than before, and so much more flavorful and filling! I like how I can sneakily make them healthier too.

Reply to  Christina
October 4, 2012 8:41 am

Christina — that’s awesome! It’s interesting you bring up NaNoWriMo, I think October Unprocessed is very similar to that whole challenge in that you’re doing something that you need to be thinking consciously about every day, but you can’t get down on yourself if you miss your 1500 word mark for the day or cave and eat something you were hoping to avoid. Baby steps! You’ll be surprised at how far they can get you by the end of a month. Awesome job on the NaNoWriMo too! Such a big accomplishment.