“Being healthy” can mean so many things. It seems like every day there’s a new expert in the room with a different philosophy on health. First, I heard carbs were evil. Then I heard meat would kill you. Some experts even claimed you should avoid fruit because it’s too high in sugar. What does that leave? Spinach and walnuts? The same confusion applies for exercise – what maximizes your benefits? Cardio, weight training, pilates, yoga? It seems like everyone is saying something different. There’s so much conflicting information and the over-stimulation can just make you shut down.

So, rather than be another voice in already very noisy room, let’s drop all of that. Because no matter which diet or exercise regimen you choose, I believe what’s most important is that you feel good and can stand behind your reasons for what you’re doing. Once you have a lifestyle you feel good about, you’ll be tuned in with what you eat, drink, how you move your body, your relationships, stress levels, goals…everything.

But the big question is – how do you figure that out? That’s a huge mountain to climb, and like I said, everyone seems to be following a different map.

When it comes to these seemingly massive changes, I believe that slow and incremental progress is the name of the game. Think about one positive thing you want to do, and just begin. That could be anything – taking a yoga class, riding your bike to the coffee shop, or having a glass of water rather than a Coke…it’s a start. And by taking one positive step, you’ll begin opening yourself to change, rather than giving yourself rules.

I started by reading a book. Nothing dramatic or life-changing happened immediately. But after reading it, I started to become more mindful of my habits, making adjustments, and trying new things. I started making my lunch and bringing it to work every day. Then I ditched the elevator and started taking the stairs. Then I borrowed a pair of weights from my mom and an exercise video from a friend. The more I tried, the more I realized I was capable of. It’s a process, and it’s of course never finished. But looking back since opening that book five years ago, I can see that the incremental progress has led to a complete transformation, and has enhanced every facet of my life. But it happened day by day, with consistent yet almost imperceptible changes.

There have been some key things that have helped me find success, and also some major mistakes I’ve made, so I’ll share five tips below. (Side note: I promise not to tell you to go vegan. Or give up sugar. My point is to encourage you to forget the rules and be more intuitive with what’s best for you.)

  1. Take it slow. As I said above, it’s a process. Whatever you are striving for, if you go from 0 to 100, chances are it won’t stick. Let’s say you want to lose weight. If you wake up at 5:30AM for a fat-blasting cardio session every morning, you know what will happen? Burnout. You’re likely to quit before you ever get a chance to see the benefits. Give yourself a little leeway and take on workouts that you know you can do, especially in the beginning, when motivation and self image are so fragile. In my experience, it’s better to do a little every day than to do only a handful of intense workouts a week.

  1. Show yourself kindness and patience. If you still have a pooch after a week of nonstop crunches – IT’S OKAY. It’s challenging, but try not to get so hung up on how you look. Focus on what you are doing, the changes you are making, and how amazing that fact is in itself. Your body will catch up, it just takes time. This may sound crazy, but the less I obsess about my appearance, the better I feel about how I look.

  1. Listen to your body. How you feel can be a huge indicator of what works for you. It seems obvious, but it’s easy to get overly goal-focused and ignore the signals your body is sending. Do you constantly feel hungry? How are your energy levels? Do you have gas? What is your mood like? Are you sleeping well? Your body knows what it needs much more than your brain, so if you are trying something and it just doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to put it aside.

  1. Don’t judge. If you find something that works for you, that’s awesome. But remember that no two people are the same, and we may each require something different to look and feel our best. No need to get preachy about being plant-based to some stranger at the grocery store, or start an argument at dinner about refined sugars. If people want to know, they will ask. But keep in mind that everyone has a unique set of needs based on our bio-individualism. So stay positive and be an inspiration rather than a know-it-all.

  1. Pay no mind to the haters. On the flip side, people might not like to see you doing so great. If your friends or family get critical, keep in mind that their reactions most likely have nothing to do with you. In my experience, most people who were resistant or critical of my choices felt threatened because they wanted to change their own lives. We’ve all been there, right? So have some compassion while they figure it out 🙂

If you are considering making changes to your life, maybe the answers are not where you think. Maybe the diets, workout programs, and IG posts are counterproductive. What if you just did one thing, one small thing to take a step towards a better life? What if you went for a walk, or called your mom, or made yourself a cup of tea? Any of those can be considered “health.” For me, a book is what triggered change — and I’m still in disbelief at the benefits it has yielded. If you can be patient and compassionate with yourself, and give yourself a chance to grow slowly without judgement, you will be amazed at how your life can change.