Stuck at the starting line? Find your “gateway” change.

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“Greatness from small beginnings.” -Sir Francis Drake

Frodo, before he became the savior of Middle-Earth. Katniss Everdeen, before she became the Mockingjay and toppled Panem. In every great story – especially those of heroes – there’s always a call to action in which the future of a character is changed with a single plot point. More often than not, it’s not something monumental, but rather a personal decision that ultimately results in amazing changes on a grand scale:

  • Katniss didn’t set out to start a rebellion; she simply wanted to protect the life of her sister.
  • Frodo had no plans of saving Middle-Earth, he just wanted everybody at the Council of Elrond to stop fighting!
  • Harry Potter had no clue what he was getting into, he just wanted to get out of that darn house!

This is a crucial point in any Hero’s Journey. It’s fun looking back now at each of those moments and wondering “how would the story be different if they hadn’t done [a seemingly insignificant task or decision]?”

As I’ve looked back over the hundreds and hundreds of success stories in the Nerd Fitness community (a few dozen are here), I realized that almost all health and fitness journeys have that moment too. Maybe we don’t have a dramatic, life-changing visit from an owl or Hagrid, but very often we discover something – an exercise, an activity, a mindset that becomes our “gateway” into finally becoming someone who values health and fitness. Permanently.

You’re reading Nerd Fitness, which means you’re intrigued about the idea of getting fit. Maybe you’ve started and stopped dozens of times, tried every diet, chewed weight loss pills, and signed up for the gym and canceled your membership 20 times.

It sucks.

Yet, hope remains. And hope is a damn good thing. Just ask The Shawshank Redemption.

And I have 100% faith and certainty that you will start to build the superhero body you’ve always wanted, but I need you to you keep an open mind about where life can take you. If you are reading this at 400+ pounds and feel like healthy and happy is impossible, remember that many of us started with one change. Heroes all started out normal until they made a single deliberate decision that ended up altering their future.

Frodo didn’t know how his decision to pick up the ring would impact Middle Earth. Katniss didn’t expect to become the Mockingjay and lead a rebellion. They both made one small decision after the next.

One decision, a mountain of change as a result. It can happen.

why Starting with ONE thing Works.

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We are all creatures of habit, even when they’re the bad ones. 

The beers we drink to forget the long day at work. The candy we eat every time we go talk to Lois in accounting (I swear she keeps it on her desk for that reason!) The cigarettes we smoke during our break from a double shift at the restaurant. All of these habits started with a deliberate decision, too: the first time you smoked at 16, the beer you stole from Dad at 14, the candy you got from a parent when you stopped screaming in the grocery store…. Over time, they become normal, and that normalcy, if unhealthy, sets us up to fail.

The same is true with the foods and beverages we consume, or the lack of an active lifestyle. Single decisions made repeatedly over time, until the new normal is established. So, we need to start taking deliberate action to get our life back in order, and it starts with making deliberate decisions.

Unfortunately, 99% of conventional methods are garbage.

Let’s start with diets. As a recent study shows, those who diet are doomed to stay fat; essentially diets only treat the symptom, rather than making an adjustment to the source of the problem. Magazines and fitness marketers don’t want you to know that, but they do want you chasing the latest and greatest rather than getting healthy permanently (they don’t make any money there!).

Which is where we come in. No more diets. No short term solutions. No drastic declarations or all-in mentalities. Instead, deliberate, but deliberately small and simple action.

We don’t want temporary change, no matter how great it is. We want permanent improvement, even if it’s tiny.

That’s why you need to find your “gateway change.”

What does a gateway change look like? For that, I want to share two stories from members of our own team at Nerd Fitness!

Staci  Did you know that our very own Staci used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day and could eat an entire family size box of Kraft Mac and Cheese in one sitting? Yep, the same Staci who just deadlifted 408 pounds at Nationals.

When Staci found Nerd Fitness (thank you Legend of Zelda article!), she was encouraged by members of the NF message boards to try strength training. She worked up 20 seconds of courage to pick up a barbell, and it was like King Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, she and the barbell clicked. It was only after a few months of training that she realized, “if I stop smoking, I will get healthier and stronger faster.” Yup, for many months after Staci started lifting, she still smoked! After quitting smoking, she really dug into her diet (again, to get stronger) and discovered she has Hashimoto’s Disease – she’s now healthier, stronger, and more determined than ever!

It all started because she picked up a barbell.

Alek – Alek, our developer at Nerd Fitness, found his gateway to a healthier life through ultimate frisbee, though it took a while. In fact, while playing ultimate he continued to put on more and more weight, eating 1000-1500 calories a day of candy. It wasn’t until he tested a hypothesis: “if more candy makes me slower and worse at ultimate frisbee, would less candy make me faster and better?” When he discovered that this was in fact true (seriously, sugar, you suck), he adjusted his diet and is now in the best shape of his life!

Meet Jadah and Jen

Jada and Jen

I also wanted to share a story from my friends Jadah and Jen of the uber-popular SimpleGreenSmoothies, who just put out a really great book this week.

Both women were moms who were overworked, over-caffeinated, undernourished, stressed, and who struggled to maintain a healthy weight despite trying every diet out there. This rollercoaster of healthy/not healthy went on and on for years and years until Jadah decided to make one single change at the behest of her mom: “I’m going to swap out my unhealthy breakfast for a simple smoothie with green veggies, fruit, and almond milk.” She didn’t change anything else other than her breakfast! She didn’t change the food she ate, she didn’t count calories, and she didn’t make an effort to exercise more.

She made one deliberate decision: healthy smoothie for breakfast. After a few weeks she noticed an increased amount of energy, and thanks to consuming fewer calories (and more veggies!) from swapping out her old breakfast for a smoothie. And, as a result she eventually saw a distinct change in her life and her waistline.

She soon got her friend Jen hooked, and after a few months they noticed their lives had leveled up together! This one small, simple, but deliberate change had altered their paths. Soon enough, they started analyzing other parts of their lives and sought to make improvements there too. Jen has since run a marathon and Jadah has lost 30+ pounds. They’ve also improved the overall wellness of their respective families, and even built a massive community around their movement! Like, hundreds of thousands of people massive.

I loved hearing their story, as I know how powerful one change can be. Jen and Jadah attacked the problem with a philosophy many of us can relate to: “I know I have a lot of things wrong with my life at the moment, but I can certainly fix one of them. And that’s the only one I’m going to worry about right now!”

It’s amazing what one simple change can do.

Find Your Gateway


Before you can run, you need to learn to walk. And those first few steps are gonna be pretty comical. Like a baby giraffe. But that’s okay. I heard Jadah give a talk last year at The World Domination Summit, and she said something that I won’t forget: “Take imperfect action.”

Who cares if you don’t have the perfect diet plan figured out, or the perfect workout plan. (Spoiler alert: the perfect [anything] doesn’t exist!)

Once you start to see SOME progress and change, you can then increase the level of difficulty in your decision making process after you’ve built some momentum.

It doesn’t need to be smoothies, either. What’s important is that it’s a deliberate, healthy, small decision that you can repeat daily to reinforce the new habit.

  • Start walking to Mordor. If Frodo can do it, so can you! Do a mile every morning.
  • Try yoga. In fact, next week Nerd Fitness Yoga re-launches to the world! (Shameless plug ftw!)
  • Swap out soda for black coffee or unsweetened tea.
  • Commit to five minutes each morning of working on push ups and squats.

A single change can be the fire that lights the fuse that gets us going. I’ve seen it happen with thousands of nerds here on Nerd Fitness, and Jen and Jadah have a community of rawkstars who have done it as well.

Your turn. What’s been your gateway change – Did you take a simple deliberate action and have it affect other aspects of your life?

Or are you still struggling to find your gateway change? If so, what’s one new deliberate step you can take today that you can repeat…well, repeatedly!?


PS: A huge thanks to Jen and Jadah for sharing their story, and congrats to them on the launch of Simple Green Smoothies its a book full of simple recipes like the one above, and their story is really fantastic. I’m quite partial to their Green Hulk recipe 🙂

  • 2 cups Swiss chard, stems removed
  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 bananas, 1 cup sliced peaches
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


photo source: Michael Chen: Indecision

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    33 thoughts on “Stuck at the starting line? Find your “gateway” change.

    1. Great article. I sort of fell into this advice when I tried to start running. I leashed up the dog and said “I’m going to jog a mile or two.” About 100 feet, a stitch in my side, and several minutes of desperately trying to breathe later: “Maybe I’ll just walk the dog…”

      I just walked the dog after dinner for a while. Since then it’s been passing through the little gates along the way. Got running. Quit smoking. Cut back drinking (I actually drink things that I want to taste now). Started strength training.

      It took 5 years, but I ran a half marathon in September and hit my target pace so I’m going for a full in April.

    2. My gateway change was starting archery last year. After a year of training, I started seeing myself as an athlete. Now I’ve changed my diet, lost 13 kgs in the last 3 months and I’m exercising daily in some form. Great article!

    3. Hey Steve,

      I’ve had a few gateway changes. I have always been active but after my second knee surgery in 2 years, I decided it was time to lose the weight. I am more of the cold-turkey all-in habit builder, so the first step was loosing 50lbs on a vegetarian/vegan plan over 2 years where I stalled out for several years. The I met Nerd Fitness which helped get me back on track with paleo/IF and the realization that diet is 80% of the story. Since then I have lost another 25-30lb from ~205 to a low water mark of 183. I have since stalled again in the 180-190 range, ~20% BF neighborhood (most of 2015).

      I’ve been trying a bunch of stuff but can’t seem to move the dials in the right directions. I also feel like I’ve already hit most of the “easy changes.” I already quit liquid calories, significantly reduced sugar and sweets, limit carbohydrate intake, get 30g of protein for breakfast most mornings, study BJJ 3 nights a week, Deadlift 1.5xBW, Bench and squat 1xBW, run occasionally, move pretty well, walk to work everyday, etc. What is next when the low hanging fruit all seems to be picked?

      Nerd Fitness covers getting a fitness journey started in great detail. Could you do an article in the near future about either breaking through plateaus or achieving the last 10% of the goal?


    4. Mine was weightlifting!

      I used to be the military, and i got so damn tired of people saying that girls couldn’t hack it or their standards were easier because they’re weaker. So I figured some way, some how, I was going to figure out how to get strong and surprise them. I had no idea what I was doing for the first six months probably that I went to the gym, but then I stumbled on barbell training via stronglifts and starting strength and the rest is history.

      I’m never going back to where I was, because someone out there lifts more than me at the same body weight and I need to change that.

    5. This post reminds me of using the agile methodology to get work done. You start with bite-sized pieces that you finish, and then you adapt! Instead of making a huge plan for the next year about how you’ll change every bit of your life, you can just start with one or two things you know you can get going. Then, you won’t build an entire plan around running and be disappointed when you discover you hate running, or you get injured and can’t run anymore.

    6. This is very timely, I just started with removing soda from my daily routine. I am determined to make this my gateway change. I had hoped going to the gym would be that, but I still do that 2x a week, for over a year, and I haven’t lost a measurable amount of weight. I do have big arms though!

    7. Great article. I discovered this by accident in my childhood, and again in 2003. The childhood experience was the year a friend from school invited me to join his under 14s football club. I accepted his offer (much to the surprise of my parents). I was doing some activity, but my fitness was mediocre at best. Well, I still suck at football, but that 6 months of training pretty much set me up for life. Since then, even in my unhealthiest, most inactive years, I was still taking regular lunchtime walks around the city.

      The second gateway happened in 2003. By then (now in my mid 30s), the only regular exercise I had was those aforementioned lunchtime walks, and I was seeing the early signs of middle age spread coming on. I’m also a ham radio operator (yep, still a nerd), and at that time, the guys I used to chat to on air during the work commute were involved in organising an international Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) championships – a cross between radio foxhunting and orienteering. I decided to give this a go, being such a unique opportunity. This led me into orienteering, as well as running in general, and I worked up to my first marathon in 2008, then started in the gym, while keeping the running going.

      A house move in 2010 led to another change of focus, towards speed and power, which is where I’m at today. That looming middle age spread did get halted, and my body composition has gradually improved since then. Today, if I had a superhero as a source of inspiration, it has to be The Flash. 🙂

    8. You’ve published so many brilliant articles lately but I have to say, this one is nearing perfection and it feels so good to read this! Thank you!

    9. I had this experience!

      I never considered myself someone who was athletic or “did” exercise. I had labeled myself as someone who did other things: crafts, art, reading. But I wasn’t a jock. (Hey former band nerd.)

      But a few years ago I started doing yoga. Not yoga for weight loss or strength or even flexibility. I did slow, deep meditative yoga because my home and work life was stressing me out. Yoga was one of the few ways I could feel sane again.

      I did it for my mind more than my body. But it was my gateway. After being the person who did slow, meditative yoga, I then became the person who did yoga and cooked healthy breakfast in the mornings. I became more in touch with my body and became invested in my health. I started doing HIIT home workouts, then got into strength training. I finally got a gym membership, but didn’t put any pressure on myself. As long as I showed up, worked various muscle groups, and challenged myself, I didn’t worry so much about a system. Just being at the gym was an accomplishment.

      These days, I have developed the habit of hitting the gym regularly. I found Nerd Fitness when I was trying to establish a more efficient workout routine. And now I actively keep track of what I’m lifting so I can make sure I’m pushing myself. I’m still trying to develop good eating habits. I went from working in restaurants to sitting at a desk for 10 hours. And there are a looooot of snacks in the breakroom. But I’m keeping with what’s worked for me, which is taking everything step by step. I’ll figure out the diet in time.

      All of this happened slowly, over a few years. I’m not seeing dramatic results in my body yet, but I’m working to get there. I feel the changes I’ve made are for the long term.

    10. This is exactly what I needed to read right now. I’m in dying need of a respawn and some posts to kick my butt are just the ticket! Thanks 🙂

      PS: Who chews their pills? That’s gross!

    11. Mine started when i stumbled across NF and the “how to make a sandbag” post a few years back. Since then i’ve devoted my entire basement to a full blown training ground, started working on my eating habits, and even got my fiance on board. We just signed up for our first spartan race in fact. Ha hard to believe my huge lifestyle change stemmed from a sandbag. Thanks rebellion!

    12. I find that doing the ONE habit you are trying to create FIRST thing in the morning is what has helped me with so many aspects of my life.

      Now that fitness isn’t my main priority since I actually like lifting now, I try to work on my business first thing in the morning since it’s not a habit set in stone for me yet.

    13. Great one Steve. The power of small changes can be applied to all parts of life.

      In software development, we talk about agile development cycles. We do a small change quickly and TEST if it works. That’s the key point. When we make a small change, we can test it quickly to see if it works.

      If we couldn’t switch to a smoothie for breakfast, why? was it because it’s too much of a hassle to find the blender? ( then maybe we should bring out the blender the night before). Maybe it’s because we don’t like the taste of celery. When we make a small change, think of it as a series of small experiments. When we fail, that’s great, that’s a null result. Which is valuable! 😀

    14. Weaning off the fruit juices (not having been much for sodas since my high school days) and then changing my coffee drinks to mostly black coffee, sometimes a dirty chai on the special occassion, to the point now where I am most often drinking water, yes, so much water, and coffee, and a variety of unadulterated tea, and that’s about it. It’s not the struggle it once was. These are the drinks I prefer and that help me feel more fit. Just initially getting off the fruit juice shed about ten pounds.

    15. At the end of September I got weighed at the hospital during a routine check and saw I was the heaviest I’ve been in my life, 265lbs or something. First thing I did was look through my diet to get an idea of how many calories were in what, see if anything stood out that I could get rid of. Well turns out I was living on noodles and crisps, so I cut those two things out of my diet. I’ve seen started eating crisps again, though nowhere near as often. I also almost never eat ice cream now. I was weighed at the GP the other day and found I now weigh 255 🙂 My gateway was honesty with myself about how my diet was tragically bad, which I put in a pot with my fear and mixed up for a nice broth of Get It Done.

    16. I do push-ups first thing in the morning, increasing by one every week. I used to do this then fell of the bandwagon. I’m back on now – I can only do five proper push ups, but five weeks ago I was having trouble with one.

    17. My gateway change definitely was parkour. I discovered parkour through the article here on the Nerd Fitness blog. I then found out there was a parkour and freerunning gym about 45 minutes from home so I knew I needed to sign up. I’ve been hooked ever since, going once a week for nearly the past three months. Loving it and can not wait to get stronger, faster, and more experienced!

    18. Just joined up with Nerd Fitness a little while back. For me it was making the commitment to hit the gym 3 days a week before work. As a busy mom, it’s the only time for myself. I’m not a morning person by any means, but I came to realized that on the days I get there I have so much energy! And I miss it if I can’t make it. (Like this week with sick kids.) But I miss it, I actually miss it! Who would have thought making the decision to just “get there” would get me hooked on exercise. I’m now looking to expand my exercises at the gym, and even start exercising at home! Home scares me as my family are my hardest critics. But now I have the confidence to start doing it. Thank you for all the great articles. I don’t think I’d be doing this now without them!

    19. My gateway was 5%. Doesn’t seem like a huge amount,
      5% off of something wouldn’t even get me to look at it in a store. But
      hey, 5% of my weight seems like such a huge amount.Realizing in one sense it’s too small, but in another, it’s appears to be so
      much more! So, 5% in 4 weeks. It’s do-able. I can’t start a new beginning in my life, but i can start today and make a new ending.

    20. I needed this article, thanks! I haven’t been going to the gym since mid-February although I have been cycling to work and back many days this year (nearly 4,200km to date) but winter is coming, cycling will be difficult, if not impossible and I need to switch gears to an indoor physical fitness program and am having difficulty doing so. Working on my fitness through the winter, specifically strength, will help my cycling improve next year. Thanks again for the article.

    21. Good old fashioned terror helps. I decided to start running because I realized I was on track to follow in my fathers’ stroke and bypass surgery laden path.

    22. I watched my father die of cancer. Took me a long time but I’m using that to fuel my current attempt to quit the smoking. Terror can often help tip the scales in the direction of positive change lol

    23. Awesome article, this is the type of change I implore my clients to make also – small things that can be continued long term. Then build on those.

      Love all of the stuff you post on NF, keep up the awesome work!

    24. My gateway change started 5 years ago, first i started running, it made me more energetic so i started fitness training, and started working out months after that and never stopped since. General fitness training may be used to promote weight loss. Personal trainers construct a program centered around restructuring lifestyle while helping to provide the necessary motivation for its success. General fitness training can also be used to promote toning or building of muscles, which are essentially the same physiological process.

    25. Is there a story on Alek coming up? Too much candy is exactly my problem! I’d love to hear what he did.

      I also have to ask, is the link to the smoothie book an affiliate link and/or a sponsored post? It’s not that I think you shouldn’t use them – this site is amazing and you should make all the money from it! – I just think it should be disclosed.

    26. It’s silly, but my veggie-disdaining boyfriend was my gateway to better health: by prioritizing sleep and hydration. We have a set bedtime every day, pushed back by one hour on Friday and Saturday, which also helps with my evening time management. Still need to work on morning time management and fitting in better breakfasts but everything’s a process.

      Also, to both cut back on coffee intake and up my hydration, I now have a daily requirement of 32 oz of plain water between all caffeine doses: black coffee, tea, espresso, and the odd cappuccino/mocha. Usually by the time I finish my nalgene I’m awake enough that more coffee isn’t needed though – I prefer the big buddha bottle to constantly refilling smaller ones. Again, the rules are a bit more lax on the weekends and I may have two coffees in a row, but then round up to 48 oz before any other drinks. Pretty sure I started in July but now I’m so used to it being in my life that I don’t remember how long it’s been going on, but everything just works better than it did in April, so… Hail Hydrate!

    27. How did you get started weightlifting? I want to get into the barbells section but don’t really know what to pick up first. Would you recommend just getting in there and picking a few things up or finding a trainer first? Also, best of luck on getting to the next level!

    28. The first thing you need to do is find a program. The best one out there for beginning barbell lifters is Starting Strength. I like SS because it’s a very minimal program that almost everyone sees huge results from. Plus, with SS there are only 5 or so lifts you need to learn – that way you have lots of time to focus on form 🙂
      It’s nice to have someone coach you on proper form, but not necessary (I taught myself). and the Stronglifts website both have super great explanations of each type of barbell lift, with videos of proper form and lots of tips. If you take the time to go through those for a few minutes before your workout, it’ll really help you out! Some people, once they’re getting comfortable with a lift, like to record themselves and ask for a ‘form’ check to make sure they’re doing everything right. People on the r/fitness (reddit) thread or at the NF forums are really helpful for this.

      tl;dr – Starting Strength is the best beginning program, and look to or stronglifts for explanations of form if you don’t want to/can’t hire a trainer. If you need any more help, feel free to shoot me an email! I’m

    29. Loved this article- spot on and motivating. I’m a boxer, Spartan racer and I lift- heavy- but it wasn’t always like that. A few years ago I was a strict cardio only fanatic- I’m hyper competitive and racing was my thing- addicting! Sure, I could run a bazillion miles; however one day I decided to try boxing and I felt like DEATH. I was so disappointed in my lack of strength that I made a decision to pick up the iron and cut back on the cardio. Now, three years later- I’m a seasoned boxer, I lift heavy, can bust out push-ups, flip tires and the crazy thing about it is that it’s made me a better runner. I’ve pr’d more with less miles under my belt and more hours of the “picking up heavy stuff” training. I’mont saying this would work for everyone, as our bodies work in individualized ways. But, when you finally listen to your body, and find that one thing you love to do- “that’s your gateway change moment.” I also work for a fitness app ( and our goal is to get more people off the couch doing activities they enjoy so it’s less of a “chore” aspect and more of a fun social experience. The foundation of fitness starts with the individual and what it is that makes them, them. If you like walking, own it and walk like no one’s ever walked before. If you enjoy fall football, create a team, invite your friends- make it happen. Doing things you enjoy is the key to living a healthy lifestyle. We always say fun before fitness at the office and it’s true. We just want to help people and that’s why we’ve created a social sports app that pairs people together to play the sports that they love. My new favorite blog btw!

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