Research has shown that the majority of people who set New Year’s resolutions include a health-related goal. Maybe that’s because we realize another year of our life has gone by and we want to slow the aging process – or maybe it’s because we ate too much of our father-in-law’s delicious fudge during the Christmas season. (In my defense, it was really great fudge.) Either way, setting health-related goals is always a positive thing.
But there’s an old adage that says, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” In this case, it’s critical that you create a plan to reach your goals.
You see, it’s common to set goals that just lead to more frustration. That’s because many people set goals that can never be achieved, and then they feel frustrated because they aren’t “succeeding.” In fact, I bet you can think of someone right now who set a health-related goal only to give up when it proved more difficult than expected.
Fortunately, there’s a very simple solution: make sure your own resolutions are S.M.A.R.T. ones! You may have heard this acronym before, but it’s always useful to review exactly what a SMART goal is, and how to set health-related ones. By following the steps below, you’ll be much more likely to achieve your New Year’s Resolutions.
So here it goes, let’s learn about setting SMART goals:
- S is for Specific. Maybe your goal is that you want to get fitter next year. Awesome! It’s great to be fit! But what does that really mean? How are you going to know if you end up getting fitter than you were the year before? In what ways do you want to be fitter? Are you actually wanting to increase muscle mass, lose fat mass, or lose weight? If so, how much? I have many people come to me and say “I want to lose weight.” That’s a worthy desire, but it doesn’t yet qualify as a goal. An actual goal would be something like, “I want to lose 20 pounds this year.”
When I work with clients on their health-related goals, the first thing I do is make sure their goals are specific.
- M is for Measurable. Maybe you’ve decided that your desire to be fitter actually means you want to decrease your body fat percentage. Now your goal is a bit more specific. But to make it actually measurable, let’s pinpoint an actual amount. For example, “I want to decrease my body fat % this year by 3%.” Or if your goal is that you want to lose weight, your goal could be to achieve to a goal weight of 160 lbs. This allows you to actually measure your progress compared to where you started.
- A is for Achievable. This is where I see a lot of people struggle. It can be hard to know what is actually achievable and what isn’t, because it requires a more in-depth understanding of the human body than most people have. This is why there are professionals (like me, *wink wink*) that can guide you.
For example, say you want to lose 20 lbs. in 2 weeks. That’s only achievable if you have a death wish. You see, some things might be theoretically possible, but that doesn’t make them safe or smart. I could technically lose 10 lbs. overnight, but by the next day I would probably be so dehydrated I couldn’t stand up. Losing 10 lbs. of fat weight in one day simply isn’t achievable for me. Now, if I were to decide to try to lose 10 lbs. of fat weight over the course of a whole year, that might be achievable.
Also, keep in mind that while something might start out seeming achievable, things can change. Maybe your goal is that you are going to exercise at least 5 days per week, every week for the month of January, but then you break your leg half way through the month. Have you failed because you broke your leg and couldn’t make it to the gym? No. That’s why it’s important to remember that you can adjust your goal if needed to accommodate for changing circumstances. That keeps your goal achievable.
- R is for Realistic. This, in my humble opinion, might be the most important aspect of setting SMART goals. Let’s say I’ve decided that in order to be fitter, I want to lose 10 lbs. over the course of a year. It’s specific, measurable, and technically achievable, but is it realistic? For one person, it might be, and for someone else it might not.
Let me explain. Imagine I have 2 clients, who both want to lose 10 pounds in a year. One of them (let’s call him Bob) is 100 lbs. overweight, while the other (Sam) is 10 lbs. overweight. Technically, they are both overweight, and it is going to be safe for either of them to lose the 10 lbs. Both of them want to lose the weight to “be fitter” but if each of them loses 10 lbs., will they both actually end up getting what they desired? Maybe, or maybe not. That’s because most people in their quest to lose weight are going to lose some amount of fat free mass as well. Take Sam. He loses 10 lbs. total, but 4 of those pounds are fat-free mass. He technically weighs less than he did before, but he also notices that he can’t bench press the same amount of weight that he used to. Sam may not really feel fitter despite reaching his goal, because it wasn’t a realistic goal for him. Bob, on the other hand, lost 10 lbs. and also lost 4 lbs. of fat-free mass. In his case, he notices that his knees hurt less and it’s easier for him to get in and out of the car. He also notices that he can walk longer without feeling out of breath. Bob now feels fitter.
It’s important to evaluate if your goal will actually get you what you desire, because that is what makes it realistic. Again, this is often where professionals can help you know if your goal is realistic or not.
- T is for Timely. This one is fairly easy, but still important. If you don’t have a specific time frame in which you want to meet your goal, it becomes more of a wish than an actual goal. I could say that I want to lose 10 lbs. of fat-free mass, but if I don’t indicate over what time period I want to do this in, when do I evaluate if I met the goal? Furthermore, what motivation do I have to actually start now? What if I gain 2 lbs. of fat the first month, and then lose 10 lbs. of fat over the next 6 months. Did I really accomplish what I wanted? It all depends on what time frame we look at.
Hopefully, these pointers will help you structure smarter goals with a higher chance of success. That said, even if you set SMART goals, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve them every single time! Sometimes the breakdown doesn’t occur at the goal-planning level, but somewhere during the implementation stage. If you aren’t meeting your New Year’s Resolutions, it might be that you need to change the way you are going about trying to achieve them. This is often times when people give up, when really, they just need to make a small change. Maybe to lose that 10 lbs., you just need to cut out that extra serving of starch at dinner instead of giving up your favorite food altogether. Remember that if something isn’t working well, it’s okay to make changes along the way.
One more thing. For most people, achieving health-related goals can sometimes seem like a daunting, if not impossible, task. That’s why there are people like me to help you on your way! If you have a desire to improve your health but don’t know how, I would be happy to help you along that path. From meal-planning to diet analyses to grocery-store tours, my goal as your dietitian is to help you achieve yours.
By the way, if you have health insurance, I have many patients that are able to get their visits with me 100% covered. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me!
In the meantime, good luck with your resolutions! Let’s make 2017 everything it can be!