Anyone who’s attempted to stick to a New Year’s resolution knows it can be tough – especially when related to diet. Many of us believe the “holiday hangover” will be enough motivation to carry our decision to eat healthier through the next year. Unfortunately, we’re often unable to sustain that ambitious goal even through January.
Dietitians are trained in behavior modification strategies, which they use to guide patients in successful goal-setting. Several dietitians mention the importance of making SMART goals, which means our goals must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-sensitive. Here’s how it works.
What are SMART goals?
Specific: A specific goal is one that identifies exactly what change we’d like to make – like eating more vegetables or eating less fast food – instead of the vague goal to “eat healthier.”
Measurable: A measurable goal identifies criteria against which we can track progress. For example, if you want to eat more vegetables, you must identify how many you’re currently eating (maybe one serving per day) and decide how many you’d like to eventually eat (maybe three servings per day). Another way to think about it is that a measurable goal is something you can track with a yes-or-no question, like, “Did I eat three servings of vegetables today?”
Achievable: In order to set ourselves up for success, our goals must be achievable. If you’re only eating one serving of vegetables daily at most, is a goal of eating 8+ servings of vegetables possible soon, given where you’re starting (or even necessary)? You must also look at the big picture when choosing goals and ensuring they’re relevant to your priorities. Many people make the goal to drink more water, when there are other habits they could target that could make a much greater impact on their health (consider how much more valuable cutting down on a daily fast food habit would be in comparison to drinking a few more glasses of water per day). A relevant goal will provide the most bang for your behavior change buck.
Time: A time-sensitive goal creates urgency and structure with a finish line. For example, if you make a weight loss goal, it’s helpful to decide a reasonable time frame in which to achieve this goal. It is ideal to aim for about 1 pound of weight loss per week, which translates to about 4 pounds per month, or 24 pounds per six months, and so on. A time-sensitive goal may also consider that 100-percent compliance may be unrealistic, so a goal to eat three servings of vegetables five days per week, may be more reasonable than one that requires perfect performance every day.
Stringing this all together, a SMART goal around increasing vegetable intake may look like: Increase vegetable intake from one serving daily to at least three servings five days per week by April. This allows a reasonable amount of time to achieve the goal (increase daily intake by about one serving each month) and considers that 100-percent compliance is neither realistic nor necessary to see benefits from this change. Action items that support this specific goal may be to ask friends and family for their favorite vegetable recipes to try, commit to decreasing portions of starches and proteins to allow more room on the plate for vegetables at each meal, and pairing up with a friend who has a similar goal to ensure accountability.
Many of the dietitians also mention accountability or checking in with yourself or someone else through the process to keep you engaged with your goals. See the Kroger Dietitians’ expert opinions on these and other strategies below.
How to Stick to Your New Year’s Resolutions (From the Experts!)
1. I would say find someone to keep you accountable and schedule time with them monthly (for example, meet with a Kroger Dietitian in-store or via telenutrition), that way it becomes a priority. Ensure accountability, and you’ll definitely achieve your goals.
– Anna Smith
2. Spend time thinking about the motivation behind why you are setting this resolution in the first place. Even write it down! Come February or March, if you find yourself struggling to stick with your New Year’s resolutions, it can be so helpful and inspiring to reflect upon your original reasoning for setting each goal.
– Emily Duerr
3. Establish a check-in time weekly/daily with oneself for realignment of goals. This can help avoid “falling off the wagon” while also empowering someone to exercise mindfulness. Yeah, knowledge is the first step, but behavior modification is the deal maker or breaker. It helps to be kept accountable whether it is done by the individual or a support person.
– Tiffany Naticchioni
4. Create a checklist:
- Make goals SMART
- Find something or someone who can keep you accountable
- Start small, change one thing at a time
- Give yourself grace
- Ask for help/support
- Believe in yourself
- Have a why (why do you want to be healthier or less stressed)
4. Focus on incremental changes. Even if a goal is already considered small, it can be smaller, and that’s okay. For example, if the goal is to cook at least two nights a week, a smaller goal could be to use Home Chef meal kits to make cooking even easier those nights.
– Molly Hembree
5. Set short- and long-term goals and then make an action plan! Our goal for the year might be to lose 50 pounds, but let’s start with smaller steps to get you to your desired goal. Maybe the short-term goal is to aim for 1/2 to 1 pound of weight loss per week. Be sure to set short- and long-term goals within your action plan. Your first short-term goal might be to eat at least one vegetable every day, and your long-term goal may be to eat an average of 4 servings of vegetables daily. Whatever this looks like for you, be sure to set SMART goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely!
– Sarah Limbert
6. Remember that holidays such as Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve are just a few days out of 365 days in the year. Remember that goals you want to set in the New Year can be followed day-to-day, even before the New Year! A mindset on getting through the holidays is remembering it’s about a total of three days with holiday meals which equals about nine meals total. Don’t feel like that extra piece of turkey will sabotage any progress you’ve started or inhibit you from starting to make realistic health goals the next day.
– Victoria LeMaire
7. Try meal prep Sundays! Spend time with your significant other, kids, family or just yourself, to figure out what you are going to eat for the week. Write it ALL down on a weekly calendar. I recommend also writing down any events you have going on during the week, so you know roughly how much time you have to prepare things (for example, if your child has a basketball game one night, plan to eat leftovers instead of cooking – or make a quick salad).
Next, create a grocery list (and stick to it!). Be sure to check your pantry, fridge and freezer for ingredients, so you don’t buy double.
Use the next 1-2 hours after grocery shopping to wash, prep and portion out foods. This will make Monday-Friday MUCH easier, because you don’t have to think about what to make or whether you have everything to make it. Also, don’t think you have to make some extravagant meal five nights a week. My biggest advice is ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ (KISS). A more realistic goal may be to cook something homemade two nights each week, instead of every night.
– Elizabeth Vennefron
8. Do not make a resolution focused on restriction or weight loss. Instead, focus on intuitive eating – a practice that can help us get more in tune with our body’s internal cues. This way, we are better able to nourish it with the types and portions of foods that make us feel our best. It can also help repair negative relationships with food, foster body acceptance and stop the yo-yo diet cycle. Intuitive eating has also been shown to have many positive health outcomes. There are 10 main principles that are equally important to practice.
- Avoid skipping meals or getting overly hungry just so you can indulge later.
- Give yourself permission to eat anything you want and truly savor and enjoy all foods. Pay attention to your fullness cues while you are eating.
- Try not to label foods as “good” or “bad” or feel guilty about eating certain foods as this usually backfires and can prompt more eating or flare up a restriction/binge cycle.
This practice can sound challenging to do, but once you work through these principles, you are likely to feel more satisfaction, balance and confidence with your eating habits. It may be helpful to find a Registered Dietitian that specializes in intuitive eating.
I also recommend making behavioral goals or focusing on behavioral improvements, instead of weight or calorie focused goals. Behavioral goals are more intrinsic, rather than extrinsic (like weight). People typically find intrinsic goals to be more motivating, rewarding and sustainable. We also tend to have more control over intrinsic factors than extrinsic. For example, a behavioral or intrinsic goal would be: “I am going to nourish my body by eating breakfast each morning.” Behavior = eating breakfast.
It is also helpful to focus on internal feelings to keep up motivation, more so than relying on external signals for motivation. Try to think about all the ways you feel better when making improvements, instead of focusing on weight or calories (external signals). Again, focusing on your internal feelings is typically more positive, motivating and sustaining.
Remember that behavior change and intuitive eating are slow processes and are not weight loss methods, so you cannot judge success by weight loss, but rather success is measured by how you feel and improvements in your relationship with food and your body.
– Katy Keogh
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