The Stitch

Tips for setting healthy eating goals from a dietitian

The new year is quickly approaching. Have you started thinking about resolutions? If they sound like “eat better” or “exercise more,” how will you know you have eaten better or exercised more?

Claire Edgemon
Claire Edgemon, senior registered dietitian in the Department of Surgery

A recent article in Forbes reported that 62% of people feel pressured to set a New Year’s resolution and that the average resolution lasts less than four months. The article also states that action goals like “I will do something” are more effective than avoidance goals such as “I’m not going to do something.”

So, how can you set a resolution that will last and bring success? Set a SMART goal! George Doran first used the acronym in 1981 to write effective management goals. Now, the SMART goal approach is used in a variety of situations. Setting a SMART goal helps you focus your efforts to make measurable and realistic changes.

Before you set your resolution or SMART goal, ask yourself why – the why behind the resolution or goal will guide the goal-setting process. Ask yourself: what is the reasoning behind your decision for the resolution? For example, do you want to decrease the risk of developing a chronic disease like heart disease or diabetes? Are you training for a specific athletic event, like a 5K or a marathon?

Let’s re-write the general “eat better” resolution as a SMART goal. This goal could be to lower blood pressure by changing your diet.

S is specific: Answer the four questions: what, where, who and when.

“I am going to eat two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables five days per week, either at home or out at a restaurant.”

M is measurable: Attach numbers to your goal. It will help you know if you have reached the goal.

“I will record my fruit servings (1 cup) and vegetable servings (1 cup) on a calendar.”

A is achievable/attainable: Make sure the goal is realistic. Think about what resources or skills you have that will help you reach the goal.

“I enjoy the flavors and tastes of many fruits and vegetables. I can use information from MyPlate to help with serving amounts. I can purchase fresh produce, low/no salt canned vegetables, canned fruit in juice and plain frozen fruits and vegetables to help me reach my goal.”

R is relevant: Define the benefit you hope to receive from the goal.

“I want to decrease my need for blood pressure-lowering medications.”

T is time-bound: Identify a deadline where you check progress or completion.

“I will go to the store tomorrow to buy the fruits and vegetables. I will review the calendar where I have recorded my intake at the end of each week or month.”

Once you set your SMART goal, write it down. Post it where you will see it often. Share the goal with your support people. Evaluate your progress and make modifications as necessary. Reward yourself when you reach milestones.

Instead of setting resolutions that you forget about in two months this year, consider a SMART goal that will put you on the path to lasting lifestyle changes.

By Claire Edgemon, senior registered dietitian in the Department of Surgery 

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