Goal Setting for the new year. It is that time of year, after all, when we start to reflect on what we’ve accomplished in the past year, and what we’d like to accomplish in the year to come. I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions, but goal setting in general is something I can absolutely get behind, especially when it comes to nutrition.
Even for the healthiest among us, it’s never a bad idea to check in and reflect on our current lifestyle. We should all be setting goals for ourselves in different areas of our lives, and nutrition is particularly important. Think about… what else makes such a difference in every aspect of our lives? Health, mood, quality of sleep, memory, physical performance, immune system function, mental clarity …. All are tied in some way to the things we eat. And who among us hasn’t fallen “off the wagon” in one form or another when it comes to food? December is a particularly tricky month to navigate. Between Thanksgiving leftovers, holiday parties, and Christmas/New Year’s Eve, the opportunities to overindulge (and get a bit lazy about our exercise routines) are as plentiful as the sugary baked goods that seem to pop up everywhere.
Here is a good pneumonic to help you create a goal setting standard that we can apply to nutrition, and really any goal we wish to achieve. S.M.A.R.T.
So, make sure to keep your nutrition goals SMART:
S is for Sustainable. If you try to change every aspect of your nutrition overnight, you’re setting yourself up for failure, and the same thing is true if you don’t allow for some “wiggle room” that will allow your nutrition setup to last over a long period of time. Meal replacement shakes or extreme elimination diets are simply not sustainable over a lifetime, so learn how to feed yourself with real, healthy food now. Sure, you may have short stints where you eat very clean and ingest little or no sugar, processed food, etc. But the reality is, these “forbidden” foods will be around for a long time, and it’s okay to occasionally indulge. Any successful nutrition plan will allow for a bit of cheating every now and then, or will at least draw some lines: the ones you NEVER cross, and the ones you will only cross sometimes for a special treat. Be kind to yourself, and make sure you can sustain your lifestyle over the long term. Otherwise, you might find yourself falling back into old habits.
M is for Measurable. Don’t simply say, “I’m going to eat healthier in 2016.” How can you possibly tell whether you’ve succeeded? Define exactly what the goal is and what it means to you. Does that mean that you’ll eat strict paleo meal for 19 out of 21 meals every week (assuming an average of 3 meals per day)? Does it mean that you’ll eliminate processed food? That you’ll start cooking dinner from whole ingredients 5 days per week? Whatever you choose, be specific, and make your goal something that you can measure. If you’re going by body results, I strongly recommend using measurements over scale weight. You can either get your body fat percentage measured using calipers or something similar, or simply take a measuring tape and record your current circumference for hips, thighs, arms, butt, etc. This will give you much more accurate results than the scale.
A is for Actionable. Make sure that the goal you’ve chosen is something where you can take a direct action. If, for instance, your goal is to reduce your body fat by 5%, or to reduce your measurements by 5 inches, define exactly what actions will get you there. Maybe you will eliminate sugar and grains from your diet for 8 weeks and then re-measure to check results. Maybe you’ll fill half your plate with steamed vegetables at every meal, and eat them first to fill up before moving on to your proteins and fats. Whatever you choose, be specific!
R is for Results-Based. As mentioned above, set a very specific goal, and then tweak your actions until you get there. If you’re working from a goal to reduce your body fat by 5%, and at the end of your pre-defined time span, you’ve lost 3% body fat, that’s still a success! You may not have quite hit your goal, but you’ve progressed in the right direction, and now you have a chance to look at your actions and, with a critical eye, decide what worked for you and what didn’t. Change the things that didn’t work. Maybe you decided to fill half your plate with vegetables but had a hard time finding vegetables to cook quickly, so you rarely did it. You could go buy a large bag of frozen veggies at Costco so you have them ready to steam in just a few minutes if needed. You get the picture – check your results, and change your plan if needed to keep moving toward your goal. Check in on your results often!
T is for Time-Oriented. You should check in on yourself frequently. Time is an important factor because you don’t want to set your goals so far ahead that you can’t measure each positive instance. A bad goal is: I want to lose 50 pounds by the end of 2016. A good goal is: I want to lose 10 pounds by the end of February 2016. Once you’ve lost that first 10 pounds, set another goal just 8 weeks or so in the future, and check back in again. These short-term goals are much easier to keep focused on, and this way you can easily measure progress. It’s easy to get discouraged if you feel you’re taking tiny steps toward a large goal. Break it down into manageable pieces, and take it one day at a time. Never set a goal more than 8-10 weeks ahead so that things stay manageable and keep your focus.
One last piece of advice: adopt the rule of no fault, blame, guilt or shame. If you don’t meet your goal, or even make any progress toward it during the allotted time, don’t waste any mental energy beating yourself up over it. Don’t spend time on fault or blame (work/family got so busy that I didn’t have time), guilt or shame (I never seem to make any progress, I ate like complete crap this month, why even bother?). These negative thought cycles are so destructive and serve no purpose other than to derail you. If you find at the end of your 8 weeks that you’ve made no progress, take a look at your goals and be honest about what worked and what didn’t. Was your goal SMART? Was the change manageable? Maybe you need to start with just a few clean meals per week and increase from there. Did you eat well, but drink like a fish? Take an objective approach and re-set new goals based on what you discover.
And of course, when in doubt, talk to any of your FLEX coaches about your goals and how we can help you achieve them. That’s what we’re here for! Happiest of holidays to all of you. See you around the gym.