Realistic Goal Setting- Reach Your Goals Faster!


Many of my patients have tried just about everything in the book to reach their health goals- from exercise programs to fad diets, meal delivery services, to cleanses. The problem that many people run into when trying to reach their goals is that they jump into something without planning on doing it long-term. Most people start a diet to lose weight, follow it for a while, then either abruptly or gradually fall back into bad old habits. The way to combat this relapse is to make small, sustainable changes. By doing this, you won’t feel the need to quit or cheat. You will reach your  goals faster by avoiding the all or nothing trap that often leads people to give up on the healthy changes they are making.

30 day challenges or very drastic diet or exercise programs are the most likely to lead to the cycle of crash dieting and yo-yoing in weight. Surprisingly, dieting is actually correlated with weight gain in the long run. This is because many diets aren’t designed to be sustainable. They are designed for fast results. This often means that the diets are very low in calories and sometimes even eliminate whole food groups. By decreasing the amount of calories you are eating so drastically, it can lead to a state of starvation, during which the body decreases its metabolic rate in order to conserve energy. This was advantageous during times of famine for our ancestors, but now, it makes sustainable weight loss a tricky situation.

The reason that dieting is correlated with weight gain is because no-one wants to stick to an extremely low calorie diet forever. Eventually, dieters quit the diet because it is not enjoyable. They gain weight back even faster than they lost it because of their slowed metabolism. And so the cycle continues. The way to break this cycle is to switch from a “dieting” mentality to a lifestyle change mentality. I tell my patients:

“If you’re not willing to do something I ask of you 5, 10, 15 years from now, don’t do it.”

In each initial appointment, I go over my patient’s nutrition needs and what they typically eat. I learn what foods they like, the types of changes they are open to, and what they are hoping to achieve with nutrition. This helps me guide them to create and reach small goals each week to ultimately make big impacts on their health. The key to reaching goals is to make them SMART. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.

  • Make the goal as specific as possible. When are you going to exercise? How are you going to reduce calories or eat more vegetables?

  • Make sure you can track your progress. Note how many times you are going to reach this goal over the course of a week. Shooting for doing it daily? That’s a great way to make it a habit!

  • Create goals that you can reach. If you aren’t doing any exercise now, does exercising 1 hour every day sound realistic? If you’re currently eating 1 serving of vegetables a day, why not shoot for 2-3 servings instead of 5? If you set your goal too high and don’t reach it, it could discourage you to the point of giving up. Or, you might be able to do it for a while, but give up a month later.

  • Make sure your goal is realistic based on your current situation. If you barely have enough money for your normal expenses, purchasing a gym membership or expensive meal delivery service may not be the best way for you to reach your goals.

  • Set a completion date. Check in regularly to make sure you are reaching your goals. If not, evaluate what got in the way and if you need to change your goal. I recommend setting weekly goals.

It is also helpful to have long term and short term goals. Long term goals are made easier to achieve by setting smaller goals to focus on each week. Here are some examples:

Long term goal: Lose 20 pounds by June 15th.
Week 1 Goals:

  1. Replace 1 serving of a higher calorie food at dinner each night with a non-starchy vegetable.

  2. Exercise at least 30 minutes 3x/week.

  3. Increase eating frequency to avoid overeating at dinner. Eat 3 meals and 2 snacks/day.

Long Term Goal: Reduce A1C (a measure of long term blood sugars) from 6.2 to 5.4 to potentially get off blood sugar medication.
Week 1 Goals:

  1. Walk 20 minutes 5x/week on lunch break to start utilizing blood sugar from the meal (preventing blood sugar from going as high).

  2. Replace sweet treat in the afternoon with a balanced snack (ex: apple with peanut butter).

  3. Drink 64oz water/day to avoid confusing thirst with hunger or craving for sweets.

Long Term Goal: Identify and eliminate foods exacerbating gastrointestinal symptoms (gas/bloating/pain).
Week 1 Goals:

  1. Keep a food record for the next week. Record everything you eat or drink, how much, and when you have symptoms to identify offending foods.

  2. Drink at least 64oz water daily to help improve gastrointestinal function.

Now that you know how to set realistic goals, what will you achieve this week? Please share your current goals or success stories below!