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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Be SMART: Goal-setting 101

SMART goal-setting is not unique to nutrition. The technique is a useful tool for any kind of healthy lifestyle change. In fact, you could use it for any kind of change at all!

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. I would like to add to that Behavior-related. Thus, Be SMART.


So, let's say you want to lose 30 pounds. Great! I'm sure you can do it. But that's not a good way to phrase your goal. You can do a better job of setting yourself up for success with a little rewording.


You want to state a Behavior-related goal. Our behaviors are what we can control. What is a good behavior to help lose weight? Here's a surprise (not) - to lose weight, you have to expend more calories than you take in. So, you can do one of two things: increase the calories you expend or decrease the calories you take in. Let's take a shot at the calories in. Worried you'll feel hungry? You can decrease calories in without decreasing the volume of food eat -- choose foods lower in calorie density. Vegetables in general are the lowest calorie density foods.


Presto! Your goal is to "eat more vegetables". The nice thing about this goal is you're stating a positive goal, instead of a negative one (like "eat less cake"), but you'll very likely eat less cake because you'll be full on veggies.


No, sorry - we're not there yet. Let's get Specific & Measurable. If you currently eat 1 serving of vegetables (1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked) daily, make it your goal to increase to 2 or 3 servings daily.


Wow, that's not very exciting! Exactly. We also want our goals to be Attainable and Realistic. Remember, setting a small goal does not make you weak, and it's not your endpoint. It's just a small step in a bigger journey. Setting a small goal and achieving it helps you build confidence. Study after public health study show that if people don't believe they can do something, they won't - no matter how obvious it is to you or me that they can do it. Get it? If you set too big a goal to start and don't achieve it, you could feel like a failure and stop trying.


Last, but not least, your goal needs to be Timely. So, your final goal would be "Increase daily vegetables from 1 serving to 3 within the next 2 weeks."


Then the key is to check back in 2 weeks. If you've achieved the goal, set a new one. If not, think about why. Decide whether to try the same goal again or a new one. If you try again on the same goal, be sure to come up with new strategies to achieve it.


Need help forming strategies? Just ask me here or on Twitter @sweatsmallstuff. For now, here are some general and very simple strategies to increase your vegetable intake:

1.      Have a salad as a first course to your dinner. Make sure to compose your salad mostly of vegetables and go easy on (or skip) the add-on's like cheese & croutons. Use either a small amount of dressing or a light dressing.
2.      Add lettuce, tomato, or other vegetables to sandwiches.
3.      Try new recipes and preparation techniques. This will stop you from thinking vegetables are bland or boring. Here's an easy one - roast vegetables with a little olive oil, salt & pepper (and/or your favorite seasoning) - just pop 'em in an 400-425 degree oven until fork tender (time varies by veggie). One of my favorites is cauliflower with the EVOO/S&P and a little ground mustard. 
4.      Try new vegetables. Another good means to keep your interest up. Don't think you like Brussel sprouts? Try shredding them in your food processor and sautéing them with minced garlic in a little olive oil.

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