Are you tired of setting nutrition goals, and then forgetting about them? You’ve probably been told that setting goals leads to success. So, where’s that success you ask?
Here’s the problem.
You probably haven’t been told how to set smart nutrition goals that lead to success.
Setting goals isn’t as simple as spouting out some desires on New Years Eve:
- “This year I’m going to lose weight”
- “I’m going to join the gym and get buff”
- “I’m going to do the ____ diet”
Have you tried that approach? I’ve tried it before. It doesn’t work.
Maybe you join the gym and show up for 1 month, 2 months, 3 months even… maybe you even see some results. But then what? You stop. Something in life interferes, and you’re tossed from your wagon.
There’s a whole strategy to setting nutrition goals (or any goals for that matter). And when you’re strategic about it, your goals can actually keep you on track pulling you toward success.
Strategic goals create a road to success.
So, rather than blabbing to you about the importance of setting goals, today I’m going to walk you through how to set smart nutrition goals, that you can achieve and feel good about.
Table of Contents
What Should My Nutrition Goals Be?
Wouldn’t it be great if someone could just write your nutrition goals for you?
Yeah, unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. In order for your goals to be effective, they need to be personal. They have to resonate with your inner desire.
- What do you want to achieve?
- Who do you want to be a year from now?
- How do you want to feel?
If you’re setting nutrition goals, I’m guessing it’s because you want to experience some health changes. What are those health changes, why do you want to achieve them, and what will you feel like when you succeed?
Before you even set out your goals, I recommend asking yourself these questions, or even writing out a personal wellness vision statement. When you do this, you create a vision of where you want to go, and the future you want.
When you have that vision in hand, you can then structure your goals to create a road map to that future success.
Just know that this can be challenging. Sometimes it’s emotionally tough to even admit what you want. Because then you start to realize what’s at stake if you “fail”. . But how can you create a map if you don’t know where you’re going?
Okay, so you have your destination in mind right? You have that vision? Now, let’s talk about setting those goals to get there.
Outcome Goals Vs. Behavioral Goals
I think it’s helpful to break goals into two different categories.
Outcome goals are typically longer term goals. They are focused on a desired result, that can only come from other actions. These are the kinds of goals that most of us have a tendency to set by default.
Here are a few examples of outcome goals:
- Losing 20 lbs
- Lowering your cholesterol
- Reducing blood sugar to below the prediabetes level
These are good outcome goals to have. They set our intentions. They can help orient our actions. But these goals are not themselves action oriented. They are outcome oriented.
In order to reach them, we have to take other actions that lead up to them.
Consider the following as an example.
You want to lower your cholesterol. That’s a good outcome oriented goal, but it’s not a goal you can directly act on. You can’t simply set that goal and then achieve it. You need to take smaller steps to reach that goal. That’s where you need behavioral goals.
Behavioral goals are where the magic happens. They’re like the scaffolding for your outcome goals. They are focused on specific actions that eventually stack up to support those outcome goals.
Behavior goals are what keep you on track to reaching your desired outcomes. They are action oriented.
So, if your outcome goal is to lower your cholesterol, your behavioral goals are the steps you’ll take to get there.
- Increase daily intake of fiber by 2 servings
- Walk for 20 minutes per day
- Reduce your daily intake of saturated fat by 50%
As you can see, these goals are oriented around behaviors that you can directly control.
You cannot actively choose to have lower cholesterol. But, you can actively choose to eat more fiber, and research suggests that increased fiber intake can help lower blood cholesterol levels.
Behavioral goals keep you moving forward. They’re focused on small, actionable steps that you can take today.
These are the kinds of goals that I have clients set on a weekly basis.
Your Behavioral Goals Are Not Etched Into Stone
The behavioral goals you originally set don’t have to be long term goals. Your goals should change and adapt to your needs over time. What you need to focus on this week might change for next week. Just because you track your meals this week doesn’t mean you need to track your meals every week.
And, your goals won’t be perfect.
Sometimes you’ll set goals that are way out of reach and you’ll get frustrated when you fail to reach them. But, it’s only a failure if you completely give up.
If you use your failures to learn and reassess they can become a success.
Reassessing Goals and Altering Course
When we aim to achieve our long term goals, we are always reassessing and making adjustments. When you commit to that process, you commit to success.
Let’s use the metaphor of a sailboat.
When you set sail, you have a destination in mind. It’s an island off the coast of the Pacific.
If you aim your sailboat in that direction and hoist your sails, do you think you’ll reach your desired destination?
If you’re really lucky, you might randomly drift to your island. But, you have a lot of variables working against you. You can’t control the winds and the tides.
You can control your sails.
So, your sails are your control point and you can use them to harness the wind to reach your destination.
But, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to set a straight course. Instead, you’ll have to tack from side to side, readjusting your sails and setting your sites on different landmarks.
This is a metaphor for life… and goal setting.
You can’t control the wind or the tides, but you can be aware of them so you know what to expect. Then you can use your sails to harness the winds. Through careful execution you will reach your destination, a nice little island off the coast of the Pacific.
In this metaphor:
- The destination represents your own personal wellness vision
- The sails are your behaviors – your real life control points
- The winds and tides represent all of the challenges we face daily – which we can’t control
So, let’s get back to reality.
If you want to reach your health goals, you have to think like a sailor. You have to be strategic, and you have to be smart. That means setting smart nutrition goals. Here’s how.
How to Set SMART Nutrition Goals
The following strategy is important for both outcome and behavioral goals. But, it’s especially important to set SMART goals for your behavioral goals. Anytime you create a goal, run it through the following to make sure it’s specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-oriented.
Specific – Your goals should be very clear. The clearer the better. If you set vague goals they’ll be more difficult to achieve.
For example, you might want to “eat healthier”. But, if you make it more specific, you can start creating a strategy around how to achieve it. So, you can turn “eat healthier” into “I will bring fruit and nuts for a snack”.
You see how that’s easier? If you have a goal to eat healthier, that’s hard to define, and aim for. How do you know what success looks like?
But if you get specific and define some healthy snacks, it becomes easier to achieve.
Measurable – You should be able to measure your progress toward a goal.
From the example above “eating healthier” is difficult to quantify. But, if your goal is to “replace chips with fruit and nuts as a work snack” you can easily track and measure your progress.
The free nutrition goals worksheet at the bottom of this article works great for tracking goals like this.
Attainable – To be successful, your nutrition goals need to be within reach. They might challenge you, but you should be confident in your ability to reach your goal.
Oftentimes we pick goals that are too ambitious or out of reach. Then when we fail to reach them, we get discouraged and use it as an opportunity to question our ability. This does more damage than it does good.
So, start small. Start with what’s attainable. Then, as you experience success, your confidence will increase and you can raise the bar.
Here’s a tip for setting attainable goals.
When you set a goal, ask yourself “on a scale of 1-10, how confident am I that I can achieve this goal?”
If you rate your confidence as an 8-10, perfect. If you rate your confidence under an 8, rewrite your goal to increase your confidence to at least an 8.
Relevant – Your behavioral goals should be relevant to your outcome goals, and overall wellness vision. Keep in mind how these smaller goals feed into your larger goals.
Also, ask yourself why a specific goal is relevant to you. For instance, let’s say you have a goal to reduce your total cholesterol into the normal range. Why is it relevant to you?
Maybe it’s relevant because as you lower your cholesterol level, you decrease your risk for heart disease. And, that’s relevant to you because heart disease runs in your family. And, you don’t want to repeat the same challenges that you saw your father or grandfather face with heart disease.
Time-oriented – Last, but not least, SMART nutrition goals are time-oriented. They must have deadlines. So, maybe you want to lose weight. That’s a longer term goal, so you might turn it into the SMART goal of “losing 20 lbs in 6 months”.
This applies to behavioral goals too. Let’s say you want to reduce the amount of times in the week that you eat out at restaurants or fast food. So, you can set a time-oriented SMART goal to “pack a lunch from home for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday”. This lays out exactly what you’re aiming to do. That makes it easier to achieve.
Nutrition Goal Examples
Okay, we’ve covered a lot of information on setting nutrition goals. But, sometimes it’s really nice to have examples. So, I’m going to provide a few nutrition goal examples and use it as a way to review what we’ve covered.
Below you’ll find nutrition goal examples for different health scenarios. For each one I’ve provided a starting goal. Then you’ll see how we can further refine that starting goal into a SMART outcome goal, and a SMART behavioral goal.
Example Nutrition Goals for Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
Starting goal: To lower blood pressure.
SMART Outcome Goal: To reduce blood pressure from 130/90 to under 120/80
SMART Behavioral Goals:
- Read food labels to identify what foods I currently eat are high in sodium
- Purchase low sodium canned beans
- Pack fruit and vegetables as a snack instead of choosing chips from the vending machine
Example Nutrition Goals for Weight Loss
Starting goal: To lose weight
SMART Outcome Goal: To lose 20 lbs in 6 months
SMART Behavioral Goals:
- I will track my meal intake for 5 days this week to identify my current meal pattern.
- I will reduce my daily intake by 250 calories per day by monitoring my meal portions.
- When I eat a snack I will check in with my body and ask “am I eating this because I am hungry or another reason?” And, I will not judge my decision.
Example Nutrition Goals for Prediabetes
Starting goal: To stop prediabetes from progressing to diabetes.
SMART Outcome Goal: To lower my fasting blood glucose to normal levels by my next doctor’s appointment in 1 year.
SMART Behavioral Goals:
- Replace the sugar sweetened beverage I have at work with an unsweetened iced tea for at least 3 days per week.
- Pair each carbohydrate snack I have with a protein source.
- Increase my vegetable intake to half a dinner plate for 3 days per week.
5 Extra Tips for Achieving Your Nutrition Goals
Want some more secret sauce to ensure you reach those smart nutrition goals you worked so hard to define?
Share them. When you announce your goals to others you’ll feel more accountable. This is especially helpful when you have a friend or accountability partner who’ll check in with you and ask about your goals. Even having one person who’s invested in your progress, can be substantially motivating.
That’s one of the reasons nutrition coaching can be so effective for achieving your nutrition goals.
Track your progress. Remember, SMART goals are measurable. So, come up with a way to track your goals and then set a time to regularly check-in on your progress.
I have clients track their progress using a weekly nutrition goals worksheet. In the worksheet they record their goals and then check off each day that they completed it.
Promise yourself right now that you’ll celebrate every win you have. That means celebrating every step of progress. Celebrate the wins, big or small.
Be compassionate with yourself. Changing habits is hard work, and you’re doing awesome.
Hire a Nutrition Coach – The power of accountability is immense, especially when your accountability partner is a trained dietitian and nutrition coach. A good nutrition coach will work with you to set nutrition goals that are relevant to you.
They’ll help you address obstacles, reassess goals, and share in celebrating each and every win you have.
If you’re tired of going it alone, fill out my nutrition coaching application and we’ll arrange a time to discuss your goals.
Download the Nutrition Goals Worksheet
As promised, here is the nutrition goals worksheet that I personally use with each and every client. To get a copy that you can use yourself, just fill out the form with your email address below.
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This is the same worksheet my clients use on a weekly basis to set and track their nutrition goals.