Name: Mike Polis, MS, RD, LD
Education: Master's degree in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Alabama
Occupation: Registered dietician and bodybuilder
According to research out of the University of Scranton, roughly 45 percent of Americans make resolutions come January 1, and "losing weight" and "getting fit and healthy" always rank near the top of the list. While these resolutions are indeed admirable, unfortunately only 8 percent of "resolutionaries" successfully reach their goals, often due to a lack of proper goal-setting.1
We live in a society of instant gratification, so rather than setting aside time to gather resources, gain knowledge, and set up a feasible plan, people tend to look for quick fixes. What happens when they don't reach their goals in the first few weeks? They lose interest and quit.
With constant exposure to diet and nutrition (mis)information coming from social media, celebrities, gimmicky infomercials, and even the resident know-it-all at the gym, it's no wonder people find themselves making the same goals year after year.
If you want to nail your resolutions and succeed this year, you simply have to set realistic goals, follow sustainable nutrition practices, and be SMART.
Goal-Setting Made “SMART”
During the contemplation stage of change, it's best to explore all the goals you want to accomplish. Put your reservations on hold. Master your doubts and fears, and dream big. From that point, condense your goals and determine which ones are realistic and sensible for you to achieve with the resources you have.
Once you've done that, it's time to establish the right framework. All your goals should be SMART:
Let's look at each of these qualities and how you can apply them to your fitness goals!
The first principle of the SMART method mandates that your goals be specific. Establishing a clear, concise goal lays the groundwork for defining an unequivocal, precise objective. Define your goal. Write down your goal. Why do you want it? How will you achieve it?
When you physically write down your goal, you condition your mind to work toward that goal. Keep in mind that, the more general a goal is, the less likely it is to become rooted into your subconscious. An example of a general goal is "I want a leaner midsection." A more specific approach would be, "I will decrease my overall body fat percentage by 3 percent by following an individualized nutrition and training plan."
If your goal is to improve body composition, start by determining how many calories you need per day to achieve your goal. Answering that question depends on several factors, including age, gender, activity level, training experience, and your specific goals.
Use the following calculator to determine your target caloric intake depending on your goal.
Determining how many calories per day you need sets the framework for nutrition specificity in your transformation goal. Not only is a daily calorie quota quantifiable, it's also measurable.
By establishing specific criteria for monitoring and tracking your progress, you are more apt to stay on track. For most beginners embarking on a transformation journey, simply logging your dietary intake on paper is a great place to start.
An established calorie quota, based on your calorie estimate and goals, is measurable data. If you meet your estimated caloric needs consistently, you are successful. Conversely, if you consistently exceed your estimated caloric needs based on your goal, you are unsuccessful.
If you don't measuring caloric intake in the first place, what will you do to adjust accordingly when progress stalls? Logging and monitoring your caloric intake enables you to make necessary changes to your nutrition plan as needed.
Attainable nutrition goals relate back to what you are willing to do, and what you are capable of doing, to reach your goals.
For example, if you want to increase your fruit and vegetable intake but do not like the taste of certain fruits and vegetables, it's highly unlikely you will stick to a nutrition plan that incorporates five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
However, if you are willing and able to try new foods and food preparation methods, experimenting with new fruits and vegetables can expand your nutritional benefits.
Establishing short-term goals will ultimately make your long-term goals more attainable. For example, in an effort to increase fruit and vegetable intake, you could introduce one new fruit or vegetable each week to your nutrition repertoire. A long-term goal would be to meet the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
Attainable goals ultimately spring from your current resources and mindset. Knowledge is a valuable resource, and becoming an educated consumer is paramount in attaining any goal. Knowledge is power.
Realistic goals are goals you truly believe you can achieve. Setting extremely lofty goals only sets you up for failure. You have to set attainable expectations. In doing so, you'll be more apt to stay motivated and work towards your desired outcome.
If your goal is to lose 10 pounds by April and you are currently eating fast food three times a week because of a hectic work schedule, you have to acknowledge what you need to change.
Planning your meals ahead of time so you aren't running to the store at the last minute or settling for fast food is vital for sustainability and practicality in a transformation journey. However, if you honestly think that planning ahead is too difficult, you have to be honest with yourself and rethink your goal. Don't kid yourself.
All goals—both short- and long-term—should have a set deadline by which you wish to achieve them. Human beings are less likely to procrastinate when faced with a target date by which we want to accomplish a specific goal.
Not only should a nutrition and health goal be timely, the goal should also be sustainable and life-enhancing. For instance, fad diets deliver results quickly, but are not sustainable nutrition practices. Stay clear of any diet that claims to help you lose 10 pounds in one week! If your goal is fat loss, aim for losing roughly a pound a week.
Be real with yourself. Changes in body composition take time. You can't expect to lose five percent of your body fat or put on five pounds of muscle in one month. Fad diets and quick fixes fail to develop the knowledge or skill set needed for long-term dietary compliance.
Transforming your body won't happen overnight. You are making a positive change to your lifestyle, so consider a more feasible nutritional approach—such as flexible dieting —to meet your goals.
As you can see, all the components of the SMART method build on one another. You need to harness all five to be successful. In addition to using the SMART method when establishing fitness and nutrition goals, remember to take ownership and accountability.
You have control over the outcome you want. The journey of achieving a goal is always a fun ride. You will have obstacles. You will have small wins. You will have setbacks. And you will have moments of pure bliss. Learn to fall in love with the process. Enjoy the ride, put in the work, and the results will follow.
- Norcross, J. C., Mrykalo, M. S., & Blagys, M. D. (2002). Auld lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self?reported outcomes of New Year's resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397-405.