If you’ve scrolled through Facebook or Instagram lately, you can understand the avalanche of New Year’s resolutions that have been populating my iPhone’s screen. People (or at least those that I follow) are seeking to achieve all sorts of nutrition-inspired goals in light of the new year, ranging from trying to eat more healthfully to losing a certain amount of weight. Health bloggers are posting listicles with easy healthy dinner ideas and tips for staying “on track” in 2019; Instagrammers are posting foodie-favorite pictures from 2018.
If nutrition and its inherent challenges have been ignored all year long, it seems like they are now taking the stage, front-and-center, while happiness, satisfaction and enjoyment – components that should be discussed when talking about diet – are getting shuffled backstage. If I can “push through” and “cut out” some of my favorite foods to be “healthier,” then I will be happier, many think, since I will consequently be thinner. When I am thinner and “healthier,” I will be able to better focus on achieving other personal goals, people say.
But that is not how it should be because that is not realistic or true.
Just like every food has a place in a balanced diet, nutrition must have a balanced place in your life, and it must be in balance with your life. On the flip side, however, it’s also important to carve out time in your life to be able to achieve nutritional success. Nutrition is a continuous process that needs to be worked on in harmony with other life goals. In fact, fueling yourself adequately can help you achieve those other goals.
The S.M.A.R.T. acronym is widely used by dietitians to craft goals that have high likelihoods of being met due to being specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. It’s a great idea to make your nutrition-related New Year’s resolutions S.M.A.R.T. ones so that they can carry you into 2019 and beyond!
Make your goals specific
As a nutrition coach in the University of Maryland Health Center, a common goal I hear from many of my clients is a desire to eat healthier. My first follow up question is always: “What does healthy eating look like to you?” You’d be surprised at the varying responses. Some define eating healthy as decreasing the amount of sugar or processed foods in their diets, others would like to eat more fruits and vegetables, and others (wrongfully) believe that it is necessary to eliminate certain food groups (like carbohydrates) to be healthy. You can only stay focused if you have something specific to focus on. You can only track nutritional progress if you have clearly defined something to track. Whatever your goal is, be sure that you can clearly state what you’re trying to accomplish. Broad, lofty goals such as wanting to eat healthier, are essentially meaningless, since they are undefined. By narrowing your vision, you will bring your goals into tighter focus and thus make them easier to achieve.
For example, instead of saying “I don’t want to skip meals,” it would be more specific to say “I want to make more of an effort to eat breakfast.” It would also be a good idea to define what foods you would like your breakfast to include and when you will eat them. Will you cook and have a sit-down breakfast every morning? Will it be more convenient to grab something and eat it on your way to class? Planning with as much specificity as possible will allow you to have a greater chance of successfully achieving your goal.
Make your goals measurable
After you’ve set a specific goal, create a way to measure your progress. The optimal measurement method can vary between individuals as well as between goals. For many goals, as a means of measurement, it is a good idea to specify how many times weekly you would like to focus on that goal. For example, if someone’s goal is to eat breakfast, it might be ideal for him or her to specify that he or she would like to eat breakfast three times weekly to start. Ways of assessing if breakfast was eaten include logging meals in the “Notes” section of a cellphone or crossing “breakfast” off of a daily to-do list. At the end of the week, the person can evaluate if the plan to have breakfast three times weekly was successful and modify the goal as necessary. This can mean setting a new goal to eat breakfast daily, or brainstorming reasons for why the original goal did not work.
Whether it’s crossing something off of a list, keeping a digital nutrition log, writing down your progress in a journal, or having to report progress to someone else, be sure that your measurement method is realistic and convenient given your unique schedule and needs.
Make your goals attainable
What’s great about setting your own goals is that no one knows you better than you know yourself. Only you know if the goals you’re setting are attainable, and you can tweak them as necessary to make them accomplishable. Make sure that you have the resources, time and energy to have success with your nutritional goals. There is no shame in putting a goal on hold if you don’t have all of the tools needed to work on it at this current moment in time. You will have greater success in achieving whatever goals you set if you know that you can achieve them. For example, if you are constantly rushing out of the house in the morning, it may be a better idea to first focus on consistently having lunch and dinner before trying to make breakfast part of your morning routine.
Make your goals realistic
This point goes along with making your goals attainable. Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, make sure that it’s realistic. Realistically, will you be able to put in what is required of you to achieve your goal? Is your goal itself a realistic one? For example, if your breakfast goal is to cook an omelette with toast and a salad each morning yet you are always rushing, you may be more successful blending yogurt with strawberries and a banana the night before to sip on during your morning commute, or throwing oatmeal in a container with a diced apple and eating it during class.
It can also be hard to make something part of your routine if you’ve never done it before. This is why it’s so important to make changes in increments. As mentioned, first setting a goal of eating breakfast three times weekly rather than every day can better set you up for success. You can always expand or modify your goals later!
Make your goals timely
Set a clear time frame for when you would like to accomplish your goals. Clearly define when you will start working on your goals, and, if necessary, what the deadline for your goals will be. Set guidelines for when you will measure your progress and consider future goals that are offshoots of your original goal. For example, decide when you would like to start eating breakfast, what days of the week you will eat breakfast on and when you will check in to see if your goal needs modification.
Remember that there is such thing as being “off track” when it comes to eating because there is no track to begin with. Healthy eating is different for everyone, and you will gain so much by honoring that this year. Perhaps one of your goals for this year could be to define your own healthy eating track…
Wishing you a year filled with health, happiness, fruits and vegetables at the right times and delicious chocolate cakes (like this one I made the other day) at others 😉
One last note about setting goals: When setting goals, make sure that your nutritional knowledge is accurate. The most reputable nutrition information comes from registered dietitians, since they are thoroughly trained in the science behind nutrition and the effects that food has on the body. Be sure to look for R.D. credentials when reading information online or speaking with nutrition professionals. Beware that having a lot of followers or simply going by “nutritionist” does not make a source reputable. There is a lot of misinformation out there!
*PS- Want to stay healthy in college? Subscribe to The Artsy Palate by entering your email address below so you can keep up with my latest recipes and tips!