Do you make New Year’s resolutions? If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago, I’d have said, “No way,” but now I’m not so sure. My husband and I look forward to the quiet time after Christmas to reflect and plan together, but we always frame this up as our New Year’s goal-setting session. Never resolutions. Not us.
This year, my friend and fellow dietitian Vincci Tsui asked a good question, “Aren’t they really the same thing? If you use January 1 as an arbitrary date to set goals or set a theme, that is a new year’s resolution.” Hmm, maybe…
Then she shared a fascinating video with evidence that setting goals at the start of a new year (aka resolutions) actually does make you more likely to achieve them. Hmm… maybe we shouldn’t shy away from setting resolutions at all. So, with that in mind, I’m sharing my food-related resolution/goal, as an example of seven key goal-setting principles:
- Keep the number of goals small. Really small. Although I had several ideas about how to tune up my eating habits, I stuck with just one food-related goal, “Eat 9 servings of fruit and vegetables at least 5 days a week by including them in snacks.” Let’s be realistic: You’ve got lots of other priorities in your life. You can always make more changes once you get into the habit of doing one new thing well.
- Write down what’s motivating you. I know, it might seem a little silly, somewhat obvious, but trust me, when things start to slide (and they will), you’ll benefit from revisiting these New Year’s feelings of optimism and hope. As Gail Hyatt says, “People lose their way when they lose their why.“
- Make them SMART goals. You’ve heard of this, I’m sure. But are you doing it? Double-check.
S = Specific. Instead of saying, “Eat better” or “Eat more fruits and vegetables,” I’m specifying exactly what I mean.
M = Measurable. At the end of the day, I can count up the servings and say whether I managed it. See below for more on how.
A = Actionable. Make your goal about something you can actually do. “Be healthier” is not an action. There should be a verb at the start of that sentence. “Pack my lunch at least three times a week to be healthier.” And I would argue that “Lose 10 pounds by May 1” is not an actionable SMART goal, because contrary to popular opinion, losing weight isn’t something that you can just get up and do. Now if you said “Use a partitioned plate when I have supper at home,” with weight management being a motivator, you’re on the right track.
R = Realistic. Nine servings is a realistic stretch goal for me, as I already get about six or seven, and I’m quite active, often eating more than 2500 calories. (The DASH dietary pattern suggests 8-10 servings for someone consuming 2000 calories a day.) What’s realistic for you? Start small and build confidence.
T = Time-based. It also helps to attach a deadline or frequency, and make it realistic too. Saying you will eat perfectly every single day just sets you up for failure. Life happens.
- Make a positive change. Focus on what you will do, not what you won’t. I could have said “Eat less sugar,” (and I’m planning for those fruits and veggies to edge out some sugar) but we feel more inspired doing something good for ourselves. Restriction is a quick route to craving.
- Pick something you enjoy. I used to work with psychology professor and health behaviour specialist Tavis Campbell, who likes to say that feeling bad can motivate you to start, but only feeling good can keep you going. For example, if you felt crummy January 1 thanks to an overindulgent holiday season, you might buy a treadmill, even if you hate the treadmill. After a few weeks of sweating, that bad feeling will go away, but with it goes what motivated you. If, on the other hand, you’d signed up for a yoga class, which you love, with a friend, you’d likely be more successful at sticking with it. (Bonus: Research shows that we tend to eat less after activity that we think is fun.)
- Make a plan. I ask my clients questions like, “When are you going to start? What will you need to do to get ready? What’s going to make it difficult? How will you prepare for that?” In that spirit, I brainstormed these ten simple ways I can eat more fruit/veg at snacks:
1. Bring grab and go fruit – an apple or mandarin orange – when leaving the house.
2. Spread a spoonful of peanut butter on a banana. (Yes, Internet, you can eat bananas!)
3. Thaw frozen mango or cherries in plain Greek yogurt.
4. Top whole-grain cereal or granola frozen blueberries.
5. Microwave frozen raspberries for a minute to make a sauce for oatmeal.
6. Slice an apple and microwave for about five minutes. Comfort food. (And easy, with my favourite apple slicer.)
7. Stock up on no-prep raw vegetables: Cherry tomatoes, snap peas, baby carrots and hummus for dipping.
8. Roast extra vegetables and save them for snacks. My favourites include eggplant, mushrooms, peppers, sweet potatoes and carrots.
9. Top whole grain crackers with avocado or guacamole.
10. Freeze leftover soup, chili or pasta in snack-sized containers.
I also added these favourites in bold to my pre-printed shopping list, which reminds me to always stock up on them. And I added a recurring task to my to-do list to roast extra veggies on Sundays when I do my weekly meal prep. Okay, ready!
- Track your progress. This one is so important. Don’t forget it! I’ve been using a picture food diary app called YouFood to snap a picture of everything I eat. (It seems a bit obsessive, but it really helps to cut down on mindless nibbling.) At the end of the day, it’s quick and easy to scan the pictures to quickly estimate the number of servings of fruit and vegetables. (A serving is usually a medium sized piece or a 1/2 cup.) Then I use an app called Way of Life to track some of the habits I’m working on, so I’ve added this one to the list.
How else can you make sure that your goal doesn’t slip below the radar when your attention inevitably gets drawn to something else? Way of Life lets you set a reminder to update your progress daily. Another helpful tool is a Weekly Review, as proposed by productivity guru David Allen. I’ve been following his Getting Things Done methodology for about four years now, and reviewing my goals weekly has been critical for staying focused on the lofty aspirations brought about by the high hopes of January.
Do you have a New Year’s resolution/goal? I’d love to hear about it. If not, it’s never too late to start, whether it’s January 11, your birthday, September 1, or really any day. Enjoy!
p.s. I’m offering an 8-week course, “7 Keys to Eating for Good Health” in Calgary. We start January 16 at the YMCA Saddletowne and January 20 at my office in the South West. If you’d like support with setting and following through on SMART goals like this, sign up today!