woman thinking about healthy eating

S.M.A.R.T. Goals Help You Take Action for Weight Loss

The Most Popular Weight Loss Question

woman thinking about healthy eating

When people find out that I lost over 60 pounds, they usually have a ton of questions. I’m guaranteed that one of them will be: What diet did you go on? Even if they ask how I lost the weight, most people assume that success lies in the diet plan (or amazing exercise routine).

While I do like my diet plan—I should, because I picked it to align with my eating habits and lifestyle, the diet plan isn’t revolutionary or extraordinary in any way. It is based on the principle of a calorie deficit. Essentially it works because I take in fewer calories than my body requires to function each day. I could be on another diet plan, and as long as it puts my body in a calorie deficit, it would work. So, no magic or unique feature in the diet plan accounts for my success. You can read my weight loss story for details on the journey.

Aren’t We All on a Diet?

My eating plan is similar to the one used by more than a third of all Americans. Surveys show that some 38% of people follow a specific eating pattern or diet each year. The most popular diet is “clean eating.” While I don’t like the term “clean eating” because it suggests that eating any processed food is somehow “dirty,” I too follow what many would call a “clean” eating plan.

I eat whole foods and very little added sugar, focusing on fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. Here’s more on the benefits of a whole-foods diet. There is nothing special about my diet—except that it puts me in a calorie deficit. I will say that it also suits my tastes and lifestyle. I like to cook, I like fish and other lean protein sources, and I like fresh whole foods.

Weight Loss Success (It’s Not the Diet)

When people find out that the diet plan I use isn’t special, that it isn’t particularly unique in any way, they seem a little disappointed. They hope that I’ve found an “easier” way than the tried and true way of eating fewer calories than my body needs each day (and exercising). The calorie deficit diet and exercise combo is old news, but it does help account for some of my weight loss success. However, it isn’t the whole picture.

Pebbles stacked in consistent pattern

It turns out that the essential factor in my success has been my ability to stick to my diet and exercise plan. Consistency is a vital ingredient. Many people think this involves white-knuckling it through some fantastic amount of willpower or internal motivation. Willpower is a fickle force that I wouldn’t count on to stay on a diet, but there is something to motivation. I was so intrigued by the power of motivation that I wrote my first ebook on weight loss motivation (download it for free). It turns out that there are steps you can take to improve your motivation for weight loss. We are going to focus on one—goal setting.

The Value of Goal Setting to Weight Loss

For years, I’d read diet books that asked me to fill out surveys and goal sheets. I’d write down a variety of goals like: I want to fit into jeans (instead of leggings); I want to be able to wear shorts; I want to protect my health; I don’t want to binge anymore; I want to feel better in my own body. What a list I had!

Many of these goals were what we call “externally” motivated—they come from an outside “external” motive (fitting into jeans). My goals were also vague (I want to protect my health) and didn’t have any action steps built into them (I don’t want to binge). The biggest problem with them is that none of them were connected to any action steps I said I would take to make them a reality.

Without any action steps, specificity and connection to an internal reward or desire, these weight loss goals were doomed to fail. And they did—I didn’t lose weight (and keep it off) in my 20s, 30s or 40s using the latest diet plan, exercise and vague goals. Something was missing…

S.M.A.R.T. Goals: Your Weight Loss Ally

SMART goals definition

Starting a new healthy eating and fitness plan is different when you focus on S.M.A.R.T. goals because they are specific and actionable. A S.M.A.R.T. goal is: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. It has some accountability built into it. Here are some examples of S.M.A.R.T. goals:

  • I will exercise at least three times per week.
  • I will eat one salad or a greens-based meal once per day.
  • I will purchase two new whole foods to try this week.
  • When I have cravings, I will drink a glass of water and wait 10 minutes before eating.

With a S.M.A.R.T. goal, we ask ourselves whether our goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. If it meets those criteria, we know it will be clear, objective, realistic, possible, on target and on time. To get you started creating your own S.M.A.R.T. goals, I’m including a worksheet here. You can also find a downloadable copy of it in my free ebook on motivation for weight loss.

SMART goals weight loss worksheet

You can use the worksheet for a wide variety of behaviors: health and fitness goals, mindfulness goals, goals to build self-confidence or increase your support system. Perhaps you want to find a workout buddy to go walking with. You can create a S.M.A.R.T. goal that outlines the steps you’ll take to reach out to like-minded women at local fitness events (like this: I will take part in two local group fitness walk events each month.)

S.M.A.R.T. Goals Spark Healthy Actions (and Weight Loss)

Instead of searching for a new diet or workout routine, I would sit down and think hard about your weight loss goals and what you are willing to do to make them happen. If we know that the “secret” can’t be found in the diet or exercise routine (but please pick a diet and get started), the question becomes how do I stay on this plan day after day. We are back to consistency, and S.M.A.R.T. goals are a woman’s best friend when it comes to staying consistent. They are the basis for an action plan for weight loss.

I can’t always control my eating and exercise routine. There are days when it falls apart. This happened more when I first began my weight loss journey. I might come home from work and find that I didn’t have the whole foods that I needed to make a nutritious meal, or I might not handle stress well on a particular day and give in to eating off my plan to calm myself down.

We all have vulnerable times when staying on a healthy eating plan is at risk. It is during these times when S.M.A.R.T. goals are important. Having a reliable (well-thought-out) actionable plan can keep you on track (or get you back on track when you go off plan).

Let’s say you’re at a birthday party, and you decide you want to eat a piece of cake (I love birthday cake, so my mind quickly retrieved this as an example). 😊 You get to the party and decide you’ll have a glass of wine too. One leads to two, then three. You know what I’m talking about. Well, in addition to the wine and cake, you somehow managed to eat loaded nachos and chicken wings that night too. You had some fun, and you did some damage.

It happens. It was one meal (a huge meal, but still just one meal). What happens the next day? If it’s the weekend, you may stay off your plan and tell yourself that you will start back “fresh on Monday.” Honestly, how many people feel fresh on Monday? The worst day to start a food plan! You continue to overeat the rest of the weekend, and it’s that much harder to get back on track.

Bowl of salad greens

There is an alternative. How about you wake up the next morning and pull out one of your trusty S.M.A.R.T. goals? Let’s say you decide to eat one big salad that day as part of your goal to eat three salads per week. Make it a beautiful salad with really fresh greens, some red cabbage, shredded carrot and avocado. Don’t like salad? Sauté some fresh onions, garlic and mushrooms with spinach or kale and sit down to a steaming bowl of deliciousness.

After eating that salad or greens, you will be able to check off one of the three salad meals you said you’d have as part of your goal setting. You will be back on track with healthy eating, and you will feel good about your choice. The S.M.A.R.T. goal is really a catalyst or means for taking healthy action. String together several of these specific and realistic actions found in your S.M.A.R.T. goals, and you are on your way to losing weight.

We’ve answered the age-old question: Which diet should I follow? Answer: follow any sane diet that puts you in a calorie deficit. We’ve also answered the question: How do I stay motivated? Answer: by taking daily, healthy actions based on S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Try my S.M.A.R.T. goals worksheet, drop me a comment, or connect with me on social media to tell me how it’s going. I’d love to hear about your goals and how putting them into action (on repeat) has made sticking to your food and exercise plan easier. It will take time (and consistency), but I hope you’re on your way to succeeding in your weight loss journey.

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