The Tea on Setting & Achieving Health Goals
I’ll be spilling the tea on setting and achieving goals. Most people make goals to achieve something new each year. This can come in the form of making a New Year Resolution, a goal to achieve a certain thing by a landmark birthday celebration, or a goal to achieve a certain thing by a certain season or time of year. The slogan “summertime fine” comes to mind!
But the reality is, while many of us will set a goal or make a resolution, the majority of us will forego that goal within a matter of weeks, and even days for some.
In most years, a health goal is the number one New Year Resolution. Whether that health goal may be to lose weight, eat more vegetables, reduce one’s blood pressure, stop smoking, cut down on alcohol intake, or exercise more. Personal improvement, career, and financial goals are close follow-ups in terms of the high priority we place on achieving these types of goals.
And, what we know about goal setting is that it is a fantastic way to take the first step to achieving a goal. Because if we don’t start with at minimum a good goal, then we likely won’t make much of an effort to actually create impactful change.
Before determining or setting your goal, first look deeper into your why. Ask yourself a few questions. Why are you setting this goal? Why is this goal important to you? What will be accomplishing this goal do for you? How will you feel after you achieve this goal? How will your life change after you achieve this goal?
Next, an important component of a good goal is having a realistic or achievable goal. Often times when we set weight loss goals, we set ourselves up to fail before we began. The average rate of weight loss for most individuals will be 1-2 pounds a week. So if we set a New Year's Resolution to lose 50 pounds in a month, for example, that wouldn’t be very realistic if you were choosing a healthful weight loss option. And what can tend to happen is that you may set yourself up for frustration and stress when the number on the scale isn’t moving as quickly as you thought it would or should.
So let’s talk about goal setting. There are many different techniques and I’ll spill the tea on a few here.
One technique I like is the SMART goal technique. The acronym SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
Let’s break this down further.
S, Specific. Be specific in what you would like to achieve.
M, Measurable. Your goal should be able to be measured.
A, Attainable. One of the factors that is helpful to achieve a goal is for it to be attainable, meaning that you have the necessary resources to achieve it.
R, Relevant. The goals you set should be relevant. As we previously discussed, evaluate your why.
T, Timely. It's hard to achieve a goal when we don’t set a timeframe along the journey.
So the time factor plays a big part in helping us to overcome those mental obstacles of setting and achieving goals.
Another goal-setting technique is the one that was shared in a 2013 Forbes article. In this article, they highlighted 6 tips to achieve a goal.
Tip 1: Look at it. When we see the reality of something, it's easier for us to actually believe that we can achieve it too. This is similar to the concept of creating a vision board for yourself. What pictures, phrases, or words come to mind for you that may be relevant to your goal and picturing yourself at that level of achievement?
Tip 2: Tell people. This can be a form of accountability. You can tell the entire world on social media or just share your goal with a few trusted friends or family members. But speaking your goal out loud or seeing it in writing and sharing it with others makes your goal come alive.
Tip 3: Break it up. This tip is similar to the concepts in our SMART goal technique of making sure that your goal is measurable and attainable. This can apply to health goals, personal improvement goals, and even financial goals. For example, let’s say one of your goals may be to run a marathon. As someone who has trained for and run several marathons, trust me when I tell you that you won’t just one day get up off the couch and the next day run 26.2 miles. It takes time to build up endurance, stamina, and muscles to support this effort. But if you break this goal up and start with for instance, I’m going to run my first mile in 2 weeks, or I’m going to run my first 5k in 2 months; before you know it you’ll definitely be well on your way towards that first full distance marathon and even better, you’ll feel good while running it.
Tip 4: Set a date. This tip is also similar to the concept of our SMART goal technique regarding making your goal timely. It’s helpful to set a date, put it on your calendar, and make an appointment for yourself to help you reach that goal. Going back to our marathon example; if you register for a marathon race a few months out, chances are good that you will stick to your training plan so that you’ll be well-prepared for race day. On the other hand, if you just tell yourself “One day I’ll run a marathon” without actually planning it and setting the date, you’ll likely find 100 other things to do other than complete the necessary training runs because there is no specific date that you are working towards to meet this goal.
Tip 5: Be realistic. Make goals that you know you have the resources, motivation, support, and time to complete. For example, if you currently smoke 2 packs of cigarettes per day. It may not be very realistic to say that next week you will suddenly stop smoking all cigarettes. Quitting smoking is challenging. Nicotine is highly addictive. And this may come with withdrawal side effects. However, a more realistic goal for this would be to say that you will smoke 1 less cigarette per week with the goal of quitting smoking. This gives your body and your mind time to adjust to this change and improves your chances for success.
Tip 6: Commit to yourself. One of the reasons I chose to highlight this Forbes article is because I liked how relatable the commentary was. And this tip really drives home the message. It also reinforces the importance of defining your why before you ever even set a goal. When you know your why and are committed to your why, you are solidifying the commitment to yourself.
There’s a saying that when we fail to plan, we plan to fail.
So let’s discuss how we can plan to set you up for success in achieving your health goals.
One part of your health plan should be journaling. In a 2008 study of about 1700 participants, they concluded that those individuals who kept a daily food journal lost twice as much weight as those who did not. Food journaling does several things. 1 - it gives us a record of what we consumed to make it easier to target those necessary changes in our diet; 2 - it serves as accountability and 3 - it can help with mindful eating by allowing you to track the time of day you’re more hungry and why. Think about if you were to consume a doughnut or 3 in your day. Knowing that you were keeping yourself accountable by journaling, then looking at the journal entry of 3 doughnuts on your food diary may help to give you a bit more motivation the following day to make some healthier choices. Food journaling also allows you to track your daily calorie intake which can be an important part of your health plan if you are wanting to achieve weight loss.
Another vital part of your health plan should include having the appropriate resources to help you achieve your goals. Let’s face it, there are tons of information about diets and ways to lose weight on the internet and on social media. However, there is also tons of false and harmful information out there. So you should be discerning in the information you gather and follow. When you don’t have the appropriate resources you may be setting your health up for more harm than good. One thing I recently witnessed within a Facebook group was a post about a plate of food. This person posted this plate in celebration of their thoughts that they were improving a certain health condition by eating this particular plate of food. However, as someone with a background in medicine and nutrition, this plate of food that this individual posted, certainly would not bring them the health benefits that they were desiring. And even worse, consuming this plate of food, likely is a contributor to their health condition. So, when in doubt, a good place to start is with your doctor. And if your doctor isn’t well-versed in nutrition and doesn’t have specific resources for you then I encourage you to seek additional expert resources. My motivation as a physician health coach is to give individuals a reliable, expert resource to help them healthfully, and safely achieve their health goals, and prevent and reverse their chronic diseases with lifestyle changes.
Now, one final part of your health plan to set you up for success should be a support squad. There is a popular phrase that states “If you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together.” This saying reminds us that while we can be productive if we do things on our own, we can exceed our goals and do even more if we have the support of others. Studies have shown that those involved in support groups or supportive environments are more successful at achieving their goals. Think about some of our Nationally known support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or AA. This particular program has been very helpful to many overcoming alcoholism and one of the highlights that make this program so successful is the concept of community. When we are within a community gaining support, we gain additional accountability partners beyond just ourselves; we gain the opportunity to learn from others and their experiences; we gain encouragement from individuals who may be going through similar challenges as our own; and we gain cheerleaders which are so important to keep us motivated to achieve a goal.
Now that you have the tools necessary to make some solid, achievable, sustainable goals, I’d love for you to reach out and share them with me.
And let’s move into our Ask The Expert Segment. In today’s Ask the Expert segment, this question comes from someone I recently encountered online who asked for some ways to cut down on sweet cravings.
Now friend, let me get you this sweet, sugary tea!
Sugar is one type of food product that actually contributes to food addiction. This is discussed in more detail in another podcast episode all about food addiction. But the short version is that sugar rewards our brains with a feeling of happiness. It targets the same portions of the brain that other illicit substances target to give us this sense of reward which makes this habit challenging to overcome and why we have cravings for sugar.
But here are some ways to overcome a sweet craving.
Eat more fruit. Fruit contains natural sources of sugar. This allows you to get that same satisfaction from sugar, but it doesn’t hit those neurological reward centers of the brain as hard so you don’t develop cravings in the same manner as you would a chocolate bar for instance. Fruit is also high in fiber which in turn helps to make you feel more full, helping to stabilize your blood sugar and prevent excessive hunger.
Limit your intake of artificial sweeteners. Some studies have shown that some artificial sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin, can actually increase your blood sugar much like regular sugar. And, artificial sweeteners are designed to trick your brain into satisfying its need for something sweet and in turn are much sweeter than regular sugar of the same amount. What happens is that this creates a continuum of sweet cravings when you consume artificial sweeteners, because your brain is continuing to be fed this super-sweet satisfaction.
Reduce your stress. We often reach for unhealthy foods when we are in need of comfort, hence the term comfort foods. Comfort foods contain the components of sugar, salt, and fat, which are also contributors to food addiction. So having an increased amount of stress can lead you to crave sugar more often. Work on developing stress-reducing strategies to avoid this trigger for cravings.
The Essence of Health is in You!