I have a vivid childhood memory of reading an old copy of Aesop’s fables at my grandmother’s house when I was a little girl and one of my favorite fables to read was “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The well-known fable tells of rabbit and tortoise that set out on a race to prove who is faster. The hare quickly leaves the tortoise behind and, confident of winning, takes a nap halfway through the race. When the Hare awakes though, he finds that the Tortoise, crawling slowly but steadily, has beaten him to the finish line.
This story is a lot like ones we hear daily from clients, neighbors, family members, coworkers…really anyone who has set out on a weight loss journey. People nowadays are intrigued by fast results, making extreme lifestyle changes like cutting out entire food groups and restricting intake beyond necessity all in the name of better health and weight loss.
As dietitians we are taught to help our clients make “SMART” goals = Small, measureable, attainable, realistic and time oriented goals. This concept is on the complete opposite end of the dieting spectrum. Telling a hare to embrace the attitudes and pace of a tortoise is no easy task, but I believe we are up to the challenge and our clients will thank us in the end.
Here are some examples of SMART goals:
S: Small: Address making healthier choices at one meal (either breakfast, lunch or dinner) instead of addressing all meals at one time
M: Measurable: If a client is wanting to decrease their fruit juice intake, help him/her to specify the amount of juice. “Decrease juice intake” becomes “drink 4 oz of juice at breakfast.” Then make sure the client has the necessary equipment to measure this out.
A: Attainable: Set goals that are actually achievable. 1-2 lbs of weight loss per week is something that can actually be done. Setting out to lose 5-10 lbs is, scientifically, not attainable. You as the counselor will need to help the client understand what is attainable and what is not based on particular time frames.
R: Realistic: Again, this will involve you helping and counseling your client to understand that the goal of better health, weight loss, etc. are lifelong goals. Changes need to be realistic in their everyday lives. For example, it would not be realistic for a client who loves grains to cut out all grains to lower carbohydrate intake. Portion control would be a better option for this client.
T: Time Oriented: This aspect helps specify goals even further giving them an endpoint. “Lose up 1-2 lbs of weight in 1 week,” “Drink 4 oz of juice with breakfast for 1 week” and “increase physical activity to 30 minutes of cardio 3 times a week” are examples of time oriented goals.
SMART goals not only help your clients achieve what they have set out to accomplish, but they also help you serve your client better. So lets preach it loud and clear-- Slow and steady wins the race!