Designing a better diet with SMART goals
Proper nutrition is a challenge for many people. In reality, even elite athletes struggle to balance their energy needs with their food intake.
While there is no shortage of diets available, the demands are often unrealistic and can be harmful over the long term in the absence of guidance from a physician or dietitian. For those looking for a more reliable way to eat well, Dr. Naresh Rao, an osteopathic physician who oversees care for USA Men’s Water Polo, recommends the SMART approach.
Set SMART goals
A checklist to help people align their eating habits with their lifestyles, SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. With eating habits that are mindful of these five focus areas, the sports physician suggests that anyone can make progress toward goals, which ultimately are more relevant and more sustainable.
“Performance toward our goals is easier when we take our nutritional requirements, and we match it up with what our lifestyles demand,” says Dr. Rao.
Below, he provides a summary of each focus to help you understand you how might integrate these guidelines into your own nutrition goals.
When setting nutrition goals, it is important to have a specific target in mind. Goals that are more refined are goals that are typically more pursuable.
“If the goal is to eat more fruits and vegetables, target what specific fruits and vegetables one enjoys and stick with that,” says Dr. Rao.
Accountability is key to any nutrition plan. Whatever your goal is, be sure it can be measured reliably and consistently.
“Take the previous example of eating more fruits and veggies,” Dr. Rao continues. “Understanding fruit and veggie serving sizes are important. Fortunately, there are apps that can help you measure how many servings you are consuming.”
Attainable and adjustable
Every person has reasonable limitations based on their lifestyle and should set goals that are attainable with this information in mind.
“Setting a goal that is within reach for the desired time period is important,” says Dr. Rao. “For example, trying to eat more fruits and vegetables for 1-2 weeks is attainable. Another “A” is adjustable—it allows you to course-correct if necessary, based upon life circumstances.”
One of the most common mistakes people make is setting expectations they are unlikely to maintain. Setting challenging but realistic expectations instead will encourage growth, commitment, and long-term success.
Dr. Rao reminds us to make sure the goal aligns with our overall plan and purpose. “For example, if you want to have an overall healthy lifestyle, eating an adequate amount of fruits and veggies is essential—but you don’t need to cut out all others food groups.”
Making your goals time-bound is an effective way to stay on track, and will help you maintain lasting nutrition habits.
“Putting a time period on the goal is important,” explains Dr. Rao. “For example, if you want to exercise more aerobically, then setting a one-month timeline allows for reassessment at that time.”
For more information on adopting SMART goals and other ways to optimize your nutrition, talk to your doctor. There is no substitute for a medical professional who understands your particular needs and is trained to care for your long-term health.
Osteopathic physicians (DOs) take a whole-person approach to care that integrates diet and lifestyle into your doctor visit. Learn more or find a DO near you using our tailored search tool.