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Has the Festive Season left you with a few unwelcome guests? A few extra centimeters around your waist or a wardrobe full of too-tight clothes? Then you’re probably trying to get rid of them now that the new year has started. But even the best resolutions can fall by the wayside when we make wrong food choices amid hectic schedules, or by not planning properly. Set yourself up for healthy eating success by making sure your goals are SMART.

You’re probably familiar with the SMART acronym for goal-setting that refers to setting goals that are ‘specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound’. In reality, most people start off with the too vague goal of ‘losing weight’, with some number in mind, to be reached in the shortest possible time. Together with that often comes a strict eating regimen or cutting out specific food types. These diets often don’t fit into our hectic lifestyles, and because our bodies don’t necessarily respond in number loss the way we want them to, it all becomes too difficult and we slip back into our unhealthy ways.

So how should we be setting healthy eating goals? SMART goals should be about how and what you are eating, rather than merely losing weight. Stop thinking about the number on the scale for a moment and focus on following a healthier lifestyle and making better food choices. Look at where you are slipping with your eating by keeping a food diary for a couple of days. A good idea is to start with smaller goals that are attainable and will help you reach your weight loss goal in the long run. Here are some examples of SMART goals you can start with, depending on what you need to change within your lifestyle:

  • Skipping breakfast? Your goal: ‘I will eat breakfast within an hour of getting up every morning.’
  • Skipping meals or low on energy? Your goal: ‘I will eat small meals or snacks every 3 to 4 hours.’
  • Not getting enough fruit and veg? Your goal: ‘I will eat 5 fruits and vegetables every day.’
  • Always eating on the run and grabbing ready meals? Your goal: ‘I will remove all food from their original packaging and plate all my meals and snacks.’
  • Eating at your desk? Your goal: ‘I will sit and eat mindfully for all of my meals and snacks.’
  • Running on empty? Your goal: ‘I will always have a snack in my bag in case I get hungry.’
  • Not eating enough through the day, starving at night? Your goal: ‘I will plan my meals to eat more during the day and less at night.’
  • In the habit of midnight snacking? Your goal: ‘I will stop snacking after supper.’

Note how these goals are all specific, including how and what you will be doing to reach them. You can measure them by keeping a checklist. For example, decide on three goals to focus on for the next two weeks and write them down. At the end of the day, tick the goal(s) you achieved that day. At the end of the two weeks you want to have more ticks than empty spaces. This way, you will start changing unhealthy habits into healthier ones. And after the two weeks, focus on new (or the same again if need be) goals for the following two weeks.  Remember that it takes about three months for new habits to become ingrained and more ‘automatic’. By measuring your goals and ticking them off, you’re making sure that they are achievable. Choose only goals that are relevant to you and will bring you closer to your goal. Finally, decide by when you want to reach your goal and set a time limit. For example, you want to lose 5 kilograms in 10 weeks, get your cholesterol down to a healthy level in 2 months’ time (depending on whether this is realistic) or run a 5km marathon in 6 months’ time (for which you want to prepare by making healthier eating choices for endurance exercise). Once you have your SMART goals, you can start making SMART food choices that support these goals.