When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, weight loss ranks among the most common goals set. In fact, research shows weight related goals are the second most common New Year’s resolution.

The downside: research also shows that a mere 8 percent of goal setters actually succeed in maintaining their goals in the long term. It seems regardless of how consistent our resolutions to lose weight are, year after year, we still manage to botch those goals, landing us back at square one, or even worse, up a few lbs. on the scale. The New Year presents an opportunity to break this cycle, so let’s get to it!

The first step to New Year’s resolution success: the resolutions, themselves! When it comes to planning your goals, keep in mind that they should be SMART - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. The SMART goal setting tactic works especially well for weight loss goals. Run through the list below with your New Year’s resolution to see if yours measures up!  

Set goals the SMART way.

Specific: A good question to ask yourself when creating a specific goal is, “is this goal determinable?” If there is a clear way to tell if the goal is being met, or not, then it’s specific. Instead of saying “I will work out more,” say, “To work out more, I will work out at least 3 times this week for at least 30 minutes each time.” People are more likely to stick with goals that are specific and focused, rather than goals that are lofty and general, because they are actionable--you either did it or you didn’t do it. The specificity of the goal holds you more accountable because it doesn’t allow for wiggle room, and accountability is key in achieving goals.

Measurable: Make your quantitative. Instead of saying “I want to slim down,” craft a goal that includes a unit that can be measured like, “I want to lose 10 pounds.” Wanting to “slim down” is intangible, and subjective, which makes it harder to monitor and thus harder to stick with. When a goal includes a measurable unit, like X pounds, there is a tangibility to progress--benchmarks--that can be tracked and compared, and you can know for sure when you achieve it.

Attainable: Setting goals that are too far out of reach can discourage you and leave you feeling defeated. For example, if a walk down the street leaves you feeling winded, accomplishing your goal of climbing Mount Everest by next week is pretty unlikely. In that case, a better goal would be to take a brisk 20-minute walk 5 days a week--soon enough that walk down the block will be a walk in the park and in more time and training for that Everest hike won’t be such an uphill battle (puns intended). In terms of weight loss, setting a goal to lose 50 lbs when you don’t have 50 lbs to lose would not only be physically impossible, but downright unhealthy. Creating a goal that is too easy will be defeating as well, as it won’t challenge you and accomplishing it won’t provide the same satisfaction as it would if you worked hard for it. Try to find that healthy medium between attainable and challenging when setting your health and weight loss goals.

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Realistic: Unless you’re a contestant on The Biggest Loser, your life doesn’t stop just because you’ve decided to pursue a new goal. You still have to go to work, you still have to pay your bills, and you still only have 24 hours in your day. Therefore, when setting a goal, consider your current obligations and situations. Realistic goals are ones that can be achieved within those confines. What can you realistically commit to do? To determine if a goal is realistic take barriers, like time and money, into consideration. It would be unrealistic to resolve to take a $35 spin class five times a week when your weekly budget for workout classes is more around $5. That’s a financial barrier. If your job requires you to be there from 9am to 5pm, and the only spin classes are within those 8 hours, that’s a time barrier. Always aim to set goals that fit into your life so that you can achieve them.

Timely: The best “specific” and “measureable” goals incorporate a time constraint (i.e. I will lose 10 lbs in 2 months). While you want to avoid setting a time limit that’s so far in the future that you lose focus and/or forget about your goal, you also need to give yourself time to achieve your goal. In terms of weight loss, remember, it doesn’t happen overnight; don’t expect to lose weight quickly and keep it off. For sustainable weight loss, and to keep your morale high, aim to lose 1-2 lbs per week.

With that being said, a SMART weight-related goal would be:

I will lose 1-2 lbs. per week by following my Dietitian’s meal plan and exercising on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for 30 minutes at a gym near my house.

Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.

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