Every day millions of people make decisions to eat better, exercise more, and start their path to healthy weight loss. Many turn to extreme changes in their diet: Whether it’s eating like a caveman, starting an all-out battle against sugar and carbs, or consuming everything in liquid form, these well-known “secrets” to weight-loss success each have their devotees. However, when you look at the psychological research behind successful weight loss, you’ll find it has nothing to do with what diet you commit to, and instead depends on how you create and adapt your weight-loss goals.
Health psychologists (such as myself) have found that most people effectively lose weight when they create a weight-loss plan around “SMART” goals, or small, incremental goals that maintain motivation without feeling overwhelming.
SMART goals are:
Specific: Focusing on very concrete or specific behaviors that are also specific to your tastes and preferences (e.g. “I will eat carrots and low-fat ranch dressing between meals instead of granola bars.”).
Measurable: Or behaviors that can be observed and communicated to yourself or others to describe progress (e.g. “I will eat 12 baby carrots and two tablespoons of low fat ranch dressing between lunch and dinner every day.”).
Achievable: Psychology shows that you are much more likely to meet your goals when they are within reach. Accomplishing smaller goals helps you build pride, motivation, and momentum, leading you to create more and more achievable goals aimed in the same direction.
Realistic: Goals won’t make sense unless they make sense to you. You know exactly what you like and what you will and will not do, so you should create and adjust your goals accordingly. Maybe eating baby carrots every day will get boring or will be difficult to maintain on the weekend, so instead of doing it every day, you commit to doing it five days a week.
Time-Specific: Psychology research consistently shows that people respond much better to a timeline for their goals than they do to a more wide-open plan, which leads to procrastination. The most successful people set timelines that focus on the week and adjust accordingly (e.g. “I will eat 12 baby carrots and two tablespoons of low fat ranch dressing between lunch and dinner for five days this week.”).
So instead of going paleo, vegan, or just plain crazy about food, use the research and practice of thousands of health psychologists to create SMART goals that will guide you down the road to weight-loss and diet success.