Ah the holiday season approaches your social calendar becomes overrun with social gatherings, office parties, and heaping portions of food. As a consequence you may notice a few extra pounds on the scale once the New Year begins. So what steps can you take to ensure this doesn’t happen? How can you prevent unwanted weight gain yet still attend your favorite parties and social gatherings? To answer this you have to get SMART with your goals.
Set SMART Goals
Goals provide the roadmap to help make your dreams a reality. But setting goals is not as simple as you might think. Goal setting is more than a general statement of what you want, such as “I want to avoid gaining weight”. Goal setting requires a well-conceived action plan. Determining what you want is the starting point, but to be most effective you’ll need to write SMART goals. The acronym SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
Specific: When writing goals, state exactly what you want to accomplish. Get down to the nitty-gritty. Getting fit is not a goal, it is an idea. Fitting into a size-six dress for a holiday party, or losing three pounds of body fat during the month of December are specific goals.
Measurable: Your goals need to be quantifiable. Measuring progress toward your goals allows you to ascertain whether your strategy is working. For example, “drinking less alcohol” is not measurable, but “to limit my alcohol intake to one drink at each holiday party” is measurable.
Attainable: Goals should be challenging yet achievable based on your time constraints, resources and motivation. For example, planning to exercise everyday even if it means skipping all social and family gatherings is a poor goal because it conflicts with other commitments. A better goal would be, “I plan to exercise at 7:00am Monday through Thursday so my other commitments are not conflicted”.
Realistic: Realistic goals are goals within reach. Unattainable goals set you up for failure, discouragement and loss of interest. An example of an unrealistic goal would be, “I will eat a perfect diet throughout the entire holiday season.” Instead, set reasonable goals that are manageable such as “I will bring a healthy lunch to work rather than eating fast food.”
Timely: Your goals should always have a specific date of completion. The date should be realistic, but not too distant in the future. Allow yourself enough time to achieve your goal, but not too much time, as this could negatively affect your motivation and willpower. Tasks are much easier to accomplish when there’s a deadline. A poor time-specific goal would be “I will lose 10 pounds by the time the next holiday season roles around.” One year is too much time for this goal. A better goal would be, “I will lose 1 pound per week within the month of December (end date 12/31).”
In addition, select a series of short-term goals that gradually get you closer to your final goal. Giving yourself a chance to reach short-term goals will help you move more confidently towards the long-term ones. This strategy employs two important behavioral principles: “First, consecutive goals that move you ahead in small steps are the best way to reach a distant point, and secondly consecutive rewards keep your overall effort invigorated.”(1)
Keep track of your health-related behaviors such as monitoring your portion sizes, caloric intake and exercise frequency. This strategy is known as self-monitoring and helps you stay on track and avoid self-destructive behaviors. Self-monitoring is usually done in the form of a daily written record such as a food journal or exercise log. For example, track your eating habits over the holiday season by using a daily food journal. You’ll notice by tracking your daily dietary intake the urge to make poor food choices diminishes significantly and keeps you motivated toward your end goal.
Adjusting Eating Habits
Identify social environments that seem to encourage undesirable eating and then develop a plan of action to mitigate these concerns. For example, you may learn through self-monitoring that you’re more likely to overeat while watching television or overeat when you’re at a social gathering such as an office party. You can then try to manage these undesirable behaviors (i.e., snack on vegetables during commercial breaks) or remove yourself from the situation entirely (avoid sitting near the food display while at a party). In general, visible and accessible food items often are cues for unplanned eating.
Changing the way you go about eating can also make it easier to eat less without feeling deprived. It takes 15 or more minutes for your brain to get the message you’ve been fed. Slowing the rate of eating can allow satiation (fullness) signals to begin by the end of the meal. Eating fiber rich foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains will help suppress your hunger by making you feel fuller. . Another trick is to use smaller plates so that moderate portions do not appear meager. Changing your eating schedule, or setting one, can be helpful, especially if you tend to skip or delay meals and overeat later.
The Backsliding Phenomenon
You’ve just signed a contract with yourself to avoid high-fat desserts for the month of December when you’re presented with an array of your favorite “to die for” desserts” at your friend’s holiday party. You say to yourself, “just this once” and satisfy your craving. Most of us have experienced the “backsliding phenomenon” in which we have lost our resolve and slipped back into a former bad habit. When it happens, be prepared for it and move on with your resolve. You’re more apt to backslide when you’re tempted by something unexpected and your self-control is threatened. You can remove high-fat snacks from your home, but not from other places you eat. Imagine tempting situations in your mind’s eye and practice coping with them successfully. If you do slip, don’t waste time with self-blame. Learn from the experience and get back on track. Each and every day is a new beginning and an opportunity to reach your goals.
But all of this is just advise. You can do whatever the f**k you wanna do!!!! 🙂
By Crystal Elizondo NASM-CPT, MMA, Nutrition
1) Adapted from National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Guide to Behavior Change. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/lose_wt/behavior.htm. Accessed 11/26/13.