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The Do’s and Don’ts of Health Goal Setting

Written by Vanessa van der Linden, Certified Nutritional Specialist

The start of a new year is a great time to reflect and refocus on where you want to set your intentions for the coming months. It can be easy to get into unhealthy habits with the busyness of life, especially if you don’t take a moment to pause and consider how to align what you do with what you value.

Before starting a strict fad diet, joining a gym you’ll only go to for 2 months, or giving up on making changes all together, read through the following tips. This guide will give you the Do’s and Don’ts of creating health goals so that you can actually see and feel the changes you desire.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Creating Health Goals:

Do create goals that align with what matters to you.

It’s easy to lose motivation to follow the goals throughout the year.  One way to set yourself up for success is to identify your “why” behind the changes you desire. Before setting your goals, identify how you want your life to look a year from now and “why” you want your health to change. Come back to your “why” regularly to help you focus on what really matters to you. Possible “why’s” may include “I want to feel stronger”, “I want the way I treat my body to be an example for my family”, “I want to prevent __ condition/complication”, “I want to have the energy to live the life I want”, etc.

Don’t set outcome-based goals.

Outcome goals focus on reaching or achieving an end result such as: “lose x pounds”, “eat healthy every meal”, or “have stable blood sugars”. Outcome based goals like these set you up for failure because they are often hard to control due to that many factors that influence the results. Additionally, these types of goals don’t define how to actually get the outcome you desire.

Do set progress-based goals.

Instead of outcome based goals, set progress goals that focus on creating habits and behaviors. Examples of this include: “reduce fast food to 1x per week”, “replace sweetened beverages with water and herbal tea”, or “eat 2-3 cups of vegetables daily”. When you set progress goals like these, now you are focused daily on what it actually takes to improve your health in a significant way.

Don’t only create goals focused on how you want to look.

If you want to lose fat, gain muscle, or get clearer skin, that’s okay! Remember to create progress goals to help you achieve these results. However, being healthy is about far more than weight, size, or how you look. Focusing on appearance alone can also set you up for disappointment and cause you to miss other important changes in your body that come when you start changing your behaviors and habits.

Do create goals that focus on how you want to feel.

Other than vital signs and labs, symptoms (how you feel) are important signs of health and how your body communicates to you. When you think about how you would like your health to evolve over the next few months or year, consider how you want to feel. Do you want more energy? Do you want to feel less stressed? Do you want to feel less bloated? Consider setting progress goals that support how you want to feel in your body and mind. Once you start to make changes, check in with these symptoms and notice not just how your body looks but how you feel.

Don’t create goals that are overly restrictive or unsustainable.

When creating your health goals, consider your stage of life and your current daily rhythms. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic goals, or too many goals at once. Instead of “go to the gym every day”, try “move my body daily (walk, yoga, gym, etc)”. Instead of starting a temporary or “fad” diet that is overly restrictive, leads to malnourishment,  and historically has low success rates long term, try setting goals that focus on nourishment, foods to add in, or what foods to swap for others.

Do create goals that you can sustain.

Making small changes that you can sustain long term is much more effective than short-term diets or intense workout plans. Small changes over time are what lead to habit changes. After you’ve identified why you want your health to change, write down 2-3 progress goals you’d like to focus on for the next month. Breaking down goals into a smaller time frame can help changes feel less daunting.

To help get started, here are a few ideas of small, realistic changes you can consider focusing on to support your overall health:

  • Drink half your body weight in oz of water. Example: A 150lb person need 75oz of water daily.
  • Go for 1-2 daily walks totaling 30 min a day.
  • Start your day with a balanced, protein-rich breakfast. Example: egg veggie scramble with whole wheat toast, Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and seeds, unsweetened oatmeal with peanut butter and berries, protein smoothie with spinach, fruit, and plant-based protein powder.
  • Eat mindfully by taking a few deep breaths before meals, chewing very well, and eating slowly, putting your utensils down between bites. Notice how you feel before and after meals.
  • Add color to every meal, with fruits and vegetables. Foods like berries, leafy greens, peppers, carrots, sweet potato, butternut squash, purple cabbage, beets, turmeric, fresh herbs, and spices.
  • Sleep for 7-9 hours a night. Limit screen time one hour before bed and drink a calming herbal tea to help you relax.
  • Meal prep your lunches for the week to limit eating fast food. Make it easy and prepare your protein (sautéed chicken, canned tuna, canned beans), a homemade dressing (olive oil and lemon or vinegar), and serve with mixed greens or pre-cut cabbage slaw.
  • Do 1 thing daily to support your mental health whether it’s 5 minutes of deep breathing, and 10 minute outdoor walk, a salt bath, therapy, or reading a good book.

We hope that these tips help guide you into making and actually meeting your health goals this year! Learn more about our Wellness services by visiting our Wellness page, which includes weight resistance training, nutrition services and more! If you’re interested in our Nutrition and Food Pantry services, call 1(800) 597-7977 ext. 407 or visit our Food Pantry page here.