How to Set SMART Health Goals

How to Set a SMART Health Goal

When’s the last time you set a goal?  Probably today.  We set goals all the time.  But when’s the last time you set a SMART goal?  Likely it’s been a while…if ever.

We set arbitrary goals all day.  I’m getting to the gym today.  I will drink all my water.  I am definitely eating a salad for lunch.  I’ll have this proposal on the boss’ desk by 5 pm.  All these are goals.  But none of these are SMART goals.

It’s no secret.  I help individuals transform their lives by making small, sustainable changes to their current lifestyle so they can lose weight, reduce their fatigue, and eliminate bloat.  They do this every time they walk into the office and they have things to work on when they leave.  What they don’t see is I’ve set goals for them.

Now, they pay me to do the heavy lifting so I don’t always share the goals with them.  They do know the destination, though.  In my group sessions, they do the work.  They create the goals themselves.  And they are constantly working towards attaining those goals.

In this blog, we’re going to define what a SMART goal is, discuss how that’s applied to health and wellness, and get you creating SMART goals today!


I know this is a departure from what I normally write about.  But we’re heading into the holiday season with New Year’s resolutions on the horizon.  I think it’s about time we set goals that are met instead of pushed off a few months later.

SMART is an acronym for goal setting.  I first learned about SMART goals back in 2006 while in the US Air Force.  I share that because SMART goals can literally be used anywhere for any task.  But we’re going to use them in the nutrition realm today.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable/Attainable, Realistic, and Timely/Time-Bound.  You can Google SMART and come up with a few different ways of spelling out the acronym.  Here’s what each one means:

Specific = the goal must be detailed

Measurable = there needs to be something to measure it by

Actionable/Attainable = a breakdown of what will occur to reach the goal

Realistic = it needs to be something you can actually achieve

Timely/Time Bound = there needs to be an endpoint

If it doesn’t meet the SMART parameters, it’s not a well-defined goal with the intention of being attained.  Let’s look at the specifics of setting a health and wellness SMART goal.

Health Goals

Goals give us a sense of purpose and direction.  Some individuals are fine where they are and have no motivation to change.  And that’s perfectly fine!  But so many others have a desire to change.  Setting well defined and refined goals will help you achieve that change.

Let’s look at goals in relation to health.  Here is a common goal I see:

“I want to lose weight.”

Great…so does most of the population.  But why aren’t they losing weight?  Because setting a goal like this is like having a quick thought in the back of the mind never to touch it again.  When we set health goals, they need to be SMART.  If they aren’t, there isn’t going to be a lot of movement.

SMART Goals for Health

Here’s how we set SMART health goals.  Instead of saying, “I want to lose weight,” give it meaning.  A better example would be “I want to lose 10 lbs.”  Great!  Getting closer but not quite there yet.  We need some time constraints and a list of exactly what you’re going to do to get there.  Here’s an example of a SMART health goal:

“I want to lose 10 lbs in 3 months by exercising 4x weekly, consuming 6 servings of veg daily, and reducing my sugar intake so that I can finally feel good in my clothes.”

I know that seems lengthy, but that’s just the beginning.  Here’s how it looks written out with SMART:

S = feel good in my clothes again

M = lose 10 lbs

A = workout 4x weekly, 6 servings of veg daily, and decrease sugar intake

R = I was 10 lbs lighter 3 years ago so this is not unrealistic

T = 3 months

Once you have that worked out, you get moving.  You’ve got 3 months to make this goal a reality.  And you’ve got some items to work on (workout, vegetable intake, and sugar intake).  Pick one of those items to really start working on.  You don’t take them all on at once.  That’s a sure way to feel burnt out.  Most throw in the towel when feeling overwhelmed.

For this example, I’d have someone focus on getting to the gym 2x the first week.  And then increase to 3x the next week.  So on and so forth until they are steadily going to the gym 4x weekly.  Then focus on the veg.  If they’re consuming 3 servings daily, let’s bump that up to the 4 this week.  And then 5 the next week.  See what’s happening here?

Slow progression through the stages until you’ve reached your goal.  Baby steps my friend.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  And 10 lbs didn’t show up overnight.  Lifestyle alterations take time!

Action Time

There’s no time like the present to start setting goals.  This can be something you’ve been wanting to do for a while.  Or it can be something you just thought of.  This goal can be started now.  Or you can wait until the new year to get a jump on it.

The choice is yours.  But I’d like for you to set a goal.  Pick a goal and use the SMART technique to refine it and define it.  List the actions you’re going to take to get to that goal.  Don’t forget to set your tasks.  If you don’t have the tasks you’ll do, how will you know you’re working towards the goal?

Then…here’s the scary part…put it out in the world.  Tell a friend.  Post it on Facebook.  Or, even better, put it in the comments below.  If your goal is great, I’ll let you know.  If it needs to be refined, I’ll let you know that too!

After reading through this, do you think you’ve been setting goals correctly in the past?  How do you feel that’s hindered your progress?

Sunny Brigham, MS, CNS

I'm Sunny! I'm a board-certified clinical nutritionist with an MS in Clinical Nutrition. I help individuals reduce fatigue, eliminate bloat, and lose weight by healing the digestive tract and balancing hormones. I provide individual and group nutrition consultations nationwide. Grab my metabolism boosting guide!

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