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Realizing Your Dieting Goals The SMART Way

A scale surrounded by items used for exercise and weight loss:  athletic shoes, a computer tablet, a plate of fruit, weights, a towel and a water bottle.
Sports and workout equipment, digital tablet and fruit on a wooden table.

Many who choose weight loss as a New Year’s resolution often fall victim to unrealistic expectations. Some dietitians view the SMART technique, which focuses on measurable time-based goals, as the way around that.

KERA’s Sam Baker talks with Mary Payne-Edens, an Advanced Practice Dietitian with Parkland Hospital System, about how and why SMART works.


What is SMART?

Smart is an acronym for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timeline, or time-bound.

We're trying to make realistic goals to try to stick with. I find a lot of my patients want to make a lot of really great New Year's resolutions, but I think it's hard for a lot of patients when they make New Year's resolutions. They're very absolute or they're very black and white. It's not very black and white. There's a lot of gray in between.

For Instance…

If I stop eating junk food, I'm going to lose weight and I'm going to be healthy. A lot of us who have struggled with weight know that's easier said than done unless you're very, self-disciplined or you have a lot of self-control. If we strive for this black and white perfection, we're either going to get burnt out or upset because we can't have the things that we like. And then, ultimately, we're not going to meet our goal.

How Specific Do You Need To Be?

As specific as you want, or you can set a broad goal. If my goal for getting healthy was to exercise, what specific kind of exercise do I want to do? Maybe something like walking.


The next part of the smart goal would be measurable. I want to exercise every day. That's kind of broad. So maybe I kind of get it down to, I want to exercise 20 minutes a day.

Achievable & Realistic

Realistic is the real part about making smart goals because a lot of times when people make goals for nutrition or, or exercise or trying to get healthy on paper, they're great goals, but not very realistic because we haven't really thought about the logistics of it.

That's why the "A” part of smart goals is achievable. The more realistic a goal is, the prouder you're going to feel that you've achieved that goal. And it's going to make you want to stick with that goal. If you say I'm going to walk five miles starting out, that's not very achievable.

But walking ten minutes in my neighborhood? That's a very realistic, achievable, measurable goal that a lot of people can do.


We don't want the smart goal to be something that we're not going to invest our time or energy into. With New Year's resolutions, a lot of us think, “Oh, I want to do this or that.” I think COVID has shown a lot of us that we want to go to the gym, but maybe COVID is not allowing us to go to the gym because of social distancing. So we need to kind of make it relevant to what's happening right now, and what we can actually do.


A timeline makes you want to work a little bit harder towards that goal. If you just say I’m going to do it this year, then it’s “I can start it tomorrow.” But a set deadline of walking 20 minutes every day for the next month is a realistic, achievable thing – a short-term, healthy change in a realistic amount of time.

After You Achieve The Goal…

Hopefully, after achieving our first smart goal, we’ll want to keep doing that long-term. So we can create another smart goal of doing the same thing, but maybe change the time aspect of it. Or maybe say “I've done this one smart goal. Now I want to make another one, but keep doing my initial goal.”


When setting diet and exercise goals, be SMART

S.M.A.R.T. Weight Loss & Your Fitness Device

Setting SMART goals for success

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.