Careful planning improves success rates. Each year thousands of people start a weight loss plan or a new diet and then give up after a month because it has “failed” to work. However, the failure to lose weight is usually due to a combination of poor preparation and attempting to achieve too much too soon.
As part of my ongoing studies into health care I came across the SMART strategy which is used by some medical professionals to help patients manage various medical conditions. A SMART strategy is simply one that sets rules for 5 key areas. By thinking through, and more importantly planning these stages, we can greatly increase the probability of success. Below we provide some examples of how the SMART strategy can be used in the context of losing weight and getting fitter.
- Specific - You want to lose weight or get fit, or both. Be sure of your goal.
- Measurable - Define how much weight you want to lose, or how much fitter you need to be.
- Action - Define exactly what you will do – specific diet, exercise plans etc. This can become complicated, but really it does not need to be.
- Realistic - Set goals that you will be able meet, do not try to lose too much weight too soon. Generally a pound (about 1/2 kilo) is a good weekly target.
- Time-limited - Set a time limit and then assess your achievements at the end. For example, plan to lose 50 pounds in a year with a monthly goal of losing 4 1/2 pounds.
So to break down this approach further you may plan your weight loss strategy in more details. Here is an example:
You want to lose weight and feel healthy again. You may also want to be able to fit into your favorite clothes that you have not worn for years. Your goals are specific to you. You may be aiming to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar levels etc. as well as losing weight or waist circumference.
The most simple weight loss goal to set really is to define an amount of weight that you wish to lose. For example, you may wish to lose 10 pounds.
This is the easiest step, making this decision and putting it into writing. Now the harder work needs to be done, which is working out how to achieve this an in what time frame. If a time frame is not set then the plan becomes meaningless.
To lose weight you must be willing to change your diet and lifestyle. So action must cover both of these bases.
You will follow a low GI diet which involves cutting out all junk food, all sugar based snacks such as cookies, candy, soda and cakes. You will also drink only water, coffee and tea on a daily basis. Even natural fruit sugars will be limited as the ultimate goal for now is weight loss, and not optimum health.
One error people often make is trying to combine health and weight loss so much that the focus is on eating healthy food and not on reducing fat.
Diet also needs to set out meal plans, such as stating when meals will be eaten and what they will consist of. So, breakfast everyday with wholemeal bread, eggs or an oat based cereal. Lunch and dinner should be specified in accordance with the diet rules, so plan salads, fish meals, stews and other meals prepared with fresh ingredients rather than processed and ready-meals.
For each day of the week you should set out your exercise schedule. Just saying “I will exercise more” generally leads to failure as you start to find excuses for not exercising, or more common than that, you will just forget some days.
So for exercise you should write down each day of the week and plan at least 30 minutes of exercise. If this involves getting up earlier or going to bed later, you must make that change. Nobody has an excuse for not exercising, you can always make the time.
A healthy exercise plan will include 4 cardio sessions a week, such as jogging or running, swimming, cycling or aerobics, and then 2 resistance training sessions, such as weight training or kettlebells, and then one more gentle session, such as a long walk or a yoga class.
The key with exercising to lose weight is to do something everyday. If you have time to exercise twice some days, schedule it in and do it twice. Specify the time of exercise if that is the only way to remember to do it – make an appointment.
The goal that you set should of course be realistic. For most people who are overweight, losing 10 pounds is a realistic goal, so we have already covered this factor. If you were only 5 pounds overweight then a goal of losing 20 pounds would be unrealistic, not to mention unhealthy.
If you are 100 pounds overweight then an initial goal to lose 100 pounds may simply be too much to ask in one go. Which is why we set a time-limit.
This ties the whole plan together – choosing how long to perform this project for. It will depend largely on your current level of fitness and how much weight you need to lose.
As a general rule of thumb we lose 1 pound of fat each week when our daily calorie intake is consistently 500 Calories below our needs.
So if you think that all you can manage to start with (see realistic goal setting) is losing 1 pound a week, then the time limit is 10 weeks. Give yourself 10 weeks to lose 10 pounds and you just need to create a daily calorie deficit of 500 Calories. This could be as simple as consuming 250 Calories less than you need and burning 250 Calories through exercise. To learn how many Calories you need each day see this table of calorie requirements.
Putting The SMART Weight Loss Plan Together
For example, if you are a 30-year-old woman then you will need around 2100 Calories a day to maintain your current body weight. So to lose 1 pound per week you should consume 1850 Calories a day and exercise to burn 250 Calories. These 1850 Calories will be from a healthy and balanced diet with no junk food or any other unhealthy foods and a variety of fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts, fish, lean meat, eggs and dairy produce.
As you can see, if you use a SMART strategy to plan your weight loss then it will really help you to stay on target. You set realistic goals that are attainable through calculated actions over a set time period.
If you fail it will be because you have ignored some part of the plan, such as stopped exercising or started eating too much food again. If you are keeping a diary of your actions and progress then you will quickly see where you are going wrong.
If you set out a SMART weight loss plan then you will never be able to use the excuse that the plan did not work – the only thing that can fail is your ability to act on the plan that you have set. Hopefully as you are devising your own plan then you will be more determined to stick to it. This is the key to empowerment. People who are more involved in their own decisions feel empowered and in control and are more successful at losing weight.
About the SMART Strategy
Although it is now being used in the medical community the SMART Strategy was originally designed as a business planning strategy. The first known usage of SMART was by George T. Doran in 1981 in his paper “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives“. It was published in Management Review, Volume 70, Issue 11, pp. 35-36.