Set SMART Goals for Dietary Change with DASH - dummies

Set SMART Goals for Dietary Change with DASH

By Sarah Samaan, Rosanne Rust, Cynthia Kleckner

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. You need to set SMART goals when beginning the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. What does all that mean, exactly? Instead of setting a bunch of general goals, give yourself specific ones that you can better hold yourself accountable to.

Setting Specific Goals
General Goal Specific Goal
I will eat more fruit. I will pack an apple or orange every day for work.
I will lose weight. I will record my daily food intake and follow my 2,200-calorie
meal plan, working toward a 20-pound weight loss over the
I will eat more veggies. I will have a variety of fresh, frozen, and low-sodium canned
vegetables on my weekly grocery list.
I will exercise more. I will go to the gym for an hour every Tuesday and Thursday
right after work.
I will eat out less often. I will cook dinner at home four days a week using simple

Specific goals are more measureable. Measureable goals are easier to track and help you visualize your progress. To measure some of the goals, simply keep a journal for the week.

You can do the same for exercise, but you can also measure the activity itself (not just completing it, but the intensity or duration of it). If you begin a walking routine, and it takes you 60 minutes to walk 3 miles, you may consider setting a goal to improve your speed. Measure this goal by using a watch and timing your walks, and then you can easily see your progress.

You can also take some baseline measurements right before you make changes in diet and lifestyle and then come back and measure them in three months (fruit/vegetable servings, weight when starting DASH, waist measurement, and so on).

The scale is an objective measurement tool, but don’t get overly obsessed with it, especially if it isn’t budging or your weight loss is slow going. Body weight is one aspect of health, but there are others.

Meeting your weekly exercise goals and goals to improve the quality of your daily diet is wonderful progress in the right direction. Sometimes getting overly concerned with the number on the scale can be negative feedback that sends you off track.

Also consider how attainable your goal is. Losing 30 pounds by next month isn’t likely attainable, but breaking that goal into smaller, doable goals — such as “I will lose 2 pounds over the next week” — feels a lot more attainable. Setting attainable goals is all about being realistic and not setting yourself up to fail.

Setting realistic goals helps you move forward and stay on track. Realistic goals aren’t self-defeating; they’re doable. Try to be honest with yourself. If you’ve never eaten fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, then don’t set yourself up for failure by setting the unrealistic goal that starting tomorrow, you’re going to eat 8 servings of fruits and veggies a day. It probably won’t happen.

Start small, and then build on that. A small step forward is still a step in the right direction.

Goals should be timely too. While you want them to be realistic, it’s still helpful to look down the road a bit and set the bigger goals you want to achieve.

For instance, maybe you started jogging a mile a day. You may set a goal to add a quarter mile to that every week, to be able to run 3 miles in 8 weeks, and to enter a 5K race in 12 weeks. Placing goals on an incremental timeline helps you achieve them more successfully.

Recording an end date can keep goals timely and help make sure they happen. Whether you set goals for behaviors that need to occur daily, weekly, or over a period of months, putting the timeline in place helps you stay on track:

  • I will begin eating 2 extra servings of fruit today, and every day.

  • I will weigh myself every Tuesday to track my weight-loss progress.

  • I will lose 10 pounds over the next five months.

  • I will cook two new vegetables this week.

Having a visual goal sheet in writing can help you stick to your plan and be accountable.


Setting too many goals all at once can be overwhelming and unproductive. Try to work on two to three goals at a time. After a goal becomes an everyday habit, check it off and move on to a new goal.