Dr. Heather McKee's Evidence Based Insights

Part 2 – Getting Started…

Walt Disney summed it up nicely when he said ‘The way to get started is to quit talking and get doing’.

So how do we get doing? It seems overly simple but setting goals is the first step to success. Studies repeatedly show that setting goals enhances your likelihood of success (Strecher, 2005). The trouble is many people don’t go about goal setting in the right way and therefore are less likely to succeed. Here are my top tips supported by the literature to ensure health-related goal setting success. This is the first crucial step on your weight loss/maintenance health journey;

  1. Timescales are critical- Quick fixes don’t work! Diets by nature are impossible to sustain for prolonged time periods thus promoting a cycle of unsuccessful weight loss (Urbszat, Herman, & Polivy, 2002). You need to set short, medium and long term goals and revise them frequently. The best way to do this is to divide your long term goal into more specific, timed and measurable chunks. Breaking it down into 6 monthly, 3 monthly, monthly and weekly goals will make it much easier to achieve.
  2. Be specific-What are you going to do today to help you achieve your goal? Think about this as often as possible. Go into detail; where are you going to do it? How are you going to do it? Importantly, do you foresee any barriers to success? For example, if you plan to go for a run and it rains-what is your alternative? If you forget to bring your lunch to work, what can you eat that will still keep you on track with your health goals? Thinking in this way (i.e. the what, where, how and overcoming barriers) has been repeatedly shown to help enhance your likelihood of success (Gollwitzer, 1999).
  3. Don’t aim to lose too much weight too quickly-The media have led us to believe that weight loss should be quick and dramatic. This simply isn’t true. One of my main issues with commercial diets is how they promote xx amount of lbs lost over short term periods. These diets tend to be short, as their methods are so gruelling that no sane person would be able to stick to them for anything more than a couple of weeks. Failure to achieve these proposed short term losses can have a negative impact on our self-esteem and confidence to continue with our goals (Cooper & Fairburn, 2001, BMJ, 2006). Furthermore, these short term results don’t guarantee you will maintain your weight loss over the long term. In fact, often the opposite is true! What we really need to know is what the expected results are at 12, 18 and 24 months and beyond. That would be the true measure of a weight loss programme’s effectiveness.
  4. Don’t set too many goals at once. People often set out to do a full lifestyle detox; to change their diet, take up exercising daily in the gym and start saving. By trying to achieve too many goals at once at once you can dilute the likelihood that you will achieve your main goal (Zhang, Fishbach & Kruglanski, 2009).; Self-control is like a muscle (see previous blog post); try to exercise it too much and you will become exhausted and dissatisfied when your goals are not achieved in the manner you had hoped for. Focus on mastering one goal at a time. Once you are confident that you can maintain your new goal, only then should you introduce a new goal.

Now it’s time to stop talking and start doing-what is your health related goal? Follow the tips above and write it down. Once you have set your goal, the hardest part is sticking to it. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing a step-by-step guide on the best ways to maintain your goals and stay on track (in particular during the tempting Christmas period)

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Published on 4th Nov 2015 at 10:00 by Dr. Heather McKee

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This work is in no way meant to replace any medical advice. Dr. McKee is Non-HCPC-registered. Photography by Dylan Madden.

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