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Developed by the British Dietetic Association.


eating well smart food choices

Woman's face

Losing weight (and keeping it off!) takes time, effort and motivation.

It's tempting to go for quick-fix diets but keeping weight off for good requires long-term lifestyle changes. Setting 'SMART goals' is one important step on the way to success.

In 'setting realistic goals' we cover healthy weight loss targets, but in this section we cover eating and behaviour change goals: the things you will actually do every day to help achieve your overall weight loss target. Goal setting is just as important for being more active too (see 'Setting Smart Goals' in 'Getting Physical').

What is a SMART Goal?

It's one that is:

  • Specific: e.g. 'I will eat fruit between meals instead of biscuits'
  • Measurable: measurable goals help you to see what progress you're making. So, to use the example above: 'I will eat at least 3 portions of fruit every day';
  • Achievable: you're much more likely to keep to goals that are achievable. Small goals equal progress, and, once achieved, you can gradually build up to a main goal e.g. to eat less fat might involve lots of 'mini-goals' on the way, such as switching to semi-skimmed milk, or to limit cheese to just one small serving a day, at a mealtime.
  • Relevant: goals should be relevant to you. You're the expert on what you like, need and want, so choose goals that work for you.
  • Time-specific: set yourself a time scale for achieving your goal. If you're changing habits of a lifetime, this will take time, so allow yourself weeks, rather than days to achieve goals.

Setting smart goals will help you make healthier food choices. First, there are the specific eating goals (e.g. halving the amount of cheese you eat in a week), and second, the eating behaviour change goals (e.g. sitting down to eat meals instead of eating 'on the go'). Both types are important.

Download your own copy of 'My SMART goals' below to fill in the changes that will work for you.

Download 'My SMART goals' in PDF format 'My SMART goals' | 70Kb PDF

Examples of SMART eating goals:

Start of with just a few at a time, say 3 goals, and see how you get on. Better to start with a few you can stick to rather than lots you can't.

For example:

'I will...

  • Limit my chocolate intake to one fun-sized bar three times a week
  • Eat at least three pieces of fruit everyday
  • Cut the fat off meat before cooking
  • Use an oil spray when cooking with oil
  • Switch to semi/ skimmed milk
  • Cut my alcohol by half

Examples of SMART behaviour change goals:

'I will...

  • Eat breakfast at least 5 days every week
  • Eat 3 planned meals every day
  • Sit down at the dinner table to eat all meals
  • Eat more slowly and make meals last at least 15-20 minutes
  • Serve food on smaller plates
  • Eat without distractions (no TV!)
  • Avoid keeping food temptations in the house

Keeping a food diary can also help you to see areas for change in your own diet, and it can help monitor your progress. Click here to download your diary now.

Getting good at goal setting

Measuring success

How are you going to measure success? Think how long it might take to achieve a specific goal and set a date for checking it. Tick if achieved or not by the review date. When a goal has been achieved, allow yourself a reward or treat, such as going to see a favourite film, buying a new CD, or going for a swim. Something for YOU - you deserve it!


Making changes is tough, and to be successful, you'll need support and encouragement. Where will you get your support from? It might be a friend, family member, your GP, practice nurse or dietitian, or a group perhaps. Someone to say "Well done!" or "How's it going?" on a regular basis can make all the difference to your motivation and confidence.

Planning ahead

It really is worth planning ahead. Think about possible barriers, or obstacles that might get in the way of making changes. Your food diary might help you with this. Once identified, think of ways to overcome them, and plan ahead. Click on 'Keeping going' for more details.

What if things go wrong?

It's normal! There are bound to be times when other things get in the way of you achieving your goals: family pressures, busy periods at work, holidays, illness...
To get back on track:

  • Remind yourself of the reasons for wanting to lose weight (see 'R U Ready?' section)
  • Look at what you've achieved so far
  • Remember that a small lapse in your plan is not the end of the world
  • Start keeping a food diary again

Click on 'Struggling to lose weight?' for more help.

Which approach?

Feeling confident about setting some goals for change? Then go ahead. Use the information in this section, your diary and goal setting plan to make a start on the road to a healthier, trimmer you. If you prefer to follow a more structured weight loss plan, you'll find all you need in 'Your Weight Wise plan'.