Health Tools: Scoring a Goal
A doctor's take on setting realistic diabetes health goals, plus tech tools that can help you
As a diabetes physician, I have discovered that my patients who set realistic health care goals for themselves, and then take action toward achieving them, have the most success in managing the condition. I have also seen, however, several patients set high-reaching goals for themselves, only to fall short of their expectations. For example, a patient may come into my office with a goal of losing 50 pounds. But with no timeline set and no action plan in place, such a goal is difficult to meet.
The Most Important Step for Success
One of the biggest differences between patients who succeed and those who struggle is in the way in which they set their diabetes goals. Whether my patients would like to lose weight or take control of their blood sugar levels, one of the most important steps I recommend they take is to first create a S.M.A.R.T. goal. This acronym stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound, and it provides an easy-to-use roadmap.
Specific: State your goal in a specific way and explain how and when you'll do it. “To lose weight” is not specific. "To lose 20 pounds by exercising every day over the next six months” is an example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal.
Measureable: Measurable goals contain numbers rather than vague terms such as "more" or "less."
Attainable: The goal does need to be something that you can do yourself. It may not be easy, it may be a challenge, but it should be something that you can do.
Realistic: Losing 20 pounds in one week or one month is not realistic (or necessarily safe). But losing 20 pounds over 6 months means losing about 3.5 pounds a month. That’s doable! Some people consider the "R" in S.M.A.R.T. to stand for relevant, which a good thing to consider. The goal needs to be important and meaningful to you, something worth working for.
Time-Bound: Have a date in mind for when you want to reach your goal. Otherwise, it’s easy to procrastinate or get distracted by the business of life.
Thanks to the hard work one of my patients put into setting a similar realistic goal, I was able to tell her she could stop seeing me! After making the effort to eat fewer but more nutritious calories and exercise regularly over a set period of time, this patient was able to lose weight and control her type 2 diabetes without medications.
I achieved success for my own health after setting a personal S.M.A.R.T. goal in 2007 to lose 20 pounds (specific and measurable) in 10 months (realistic and attainable, with a timeline). After eight months of exercising nearly every morning and eating well, I lost 20 pounds. One of the most important things I did to achieve this goal was to make my action plan work for me. As a doctor, my schedule is busy, so I knew taking time to go to the gym wouldn’t work for me. Instead, I decided to invest in a treadmill and elliptical I could use at home.
To stay motivated, it’s important that exercise is fun. Instead of simply going for a run, I made sure my workouts were entertaining by also calling my family in India or by watching some of my favorite TV shows while I used the treadmill. I sometimes get exercise at work by hosting walking meetings or taking a brisk stroll during phone calls. In addition to exercising daily, I reduced my portion sizes to healthier amounts and I increased the number of vegetables I ate. After losing 15 pounds, I began a weight-lifting routine as the final push to help me achieve my weight-loss goal.
My patients’ experiences and my own have taught me that accomplishing a well-defined S.M.A.R.T. goal can be challenging. But with the right amount planning and monitoring, success is possible. For extra help along the way, these apps, available online or for smartphones or tablets, offer several features designed to keep you organized and on track toward achieving your goals.
S.M.A.R.T. Goals: Made with the key acronym in mind, this app walks users through the process of making a goal that fits the S.M.A.R.T. criteria. A built-in calendar helps you set realistic deadlines, while the “action plan” tab offers a space for users to map out the specific steps they need to take to achieve their resolutions. (Available for Apple devices, free)
Habit Streak Plan: This app is designed to help you make a healthy habit—or break a not-so-healthy one. It features a monthly calendar with daily task lists. Simply enter the activity you would like to do each day, such as exercise for 15 minutes, and then mark when the activity is completed. The goal is to complete long streaks of good behavior to help establish a healthy routine. (Available for Android devices, free)
43Things: For people who are motivated by working with others, 43Things combines organizational features with social media. This app allows users to create a list of goals, along with helpful reminders of their deadlines. Then, people can share their goals online and find others who have similar ones. Users can connect by exchanging advice, giving comments, and sending “cheers” to people who achieve their resolutions. (Available for Apple devices, free)
My Diabetes Home: Created to help improve the health and lives of people with diabetes, My Diabetes Home is a website that provides a variety of tools that allow people to manage their health care information in one place. The website’s MyVisits tab allows users to enter specific goals and questions about managing their diabetes that they can share with their health care providers at their regular checkups. (Available online, free)
Anuj Bhargava, MD, MBA, CDE, FACP, FACE, is a practicing endocrinologist at the Iowa and Diabetes Endocrinology Center in Des Moines and the founder and president of the Iowa Diabetes and Endocrinology Research Center. He is also the founder of My Diabetes Home and MedSimple medication management platform. Bhargava believes that technology can simplify diabetes and strives to develop health tools and help people use them.