Everybody has set a nutrition goal before. Nobody does it right.

That may be an overstatement, but when I run my nutrition classes for CrossFitters, I see some MAJOR mistakes in goal setting.

Since a goal well stated is a goal half-achieved, I will teach you in this post how to set a nutrition goal that will lead to twice the success rate you’ve seen with whatever goal setting method you currently employ.

Lets address some of the reasons that your current goal setting is setting you up for failure, and what you can do to easily fix it. Click here to get a bulletted article summary with a goal setting worksheet

Mistake #1: Poorly Defined Outcomes

This is goal setting 101, and absolutely must be addressed!

At the time of this writing, the CrossFit Open has just come to a close, and people are already planning out how to climb the leaderboard next year.

Amongst the excitement I’ve heard some really poorly defined goals, like “I am going to get better at gymnastics this year”.  Well, what about gymnastics? How will you measure whether you’ve improved?

Since this is a nutrition goal setting post, here is my (least) favorite nutrition goal: “I want to get lean”. What do you define as lean? More muscle? Less bodyfat? How much?

The Fix:

When defining an outcome goal, it must be specific and measurable. The above goals could be improved with a few words.

A better outcome goal would look like “I am going to be able to do a bar muscle up by next year’s CrossFit Open” or “I am going to be able to link 25 toes to bar by next year’s CrossFit Open”.

A better outcome goal than “I want to get lean” is “I will lose 2 pounds of bodyfat and maintain my muscle mass in the next 8 weeks”.

Mistake #2:  You Think You’re Done Once You’ve Defined the Outcome

Have you ever thought you were making progress towards a nutrition goal because you are constantly thinking about it, but months later you look back and you’ve made almost no progress?

This is because most goal setting advice stops at how to define a specific and measurable outcome.

The problem with this method is that defining your outcome gives you no concrete or actionable path to follow, and gives you no key benchmarks to measure your progress along the way.

The (Most Important) Fix:

The solution starts with setting behavior goal(s).

The outcome goal orients you in the right direction, the behaviors get you from where you are now to your outcome. Behavior goals are also inherently easy to measure. It should be something you can easily “check off” on a calendar as “complete” or “incomplete”.

Here are two examples of a behavioral goal to lose 2lbs of bodyfat while maintaining muscle mass:

  • I will eat 2 fist sized portions of vegetables each meal for the next 8 weeks.
  • I will have a scoop of protein powder upon waking and before bed every day for the next 8 weeks.

Both of these goals are specific, they have defined actions, and the frequency at which you will complete them.

Sometimes, it will take achieving a series of behavioral goals to achieve your outcome BUT by sticking to them you will eventually get there.

Another important part of this fix is to set a day and time each week where you will “check in” on your adherence with the behavioral goals. This takes very little time to do, but is critical.

The practice will create what neuroscientist, Robert Cooper, calls an “anticipatory performance rise”. If you know that your performance is going to be evaluated (by you, or somebody else) you will go into an accelerated performance mode to make progress towards the goal.

Note: When defining behavioral goals, it definitely helps to talk to a coach at your box or other fitness professional who has a track record of helping people achieve your goal. The beauty of the internet is that there are plenty of online training programs and online nutrition programs that you can follow as well!

Mistake #3 You don’t think through your nutrition goal, and get thrown off by the first obstacle

Imagine this….you have decided its time to focus on a nutrition goal. You define your outcome, “I will lose 2lbs of body fat in 8 weeks”. You define your initial behavior goal “I will eat two palm sized portions of meat or seafood at each meal”. Then, you go out to dinner at a vegan restaurant. What do you do now?!

The problem is that people set goals and “wing it”, hoping things will go smoothly. Obstacles are inevitable, and at the first sign of stormy waters most people get permanently off path.

The Fix:

Engage in “scenario planning” as soon as you set your nutrition goal. Scenario planning is a series of “if…then” statements. For example, “If I am going to a vegan restaurant tonight and will miss eating two palms of protein, then I will eat an extra serving of protein at my first two meals”

Try this short exercise for each goal you set. Simply ask:

  • What obstacles have derailed me in the past?
  • What obstacles may derail me in the future?

From there, you can strategically plan how to overcome the inevitable bumps in the road.

Mistake #4: You have too many goals right now, you are not making real progress towards any of them.

I teach a 6-week nutrition course for CrossFitters and when my students are setting nutrition goals, I have to remind them that there are only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week.

People tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in a month and underestimate what they can accomplish in a year. This leads to a sort of anxiety to “do all the things now”.

I often have students who have 2-3 movements they are working to improve, they have relationship goals, career goals, personal development goals, and then they want to come in to my class and add a few nutrition goals into their already overflowing pot.

This gung-ho attitude leads to exactly no progress towards most (if not all) of their goals.

The Fix:

Simple. Choose no more than 4 goals in ALL areas of your life to work towards at any given time.

Mistake #5: Your nutrition goal feels like such a reach that it becomes a fantasy, and you stop making progress towards it

The problem is, if you set a really aggressive goal, your brain starts to enjoy the fantasy movie playing in your head about the new body you will have, or that cool new gymnastics move you will do (but nobody else can), etc.

You get a satisfactory dopamine release when the movie plays in your head and then you have no motivation to actually do something about it.

The same thing happens when you tell too many people about your goal. It feels good to tell people, and for some reason you just stop taking action steps because you’d rather keep talking about it!

The Fix:

No more airy fairy mantras. No more excessive visualization of yourself achieving the goal.

Instead, set a goal that stretches you but feels just outside your reach. Something reasonably attainable with the right plan and enough elbow grease. Make sure to bring the next action step towards the goal into focus daily, rather than focusing solely on the outcome itself.

Only tell those you consciously surround yourself with about your goal so that they can help uphold you. 

Mistake #6 You choose the nutrition goal from your head rather than your heart, and lose steam.

Did I say no more airy fairy before? This may seem like something straight out off the self help section in a metaphysical bookstore, but there is evidence to support it.

If you choose a nutrition goal from your head: something you think you should do instead of something you know deep down you really need to do you will eventually lose steam and fall off course.

The Fix: 

This is another simple, short and effective exercise. Take a look at your goals, and whichever you feel excited to pursue, pursue it. Anything you feel “meh” about, forget about it. You should feel a fire in your belly- remember you’re only going to be pursuing 4 goals in all areas of your life right now. Better make them good (and/or fun)!

Action Steps

If you’re ready to reconsider your current goals, click here to get your goal setting worksheet and a bulleted article summary

Closing Question: Which mistake are you guilty of committing, and what have you done to adjust your nutrition goal after reading this post?

If this post has helped you fix your goal setting, please share it! If you know somebody who this will help, email it directly to them with the share bar on your right!