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The role of a dietitian in setting SMART goals

Last Modified: March 30, 2021

Family Medicine


This post was written by Lauren Mullins, RDN, and Elle Stronczek, RDN.

Dietitians can be found in a number of settings, such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, community resource centers, school systems and fitness facilities. In the outpatient setting, they strive to provide excellent care and diet education to patients facing various acute and chronic illnesses, as well as assist clients in establishing goals to improve overall health.

In the inpatient or hospital setting, a clinical dietitian has various duties that include providing diet education, managing tube feedings, providing nutrition recommendations to maximize nutrition status for wound healing and/or weight maintenance, and make referrals for outpatient dietitian services.

Setting goals

Whether you are trying to lose weight, improve athletic performance, or fend off or manage chronic diseases, short- and long-term nutritional goals are a key factor in your success.

When thinking of goal setting, it’s easy to determine the desired result, but it can be difficult to figure out how we are going to achieve it. Ensuring that your goal is a SMART goal will help you reach your desired outcome in a healthy, sustainable way.

How to set a SMART goal

A SMART goal is a structured statement that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.  

Specific: What does losing weight really mean to you and how much weight loss is desired? Maybe it means fitting into a favorite pair of pants or a dress you used to wear, or hitting a certain number on the scale. Maybe it means running a 5k. You have to decide and define, specifically, what the mark of success looks like.  

Measurable: The goal should be quantifiable. Let’s say you want to decrease soda intake and increase fruit and vegetable intake. If you typically had six cans of soda and ate one fruit or vegetable per day, a measurable goal might be to decrease soda intake to two cans a day and increase to three servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Achievable: A dietitian can look at your food diary and assist with setting a realistic goal based on current habits. Having insights from a professional can be a great way to ensure you are setting achievable goals and adjusting as necessary.   

Relevant: How important is this goal to you? The more invested the patient is in their goal setting, the more likely they will follow through on the actions necessary to achieve the goal. It’s important to do research, read information from trusted sources and be involved in the goal setting process.

Time-bound: Establishing a timeline for your goals can be a great motivating factor. Similarly, scheduling a routine follow up with a registered dietitian encourages compliance and follow through. You might be more successful if you know you have a deadline or an appointment to hold you to the goal. Timing can also help break down a goal and make it more achievable. Let’s say you want to eat four servings of vegetables a day. Maybe you assign two servings to lunch and two to dinner. That way you know the expectation and can follow through with the plan.

Short-term goals

Setting a SMART goal can make achieving success less daunting. If you choose to work with a dietitian, he or she might set short-term SMART goals along the way to help you get closer and closer to the overall goal. Meeting short-term goals helps to evaluate progress and identify any habits that are hindering your forward momentum. The point of the short-term goals is to help create sustainable changes that lead to reaching a desired goal, and in turn create healthy habits that can last a lifetime.

If you have nutrition-related goals in mind but aren’t sure where to start, ask your primary care provider for a referral to see a dietitian in the outpatient setting. No goal is too small, and Parkview dietitians are ready and willing to help!

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