Dieting Success – Part II – Process Goals

This is the second of a two-part post on increasing weight management and nutrition related success. Part I.

Many people set goals for weight/body fat content in their pursuit or maintenance of fitness. Diets of every kind are notorious for failing to modify eating habits (and maintaining weight loss). Psychologically that amounts to loss. You go without dessert. You can’t have red meats. You can’t have sugars. You can’t have second helpings. These add up to losses.

Long-term pay offs are too long term. It is the exception to the rule that we maintain motivation towards that long term outcome without interim rewards. A seldom-used strategy is to create ways to “win” while pursuing proper nutrition and body make-up. We also need to get away from making food a reward (i.e. If I stick to my plan I can reward myself with a dessert on Friday.)

Everyone is familiar with outcome goals. Those are the most common goals set by people. Written correctly they create a clear outcome; a future state or accomplishment and a specified time line to do so. In the realm of dieting these outcome goals may be weight, body fat percentage, body measurements, or fitting into certain sized clothes. But these are far down the road. And that road is full of potholes and speed bumps. There has to be an objective system to maintain focus, motivation and pave the way to the desired outcome. Introducing process goals for success.

Process goals are the measurable objectives and actionable items that lead you to successful outcome goal attainment. It is more than breaking down your outcome into manageable pieces (i.e. 3 pounds per week). It is about behaviors and actions you take each day that can be quantified. Typically diets outline what you can or can’t eat. Those are actionable objectives (you either ate them or not). A key problem is that they focus on restrictions or limitations of some kind.

One option that I pose is to create process goals that tap into your competitive side. Create process goals that you can keep score as if it were a game. Here are examples:

  1. Stay within daily calorie count.
  2. Stay within daily fat content count.
  3. Avoid desserts.
  4. Eat “x” servings of fruit & vegetables.
  5. Do not take second helpings.
  6. Avoid sweetened drinks (i.e. soda)
  7. Record morning weight & body fat percentage.
  8. Work out  – 30 minute.

The competition goes like this.

  1. If you stay under your daily calorie count you win (1-0).
  2. If your fat content is over it’s a loss (1-1).
  3. If you don’t have a dessert today you score a win (2-1).
  4. If you ate your veggies today you win (3-1).
  5. If you stick to one helping of food you win (4-1).
  6.  If you avoid sugary drinks you win (5-1).
  7. If you record your weight you win (6-1).
  8. Worked out 60 minutes you win x2 (8-1).

To avoid the all or nothing approach which is a common pitfall you can create tiered goals. Often once you have gone over your calories or had your dessert, you figure, what the heck, I’m already over (loss) so I’ll just pig out. Short-change that thinking by having thresholds such as: each  dessert is a loss; 200 calories over my goal is an additional loss. Notice that I added potential victories by adding tiers to my workout process goals: for each 30 minutes segment of working out I get a win!


  • It decreases the focus on what you did NOT do (losses). So you aren’t beating yourself up so much.
  • You can challenge yourself daily, weekly, and monthly.
  • It diverges from merely counting calories and focusing on the restriction aspects of nutrition.
  • It allows you to quantify progress on that road to your goals.
  • If feeds motivation and confidence with opportunities to win.
  • A new “season” starts every day (or week) and you look to improve your record.
  • It does not require perfection.
  • It promotes the right behaviors which optimize your outcome goals.

Though this approach may not work for everyone, I’ll challenge you to create your own nutrition game – try it.

2 comments on “Dieting Success – Part II – Process Goals”

  1. Avatar Jackie

    It had never occurred to me to create process goals like this in order to avoid that all-or-nothing mindset. Makes sense! It would be kind of cool to have an app for folks who want to create customized process goals and track them over time. If the focus is on fueling well for performance, it would be good to see how data on nutrition goals and performance goals correlate. For some people, seeing that ongoing evidence can help with sticking to good fueling habits.

  2. Avatar Coach Dean

    OK … now we just need some smart person to come up with that app or integrate it into the many that are out there. I’ve used LoseIt and still do from time to time to give myself a nutrition check up. But they aren’t quite this advanced in making more process goals or even making it fun or competitive. Just lots of data and an occasional rah-rah message. Eh.

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