News | Published April 24, 2012 | Written by Danielle Michael, MS, RD, LDN

Be S.M.A.R.T. to help recover from an eating disorder

When we look to the treatment and recovery of an eating disorder, we need to address the practice of goal setting. While striving to reach goals is a main form of motivation for getting what or where we want, we need to be aware that for some, trying to accomplish goals can also quickly change into a vehicle for comparison, frustration, obsession and disappointment. This shift in perception can ultimately ruin the purpose of goal setting and turn it from a positive tool to one that sets a person with an eating disorder up for relapse.

Goals are wonderful for many reasons. They are an easy way to measure success. In addition, they provide security and "control," as well as motivation for some people to better themselves, yet they can often lead to negative self-talk and disappointment if they are not accomplished. At the extreme, unrealistic goals can make people go to unhealthy lengths to see more progress, as well as cause them to lose sight of reality and compare themselves to others in a way that really isn't fair.

This is why it is so important to be "S.M.A.R.T." and set "S.M.A.R.T." goals. S.M.A.R.T. is a handy way of remembering how to effectively set goals. Here is how you can become S.M.A.R.T.

Specific: You really can't accomplish something without knowing what you are trying to achieve, right? That seems pretty obvious, but it is important to remember that when you are setting a goal, you need to set a limit and guideline for where you eventually want to end up. Which of these goals is easier to achieve: I will be nicer to myself OR I will WRITE DOWN AT LEAST three nice things about myself every day? The latter goal is better because it is more specific, thus making it more likely that you can - and will - meet it.

Measurable: This is similar to the "Specific" stage of the goal-setting model. You need a definitive guideline by which to measure your progress. In the example above - writing down three positive things about yourself every day gives you specific steps to take, makes it easier to see how well the goal is being realized. Each day, you can measure how much closer you've come to achieving your goals.

Achievable: It is important to set a goal that is doable in a specific amount of time so that goal setters can feel they have accomplished something concrete and deserve a little credit.

Risk-Taking: At the same time, you don't want to set the bar too low with goals that really aren't improving anything in your life. Give yourself a bit of a challenge, one you can hold yourself accountable for at some point. Writing down three positive personal comments every day may not seem like a lot, but that is three more than you are listing now. Next week, try to go for five comments; while three sounded like a perfect starting point that was not completely out of reach, five will help you begin to stretch.

Time-Sensitive: Do NOT give yourself an unspecified time limit to achieve something, because chances are, you will put it off, forget about it or it will casually slip down your list of priorities and may never get done. Designate a certain date to reach your goal.

Being S.M.A.R.T is a nice little tool for pretty much anyone, but can really be a great mnemonic device to use during the treatment of an eating disorder.

So, what better way to start down the path of recovery than by setting some S.M.A.R.T goals to be free of an eating disorder?

For more information on the tools to help stop an eating disorder, please visit