Researchers have said that a specific goal to eat a set number of daily servings of low glycemic-index foods can improve dietary habits of people with type 2 diabetes.
Study participants were given a goal to eat either six or eight daily servings of foods with a low glycemic index - carbohydrates that are digested slowly and are less likely to spike blood-sugar levels than would carbohydrates with a high glycemic index.
verall, most participants reached the eight-serving goal, partly because researchers discovered that many people were already consuming about six servings of low-glycemic-index foods each day.
The participants also ate about 500 fewer daily calories and added vegetables, fruits and nuts and seeds to their diet - all foods that are on the low end of the glycemic index.
Participants' confidence about being able to meet these dietary recommendations was key to their ability to reach the goal. People who had more confidence about the goal were more committed, and higher commitment levels led to a better likelihood that they would reach the goal.
Goal-setting theories are applied widely in the workplace and in sports management, but little research has examined the effectiveness of setting goals in a clinical setting to improve health - even though goal-setting is a common technique used by health-care providers.
"We ask people to set goals because they motivate action," said Carla Miller, associate professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University and lead author of the study.
"Telling people to 'go out and do your best' is not effective. It's not specific enough, or targeted enough, or timely.
"But in this context it's not just a matter of setting a goal. It's deciding what specifically you are going to modify to help you achieve a more healthful diet.
"What we found is that those who felt more committed to the goal felt the goal was less difficult. And those who had a higher level of self-efficacy felt that the goal was less difficult, which makes sense because that means they felt more confident in their ability to meet that goal," Miller said. "Increasing levels of self-efficacy and increasing goal commitment are critical to achieving goal behavior," Miller stated.
The study is published in a recent issue of the journal Patient Education and Counseling.