Setting goals for weight loss is crucial to a successful, healthy outcome. Setting a goal may seem easy to some. Others may find themselves at a loss when trying to plan. Goal setting has to be realistic and well-planned or you risk undermining your weight-loss efforts. If you set an unrealistic goal, your ability to stay motivated and focused is hindered from the start.
The purpose of your goals is to provide a plan for a lifestyle change as you transition to a healthier day to day routine. These types of goals need to not only help you reduce your weight but also improve your health. You may be surprised to find that your first step in setting a goal is to figure out if you really need to lose weight, and consulting a physician may be the best plan. If you and your physician decide that weight loss is needed, it’s time to get to work setting your goal!
Process Versus Outcome Goals
Weight loss goals fall into two categories – outcome goals and process goals. For your plan to be successful, you’ll need both. An outcome goal is the target you are working toward. One example would be the amount of weight you plan to lose. Outcome goals are great for focus, but they do not provide the steps for how you will achieve your goal.
Process goals are the “how” of achieving your desired weight loss outcome, giving you a plan to follow. Process weight loss goals examples include walking 30 minutes per day, or eliminating desserts after dinner, or replacing soda with water. Process goals are more important than outcome goals because they change your lifestyle habits into behaviors that facilitate weight loss.
Now that you know the two types of goals to set, you should follow the standard of weight loss goal setting, meaning your outcome and process goals need to be SMART.
Setting SMART goals for weight loss
A SMART goal is:
You may want to start by discussing these aspects of your weight loss plan with your doctor. They can provide expertise and resources that will help you set both your outcome and process goals. There are many other resources you may want to consider depending on your individual goals.
A specific goal needs to be clear and detailed. Many people start off with a goal to get healthy. This goal is general and has no target. What does it mean to you to get healthy? Eating better? Cutting out nicotine and alcohol? And how will you approach this goal?
A better goal includes specific details. For example, a goal to eat healthier is not specific, but a goal to cut out dessert, stop drinking sugary soft drinks, and eating at least one to two vegetables and fruits at each meal is very specific. You have decided what you will do and when you will do it.
Let’s make a SMART goal out of weight loss now. Instead of “I want to lose weight,” a better example would be, “I am going to lose 20 pounds in four months.” Now you have a specific outcome goal and can set the parameters for how you will lose weight and how much each month. Focusing on this target weight will help you make healthier choices each day.
When you are able to measure a goal, you have markers that indicate how successful you are at meeting the goal. For instance, a goal of going to the gym more often is not measurable. A goal of going to the gym on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays for 60 minutes is measurable. A goal of eating fewer calories is also not easily measured, but a goal of eating fewer than 1,500 calories per day can be measured.
Likewise, just having a goal to lose weight is not measurable. For weight loss measurement, you need to add a number to it. How many pounds do you plan to lose? How many calories per day will you eat? How much exercise will you perform? You must be able to track your progress.
An attainable goal is a realistic weight loss goal you are able to achieve with your available time and resources. For example, if you have knee problems and running is physically difficult for you, running every day for 30 minutes would not be an attainable goal. Or, if you work long hours, spending an hour at the gym each morning may not be attainable either.
However, you can make these into more attainable goals, such as walking for 30 minutes three days per week or riding a recumbent bike or swimming – low- to no-impact exercise. And you may be able to fit one or two trips in at the gym on weekends for 45 minutes.
As for how much weight to lose, you also have to set a number that is attainable. You may wish to lose 50 pounds in 4 months, but this can be an extreme or possibly dangerous goal. When your target weight it too hard to meet, you may lose motivation to keep going.
A good way to reach an attainable weight loss number is to start with an average body percentage. According to research, a 5- to 10-percent loss in body percentage is attainable for most people. You could set your goal at 6 or 7 percent of your body weight, find that number with your doctor and break it down into attainable chunks.
Relevant goals are important and meaningful to you. They should never be a goal that someone else sets for you. Examine your thoughts on what is important to your life right now.
When you give yourself time to reflect on what is most relevant to your life, perhaps weight loss at this time is not really one of those goals. If it is, determine your why. Why is it important for you to lose weight right now? Knowing your why gives you your focus and motivation to set and attain your goals.
If weight loss is a relevant priority for you, ask your doctors to help you. They can assist in determining a daily calorie goal based on your current weight and health and an exercise program.
Set a deadline. Deadlines help us get started and keep going, no matter the goal. Once you pick your goal, set an appropriate deadline. Your doctor may also be able to help in setting an attainable deadline. For example, if you want to lose 15 pounds, put a red heart on your calendar on your deadline date, set up reminders in your phone for all your process goals, and strive for that 15 pound loss.
A time limit not only motivates you, but all helps you stay on course. If healthy weight loss for most people is approximately one to two pounds per week, set your deadline accordingly. For instance, “I will lose 8 percent of my body weight in four months.”
Short-term and Long-term Goals
Your long-term goals allow you to focus on the big picture. Long-term goals are a great way to change thinking of your goal from dieting to making healthy lifestyle changes. However, long-term goals often may seem too hard to achieve or too far away to feel motivating.
This is where setting short-term goals have a benefit. Breaking your long-term goal into small, achievable chunks allows you to celebrate your achievements as they happen, keeping your focus and weight loss motivation on your big goal.
If your long-term outcome goal is to lose 15 pounds in three months, you can break that number down into separate goals for each month, such as seven pounds in the first month and four pounds in each of the last two months. Early weight loss is often quicker.
One of your process goals may be to run 30 minutes a day. If you have not run before, you may want to start out by walking 30 minutes per day, then running for five minutes and walking 25, and keep increasing the run time versus walk time while you build endurance.
While working on your short- and long-term goals, you will need to reassess and adjust your them as needed. For example, if you started small, achieved success, and are now finding that 3- minute run faster and easier, you may want to take on a bigger challenge, such as running in a 5K race. These changes will reflect your changing, healthier lifestyle.
Allow for Setbacks
As you change your behavior and move along your goal path, you’ll encounter setbacks. Setback are a natural part of life, especially in lifestyle changes. When you know you’ll will encounter setback and plan for them as much as possible, you’ll be able to develop strategies to overcome the setback in advance. This may not stop the setback from happening (the holidays!), but you’ll be ready for it and it may not be as harsh a setback as it could have been without planning.
If you are ready to discuss or set a weight loss goal or research weight loss options, please contact our office today. We have the experience and resources to help you achieve your goals and start on the road to a healthier lifestyle.