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How to Set Weight Loss Goals

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Updated May 20, 2014

Setting weight loss goals is probably one of the more difficult steps of a weight loss program. How much do you need to lose? We often choose a number based on what we used to weigh or, perhaps, what we've always wanted to weigh, but is that the right approach? If you're losing weight for your health, your goal might be more modest, say 5-10% of your current weight. But what if you have something more specific in mind like a certain clothing-size you want to fit into? Answer these questions for yourself by learning how to set reachable weight loss goals.

The key to setting weight loss goals is to follow the standard of goal setting. It needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and tangible. Your first step is determining if you really need to lose weight.

Do You Need to Lose Weight?

If you talk to most people, you'll probably find that everyone feels like they need to lose weight, even people who appear to be at a healthy weight. Often our weight loss goals are based on what we think we should look like rather than what's reasonable for our bodies right now. There are broad parameters to use to figure out if you need to lose weight but, in general, a candidate for weight loss may have the following characteristics:

  • A BMI of more than 25
  • A Waist-Hip ratio of higher than .8 for women and higher than 1.0 men
  • An Abdominal Girth measurement of more than 35 inches in women and 40 inches in men

Of course, those aren't the only clues that tell us we need to lose weight. There are those annoying indications like tight clothes, getting out of breath doing simple activities, or stepping on a scale for the first time in awhile. However, before you set goals based on what you think you should weigh, make sure you see your doctor to get an individual assessment.

Set Your Goals

If you've determined you do need to lose weight, your next step is to set a reasonable weight loss goal for yourself. You can base your goals on any number of factors, but a great place to start would be the general recommendations set out by the American College of Sports Medicine which are 5-10% of body weight or one to two pounds per week.

You can also use these calculators to set your goals:

Keep in mind that these calculations offer guesstimates. There are a number of factors that affect weight, so it’s best to take the results you get with a grain of salt. For example, BMI is affected by how much muscle you have…if you have more muscle, your weight might actually be higher than what is considered healthy on the BMI chart, even though you have a healthy body fat percentage.

Another way to do this is to focus less on a target weight and more on making healthy choices each day to reduce your calories. One way to look at this is your Lowest Sustainable Weight. In this case, you would create a calorie deficit (with diet and exercise) and let your body respond to that over time. Eventually, you'll get to a weight you can sustain and feel good about.

Make a Plan

However you determine your weight loss goals, you should record that goal and then make a plan to reach it. Look at your goal objectively: is it specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and tangible? Here's a sample to see how it works:

Assume I am 5'7" tall and weigh 160 pounds. According to the calculators above, my BMI is 25.1, which falls under the 'overweight' category. If I lose just 10 pounds, my BMI will be at a healthier 23.5.

Goal:

To lose 10 pounds in 12 weeks. I'll need to cut my calories each day by 300-500 through both diet and exercise.

To reach this goal I will:

Replace my morning Egg McMuffin (300 calories) with a bowl of oatmeal (about 180 calories).
Replace one Coke (150 calories) with Fresca (0 calories).
Walk for at least 30 minutes at 3.5-4.0 mph 3 days a week (approx. 180-240 calories burned).
Strength train 2 days a week for 30 minutes (approx. 140-280 calories burned)
Total Calories burned each day: 270 - 550 (depending on whether I exercise).

Looking at this example, you can see that breaking down your goal into specific steps can help you focus on your daily tasks. Just remember to adjust your goal whenever you need to. If you find you're not losing weight as quickly as you thought (and this is very normal), change your goal weight or the length of time to reach it. Remember, your goal needs to be attainable, so be willing to set new goals if the old ones aren't working for you.

Source:

Jakicic, et al. Appropriate Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Regain for Adults.. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 33(12):2145-2156, December 2001.

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