How to Set a Weight Loss Goal

I’ve previously discussed whether you should weigh yourself. In short, you probably should, because it is an objective yet simple means of determining whether you are losing weight or not.

That being the case, how do you go about setting a weight loss goal?

The simple answer is that you don’t. At least, I wouldn’t advocate setting a weight loss goal in the way that most people do. Specifically, I wouldn’t recommend that you (for example) set a goal to lose ten pounds in four weeks, or get down to 160lbs by Christmas.

Why? For two key reasons:

  1. Realism. When people set weight loss goals, they don’t typically first consider (to any level of accuracy) how realistic their goal is. And more often than not, in my experience, such goals are unrealistic – they’re not representative of what is reasonably possible. If you accept the above to be true, then by creating a weight loss goal, you are setting yourself up to fail before you’ve even begun.
  2. Pressure. The concept of putting pressure on yourself to lose weight is anathema to the Healthy Enough way. And yet, by setting a specific goal, you’ll feel pressured to ‘perform’ from day one.

You may argue that setting an ‘unrealistic’ goal and putting pressure on yourself will help you to lose more weight than if you’d set no goal at all. You may be right, but at what cost? Life is too short to stress yourself out unduly.

Besides, you’re more likely to be wrong, in my opinion. You’re more likely to fail to reach your goal, and quite possibly fall off the dieting wagon as a result and put back on the weight you lost. And if you do reach your goal, what then? Set a new goal, perhaps? Or possibly slip back into bad habits, and watch the pounds creep back on.

My philosophy when it comes to setting a weight loss goal is simple: any statistically relevant movement in the right direction is cause for celebration, represents success, and will ultimately get you to where you want to be.

By “statistically relevant movement”, I mean that you shouldn’t pay attention to weight loss (or gain) over a small period of time (e.g. a week), when such changes could be down to any number of short-term, irrelevant factors (such as water weight). I’m far more interested in the trend of your weight loss or gain over a statistically relevant period of time (say four weeks) than what’s happening to your weight from one day or week to the next. That’s where you’ll find a real picture of the effects of your diet and exercise regime.

If you lose ½lb per week on average, I’m delighted. If you lose a pound every few weeks, that’s great too. The key is that if you’re able to do so by putting sustainable habits into practice, you’ll be guaranteed to reach your desired weight. Unless you need to lose weight quickly for medical reasons, how long it takes is far less important than ensuring you’ll actually get there – and stay there.

When you reach your weight goal, you’ll know you’ve ‘arrived’ by how you look in the mirror, how your clothes fit, and how you feel. Your weight will just be a number. (That’s another reason why setting an arbitrary number for weight loss can be meaningless, incidentally.) And once you’re there, you can then set a target range to stick within. For example, today I weigh 176lbs. My target range is 175–180lbs, so things are in order. If I find myself getting close to 180lbs, I’ll start thinking about what I need to do in terms of adjusting my eating and exercise habits. Otherwise, I can trust my established diet and exercise habits to take care of things.

In conclusion, if you’re serious about losing weight and keeping it off without putting undue pressure on yourself, forget about setting a time-sensitive weight loss goal. Instead, set a simple goal to lose weight – at any rate. Any statistically relevant movement towards that goal represents success.

If you’d like to know how to implement the above advice in practical terms, check out my post on tracking your weight loss.