Have you decided to lose weight, but don’t know what you should be aiming for? Wanting to ‘lose weight’ is very vague, and doesn’t really help – of course you want to lose weight, you know that! What you really need to know is how much weight you want to lose and how exactly you’re going to do it. This is where setting weight loss goals becomes important. Wondering how to set weight loss goals? Grab a pen and paper, it’s time to make a plan.
The importance of setting weight loss goals
It’s good to keep your eye on the prize – wanting to be healthy is a good thing to work towards, but it’s an easy goal to lose sight of, especially when it seems so far away. Thinking that one day you’ll be healthier isn’t much comfort when today you’re breathless and having trouble tying your own shoelaces. A study from the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics found that although obese people were less likely to set weight loss targets, doing so increased the likelihood of them achieving significant weight loss. This is down to keeping your progress in mind as a constant motivator. But where do you begin?
Find out what your goal weight should be
A good place to start is to check your body mass index (BMI). There’s a lot to be said about the disadvantages of BMI, but in general, the higher your BMI the higher your risk of developing things like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. It’s not accurate for everyone (for example, athletes with high muscle mass), so you might prefer to check your waist-to-height ratio instead, as many experts think this is a more accurate indicator of unhealthy weight.
If you’re using BMI, a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 25 – the NHS BMI calculator will give you your healthy weight range based on this number. You could make your goal weight somewhere in between the two numbers, or you could set the higher number as your goal and then reassess when you get there.
Setting mini goals
If you’re very overweight, it can feel extremely daunting to think that you’ve got so much weight to lose. If your healthy BMI suggests that you should aim to be around 14 stone and you’re currently 24 stone, the thought of having to lose ten stone can be overwhelming.
This is why it’s a good idea to set yourself mini goals – keep your ‘ultimate’ goal weight in mind, but break it down into manageable chunks. If you did, for example, have ten stone to lose, your first mini goal could be to lose one stone. You might still feel daunted at the thought of having to do that another nine times, but ticking off one mini goal means you’re closer to your ultimate goal than you were, and even losing one stone will have plenty of health benefits.
You could break it up even further if you’re struggling with (pardon the pun) the enormity of the task ahead. Your mini goals could be broken down into 5 or 10lbs increments, with extras like hitting 5% and 10% of your body weight lost along the way.
But it doesn’t have to be all about the numbers. You might decide to focus on getting active, in which case a mini goal might be to go for a 15-minute walk every other day for a month. You might want to focus on learning to cook healthy meals, with your mini goal being to cook two new recipes in a week. Your mini goals can be whatever you think will help you reach a healthy weight.
Setting good goals
Obviously, your goal is to lose weight, but that’s a pretty arbitrary goal. If you set that as your goal, it raises a lot of questions – How much? By when? How are you going to do it? If that’s the only goal you’ve got, you’re probably going to forget about it because it’s so vague.
Why you should set SMART goals
SMART goals are the way forward. This is definitely going to sound like something you thought you left behind when you left school, but keeping this in mind really works. Your goals should be:
- You need to be clear about what you want to achieve. “I want to lose 16lbs, which is 5% of my starting weight” is better than “I want to lose weight”, which is very vague.
- “I want to be able to wear my favourite t-shirt and feel good in it again” is better than “I want to fit into smaller sizes” because it’s something you can easily measure.
- Be realistic – you’re not going to lose 6 stone in a week (as much as I know we’d like to!) and you’re not suddenly going to get up from the sofa and run a marathon if you’ve never run before. But committing to tracking what you eat every day for a week, or sticking to the couch to 5k running plan is achievable and is something you can keep building on.
- Not everyone who wants to lose weight will have the same goals. If you’re not interested in going to the gym, focus your attention elsewhere and don’t give yourself the goal of going to the gym 3 times a week because you think that’s what you should be doing. Sure, it’d be nice to work out at the gym three times a week and to enjoy it, but if that’s not your cup of tea, or if your other commitments mean you can’t do it then you’ll just be setting yourself up for failure. Make your goals as personal to you as you can – if, for example, you enjoy cooking, make it your goal to cook more healthy meals as a way of eating better.
- Give yourself a timeframe for achieving your goal. If you don’t, you’ll probably find that you give yourself permission to slack or put things off, thinking that a few days off-plan won’t matter – and we all know how that sort of thinking can snowball. But if your goal is to fit into that t-shirt by your birthday, then you know exactly what you need to do and how long you’ve got to get to that point.
My SMART goal might sound like a lot, especially if you’re expecting just a sentence, but it gives me a very real goal that I can visualise and am much more likely to achieve.
“I want to lose 16lbs, which is 5% of my starting weight, so that I can wear my favourite t-shirt and feel good in it again. I’m going to do this by tracking what I eat using MyFitnessPal, and I’m going to make sure I hit my calorie goals by cooking more healthy meals at home. I want to do this in time for my 40th birthday in 10 weeks.” – now, doesn’t that sound much more achievable than “I want to lose weight”?
You might wonder what your motivation for reaching your mini goals will be. In theory, the knowledge that you are losing weight and improving your health should be all the motivation you need, but in reality, this is a bit of an abstract thought that can be difficult to hold on to.
Rewarding yourself for hitting your mini goals can be a great motivator that will keep you going when times get tough. If you’re anything like me, your first thought for a reward will be food – when I hit my 5% target, I’m going to celebrate by having a cheat day – which is fine, but be careful of rewarding yourself with food. You want your new eating habits to be a real lifestyle change, and rewarding yourself with ‘naughty’ food reinforces the thinking that eating well is a chore or a punishment.
Instead, try giving yourself non-food rewards. You could make your rewards things that will help you on your way to your ultimate weight loss goal, like buying a new water bottle, pair of exercise shorts or a Fitbit, or you could make your rewards something more fun, like a new video game, tickets to see your favourite band, or a trip to the cinema.
Another way of rewarding yourself is to get a jar and add a pound coin for every pound you lose. Seeing the pounds mount up is a great visual representation of your weight loss and it’ll also mean that you’ve saved up to buy yourself smaller clothes when you hit your goal weight.
Setting yourself small, achievable goals makes it much more likely that you’ll successfully lose weight. Breaking down the weight you need changes your thinking from ‘oh God, I have so much weight to lose, I’ll never do it’ to ‘hey, if I do this bit by bit I can actually do it and lose the weight’. So think about what you want to achieve and how you’re going to do it and come up with a SMART plan.