Maybe you already have a number in mind, but before you decide on a set weight-loss goal, be sure to take these questions into consideration.
What is a realistic weight loss goal?
Health professionals often recommend setting a goal to lose between 5 and 10 percent of your starting body weight if you are overweight. One reason for this recommendation is that considerable evidence from scientific studies has demonstrated that 5-10 percent weight loss is associated with clinically meaningful improvements in health, independent of the methods used to lose weight (1).
Health professionals also consider weight loss of 5-10 percent to be a realistic and attainable goal for most people because this is the average amount of weight loss that is achieved by participants in typical research studies (2).
To determine your weight loss goal using this method, start by multiplying your current body weight by 0.95. The result is your goal weight after a 5 percent weight loss. Next, multiply your current body weight by 0.9 to determine your goal weight after losing 10 percent of your initial body weight. These two numbers can give you a target range to consider when setting your weight-loss goal that is realistic and is in the range that provides benefits for improving health.
What goal is right for you?
What if the number you have in mind is bigger than 10 percent of your current weight? Health professionals often raise the concern that setting “unrealistic” goals could lead some people to become discouraged and give up (3). This is sensible advice, but it may not be the right approach for everyone. For some, setting larger weight loss goals could lead to greater weight loss results.
In studies exploring the impact of setting a goal weight on weight loss outcomes, researchers have found that study participants who set more ambitious goals often lose more weight than those who chose modest goals or don’t set any specific goals (4, 5).
While there’s no doubt that some people become discouraged by a goal that’s unrealistic or hard to achieve, others find ambitious goals inspiring and motivating. When setting your weight loss goal, consider which approach makes the most sense for you. If you choose an ambitious weight loss goal, it may be helpful to break it into several smaller goals to help you track your progress along the way.
How do you measure success?
One of the most common challenges of a weight loss journey relates to how you measure your own success. Everyone’s weight loss journey is different and many of the most important measures of success have little to do with body weight.
It can be tempting to focus on the number you see on the scale or how quickly you hope to achieve your goals. Don’t lose sight of other benefits such as improved health, greater confidence, and more energy that many people start to experience long before they reach their final weight loss goal. Give yourself credit for your smaller achievements at each stage in your weight loss journey to keep your motivation strong.
Whether you choose a goal that you consider modest and realistic or ambitious and inspiring, weight-loss is a challenging goal to achieve. Setting your weight-loss goal is a personal choice, but taking these strategies into consideration can help you set the right weight loss goal for you.
American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines; Obesity Society. 2013 AHA/ACC/TOS guideline for the management of overweight and obesity in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and The Obesity Society. Circulation. 2014 Jun 24;129(25 Suppl 2):S102-38.
Douketis JD, Macie C, Thabane L, Williamson DF. Systematic review of long-term weight loss studies in obese adults: clinical significance and applicability to clinical practice. Int J Obes (Lond). 2005 Oct;29(10):1153-67.
Polivy J, Herman CP. The false hope syndrome: unfulfilled expectations of self‐change. Curr Dir Psycholog Sci.2000;9:128–131.
Avery A, Langley‐Evans SC, Harrington M, Swift JA. Setting targets leads to greater long‐term weight losses and ‘unrealistic’ targets increase the effect in a large community‐based commercial weight management group. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2016 Dec; 29(6): 687–696.
Linde JA, Jeffery RW, Levy RL, Pronk NP, Boyle RG. Weight loss goals and treatment outcomes among overweight men and women enrolled in a weight loss trial. Int J Obes (Lond). 2005 Aug;29(8):1002-5.