Date Updated: 09/15/2022

Weight-loss goals can mean the difference between success and failure. Realistic, well-planned weight-loss goals keep you focused and motivated. They provide a plan for change as you move to a healthier lifestyle.

But not all weight-loss goals are helpful. Unrealistic and overly difficult weight-loss goals can weaken your efforts. Use the following tips for making goals that will help you lose weight and improve your overall health.

Focus on process goals

Goals for weight loss can focus on outcomes or the process. An outcome goal — what you hope to achieve in the end — might be to lose a certain amount of weight. While this goal may give you a target, it doesn't focus on how you will reach it.

A process goal is a necessary step to achieving a desired outcome. For example, a process goal might be to eat five servings of fruits or vegetables a day. Or it may be to walk 30 minutes a day or to drink water at every meal. Process goals may be helpful for weight loss because you focus on changing behaviors and habits that are necessary for losing weight.

Set SMART goals

A good goal-setting strategy is the SMART goal checklist. Be sure that your weight-loss goals — whether a process goal or an outcome goal — meet the following criteria:

  • Specific. A good goal includes specific details. For example, a goal to exercise more isn't specific. But a goal to walk 30 minutes after work every day is specific. You're stating what you'll do, how long you'll do it and when you'll do it.
  • Measurable. If you can measure a goal, then you can objectively track your progress in meeting that goal. A goal of eating better isn't easily measured. But a goal of eating 1,200 calories a day can be measured. Or aim to eat up to five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. A goal of riding your bike isn't measurable. But a goal of riding your bike for 30 minutes three days a week is measurable.
  • Attainable. An attainable goal is one that you have enough time and resources to achieve. For example, if your work schedule doesn't allow spending an hour at the gym every day, then it wouldn't be an attainable goal. But two weekday trips to the gym and two weekend trips might be possible. If a certain type of exercise, such as running, is physically too hard for you, then running every day wouldn't be an attainable goal.
  • Relevant. It's important to set goals that are relevant and meaningful to you and where you're at in your life right now. Don't set goals that someone else wants you to make. Ask yourself what's most important to you. Then choose your goals. Is weight loss a priority for you? If so, ask your provider to help you decide on a daily calorie goal based on your current weight and health.
  • Time-limited. Pick your goal and set a deadline. For example, if you want to lose 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms), circle a finish line on a calendar and aim for that. Giving yourself a time limit can motivate you to get started and stay on course.

Long-term and short-term goals

Long-term goals help you focus on the big picture. They can shift your thinking from simply being on a diet to making lifestyle changes. But long-term goals may seem too hard or too far away. It may help you to break down a long-term goal into a series of smaller, short-term goals.

If your long-term outcome goal is to lose 15 pounds (7 kilograms) in three months, you may break it down into shorter separate goals for each month. For example, aim to lose 7 pounds (3 kilograms) for the first month. Then aim to lose 4 pounds (2 kilograms) for each of the last two months. Aim to lose less each month in the second two months because early weight loss is often faster. An example of a short-term process goal might be to start eating one more vegetable or fruit a day. And then continue to add more vegetables or fruits as time goes on.

If you currently don't walk often, you may want to walk 15 minutes a day for two weeks. Then add five minutes to your walk each week. Including physical activity is an important part of losing weight, along with your diet. To lose weight, aim to get at least 60 minutes a day of physical activity.

Allow for setbacks

Setbacks are a natural part of behavior change. Everyone who successfully makes changes in life has experienced setbacks. It's better to expect setbacks and develop a plan for dealing with them. Identifying potential barriers — such as a big holiday meal or an office party — and brainstorming specific ways to overcome them can help you stay on course or get back on course.

Reassess and adjust your goals as needed

Be willing to change your goals as you make progress in your weight-loss plan. If you started small and achieved success, you might be ready to take on larger challenges. Or you might find that you need to adjust your goals to better fit your new lifestyle.

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