Do you know how to set realistic weight loss goals? When people set out to lose weight, they often unknowingly set completely unrealistic goals. Then, when they fail to reach their weight loss goal, they feel defeated and lose motivation to keep trying.
People set unrealistic weight loss goals because we live in a culture where we want everything done quickly. We want to lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks, not 20 pounds in 10 weeks.
A perfect example of setting unrealistic goals is a study I remember reading in a textbook from my first ever nutrition class (1).
A group of obese women set their “dream weight” 70 pounds lower than their current weight and their “acceptable weight” about 50 pounds lower. They said a “disappointing weight” would be to only lose 35 pounds.
Here’s the thing, research shows a realistic weight loss goal is to lose 5 to 10% of your current body weight (2).
This means the women in the study, on average, should have expected to lose 10 to 22 pounds. When you compare this to 70 pounds, it seems like nothing. But in reality, losing 10% of your body weight does wonders for your health. It can reduce blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar, and it can increase energy levels, mobility, mood, and self-confidence (3).
But the women didn’t know this. At the end of the study, they were discouraged with their weight loss progress, even though they exceeded the researcher’s expectations, losing on average 16% of their total body weight.
They did amazing! But they walked away feeling like failures because they had unrealistic weight loss goals.
Realistic Goals & Timeline Based on Research (2)
According to research, a realistic initial weight loss goal is 5 to 10% of your body weight. You should lose this weight at a slow and steady rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week (4 to 8 pounds per month).
Once you reach your initial goal weight, you should work to maintain this weight for six months. After the six months, you can set a new weight loss goal (5 to 10% of your current weight) if need be.
This method is the most successful for long-term weight loss. If you do it this way, you have a high chance of keeping it off the rest of your life by maintaining healthy habits.
You may be thinking: “There are diets that help people lose weight a lot quicker than this! How are they not realistic?”
Here’s the answer: It’s scientifically proven that you have a high likelihood of gaining the weight back if you lose weight quicker than described above. You can learn more about the science behind this in the blog posts Complete Guide to Your Set Point Weight and Why So Many Dietitians Are Against Actual Diets.
Download The Worksheet
The Realistic Weight Loss Goal Worksheet will help you calculate your 10% weight loss goal and how long it will realistically take you to reach it. Enter your name and e-mail to receive the free worksheet!
- Sizer FS, Whitney E. Nutrition Concepts & Controversies. 12th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning; 2011.
- Target Levels for Weight Loss. Guidelines on Overweight and Obesity: Electronic Textbook. NHBLI, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Link.
- Losing Weight: What Is Healthy Weight Loss? Centers for Disease Control Website. Link.