Setting Your Personal Weight Loss Goals


There are several reasons why individuals embark on weight loss and fitness programs. Many individuals want to obtain an overall healthier lifestyle and live a longer life, while others may want to increase their energy levels, improve their physical appearance or participate in an athletic event. 

Regardless of your specific reasons, successful weight loss and healthy weight management highly depend on setting realistic goals and expectations.

By setting attainable goals for yourself, you'll increase the chances of achieving your immediate personal fitness goals and maintaining those accomplishments on a long-term basis.

Most overweight individuals should set their weight loss goals to facilitate a gradual reduction in their overall body weight. For example, it is generally accepted that safe and healthy weight loss should not exceed a rate of two pounds per week. However, in some instances, individuals with serious health concerns associated with obesity may have legitimate reasons for losing weight more rapidly. If so, a physician's advice and supervision is highly recommended.

If you were to interview most individuals, they would typically respond that they feel a need to begin a fitness routine and lose weight. In many cases, an individual’s ideal body weight goals are based on what they believe they should look like rather than what's reasonable and healthy for their body.

Candidates for Weight Loss

If any of the following conditions apply to you, you may be a candidate for weight loss:

  • A Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 or higher

  • A waist-hip ratio higher than 0.8 for women and 1.0 for men

  • An abdominal girth measurement of more than 35 inches in women and 40 inches in men

  • A body fat percentage greater than the recommended percentage for your sex and age

It should be noted that the above indicators are only general guidelines and not definite indicators of whether you should lose weight. For instance, if an individual is using the BMI technique to determine their optimum weight, they need to take into account their percentage of lean muscle mass. Since lean muscle weighs more than body fat by volume, an atheltic individual may have a slightly higher BMI value but a low percentage of body fat. In this case, it may not be necessary that the individual actually lose weight. For obvious reasons, common sense must be applied before setting definite weight loss goals.

Relevant Factors Associated with Body Weight

There are several factors that determine your current weight:

  • How much and what types of food you consume

  • Whether your lifestyle includes regular physical activity

  • Whether you use food in response to stress or other situations in your life

  • Your physiologic and genetic make-up

  • Your age and health status

NOTE: A successful fitness and weight loss program should address all of the previously mentioned factors.

It's important to ignore products and programs that promise rapid and simple weight loss results, or that promise permanent results without permanent changes in your lifestyle. Any ad that states that an individual can successfully lose weight without lowering their caloric intake and/or increasing their physical activity is simply selling fantasy and false hope. In fact, several "rapid weight loss" approaches and products are questionable in terms of overall health and safety.

Setting Reasonable Goals

Once you have determined that you need to lose weight, your next step is to set a reasonable weight loss goal. The key to setting reasonable and attainable weight loss goals is to utilize the standard techniques associated with goal setting. In other words, your weight loss goals need to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and tangible.

Prior to defining the specific timeline in which you plan to achieve your weight loss goal, it is recommended that you use general weight loss guidelines provided by the American College of Sports Medicine, which state that a healthy rate of weight loss is approximately one to two pounds per week.

A Realistic Approach

fruits and vegetables

A realistic approach to losing weight is not to go on a diet, per se, but instead to concentrate on regularly participating in a fitness routine and maintaining a nutritious and healthy dietary regime. A nutritious and healthy dietary routine would include consuming a natural food base.

This means decreasing the amount of fast food in your diet, lowering fat consumption, and increasing levels of fish, lean chicken, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. By doing so, you will be modifying your personal lifestyle to an approach that is healthier, more sustainable and even more enjoyable over the long run.

While fad diets that ignore the principles of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans may result in short-term weight loss, they rarely result in permanent weight loss and often put your health at risk.

Below are a few items to consider when beginning a weight loss program:

  • Check with your physician. Make sure that your current health condition allows lowering your caloric intake and increasing your physical activity.

  • Implement a calorie-reduced, nutritionally-balanced diet that facilitates weight loss of one or two pounds per week. Make sure to include at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, along with whole grains, lean meat and low-fat dairy products.

  • Adjust your daily schedule to allow for some form of physical activity. This can be as simple as taking the stairs to your office, walking up or down an escalator, parking at the far end of a parking lot and walking to the grocery store - anything that gets you on your feet and moving with more regularity. Thereafter, assuming your medical physician approves you for physical activity, gradually add a form of regular physical activity that you enjoy. For instance, walking is an excellent form of physical exercise in which virtually anyone can participate.

For most overweight or obese individuals, a healthy long-term weight management program requires setting realistic and sensible fitness and weight loss goals. Thereafter, it is up to the individual to make the lifestyle changes needed to facilitate a healthy and prosperous life.

Example Weight Loss Plan

Determine your specific weight loss goals (ensure that your weight loss goals are measurable, attainable, realistic and tangible). For example, let’s assume an individual has a height of 5' 7" and weighs 160 pounds. Using the Body Mass Index (BMI) method to determine their optimum weight, the result would be a BMI value of 25.1. A BMI value of 25.1 falls into the "overweight" category. If the individual were to lose 10 pounds, their BMI value would decrease to 23.5 and they would now be in the "healthy" category.

  • Weight loss goal: Lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks. The individual will need to decrease their total weekly caloric intake by 3,500 calories (a decrease of 3,500 calories per week equals 1 pound of body fat lost per week). By simply dividing 3,500 calories per week by 7 (the number of days in a week), we find that it will be necessary to eliminate 500 calories per day.

This can be accomplished by decreasing the number of calories consumed per day and by increasing the physical activity performed per day as well. A combination of these two approaches is recommended. For example, if the individual begins a fitness routine that burns 350 calories per day (and performs this fitness routine every day), then they only need to reduce their number of calories consumed per day by 150 calories.

One Approach to Achieving This Weight Loss Goal

  1. Replace morning Egg McMuffin (300 calories) with a bowl of oatmeal (about 180 calories)

  2. Replace one Coke (150 calories) with a glass of water (0 calories)

  3. Walk for at least 30 minutes at 3.5-4.0 mph, 3 days per week (approx. 180-240 calories burned)

  4. Weight train 2 days per week for 30 minutes (approx. 140-280 calories burned)

Total calories burned per day: 270 (without exercising) or 550 calories (with exercising)

women weighing herself

Breaking down your weight loss goals into specific milestones will assist you in being able to better clarify your goals and allow you to better focus on your daily tasks that are required to achieve each milestone. In addition, it is important to remember that it is reasonable to adjust your weight loss goals based on your ongoing performance and adherence to your weight loss program.

If you determine that you are not losing weight as quickly as you had calculated (this is fairly typical), simply increase your weekly physical activity, slightly decrease your weekly caloric intake, modify your goal in terms of actual weight loss, or increase the length of time necessary to obtain your original weight loss goal.