How to set weight loss goals

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Have you decided to lose weight but don’t know what to look for? Wanting to ‘ lose weight ‘ is very vague and not very helpful – 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 are going to do it. This is where setting weight loss goals become important. Want to know 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 an eye on the prize – wanting to be healthy is a good thing to work towards, but it’s a goal that’s easy to lose sight of, especially when it seems so far away. Thinking that one day you’ll be healthier isn’t very comforting when today you’re out of breath and having trouble tying your own shoelaces. A study in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics found that while obese people were less likely to set weight loss goals, it made them more likely to achieve significant weight loss. The goal is to keep your progress top of mind as a constant motivator. But where do you start?

Find out what your target 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 downsides of BMI, but in general, the higher your BMI, the greater your risk of developing things like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. It’s not accurate for everyone (e.g. athletes with a lot of muscle mass), so you might prefer to check your waist-to-height ratio, as many experts feel that this is a more accurate indicator of unhealthy weight.

If you are 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 can set your target weight somewhere in between those two numbers, or you can set the higher number as your target and then reevaluate when you get there.

Defining mini-goals

If you are seriously overweight, it can be extremely frightening to think that you have so much weight to lose. If your healthy BMI suggests you should be around 14 stones and you currently have 24 stones, the thought of having to lose ten stones can be overwhelming.

That’s why it’s a good idea to define your mini goals – keep your end goal weight in mind, but break it down into manageable chunks. If you had, for example, ten stones to lose, your first mini-objective might be to lose one stone. You might still feel daunted by the thought of having to do this nine more times, but scoring a min goal means you’re closer to your end goal than you were before, and even missing a stone will have many health benefits.

You can break it down further if you’re struggling with (pardon the pun) the enormity of the task ahead. Your mini goals can be broken down into 5- or 10-pound increments, with extras like achieving 5% and 10% body weight lost along the way.

off-scale goals

But it doesn’t have to be all about numbers. You might decide to focus on becoming active; in that case, a mini-goal might be to take a 15-minute walk every day for a month. You might want to focus on learning how to prepare healthy meals, with your mini goal being two new recipes in one week. Your mini goals can be whatever you think will help you reach a healthy weight.

Set good goals

Obviously, your goal is to lose weight, but that’s a pretty arbitrary goal. If you set this as your goal, a series of questions arise – How much? Until when? How are you going to do that? If that’s the only goal you have, you’ll probably 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 that in mind really works. Your goals should be:

  • You need to be clear about what you want to achieve. “I want to lose 16 pounds, which is 5% of my starting weight” is better than “I want to lose weight” which is too vague.
      • “I want to be able to wear my favorite shirt and feel good about it again” is better than “I want to fit smaller” because it’s something you can easily measure.
  • the reachable
    • Be realistic – you’re not going to lose 6 stone in a week (as much as I know we’d like!) and you’re not going to suddenly get up off the couch and run a marathon if you’ve never run before. But committing to tracking what you eat every day for a week, or staying on the couch with a 5k running plan is achievable and something you can keep building on.
  • relevant _
    • 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 set yourself the goal of going to the gym 3 times a week because you think that’s what you should be doing. Sure, it would be nice to work out at the gym three times a week and enjoy it, but if that’s not your cup of tea, or if your other commitments mean you can’t do it, then you’re just going to set yourself up for failure. Make your goals as personal as you can — if, for example, you love to cook, make it your goal to cook healthier meals as a way to eat better.
      • Set a deadline for achieving your goal. If you don’t, you’ll likely find that you give yourself permission to slack off or put things off, thinking that a few days off plan doesn’t matter—and we all know how that kind of thinking can snowball. But if your goal is to fit in that shirt by your birthday, then you know exactly what you need to do and how long you have to get to that point.


My SMART goal might seem like a lot, especially if you’re only expecting one sentence, but it gives me a very real goal that I can visualize and am much more likely to achieve.

“I want to lose 16 pounds, which is 5% of my starting weight, so I can wear my favorite T-shirt and feel good in it again. I’m going to do that by tracking what I eat using MyFitnessPal and I’m going to make sure I reach my calorie goals by cooking meals healthier at home . I want to do this in time for my 40th birthday in 10 weeks.” – now, doesn’t that sound a lot more achievable than “I want to lose weight”?

Defining Rewards

You may wonder what your motivation for achieving your mini goals will be. In theory, knowing that you’re losing weight and improving your health should be all the motivation you need, but in reality, this is a somewhat abstract thought that can be difficult to maintain.

Rewarding yourself for reaching your mini goals can be a huge motivator that will help you keep going when times get tough. If you’re like me, your first thought for a reward will be food – when I reach my 5% goal I’ll celebrate by having a cheat day – which is fine, but be careful not to reward yourself with food. You want your new eating habits to be a real lifestyle change, and rewarding yourself with ‘wicked’ food reinforces the thinking that eating well is a chore or a punishment.

Non-food rewards

Instead, try giving yourself non-food rewards. You can turn your rewards into things that will help you reach your ultimate weight loss goal, like buying a new water bottle, gym shorts, or a Fitbit, or you can make your rewards more fun, like a new video game, tickets to see your favorite band or a trip to the movies.

Another way to reward yourself is to take a pot and add a pound coin for every pound you lose. Seeing the pounds come on is a great visual representation of your weight loss, and it also means you’ve saved up to buy smaller clothes once you’ve reached your ideal weight.


Setting small, achievable goals increases the likelihood that you will successfully lose weight. Breaking down the weight you need changes your thinking from ‘oh my god I have so much weight to lose, I’ll never do this’ to ‘hey if I do this little by little I can actually do this and lose the weight ‘. So think about what you want to achieve and how you’re going to do it, and create a SMART plan.

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