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How to set realistic weight loss goals

Losing weight is a common aim for many people but setting unrealistic weight loss targets can lead to disappointment and frustration. To increase the chances of success, it’s important to set achievable and realistic weight loss goals. In this article, we’ll explore the factors to consider when planning these goals and provide tips for creating a sustainable plan that works for you. By setting realistic targets, you can build momentum and create positive habits that lead to long term healthy weight management.

What is a realistic weekly weight loss goal?

According to the NHS, a safe rate of weight loss is about 1-2 pounds per week. This may not sound a lot, however any more than this could potentially have a detrimental effect on your health.

Establish if you need to lose weight

We can all benefit from eating a good diet and getting plenty of exercise, however not everyone needs to lose weight.  One of the best ways to establish if weight loss is something you should consider is to identify your body mass index (BMI). If you have a BMI of 25 or above, you are classed as overweight, while a BMI of 30 or above means you are classed as obese. It’s worth bearing in mind that while BMI is a useful tool for healthy body weight measurement, there are occasions when the results should be interpreted with caution. It does not, for example, take into account muscle mass, overall body composition, bone density and ethnic differences which are all relevant weight factors that should be taken into consideration.

Tips for setting realistic weight loss goals

The guidance below is designed for those who are looking to lose weight in a healthy, controlled manner.

1.     Consider your age and overall health

As you age, your metabolism naturally slows down, making weight loss more difficult. If you have any underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, it's important to speak to your doctor before setting out on your weight loss journey.

Use the SMART framework

SMART is a framework commonly used for setting weight loss goals. SMART stands for:

  • Specific: Have a clear and well-defined goal. For example, "I want to lose 10 pounds in 6 months" is a specific goal.
  • Measurable: Decide how you’re going to measure your progress, e.g. weekly weigh-ins or duration of exercise.
  • Achievable: Weight loss targets should be realistic and attainable given your current circumstances and resources.
  • Relevant: Be ambitious with your goals but ensure they’re achievable and within reach.
  • Time-bound: The goal should have a specific deadline to help you stay motivated and on track.

By using this framework, you can create realistic and attainable weight loss goals that are tailored to you and your circumstances, increasing the likelihood of successfully reaching the desired outcome. It also makes it easier to monitor progress and make any adjustments if you find the targets too easy / hard to achieve.

2.     Make a plan

The SMART framework can form part of a wider weight loss plan. Having a strategy in place helps to provide structure and direction, allowing you to track your progress and make necessary adjustments along the way. When creating your plan, you might wish to separate it into different sections, e.g., one for healthy eating, another for physical activities and perhaps one for managing any challenges or obstacles that may arise. This all helps to increase accountability and provide motivation to stick to your weight loss goals.

You can also explore existing weight loss strategies such as the NHS 12 Week Weight Loss Plan, which can be downloaded to your phone for free today.

3.     Be prepared to make permanent lifestyle changes

To lose weight and keep it off permanently, you need to be prepared to ditch unhealthy habits and replace them with healthier ones. This starts with identifying which habits have led to you gaining excessive weight, and subsequently take proactive steps to replace these habits with healthier ones. These may also include understanding certain situations which trigger the bad habits (e.g. snacking when stressed, or ordering a takeaway if you’re too tired to cook) and finding a different approach to counteract these triggers.

4.     Make gradual adjustments

It might feel like you have to make dramatic changes to achieve your weight loss targets, however adapting to such a significant shift in behaviour can sometimes be overwhelming and difficult to sustain. Making gradual adjustments instead means you’re more likely to cope effectively with any lifestyle or diet changes, making them easier to adapt to. For example, instead of cutting out all unhealthy foods at once, start by replacing one unhealthy food with a healthier option each week, or go for a 10 minute walk every day and gradually build up to walking or running further each time.

5.     Don’t lose heart

Setbacks are a normal part of any journey, including weight loss. It's important not to give up or lose heart because setbacks shouldn’t define your progress or determine your success. Remember that weight loss is a gradual process and it's ok to progress at a pace that works best for you. Celebrate your small wins and focus on the positive changes you're making in your life, reminding yourself that you are investing in your long term health.

Join LiveWell Dorset

If you live in Dorset and are looking to lose weight, why not register with us here at LiveWell Dorset? Our team of professional wellness advisors and coaches are on hand to offer bespoke advice and support during your weight loss journey, such as tips, tools and recommendations to get you where you need to be to live a healthier and happier life. Once you register, you’ll also get the option of signing up for 12 weeks free support from Slimming World or WW*. Drop us a line today to find out more.


*Subject to eligibility


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How does this work?

The tailored approach LiveWell Dorset uses to come up with solutions to the things that are stopping us achieving our goals, is based upon work done by University College London developing the COM-B model of behaviour change. In this model, all behaviour is influenced by understanding a person’s capability to change, their opportunity to change and their motivation to change. By understanding which of these is the biggest barrier to change, we can tailor support accordingly. This model of behaviour change is at the centre of the support we offer, online and in person.

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