The Mayo Clinic Diet blog

Make sure your weight-loss goals are realistic

By Donald Hensrud, M.D. March 31, 2010

In many things we do, it's important to have goals, and people often have goals for weight loss. This usually revolves around a specific short-term goal of losing a specific number of pounds, which makes some sense. However, there are some important things to consider related to weight loss goals:

  • Have realistic weight loss goals — Many people have unrealistic goals in terms of the amount of weight they would like to lose. Some people aim for a weight they haven't achieved for many years, perhaps the weight they were at in high school. While it's important to have lofty goals, if you're unrealistic it can make it difficult to achieve more modest goals. I often see people who don't achieve an unrealistic goal, throw in the towel, and gain back all the weight they lost. Don't take for granted any amount of weight loss, it's better than gaining!
  • Focus on process goals — Weight loss is an outcome goal — an end result. It's important to have a good method or process on how to obtain that goal. The outcome results from changes in the process, i.e., changes in diet and physical activity. So, one strategy to achieve a good outcome goal for weight loss is to have a good plan and achieve process goals in diet and activity. Setting a goal of losing 100 pounds without having a good plan on how to do it is like setting a goal of making a million dollars and not having a good financial plan. Examples of process goals in diet and activity are eating one more serving of vegetables daily or walking 30 minutes daily. Process goals can change over time as you achieve them.
  • Emphasize long-term lifestyle changes — A short-term weight loss goal will only be helpful if it leads to long-term goals such as keeping the weight off. People often look at weight loss and weight maintenance as separate things. In other words, people sometimes feel "once I reach my weight loss goal, I can relax my efforts". This usually doesn't work, because when you relax your efforts you may go back to previous habits in diet and activity and the weight comes back on. Instead, weight maintenance is just an extension of weight loss. The habits that will help keep the weight off are the same ones that helped to lose the weight, which is why we emphasize sustainable lifestyle changes. Therefore, for long-term weight loss don't make changes in diet and exercise that you can't keep up indefinitely — but don't underestimate your ability to change either.
  • Improving health is the primary goal — The best goal in my mind is to improve health. So — this may sound unusual when discussing weight loss — if you make beneficial changes in diet and activity, your health will improve, even if you don't lose a pound. But paradoxically, by focusing on process goals in diet and activity, it can be easier to achieve the outcome of sustained weight loss. For more on goal setting see sections in the book.

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Mar. 31, 2010