Well-planned goals can help you convert your thoughts into action. Here's how to create successful weight-loss goals.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Weight-loss goals can mean the difference between success and failure. Realistic, well-planned weight-loss goals keep you focused and motivated. They provide a plan for change as you transition to a healthier lifestyle.

But not all weight-loss goals are helpful. Unrealistic and overly aggressive weight-loss goals can undermine your efforts. Use the following tips for creating goals that will help you reduce weight and improve your overall health.

Goals for weight loss can focus on outcomes or the process. An outcome goal — what you hope to achieve in the end — might be to lose a certain amount of weight. While this goal may give you a target, it doesn't address how you will reach it.

A process goal is a necessary step to achieving a desired outcome. For example, a process goal might be eating five helpings of fruits or vegetables a day, walking 30 minutes a day, or drinking water at every meal. Process goals may be particularly helpful for weight loss because you focus on changing behaviors and habits that are necessary for losing weight.

A good goal-setting strategy is the SMART goal checklist.  Be sure that your weight-loss goals — whether a process goal or an outcome goal — meet the following criteria:

  • Specific. A good goal includes specific details. For example, a goal to exercise more is not specific, but a goal to walk 30 minutes after work every day is specific. You're declaring what you will do, how long you will do it, and when you will do it.
  • Measurable. If you can measure a goal, then you can objectively determine how successful you are at meeting the goal. A goal of eating better is not easily measured, but a goal of eating 1,200 calories a day can be measured. A goal of riding your bike is not measurable. A goal of riding your bike for 30 minutes three days a week is measurable.
  • Attainable. An attainable goal is one that you have enough time and resources to achieve. For example, if your work schedule doesn't allow spending an hour at the gym every day, then it wouldn't be an attainable goal. However, two weekday trips to the gym and two weekend trips might be attainable. If a particular type of exercise, such as running, is physically too difficult for you, then running every day would not be an attainable goal.
  • Realistic. For most people, a realistic outcome goal is losing 5 to 10 percent of their current weight. Process goals must also be realistic. For example, your doctor can help you determine a daily calorie goal based on your current weight and health. Setting an unrealistic goal may result in disappointment or the temptation to give up altogether.
  • Trackable. Goals are best achieved if you keep a record of your progress. If you have an outcome goal of losing 15 pounds (7 kilograms), record your weight each week. If your goal is to eat 1,400 calories a day, keep a food diary. Keeping track can help you evaluate your progress and stay motivated.

Long-term goals help you focus on the big picture. They can shift your thinking from simply being on a diet to making lifestyle changes. But long-term goals may seem too difficult or too far away. You may benefit from breaking down a long-term goal into a series of smaller, short-term goals.

If your outcome goal is to lose 15 pounds (7 kilograms) in three months, you may break it down into separate goals for each month, perhaps 7 pounds (3 kilograms) for the first month and 4 pounds (2 kg) for each of the last two months because early weight loss is often faster. An example of a process goal might be to walk 30 minutes a day. If you currently don't walk regularly at all, you may want to walk 15 minutes a day for two weeks and then add five minutes to your walk each week.

Setbacks are a natural part of behavior change. Everyone who successfully makes changes in his or her life has experienced setbacks. It's better to expect them and develop a plan for dealing with them. Identifying potential roadblocks — a big holiday meal or office party, for example — and brainstorming specific strategies to overcome them can help you stay on course or get back on course.

Be willing to change your goals as you make progress in your weight-loss plan. If you started small and achieved success, you might be ready to take on larger challenges. Or you might find that you need to adjust your goals to better fit your new lifestyle.

June 12, 2015