Mayo Clinic Health Library

Weight-loss goals: Set yourself up for success

Updated: 08-01-2012

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 — for example, losing 10 pounds a week — can undermine your efforts.

It's OK to dream big. Just be smart about it and use these tips for creating weight-loss goals that will help you achieve your dreams.

Set SMART goals

When planning your goals, write down everything and go through all the details. When and where will you do it? How will you fit a walk into your schedule? What do you need to get started? This way you'll be able to track your progress to see if you're meeting your goals.

Make it measurable

For example, how far are you going to walk? For how long? How many days each week are you going to walk? Track your progress.

Review your progress each week. Were you able to successfully meet your goals last week? Think about what worked and what didn't. Then plan for how you will reach your goals next week.

Focus on what's attainable and relevant to you

Set goals that are within your capabilities and that take into account your limitations. Consider your personal fitness level, health concerns, available time and motivation. Tailoring your expectations to your personal situation helps you set achievable goals.

A reasonable goal for many people is losing 5 to 10 percent of current weight. It's a good idea to plan to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week (0.5 to 1 kilogram) — even if your initial weight loss is a little faster in the first week or two.

Think about timing

Timing is crucial, often making the difference between success and failure. Choose a definite start date for your weight-loss program and don't put that date off. Be sure to account for life circumstances that might hamper your efforts, such as work or school demands, vacations or relationship problems. You may need to resolve some issues before starting.

Set both short- and long-term goals. Short-term goals keep you engaged on a daily basis, but long-term goals motivate you over the long haul. Your short-term goals are the stepping stones to your long-term goal.

Focus on the process

Make the most of your process goals, rather than outcome goals. "Exercise three times a week" is an example of a process goal, while "weigh 145 pounds" is an example of an outcome goal. It's changing your processes — your daily behaviors and habits — that's key to weight loss, not necessarily focusing on a specific number on the scale.

Plan for setbacks

Setbacks are a natural part of behavior change. Everyone who successfully makes changes in his or her life has experienced setbacks. 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.

Reassess and adjust your goals as needed

Be willing to change your goals as you make progress in your weight-loss plan. If you started small, 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.