How to Set and Plan Weight Loss Goals

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Figuring out how much weight you want to lose is the first step on a new weight loss journey. There are many different ways to come up with a long-term goal that's both realistic and aspirational. Setting your sights on the future can help fuel the motivation needed to make healthy changes. Here's how to get started.

Do You Need to Lose Weight?

A lot of people feel like they should lose weight, even if that's not always the case. It's not uncommon to have an unrealistic view of what a healthy weight really is. There are broad parameters to determine whether weight loss is recommended for health reasons. In general, a good candidate for weight loss may have the following measurements:

  • BMI: Greater than 25
  • Waist circumference: Abdominal girth measurement of more than 35 inches in women and 40 inches in men
  • Waist to hip ratio: Higher than 0.8 for women and higher than 1.0 men

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a dated, biased measure that doesn’t account for several factors, such as body composition, ethnicity, race, gender, and age. 

Despite being a flawed measure, BMI is widely used today in the medical community because it is an inexpensive and quick method for analyzing potential health status and outcomes. 

If you're losing weight for your health, a modest goal of 5% to 10% of your current weight can begin to improve important markers like blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Other benefits of even a moderate weight loss can include more energy, a boost in self-confidence, improved fitness, and better mobility.

However, sometimes our goals are based on other factors, like the desire to fit back into old clothes or look a certain way. As long as our goals are realistic and don't veer into a dangerous underweight category, there's nothing wrong with setting a vanity goal.

Together with your health care provider, you can decide whether or not it's a good time to set a weight loss goal.

SMART Goal Setting

The key to setting weight loss goals is to follow the standard of goal setting, which means it needs to be SMART. A SMART goal stands for the following characteristics:

  • Specific: Be clear about your intention by putting some numbers and details into your goal.
  • Measurable: How will you keep track of your progress? Will you measure body weight, waist circumference, or exercise performance?
  • Attainable: Do you have the time, resources, and motivation to reach your goal?
  • Realistic: It's OK to set an ambitious goal as long as it's possible and within reach.
  • Time-bound: Set a deadline for your goal. Break it up into shorter-term milestones to stay on track for the long haul.

The main thing to remember is that sustainable weight loss takes time.

Achieving Your Goals

Once you've determined that you're ready to lose weight, you'll need the proper tools to set your plan in motion. Keep in mind that a healthy rate of weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds per week. Losing weight at this slow and steady pace gives you the best chance of maintaining your progress long term.

It's helpful to get an idea of how many calories your body requires to lose or maintain weight. This weight loss calculator will help you set a daily calorie target to achieve your weight loss goals.

This calorie deficit can be achieved through a combination of mindful eating and increased physical activity. Focus on making healthy choices each day and give it time to see progress on the scale or in your body measurements. Consistency is the key to success.

Sample Weight Loss Plan

Here's what a sample weight loss plan (using SMART goal objectives) might look like:

Mary is 5'7" tall and weighs 160 pounds. Her goal is to lose 10 pounds in 12 weeks. To do that, she would need to cut back or burn off 300 to 500 calories each day. Using a combination of healthy eating and exercise is the best way to lose weight since dieting alone can cause you to lose muscle mass.

Muscle mass is more metabolically active than fat (meaning it burns more calories). Keeping the muscle you have and building more through resistance training will help support your ultimate weight loss goals.

Mary's plan to reach her goals:

  • Replace her morning Egg McMuffin (300 calories) with a bowl of oatmeal (about 180 calories).
  • Replace one Coke (150 calories) with sparkling water (0 calories).
  • Walk for at least 30 minutes at 3.5-4.0 mph, 3 days a week (approx. 180 to 240 calories burned).
  • Strength train 2 days a week for 30 minutes (approx. 140 to 280 calories burned)

With this plan, Mary will create a calorie deficit of 270 to 550 calories each day (depending on whether she exercises). By measuring her weight each week or so, she can determine if these changes are sufficient to get her to reach her long-term goals.

Looking at this example, you can see that these are fairly modest changes. Mary isn't revamping her entire life, she's simply picking a few things she can change to get started.

What's interesting is that, as she continues with her healthy behaviors, she may start to do even more, not just because she wants to lose weight but because she's going to start feeling better, stronger, more confident.

Try breaking down your goal into specific steps like this and track your progress. Just remember to adjust your plan if your results start to stall or if you are struggling to be consistent.

A Word From Verywell

If you're not losing weight as quickly as you had hoped don't get discouraged. Remember, your goal needs to be attainable, so be willing to adjust and set new goals if the old ones aren't working for you. Even a little bit of progress can benefit your overall health and well-being. Focus on small changes that add up over time.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Czernichow S, Kengne AP, Stamatakis E, Hamer M, Batty GD. Body mass index, waist circumference and waist-hip ratio: Which is the better discriminator of cardiovascular disease mortality risk? Evidence from an individual-participant meta-analysis of 82,864 participants from nine cohort studiesObes Rev. 2011;12(9):680-687. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2011.00879.x

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Assessing your weight.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Losing weight.

  4. Mcpherron AC, Guo T, Bond ND, Gavrilova O. Increasing muscle mass to improve metabolism. Adipocyte. 2013;2(2):92-8. doi:10.4161/adip.22500

Additional Reading

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."