You may have heard that it’s best to set a modest, realistic weight loss goal. But research suggests that allowing yourself to dream big by setting a larger, more inspiring goal could help you achieve better results.
For those who are overweight, health professionals often recommend setting a weight loss goal of 5-10 percent of their initial body weight. The reason for this recommendation is mainly that it’s consistent with the average amount of weight loss achieved by participants in weight loss research studies (1). Setting a 5-10 percent weight loss goal is reasonable, realistic, and attainable for many people regardless of the methods used to lose weight. More importantly, this amount of weight loss has been shown to have meaningful benefits for health through considerable scientific research (2).
To calculate your weight after a 5-10 percent weight loss, start by multiplying your current body weight by 0.95. This will give you your end weight if you were to lose 5 percent of your initial weight. Next, multiply your current body weight by 0.9 to calculate what you would weigh after losing 10 percent of your initial body weight. Calculating these two numbers will help you determine a weight loss goal that is considered realistic and is in the range that provides benefits for improving health.
Setting a modest, realistic weight loss goal is a sensible approach. In fact, many health professionals have concerns that larger, more challenging weight loss goals could lead some people to become discouraged and give up on healthier lifestyle choices (3).
Is a Bigger Goal Right for You?
Recent scientific studies suggest that aiming higher might lead to improved results. When scientists compiled the results from more than a decade of research examining the relationship between weight loss goals and weight loss results, they were unable to find any advantage to realistic weight loss goals for helping to support greater weight loss success (4). These results indicated that choosing realistic, modest weight loss goals didn’t lead to better results for most people.
In fact, some research indicates that choosing a bigger, more inspiring weight loss goal may help more people to achieve better results. In one study, a team of UK researchers analyzed weight loss goals among people participating in a commercial weight loss program and compared the participants’ weight loss results after 12 months (5). The participants who set specific weight loss goals were more likely to achieve greater weight loss results than those who didn’t set a goal. Among those who set goals, participants who chose loftier goals achieved significantly greater weight loss.
In other words, setting goals was important for achieving weight loss. But for many of the participants in this study, aiming higher with an ambitious goal helped them to achieve greater results.
Can You Dream Big and Be Realistic?
Setting a weight loss goal is only the first step in a journey toward weight wellness. In addition, the type of goal you set is a personal choice. If you dream big and set an ambitious goal for yourself, keep in mind that dramatic transformations require commitment, effort, and most of all, time.
A modest 5-10 percent weight loss goal is realistic and achievable for most people. But if you are dreaming of a bigger weight loss goal, there’s no reason why you can’t set a higher target for yourself. Science is on your side.
But regardless of what type of weight loss goal you choose, persistence is key to your success.
- Douketis JD, Macie C, Thabane L, Williamson DF. Systematic review of long-term weight loss studies in obese adults: clinical significance and applicability to clinical practice. Int J Obes (Lond). 2005 Oct;29(10):1153-67.
- American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines; Obesity Society. 2013 AHA/ACC/TOS guideline for the management of overweight and obesity in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and The Obesity Society. Circulation. 2014 Jun 24;129(25 Suppl 2):S102-38.
- Polivy J, Herman CP. The false hope syndrome: unfulfilled expectations of self‐change. Curr Dir Psycholog Sci.2000;9:128–131.
- Durant NH, Joseph RP, Affuso OH, Dutton GR, Robertson HT, Allison DB. Empirical evidence does not support an association between less ambitious pre-treatment goals and better treatment outcomes: a meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2013 Jul;14(7):532-40.
- Avery A, Langley-Evans SC, Harrington M, Swift JA. Setting targets leads to greater long-term weight losses and ‘unrealistic’ targets increase the effect in a large community-based commercial weight management group. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2016 Dec;29(6):687-696.