Are you looking to lose some weight over the next few months?
If so, then it makes sense to go into it with a firm plan of action, in order to maximize the chances of your success.
This, of course, means having a clear sense of what you’re going to be doing with your workouts and your diet in order to reach your weight loss goals.
But it also means defining more specifically what your weight loss goals actually are.
Most people have a rough sense of this – wanting to lose a certain number of pounds, often within the shortest amount of time possible – but beyond that it often amounts to a shot in the dark, hoping that they reach this end goal by some arbitrary date.
In reality, this approach will often set you up to fail. This type of broad goal is simply too vague to work with, not allowing you to measure the progress you’re making along the way.
Like other goals you might have in different areas of your life, you want your weight loss goals to be ‘SMART’ – meaning that they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Based.
By breaking down your weight loss goals in this way, you’ll put yourself in a position to be successful with them, and will save yourself a lot of stress along the way.
So, in this article, I’m going to walk you through exactly how to set realistic weight loss goals for yourself, and show you how to pick the approach that makes the most sense for you.
Why You Don’t Want To Lose Weight Too Quickly
Before we get into everything here, I want to first address what I’m sure is on a lot of your minds…
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That is, why not just do everything possible to lose weight as quickly as possible.
This is how a lot of people tend to approach losing weight, and while it definitely sounds good in theory, the reality doesn’t tend to be quite as rosy for several reasons.
At the end of the day, how quickly you lose weight will come down to how much of an energy deficit you’re creating each day.
Put simply, this is the difference in the amount of energy that you’re taking in (through what you eat and drink), and the amount of energy that your body is burning (your basal metabolic rate, in addition to energy burned through exercise and other non-exercise activity).
So, all things being equal, with a larger deficit you’ll end up losing weight faster than with a smaller deficit.
However, there are various downsides that can come from working with too large of a deficit, such as:
- Feeling too hungry each day, making you more likely to abandon your diet
- Increased risk of metabolic slowdown, making it harder to lose weight longer-term
- Increased risk of muscle loss and reduced performance in the gym
Given all of this, let’s look at the pros and cons of working with different energy deficits, so that you can figure out the most realistic weight loss goals to set for yourself.
Option 1: Weight Loss Goal Of Less Than 1 Pound Per Week
This is a fairly conservative weight loss goal that you could set for yourself, which requires an energy deficit of only 10-15% per day.
- Often requires only very minimal changes to diet (small, qualitative changes are often enough)
- Very tolerable from a hunger perspective
- Very low risk of muscle loss
- Very low impact on athletic performance / strength in the gym
- Very low risk of metabolic slowdown
- Takes a long time to lose a meaningful amount of weight, which can be discouraging if you have a lot to lose
- Requires meticulous attention to diet, since even 100 excess calories each day can have a pronounced impact
Who Is This Best For?
This is most suitable for people who are already quite lean, who are very concerned with maintaining muscle and performance, and who are experienced with dieting.
Option 2: Weight Loss Goal Of Between 1-2 Pounds Per Week
This is a more moderate weight loss goal that you could set for yourself, which requires an energy deficit of between 15-25% per day.
- Not too drastic of a dietary change required for many people
- Reasonably tolerable in terms of hunger
- Reasonably low risk of muscle loss
- Reasonably low impact on athletic performance / strength in the gym
- Reasonably fast rate of fat loss, especially when measured over a period of several months
- Manageable risk of metabolic slowdown
- Somewhat resilient to inaccurate food logging
- May feel too slow if you have a lot of weight to lose
- May be too fast to adequately maintain lean muscle mass and performance if you’re already quite lean
Who Is This Best For?
This is most suitable for people who have a moderate amount of weight to lose (between 5 and 50 lbs), and who care about maintaining their overall body composition vs strictly losing weight.
In my opinion, this is the best option for the majority of people.
Option 3: Weight Loss Goal Of More Than 2 Pounds Per Week
This is a more aggressive weight loss goal that you could set for yourself, which requires an energy deficit of 25% or more per day.
- Maximal rate of fat loss
- Most resilient to inaccurate food logging, while still staying in a deficit
- Large scale dietary overall required, often resulting in very little flexibility
- Significant hunger if not structured very well
- Difficult to adhere to longer-term
- Significant risk of metabolic slowdown
- Significant risk of muscle loss (dependent on body fat percentage)
- Significant impact on athletic performance / strength in the gym (dependent on body fat percentage)
Who is this best for?
This is most suitable for people who have a lot of weight to lose (more than 50 lbs), and who aren’t as concerned with overall body composition or athletic performance.
Even in these cases, however, it should only be used for short periods of time, like at the beginning of the diet.
The Bottom Line On Weight Loss Goals
As you can see, out of the 3 options that we just went through, option 2 has the most ‘pros’ and the fewest ‘cons’.
And as I mentioned above, this is the option that I would recommend for the majority of people as a realistic weight loss goal.
It is sustainable, generally tolerable in terms of hunger, and doesn’t risk significant metabolic slowdown or performance/muscle losses.
What’s more, at between 1-2 lbs per week, you are still able to lose a considerable amount of weight in just a few months.
For example, if you lost an average of 2 lbs per week consistently, you would ultimately be down 24-25 lbs in just 3 months.
And if you set up the diet correctly, and do what you can to preserve lean muscle mass, the majority of this weight should come from fat loss, and not muscle loss.
As for how to go about losing the weight, that is outside the scope of this particular article, but this article on choosing the right diet approach is a good place to start.
And of course, if you’d like some personal help with this, feel free to check out our online fitness coaching program, and one of our expert trainers will design a custom workout and nutrition plan to help you reach your weight loss goal successfully.
Do you have a question about setting weight loss goals that wasn’t covered in the article? Just let me know in the comments below, and I’ll be happy to help!