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Weight Loss » Realistic Weight Loss Goals: A Reality Check You Need

Realistic Weight Loss Goals: A Reality Check You Need

setting realistic weight loss goals

Gaining weight does not happen overnight, and neither does losing it. Weight loss is a journey that begins with one step that will lead to healthy weight loss in the long run. Any technique that promises you a quick and effort-free way of shedding significant pounds in a short period is a big, broad daylight scam. You need to set realistic weight loss goals that will be achieved through embracing a healthy lifestyle for long-term weight loss and maintenance.

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Hundreds of crash diets online will convince you that you can lose as much as 10 pounds in a week (6). Assuming you want to lose 150 lbs, then you will need 15 weeks, which is approximately 4 months to hit your goal. But have you seen the extreme requirements of these fad diets? They are totally unsustainable in the long run, and, in most cases, you lose water weight, which you will gain as soon as you begin eating normally. Therefore, setting realistic weight loss goals is key to ensuring that you actually lose your desired weight and maintain the loss.

How to Set Realistic Weight Loss Goals?

Here are things that will guide you in coming up with sustainable weight loss goals:

  • Be sure you need to lose weight

Are you the right candidate for weight loss? You do not have to lose weight simply because it is trendy or your friend is doing it. If you have the right BMI, then you should maintain weight, and if you are underweight, you may need to gain some pounds.

To know if you would benefit from weight loss you should have (10) should have a/an:

  • BMI of more than 25

BMI below 18.5 means you are underweight, between 18.5-24.9 is normal or healthy, 25.0–29.9 overweight, and above 30 implies obesity (1). Body mass index is calculated by dividing weight in pounds (lbs) by height in inches (in) squared, then multiplying by a conversion factor of 703.

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  • Abdominal girth or waist circumference above 40 inches (102 cm) in men and 35 inches (88 cm) in women (5)

It is calculated by putting a tape measure to the top of your hip bone, then taking it around your body, the same level as your belly button. The tape measure should be straight and not too tight. Breath regularly, and as soon as you exhale, the number seen on the tape measure is your waist circumference (7). 

  • Waist to hip ratio higher than 0.90 cm in men and 0.85 cm in women, as recommended by the World Health Organization (13).

Using a stretch-resistant tape providing a consistent 100 g tension, measure the midpoint between the top of the iliac crest and the lower margin of the least palpable rib. Hip circumference is measured around the widest part of the buttocks, with the tape parallel to the ground. When taking measurements, you should wear little clothing, relax, stand with feet close together, arms at the sides, and body weight evenly distributed. Take the measurements for each twice, then calculate the average of the two measurements if it is within 1 cm. If more than 1 cm, repeat (13). To find your waist to hip ratio, divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.

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  • Find out if the weight loss goal is realistic

Are my weight loss goals realistic? Now that you are sure you need to lose weight, ask yourself if what you want to achieve makes sense. Sustainable realistic weight loss goals per week involve shedding 1-2 pounds. Therefore, any plans to lose more than this may be considered unsafe and unrealistic in the long run (8). Since 3500 calories are equivalent to about 1 pound of fat, to lose at most 2 pounds a week, you need to burn between 500 and 1000 calories more than you consume daily by following a low-calorie meal plan and working out regularly (9).

As much as age and physical activity contribute to required daily calories, generally, men need more calories in a day than women (approximately 2000 to 3000 and 1600 to 2400, respectively) (3, 4). A calorie calculator may help you know how many calories you should consume and burn, based on your gender, height, and level of physical activity. The calorie deficit may be achieved through increased physical activity and mindful eating. Thus, realistic male weight loss goals, just like in females, should focus on consuming less and burning more calories.

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  • Goal setting

If you have been to any management class, then you understand that goals should be SMART.

Similarly, in weight loss, your goals need to be:

  • Specific

Know exactly what you want by clearly defining your goal with numbers and other details. Know how much fat you want to shed, then factor in the process and results. For example, eating 5 servings of vegetables daily or taking stairs to the 10th floor instead of the lift are specific process goals. While losing 16 pounds in 2 months is a specific outcome goal. The process goals guide you on what to do to achieve the outcome goal. Some sources recommend focusing on process goals because they will help you be healthy, and this may be better than randomly cutting off weight or being discouraged when you lose less than expected (15, 11).

  • Measurable

Know how you will track your progress, i.e., by measuring your weight on a weighing scale, BMI, waist circumference, or endurance to exercise, among others.

  • Attainable

You should have access to the required resources, including the time to reach your goal. Also, you should have the right motivation to take you through the journey.

  • Realistic

The goal should be within reach. For instance, you cannot aim to have the exact body weight and physique of your favorite celebrity or focus on getting to a size you were 20 years ago. You will end up frustrated because everyone has a unique body, and their ideal is not your ideal. 

  • Timebound

If you want to lose 20 pounds in 3 months, set mini-goals that will help you track your progress after a fortnight or each month. Go for changes that you can live with forever.

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Example of a Realistic Weight Loss Plan

If your height is 5’5″ and you weigh 170 pounds, your BMI is 28.3, classifying you as overweight. To have a healthy BMI below 25, you need to lose about 21 pounds. If your outcome goal is to lose 21 pounds in 25 weeks, then you may need to create a deficit between 300 to 500 calories each day. You should, therefore, embrace a healthy weight loss diet and exercise 3-5 times a week.

Specifically, Verywellfit recommends that you (10):

  • Replace 1 egg muffin having 300 calories with a serving of whole-grain oatmeal that contains about 180 calories.
  • Instead of soda containing about 150 calories, take plenty of distilled or sparkling water with zero calories.
  • Strength-train twice a week for about half an hour each time to burn about 140-280 calories.
  • Walk for a minimum of 30 minutes 3 days a week at 3.5-4.0 mph to burn between 180-240 calories. 

This way, you will create a minimum calorie deficit of 270-550 calories daily. You can measure your weight weekly to know if you are on the right track to achieving your weight loss goal.  

How to Achieve Realistic Weight Loss Goals?

The best way to lose weight is by making permanent lifestyle changes founded on healthy habits such as consuming healthy calorie-controlled diets and increasing your physical activity.

Here are tips to successfully achieve your weight loss goals:

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  • Be ready to make permanent changes to your lifestyle

To get that perfect body shape, you must sacrifice unhealthy habits. This begins by identifying the bad habits that made you gain weight, then gradually replacing them with healthier patterns. Prepare yourself for this journey by finding your inner motivation for losing weight, knowing how you will avoid distractions that will interfere, finding other ways to cope with stress other than binge eating, and creating time that you will spend in making it happen.

  • Plan

Now that you are sure you want to follow the weight loss program, plan. You do not just wake up one day and begin engaging in things that will help you shed extra pounds. Know which healthy methods will best suit you by consulting your doctor and other experts such as fitness trainer and nutritionist. Compile a list of things that you will need, as well as those that will help you stay on track, then pin this somewhere to remind you. Planning also entails setting manageable short-term and long term realistic weight loss goals that will contribute to your overall objective.

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  • Have a strong support system

Identify the right people who will help you through your journey. Tell a friend(s) that you are sure will encourage you to follow the healthy way of life about your goals and how you plan to achieve them. These are the people who will share your healthy lifestyle priority by listening to your feelings and concerns, helping you create healthy menus, and, if possible, spending time with you working out or following up to know if you have one of your daily exercises. However, if you prefer keeping your plans to yourself, be accountable to yourself by regularly weighing, having a journal for recording your workout and diet milestones, or having an app to help you track your progress. 

  • Dieting

When selecting a diet, pick one that encourages you to eat more plant-based foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables that are low in calories. You can jump-start your weight loss by consuming at least 4 servings of veggies, 3 servings of fruits every day, whole grains instead of refined grains, healthy fats such as vegetable oils, olive oils, nuts, avocados, and nut oils, among others, limited amounts of low-calorie dairy products and lean meats, and lowering your processed sugar intake (14).

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Other dieting tips include (12):

  • Eliminating processed carbohydrates and junk foods. Clear your cabinets and drawers that contain these unhealthy foods to avoid the temptation of eating them.
  • Baking foods instead of frying, when possible, to minimize calories.
  • Tracking what you eat and sticking to your grocery list.
  • Eating most meals in the morning, then progressively less during the day.
  • Avoiding fad diets because they make you miss out on some basic nutrients. In an interview with Men’s Health expert, Andy Yurechko of Georgia’s Augusta University Medical Center, he argued that the most successful dieters are those who concentrate on long-lasting sustainable daily habits and do not follow crash eating plans. He advocates for progressive, healthy tweaks that can be made into a daily routine (12).
  • Taking the right fluids like water or black, white, or green tea. A study conducted by a team from Virginia Tech University led by Dr. Brenda Davy established that taking 2 cups of water before meals contributes to considerable weight loss in a fortnight because it makes you feel full, hence, the need for less food to make you satisfied (12).
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  • Healthy eating patterns

Other than just eating right, adopt more healthful behaviors such as slowing down when eating, tasting every bite, leaving a few bites of food on your plate, and engaging in other activities other than eating for leisure. Avoid buffets, go for smaller portions, share a meal with your companion, and avoid desserts when eating out. Also, by cooking your meals, you will control what goes into them, unlike eating out.

  • Physical activity

Exercising helps burn extra calories that a low-calorie diet cannot. It also keeps you physically fit, maintains weight loss, tones the body for a perfect figure, boosts your mood, minimizes your blood pressure, and strengthens your cardiovascular system, among other benefits (14). If you cannot engage in an intense workout, ensure you are physically active by walking for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Making several trips up and down the stairs and spending less time seated (14).

Note that the number of calories you burn will depend on the frequency, intensity, and duration of your physical activities. Start slow, then with time, increase the mentioned factors for greater results. Also, change your workouts regularly so that your body will be challenged to do better. Doing full-body exercises, interval workouts, and lifting weights are some of the recommended exercises (12).  

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  • Change your attitude

Dieting and working out will be more impactful if you have the right perspective. When faced with setbacks, do not give up. Instead, sleep it out, then begin afresh the next day. Always celebrate small milestones by rewarding yourself once in a while because making healthy lifestyle choices is not for the faint-hearted. Minimize stress and have enough sleep for effective weight loss.

  • Allow for setbacks

Expect setbacks so that when they happen, you do not get frustrated. Develop a plan for handling them by identifying possible roadblocks such as an upcoming wedding party, then think of strategies that will help you stay on course.

  • Re-evaluate

It may be exciting at the start, but a few months down the line, the cheerleading, and compliments from observers may disappear. It is good to reassess your strategies 3-6 months after behavioral changes so that you can remain energized for the next phase. You can make adjustments to your diet, workout routine, and other healthy ways of life.

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FAQs

  • What are realistic weight loss goals for 3 months?

Since it is ideal to shed between 1-2 pounds weekly, it is healthy and realistic to lose between 12 to 24 pounds in 12 weeks (17). Similarly, realistic weight loss goals for 5 months will be 20-40 pounds, and for a year, between 48-96 pounds. However, for such a long time, you need to reassess your goals frequently and have clear short-term objectives. 

HealthCentral gives a clear 12-month plan for weight loss, which begins with replacing sugary beverages with water, naturally flavored-waters, and unsweetened teas (2). The next months involve consuming more plant-based proteins, removing highly processed carbohydrates, few servings of low-fat yogurt, resistance training, and reducing sleep and stress, among others (2). 

  • How to set realistic weight loss goals based on body weight?

Based on your weight, it may be ideal to initially lose 5%-10% of your current weight, if your goal is to improve your health (14, 9). Therefore, if you weigh 200 pounds, it is realistic and very possible to lose 20 pounds, so come up with strategies that will help you achieve that over a reasonable period. However, if you intend to fit into a particular piece of clothing, then you can use that as your milestone rather than the number on the scale. Work towards that as long as you do not become underweight. 

  • Why is it important to set realistic goals for weight loss?

Realistic weight loss goals will motivate and help you concentrate on your journey. These well-planned objectives will assist your transition to a healthier lifestyle and make you appreciate the efforts that you are putting. Having unrealistic weight loss goals will frustrate you and make you feel disappointed, which may make you fail completely.

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Conclusion

Major achievements take time, so be patient in your fitness journey. Set realistic weight loss goals and consistently work towards achieving them. You will soon feel better about yourself because of better health and enhanced quality of life. Seek professional advice from your dietitian or general physician before beginning any diet, and consult a trained physical trainer before delving into those workouts.

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DISCLAIMER: 

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES:

  1. About Adult BMI (2020, cdc.gov)
  2. A 12-Month Plan for a Lighter, Healthier You (2018, healthcentral.com) 
  3. Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level (2002, health.gov)
  4. Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics (2020, mayoclinic.org)
  5. Guidelines on Overweight and Obesity: Electronic Textbook (n.d.,nhlbi.nih.gov)
  6. How long will it take me to lose 10 pounds? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
  7. How to Measure Your Waist (2019, webmd.com)
  8. How much weight do you need to lose? (2020, nhs.uk)
  9. HOW TO SET A REALISTIC WEIGHT LOSS GOAL (n.d., gaiam.com)
  10.  How to Set and Plan Weight Loss Goals (2020,verywellfit.com)
  11. Is Your Weight Loss Goal Realistic? (2006, webmd.com)
  12. The 25 Best Ways to Lose Weight and Get Rid of Your Belly (2020, menshealth.com)
  13. Waist Circumference and Waist-Hip Ratio Report of a WHO Expert Consultation (2008, apps.who.int)
  14. Weight loss: 6 strategies for success (2019, mayoclinic.org)
  15. Weight-loss goals: Set yourself up for success (2020, mayoclinic.org)
  16. What’s a Realistic Weight Loss Goal? (2016, mynetdiary.com)
  17. You Can Lose Over 20 Pounds in 3 Months — Here’s How (2019, popsugar.com)
Jedidah Tabalia

Jedidah Tabalia

Jedidah is a passionate writer with over 5 years of experience in researching and providing content on healthy eating habits, specifically in relation to nutritious dieting, exercising, and weight loss that contribute to a person's overall well-being. She injects her go-getter mentality and can-do attitude into every article because she believes that happiness begins with good health, so the more people she inspires to embark on a healthy journey, the better. Jedidah provides tailored, evidence-based content that will ensure her readers that fitting healthy diets and workouts into their hectic lifestyles is not only possible, but easy and affordable.
She believes that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and a steadfast commitment to a healthy lifestyle is bound to pay off.

Kristen Fleming

Kristen Fleming

I am a U.S. educated and trained Registered Dietitian (MS, RD, CNSC) with clinical and international development experience. I have experience conducting systematic reviews and evaluating the scientific literature both as a graduate student and later to inform my own evidence-based practice as an RD. I am currently based in Lusaka, Zambia after my Peace Corps service was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and looking for some meaningful work to do as I figure out next steps. This would be my first freelance project, but I am a diligent worker and quite used to independent and self-motivated work.

Kristen Fleming, MS, RD, CNSC

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