Weight loss

Why setting goals makes weight loss more effective

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Molly Morgan, RD
Registered Dietitian specialising in adult weight management
iconLast updated 7 May 2024
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Your mindset is a powerful force that can move you either towards or away from achieving your goals. When you start visualising what you want, believing that it’s possible, and taking action towards your desired goal it becomes more likely to materialise.

Getting into the right mindset is key to successful and long-lasting weight loss – and the best way to do that is to set goals.

Most people feel determined and excited when they start trying to lose weight but quickly lose motivation and fall after the first hurdle. Not only can realistic goals help you change your behaviour and form long-lasting healthy habits, they can also help you view any obstacles as temporary setbacks rather than failures.

Set multiple goals for greater success

A behavioural research study conducted on behalf of the British Dietetic Association found that setting goals increases the likelihood of achieving significant weight loss over the course of one year. Interestingly, it also showed that participants who set multiple goals lost significantly more weight.

Weight loss goals

So why is goal setting so effective, and why does it often mean the difference between success and failure? Goals can help transform your daily habits, your mindset, and your confidence because they help you to:

  • Lay out a clear plan for change
  • Stay focused, determined, and motivated
  • Measure your progress and give you something to strive for

How to set effective goals

Healthcare guidelines recommend that you aim to lose between 5 to 10% percent of your body weight within 12 to 24 weeks – but don’t let this limit you. Research shows that setting more ambitious goals energises participants more and ultimately leads to better results.

It’s important to choose a long-term goal that will keep you feeling motivated, inspired, and excited even when you feel overwhelmed or have a bad day and veer off course. Ask yourself what achieving this end goal would mean to you and how it would make you feel. Once you have a long-term goal in mind, think of this as the destination on your map. Now you’ve got to think about how you’re going to get there – that’s where short-term goals come into play.

A lot of people set vague goals, such as “I will do more exercise” – but what does this actually mean? How will you measure your progress towards this goal? How will you know if it’s achievable? Is this relevant to your long-term goal? When will you know if you’ve achieved it?

In order for goals to be effective they need to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based – in other words, SMART! Setting goals that follow this set of criteria are easier to stick to.

So instead of “I will do more exercise”, let’s try “I will attend fitness classes three times a week for the next four weeks to increase my physical activity levels”. You can see how this second version follows the SMART criteria below:

Specific: Sets out a specific action and the purpose of that action

Measurable: Attending a class is a unit of measurement which needs to be completed three times a week for a period of four weeks

Achievable: They have the time, resources, and motivation to achieve this goal

Relevant: Increasing physical activity levels is relevant to the ultimate goal of losing weight and the type of exercise is relevant to their interests

Time-based: They have specified that they will do this for the next 4 weeks

Take Action ⚡

Write down three short-term goals that will help you get you to your destination (your long-term goal). Remember to make them SMART. When coming up with smaller, more short-term goals it’s important to create a structure that works specifically for you to ensure that you keep moving forward no matter how many obstacles you encounter along the way.

Pro tip: Write out your end goal and keep it posted somewhere visible (like the bathroom mirror or the fridge) to remind yourself of why you started your weight-loss plan in the first place. It may well help you stay on track when you want to give up.

Madeleine Hawkes, Lead Coach

You may also want to share your goals with your coach, a supportive friend or family member, and check-in with them regularly. A study by psychologist Gail Matthews found that those who sent weekly progress reports to a friend accomplished significantly more than those who had unwritten goals.

Now you’ve got your road map with a destination and the path to get there! Next week we’ll talk about ways to monitor your progress towards these goals.

If you’d like some support in goal setting, then you can book a goal setting session with one of our expert coaches whenever you like.

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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. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12390. Epub 2016 Jun 14. PMID: 27302147; PMCID: PMC5111772


Durant NH, Joseph RP, Affuso OH et al. (2013) Empirical evidence does not support an association between less ambitious pre-treatment goals and better treatment outcomes: a meta-analysis. Obes Rev 14, 532–540.

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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