Weight Loss Goals: How to Set Realistic Weight Loss Goals
January 31 2010
It’s New Year again. And just like every new year, many of us have have made some weight loss goals. Unfortunately, for most, this may not be the first or the last time that you set a weight loss goal.
I think we have too many weight loss tips and diet books out there that the fundamental questions about weight loss get lost in the clutter and clamor. In this article, I will try to answer some of the basic weight loss questions which will help you set some realistic goals and understand the weight loss issues better.
When should I worry about losing weight?
I see a lot of people unnecessarily worrying about their weight. So, when should weight loss be a concern for you?
If your BMI >24.6 (overweight)
BMI >30 (obese)
If your waist circumference >35 (Women)
waist circumference >40 (Men)
If you are under these values, you are in the risk-free category for obesity-related problems.
As a side note, BMI values are not valid if you are an athlete or have a lot of muscle mass. Click here to find your BMI
I am over-weight. So how much should I lose?
Modest losses of even 5 -10% of your body weight is enough to see significant improvements in your health. Once you have lost the weight and maintained it for 6 months, you can think of losing further. Weight loss of 1-2 lb per week is reasonable and safe.
Why just 5-10% weight loss? Why can’t I shoot for larger weight loss?
You can and you will lose weight. But it has been painfully clear that most people who lose a lot of weight gain most of it back withiin 1-5 years. It is not weight loss but weight maintenance that is the greatest challenge we face. If weight loss is hard, maintaining that new lower weight is even harder. .
Why is it hard to maintain weight? Is it because overweight people are lazy?
No. Never. There is a social stigma associated with obesity and people often falsely associate obesity with gluttony and laziness.
Ever since the recent discovery of the hormone Leptin and other complex physiological mechanisms regulating bodyweight, we have come to realize that obesity is largely dictated by your genetics. Dr. Friedman who discovered leptin writes that the drive to eat for someone who lost a lot of weight is “analogous to consciously holding your breath; inevitably, your basic drive to breath dominates your conscious motivation”
Picture 1: The picture shows the complex regulation of feeding by genetics, metabolism, & behavior.
Our body weight is genetically predetermined to stay within a narrow range (10 – 20 lbs). The further we move from these values, the more powerful becomes our unconscious biological drive to come back to our set weight. This becomes very true in obese and morbidly obese individuals. Environment does play a role but it doesn’t account for the large proportion of marked individual variations within the same environment.
Of course, there are people who lose a lot of weight and maintain it. But they are highly motivated and are the exceptions as evident from the National Weight Control
What about diet composition? Should I do a high carb or a low carb diet?
As we suspected long back, recent studies have confirmed that diet composition matters the least. Whether it’s Atkins, Ornish or South Beach diet, the weight loss differences are negligible after a year.
A recent study which compared different diets and which received quite a few accolades concludes “Reduced-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients (carbs, fat or protein) they emphasize”.
I exercise 3-4 times a week. I am still at the same weight. Am I wasting my time?
No. Exercise helps the most in preventing weight gain and has an independent beneficial effect on your cardiovascular and metabolic profile (even without weight loss).
Ok, whatever. Can you just tell me how to lose 10lbs?
Instead of having a numerical goal, let your goal be a realistic behavioral change or a lifestyle intervention. If you make behavioral changes, the numbers can’t help, but follow.
If you want to lose weight ,and more important, maintain that 10lb weight loss, you have to change your food and activity habits. Remember weight loss is temporary, but weight maintenance is permanent. Examples of realistic behavioral goals are “exercising 6-7 days/week for 30 min”, eating more vegetables and fruits, drinking diet instead of regular soda and so on.