Should I set a weight loss goal?

By Lucy Braude, Clinical Psychologist

As we approach Summer we can finally shed the jacket, enjoy more daylight hours and get out of bed more easily in the warmer mornings.   

However, this is also a time where we are likely to be bombarded with messages about obtaining a “bikini body” and reminders that “Summer bodies are made in Winter!”. These often lead people to believe they need to set weight loss goals to be “ready” for Summer. Enter, the “I’m planning to lose X kg before December” talk that tends to enter our offices, catch-ups and family events.  

Is there anything wrong with this? We spring clean our homes so why not our bodies?  There is nothing wrong with this mindset, however, there are some subtle disadvantages to setting weight loss goals. Here is some food for thought (pun intended!):

  • How do you know your weight loss goal is realistic? 
  • How do you know your weight loss goal can be sustained? 
  • How will you feel if you can’t achieve or maintain your weight loss goal?  

A weight loss goal is an outcome goal, focused on an end result without telling us healthy ways to achieve it. Also, despite the best of intentions we often fall victim to setting unrealistic or unsustainable weight goals due to factors that are not our fault. Body weight is a complex equation that goes beyond calories consumed and burned. We also have to consider hormones, sleep, stress levels, muscle mass, weight fluctuations, body composition, lifestyle, metabolic adaption and many other factors. Therefore, a weight loss may sound feasible but not be, which can lead to feelings of frustration and shame.  This can have consequences for confidence, mood and even eating habits (Does “I give up, this weight is never coming off, I’m buying chocolate!” sound familiar?) 

So, instead of aspiring for an end result that is not entirely in our control, why not think about the process, or the healthy habits you could aspire to?  These are called behavioural goals, and involve increasing or reducing particular behaviours.  

Instead of losing X kilos, consider the following behavioural goals to get ready for Summer: 

  • Incorporating three resistance training sessions a week 
  • Including a serve of veggies with every meal 
  • Limiting chocolate to three times a week.  
  • Think of three non-food soothing activities for difficult work days 

These are goals which are entirely within our control, so we can assess if they are possible right from the start. You may notice weight loss and/or body changes from these sorts of goals, but this is not the focus. Research shows that behaviour change goals are more effective than simply having weight loss goals as well as they are more specific, concrete and often more realistic. They also go a long way toward improving our health, giving us less chance of illness, more energy, better quality sleep, improved mood and many other benefits.   

What will your spring behavioural goals be?  



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