How to Set SMART Weight Loss Goals

by Suzanne Hiscock

When it comes to setting weight loss goals, most people just do the bare minimum of setting a goal to “lose weight.” What happens with such a flimsy goal is that it gets blown out of the water at the sight of a glazed doughnut. There’s no meaning or purpose to the goal. There’s nothing memorable about it. It just won’t “stick” in your brain.

Some people state a simple weight loss goal. “Lose 25lbs.” That’s a bit better but it doesn’t really have much to sink your teeth into, does it?

If you want to set yourself up for success, you need to set a SMART goal. I’m going to show you how to make a SMART weight loss goal — and I’m going to show you some “tricks to make it stick.”

The acronym SMART stands for:

Specific
Measurable
Attainable
Relevant
Time-Bound

It’s a great way to set goals that have meaning and purpose. Dare I say it’s even a “smart” way to set a goal?

So, let’s take the “lose weight” goal that the majority of people set. How can we make it a SMART goal? (Grab a pen and a piece of paper, if you want to play along at home.)

Specific
A goal needs to be specific. You do that by asking yourself these questions:

  • Why are you creating the goal? In other words, what are the benefits? How will it make you feel?
  • Who is involved with the goal? (At the bare minimum, it’s you.)
  • How will you reach that goal?

Before we make “lose weight” more specific, here’s the first trick to make it stick: turn the goal into a sentence or positive affirmation and say it in a way as if it’s already happened. Picture yourself in the future having accomplished the goal.

I’m going to use an imaginary friend as an example. Wendy is 180lbs and doesn’t exercise much. She gets a lot done, but doesn’t seem to have much energy. She’s tired of feeling tired. She wants to “lose weight” to feel better.

So, Wendy pictures herself in the future and ask herself the questions up above. Wendy’s original goal to “lose weight” is transformed into:

“I feel strong and full of energy having lost weight by counting calories, eating smaller, healthier portions and exercising seven days a week.”

Much better than “lose weight”, right? But Wendy can make that goal even better.

Measurable
A goal needs to be measurable. “I feel strong and full of energy having lost weight” doesn’t really mean anything. There’s no way to measure progress. Is it five pounds? Twenty pounds? Are we measuring pounds lost or body fat percentage?

Wendy decides she wants to weigh 120lbs.

“I feel strong and full of energy at 120lbs by counting calories, eating smaller, healthier portions and exercising seven days a week.”

Attainable
But a goal needs to be attainable, too.

So now Wendy has a specific, measurable goal. But let’s step back for a second and take a look at it. Is this an attainable goal? 120lbs might sound like “fun” to Wendy, but is it realistic? Is it a healthy weight for her? And exercising seven days a week?

Wait a second,” Wendy thinks. “I know myself. This is way more than I can handle right now.

Wendy turns her goal into something attainable. This feels “doable” to her. She believes she can do it. It’s challenging enough without being overwhelming.

“I feel strong and full of energy at 140lbs by counting calories, eating smaller, healthier portions and walking for 30 minutes four times a week.”

Wendy’s feeling pretty good about this goal, but there are still a few ways to make it even better.

Relevant
A goal should be relevant. It has to have meaning for you and be relevant to your abilities and interests.

Wendy looks at her goal. The “I feel strong and full of energy” part is relevant. She wants more energy. The weight goal is relevant because she wants to be healthy; she’s not aiming to be a fitness model.

Wendy likes walking, too. But then she remembers she used to love swimming. She hasn’t done it in years because she’s been too busy. The thought of swimming again motivates her. She makes another change.

“I feel strong and full of energy at 140lbs by counting calories, eating smaller, healthier portions and by walking or swimming for 30 minutes four times a week.”

Wendy’s feeling even more motivated now! But there’s one last piece of the puzzle to make this goal a SMART goal.

Time-bound
A goal needs to be time-bound.

Wendy knows a safe rate of weight loss is 1 to 2lbs a week. She has 40lbs to lose. Losing 2lbs a week would take her about 4 months. Wendy remembers a goal needs to be attainable, so she decides to give herself a bit of wiggle room and makes it 5 months. Today is January 1st. So, she makes one last change to her goal by setting a weight loss target date.

On June 1st, I feel strong and full of energy at 140lbs by counting calories, eating smaller, healthier portions and by walking or swimming for 30 minutes four times a week.”

Wendy is really motivated now to put this plan into action because the SMART goal she created makes sense to her. It’s unique to her. She can always make changes to it, if she needs to — but now she has a solid framework to get started.

More Tricks to Make It Stick

Now, it’s your turn. I want you to create a SMART weight loss goal — and I want you to do it using a pen (or pencil) and paper. Don’t do it using your computer. Studies have shown that when you put pen to paper, you make your brain say, “Hey, something important is happening. I better pay attention!”

Once you’ve got it down into a sentence or affirmation, I want you to write it down on an index card. Carry that index card around with you and read it whenever you need motivation. You don’t feel like exercising? Read that index card. The office vending machine is tempting you? Read that index card.

Read it first thing in the morning. Read it before you go to bed. Make copies and put it up wherever it makes sense: on the fridge, the bathroom mirror, at the office. Wherever you can.

And here’s a mega-super trick, if you really want to make it stick. Remember how teachers used to “punish” you by making you write sentences over and over again? It’s actually a really good trick to make your subconscious aware of your goal. Grab a sheet of paper and write your goal down over and over again. Do this as often as you need to — without cramping your hand, of course! Don’t think of it as punishment. Think of it as a way of communicating with your subconscious mind.

And no, typing it up is not the same. Put pen to paper and really, really concentrate. Take your time and don’t rush it. Make your brain pay attention to your goal — and your brain will then help you reach that goal. It’ll seek out ways to help you because it knows your goal is important to you.

And that, my friends, is the SMART way to set a weight loss goal.

Must Read
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About the Author

Suzanne is the owner of FitWatch. She's had strong interest in nutrition and exercise for over 20 years, and is an ACE-certified Lifestyle & Weight Management Coach. Back in 2002, she started FitWatch.com because she wanted to help people lose weight by creating helpful tools and calculators. A huge fan of calorie counting, Suzanne created the FitWatch Fitness Tracker to make it easy for people to count their calories.