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How Do SMART Goals Help With Weight Loss?
smart goals for weight loss

How Do SMART Goals Help With Weight Loss?

Take a reasonable approach.

What are SMART goals?

SMART goals are considered the smarter way to set goals! They help you narrow down what’s really meaningful to you, and what it will take to make your dreams achievable.

A SMART goal takes into account your personal capacity and capability to succeed. This helps you determine, keep track of, and remove any barriers preventing success. It also encourages you to take stock of all the resources you have to make your goal attainable, and what may be missing. Taking a little time to refine what, exactly, your objective is and what’s needed for success is only part of SMART goal setting, though. Let’s dive a bit deeper.

The concept of SMART goals was first developed in the 1980s by George T. Doran. His plan focused on improving business project management, but his strategy can be applied to any context where you’re setting goals. Yes, even weight loss goals. 

Using SMART goal setting can help change your thinking about what’s possible in your life. With this strategic way of goal setting, you’re opening a new world of opportunities. This means if you’ve set health or weight loss goals in the past that didn’t work, you can stop blaming yourself. You can also rest assured knowing that after this article you’ll be better equipped to plan a new path and begin again.

This article will provide everything you need to know to set smart goals for weight loss. You’ll discover what a smart goal is, how to set smart goals, and see examples of how to apply the smart goal method to help you achieve your health or weight loss goals.

First, here’s what SMART goals are, defined.

  • Specific goals 

Goals that are simple, sensible, significant.

  • Measurable goals

Goals that are meaningful, motivating.

  • Achievable goals

Goals that are agreed upon/agreeable, attainable.

  • Relevant goals

Goals that are reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based.

  • Time bound or Timely goals

Goals that are time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, time-sensitive.

Each element of the acronym that makes up a series of SMART goals asks you to consider some simple questions you may not have asked yourself before. Doing so is part of the path to future success. While some of these questions may seem obvious to you, it’s really important to go through the process of actually answering them with your specific goal or objective in mind to see what’s attainable. Plan out a couple of minutes to consider the following:

Question Examples for Setting a Specific Goal

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Who is involved?
  • Which resources or limits are involved?

Questions Examples for Setting a Measurable Goal 

  • How much?
  • How many?
  • How will I know when it is accomplished?

Questions Examples for Setting an Achievable Goal

  • How can I accomplish this goal?
  • What are some obvious obstacles or challenges?
  • How realistic is the goal?

Questions Examples for Setting a Relevant Goal

  • Does this goal seem worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time for me / others involved?
  • Am I the right person to reach this goal?

Questions Examples for Setting a Timely Goal

  • When is the deadline?
  • What can I do today?
  • What can I do by next week?

Why do smart goals matter?

SMART goals matter because they help you create a plan that takes you from dreaming about your goal of weight loss to actually making it attainable. They help you set a specific goal which includes setting parameters, guidelines, or goalposts that help you track progress and stay motivated.

When you make SMART goals, it also encourages you to assess the goal’s value and whether or not it’s relevant or worth your precious time. Maybe you’ll discover through the process of SMART goal setting that your core goal of improving your health or wellbeing is worthwhile, but your plan to achieve it doesn’t really add up. This is actually good! 

Now you have a chance to edit your goal and this improves chances of success. Knowing this and going through the steps of asking yourself the smart goal setting questions saves you time, energy, and effort during every next step of your journey. Consider it a shortcut to success. 

SMART goals for weight loss

There are many reasons why people set goals around their body weight, and there are many factors that play into a person’s ability to lose weight (including genetics, socio-economic factors impacting food choices and options, health conditions, prescription medications, etc.).

But SMART goals take into account what you can control.

And don’t worry—this isn’t a massive undertaking, either. Your goals also may be just shy of SMART goals to lose weight and only need a little reworking to seriously enhance chances of goal attainment. You may also notice once you start the exercise of answering a few of the questions, the others pretty well answer themselves! 

Here are some examples of weight loss goals you may have set in the past, or weight loss goals you’ve heard friends, family, or coworkers talk about. 

Example A: “I want to lose some weight.”

smart weight loss goals examples
(russell underwood / Getty)

If this sounds like a goal you’ve made in the past, that’s okay! Any kind of goal setting is a step in the right direction. Consider this the beginning stage of you becoming aware of a want or desire rising. In this example, you’ve recognized you “want to lose some weight,” and now you can start to ask yourself some of those key questions to secure success. 

But let’s look at one more example before getting into the specific tips that can help you set 

SMART goals for weight loss.

Example B: “I want to lose ten pounds.”

If you’ve made this goal, you’ve already begun working on the SMART goal strategy! This weight loss goal is better because it’s more specific and measurable: The goal is to lose 10 pounds and you can keep track of progress with a scale or by the fit of your clothes. However, the goal still lacks the full qualities of SMART goal-setting. For example, there is no motivating factor (the “why”), or consideration of how many days a week they will work on their goal, and whether or not it’s reasonable and realistic within a set time frame that still needs a deadline. 

So now let’s discuss how to actually apply this SMART strategy for your personal goal of losing weight. 

Tips for setting SMART goals for weight loss 

SMART goals for weight loss should be decided upon based on your overall health condition and dietary needs/restrictions. If you have concerns or questions, please consult with your healthcare provider.

Making SMART goals for weight loss is a simple process that you can do right now. But keep in mind short term goals for weight loss may not be necessary or sustainable over the long term. For example, what you’re eating now may be too restrictive to continue eating in the long term. This is why it’s also a good idea to consider your long term weight loss or weight maintenance goal.

Remember, the more specific you can be about what you want, the more attainable it becomes!

Short term SMART goals for weight loss

Summarize your goal in great detail

Setting your short term SMART goals for weight loss begins with summarizing your goal. This requires knowing how many pounds you want to lose. If you need some inspiration to get started, you may consider meditating to get clarity or free-writing to see what your inner voice says. 

You can also try answering the 5 Ws. The 5 Ws are What, When, Who, Why, and How. Challenge yourself to be as detailed as you possibly can.

Tips for setting the 5 Ws for weight loss:

What: Decide on the number of inches or pounds you want to lose or the specific measurement of success you think will motivate you most.

When: Set a timeframe that’s reasonable so it’s attainable, but not too far in the future that it seems like you have all the time in the world to get started. 

Who: Decide which people are going to be your cheerleaders, and which may be your naysayers. Act accordingly. 

Why: The most important thing is believing in what you’re trying to achieve, so defining your personal “why” is key. Ask yourself straight up why you want to lose weight. Whatever comes up, now’s the time to assess whether or not that aligns with who you are trying to be in the future. 

How: Details, details, details! Add anything and everything you think may help you in achieving the weight loss goal including the number of days per week you can exercise (and what exercising you can do!) and how you plan to be eating during this weight loss stage. 

Keep track of your answers on your phone, especially in the early days of starting working on your goal. Your 5 Ws can be an incredible source of inspiration. 

Set numeric values when possible

When it comes to losing weight, there’s a few more numbers to consider than just what pops up on the scale. You will also want to consider the number of days a week you can devote to increasing fitness, and you may want to consider other numbers such as daily calorie counts or minutes of exercise. 

Keep in mind that if calorie counting isn’t right for you, or if you have an obsessive-type personality and don’t want to go with this method, the number on the scale isn’t an essential number to work with. You may actually find it more motivating to consider the number of fresh, colorful foods you’re adding to your diet on a weekly basis or the number of fast food dinners replaced by healthier options.

Keep it realistic

It can be really easy during the SMART goal setting stage to lose focus of what you will actually commit to and start tossing down ideal situations. This is a trap! If you set your specific goals and numerical values so far out of reach you can’t possibly achieve them, it’s time to begin again. If your smart goal hasn’t considered your current health condition and what’s possible for you to do mentally and physically, it’s also a good idea to consider that now.

Are your goals aligned with your financial budget? 

For example, if you decide you’re going to join a gym and workout 30 minutes every second day to help reach your weight loss goal, you also need to consider if this is affordable. If it’s not, it will be that much easier to backtrack on in the name of saving money later on. 

Are your goals aligned with your energy levels?

setting weight loss goals worksheet
(Colorblind Images LLC / Getty)

If you’re thinking, “I can just make more time,” but you’re already feeling burned out, your goal setting strategy is going to fall short. While you very well could make more time or find a way, this is not a specific or measurable actionable item. At best, you’re overextending yourself and at worst, you may abandon the goal altogether.

Now, if you say you will make 10 minutes per day in the morning before work to pack a lunch filled with fresh foods that fuel your health , that’s much more specific. Your chances of sticking to 10 minutes is so much greater than committing to a vague strategy of “making more time.”

What are some things that may stop you? 

Do you have obstacles in your way of success? Obstacles or barriers can include health conditions like arthritis that can limit mobility. They can also include people that may not be the most supportive and other responsibilities that require your time, effort, and energy. 

Bear in mind where there’s a will, there’s a way. The point of recognizing obstacles isn’t to get down on yourself, it’s to plan ahead on how to overcome them. For example, if you can’t go running or rock climbing, you may try walking and swimming. Start wherever you’re at.

And when it comes to people, you don’t necessarily need to remove them from your life, either. But again, being aware of potential roadblocks helps you address them head on. For example, if you have a friend who’s committed to you staying the exact same, you may want to avoid enlisting this person for support. If you find a lot of people in your life are seeming like potential obstacles, that’s a sign it may be time to expand your social circle.

What can help you? 

While recognizing potential pitfalls is always a good idea, achieving health or weight loss goals is much easier when you have resources! Now, if you have people who can help you keep up your motivation, all the better, but you’ll be just fine without them, too. 

Remember, this is all about you and what you’re seeking to achieve. Resources you may find helpful include things like habit tracking, food tracking, and fitness apps, and motivational quotes. If you have mobility issues, use mobility aids to your advantage to help you get moving more.

When you start seeing success, keep track of how you feel. You may find that the boost in confidence from sticking to your objectives and showing up for yourself day after day provides a feeling of accomplishment all on its own. What a boost!

Long term SMART goals for weight management

Each weight loss journey is unique. Many factors, including the total amount of weight loss you want and your general health status at the time, will play into how “short term” your short-term goals are and when the long-term SMART strategy for weight management begins. 

For example, if you lose the aforementioned ten pounds over two months, what was necessary in the beginning may not be needed now. This is the time to make those adjustments with your overall health in mind. 

Setting your long-term SMART goals should follow the same steps, but you’ll want to pay even greater attention to the achievability of your goals. 

Tips for setting long-term goals

Setting a deadline

weight loss goals examples

You’ll want to specify a target date for when the losing weight stage enters the maintenance stage and flows into your everyday lifestyle. This is all about recognizing that your short-term weight loss goals have been achieved and therefore your old strategy is no longer aligned with your current situation. 

Making strategy adjustments

Making strategy adjustments including changing eating and fitness habits just means recognizing and honoring that your new goal is now to keep the weight off. Losing weight and maintaining it are two very different goals, so you may find it helpful to begin with a blank piece of paper or screen and go through the SMART questions with this new focus at the forefront. 

Deciding on your future self

You may never be the person who gets up at 5am to run a 4-minute mile or who drinks green smoothies, and that’s perfectly fine! Setting long-term goals is about envisioning yourself as you are now, but in the future with your short term goals achieved. What does this life look like after you lose weight? Are you still eating those fresh foods and doing your 10 minutes of yoga daily? If not, ask yourself why. Sometimes this is the question needed to help us refocus on who we are, what we are trying to achieve, and what we’re willing (and not willing) to change.

Final Thoughts

Knowing you want to lose weight means you already have a goal. But understanding your “why” can be a big question, and it may bring up some big feelings. Don’t rush yourself through this process. 

By simply asking yourself some personal questions about what you want, why you want it, and what you’re able and willing to do to achieve it (plus what may hinder your progress), you’re taking the first major step toward making it happen—or realizing with limited time, you may have more pressing or important goals you want to focus on first. Either way, you now have the tools.

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