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Realistic Goal Setting In The Weight Loss Client

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Here are some practical tips by Gloria Cabrera to help you set realistic goals with your weight loss clients.

Over 60 per cent of Australian adults are overweight and while it can take years to gain that weight, most clients want it gone yesterday!

As dietitians we know that it’s important to lose weight by making healthy permanent changes. In this instance, weight loss may not be as fast as clients would like, and goals not as dramatic as desired; but, nevertheless, weight loss goals need to be realistic and achievable. So how do we determine these?


Setting Realistic Goals

Clients usually have a goal in mind, which is great; however, if the goal is too far fetched it can be the beginning of the end! Therefore, when setting a goal, consider your client’s levels of motivation, stage of change, age, health status, mobility and ability to make permanent changes. Goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is often used to determine where a client falls within the healthy weight range. It doesn’t consider muscle mass or fat percentage but is a useful general guide for the average person. It can be used to assess whether your client’s long-term goal is within the healthy weight range or to help determine a long-term goal. To calculate BMI divide their weight in kilograms by their height squared. The healthy BMI range is between 18.5 and 25.

Of course, if your client is extremely overweight then telling them to lose 50kg so they will fall within the healthy weight range probably won’t go down too well. Instead, it’s more realistic to divide the “big” goal into smaller, more attainable mini goals (e.g., 5 or 10kg that can be reached in one to three months). This way, you can track their progress and even set up a small reward for reaching mini goals as this is motivating (e.g., a new CD or tickets to a concert/football game). Once the mini goal is reached, set a new one. This way, they are more likely to achieve small goals and stay on track.

Setting a goal to lose five to ten per cent of body weight can also be great. Research shows that losing ten per cent of body weight produces health benefits (e.g., improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels). This goal may even take away some focus from the scales.

The scales aren’t the only way to measure success and it’s essential to highlight this to your clients. At times the scales won’t move so if it’s their sole focus, then they can become depressed. Some other goals to focus on could include:

·       Reduction in waist circumference: higher waist measures are associated with increased risk of chronic health conditions. Eventual aim: less than 94cm for men and 80cm for women.

·       Reduction in dress size or notches on the belt.

·       Feeling more energetic and able to do more.

·       Ability to exercise or increase exercise.

·       Improvement in a chronic health condition and reduction in medications.

·       Improvement in dietary habits, eating healthier, feeling healthier.


But how much weight should a client expect to lose weekly? While some clients lose more initially, on average losing half to one kilogram per week is good weight loss. Some weeks more may be lost, while others less, so look at the monthly average. Expecting more can be unrealistic and put too much emphasis on what the scales say.

While there’s more to successful weight loss than simply setting achievable realistic goals, these can really impact long-term motivation and success so it’s important to get them right from the beginning.

Realistic Goal Setting In The Weight Loss Client
Gloria Cabrera
Accredited Nutritionist (AN), Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD), Dietitian, Nutritionist