Setting Realistic Goals – Slow Loss Better Than No Loss

Written by Vicki Ma (Accredited Practising Dietitian and Sports Dietitian)

We all know the drill – another year, another New Year’s resolution we’ll never be able to stick to. Does this sound like you?

The beginning of a new year is a common time for people to set weight-loss and fitness goals. Yet as many of us know too well, these goals don’t always succeed. Why? The issue lies with the way we set goals. Being able to set specific goals will give you a greater chance of accomplishment. The formula for setting a well thought out goal is called S-M-A-R-T. A SMART goal will help keep you in focus, stay motivated and track your progress which will overall improve your likelihood of achieving your goal.

To create a SMART goal, you need to ensure that it’s:

Specific – What specific behaviour do you want to change? How will you do it?

Measureable – How will you measure your progress? How often will you measure it?

Achievable – Is this attainable by you? Can you successful complete this goal?

Realistic – Is this something you can really do? Are you willing and able to do this? Do you have the skills, resources and support to help you accomplish this?

Timely – In what time frame do you want to achieve this? Creating a realistic time frame will help you establish a sense of urgency.

Here is an example of a SMART goal:

I will lose 6 kg within 3 months by exercising regularly and eating healthy. I will know I am making progress by measuring my weight on the scales every month.

Most people will set their goals to lose 10 – 20 kg within 3 months. This is not impossible and can be achieved through extreme dieting, but very unrealistic and hard to sustain for a long period of time. When your goal is too extreme, you could be potentially setting yourself up for failure. 

Are weight loss diets good for me? 

Diets often promote cutting out entire food groups (particularly carbohydrates and dairy foods). While this might result in some quick weight loss initially, unfortunately, this loss in usually short-term and unsustainable and weight lost is quickly regained. Restrictive diets that eliminate whole food groups can be harmful to our health and increase our risk of nutritional deficiencies. Remember that, healthy weight loss takes time. To be successful, you will need to give yourself the opportunity to establish new eating habits and exercise routine. On average, you should aim to lose 0.5 – 1 kg per week. Slow and steady is better than fast and unsustainable, which only sees you regain what you have lost – all that hard work gone to waste!

Top 5 resolutions: 

Here are some of my favourite tips that I provide to people to help them achieve sustainable weight loss:

  1. Focus on eating regularly: having small regular meals is great for your metabolism. Stock up the pantry with healthy snacks such a nuts, wholegrain biscuits and fresh fruit. Avoid skipping meals as this can lead to overrating at the next meal.
  2. Control your portions: try to eat from smaller plates and fill most of the plate up with non-starchy salad or vegetables. When eating out, go for the entrée sized meal rather than the main. Don’t be afraid to leave food on your plate when you’re already full.
  3. Moderation is the key: there is no need to deprive yourself of any food. You should be able to eat the food that you love – in moderation of course. Enjoy a variety of foods and limit ‘treat” foods to only sometimes.
  4. Always plan ahead: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It is very important to have a rough idea of what you (or your family) want to eat for the week. Being prepared and planning your weekly meals in advance can help save you time in the long run.
  5. Eat more veggies: try and fill up with more vegetables or salad, as these are low in kilojoules and calories and full of vitamins and minerals. Start by bulking up pasta sauces with grated carrot and zucchini, add more chopped veggies into curries.

Remember, making small changes daily will be far more effective for your long-term weight loss than a huge change that you can’t sustain.


Leistra E, Streppel MT, Klamer J, Tump AC and Weijs P. (2015). Effect of SMART goal setting and nutritional assessment on treatment continuation in primary care dietetic treatment. Clinical Nutrition. 34 (9), 190.

Stelmacg-Mardas M, Mardas  M, Walkowiak J and Boeing H. (2014).  Long-term weight status in regainers after weight loss lifestyle intervention: status and challenges. Proceedings of Nutrition Society. 73, 509- 518. http://doi:10.1017/S0029665114000718

Hunking P. (2006). Weight loss diets: what does the science say? Health Research Premium Collection. 20, 5.

Fletcher GO, Dawes J, Spano M. (2014). The potential dangers of using rapid weight loss techniques. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 36 (2), 45-48.