"I need to lose at least 75 pounds."|
"This dress would look great if I were just 20 pounds lighter."
"I'm determined to be 100 pounds lighter by summer."
Have you said or heard something similar? It's easy to throw out an arbitrary goal, whether it's to lose a particular number of pounds or fit into a certain clothing size—but where do those numbers come from? Setting a specific goal involves more than aspiring to fit into your 20-year-old jeans, matching your workout buddy's weight or plucking a number out of thin air. A weight that's realistic for one person could be out of reach, or even unhealthy, for another.
Before setting your goal weight, consider these important factors that influence how much you should safely lose and the timeframe to accomplish it.
1. Your Starting Weight
Ironically, those who have more weight to lose will likely see faster movement on the scale—at least initially. "There are a few reasons why your starting weight impacts how fast you are able to lose weight," says Chelsey Amer, private practice dietitian and creator of C it Nutritionally. "If someone has 50 pounds to lose versus five pounds, the heavier person likely has more room to clean up their diet. Additionally, their metabolism is faster because they are carrying around more extra weight."
That explains why those last five pounds are usually the most stubborn, because you’re closer to your body weight set point, or where your weight is "supposed" to be based on your metabolic rate. As you lose weight, your metabolism slows because your body requires fewer calories to sustain the new, lower mass.
2. Height and Body Frame
Your height, in context of your overall frame and body size, plays a role in determining your resting energy expenditure (how many calories you burn at rest) and your weight set point (how much your body wants you to weigh)—but Amer says there is no clear evidence that height alone impacts how fast, or how much, an individual will lose. "However, your body frame may impact your weight due to the mass of your bones, which accounts for approximately 15 percent of your body weight," she says.
According to fitness trainer Brandon Mentore, your specific type of body frame—known as your somatotype—will also impact your rate of weight loss. There are three types of physical frames: the ectomorph (a thin frame), the mesomorph (a medium or athletic frame) and the endomorph (a thicker frame). "Ectomorphs typically have a faster metabolism and easier weight loss than endomorphs, which have a propensity for carrying more body weight on their frame and losing it at slower rates," explains Mentore.
3. Previous Weight Loss
While it may seem unfair to those who are launching a second (or third or 10th) weight loss journey, those who have never lost before may see quicker results than someone who has lost and then regained weight, according to obesity and weight management specialist Dr. Rachel Goldman. "Some of this is related to how the metabolism rate slows down after weight loss," she says.
Mentore also points out that frequently going on and off weight loss programs takes a toll on the body's ability to lose. "At some point, the body stops responding to efforts that previously worked," he says. This can trigger a process called adaptive thermogenesis, an autoregulation of the metabolism that causes many dieters to get stuck on that dreaded plateau.
Dr. Goldman encourages her patients to not let this discourage their efforts. "Weight loss isn't easy for anyone—and if it is, they are most likely not losing weight in a healthy way, and/or probably won't maintain the weight loss," she points out. "Slow, healthy weight loss is lasting weight loss, which comes from lifestyle changes and not fad diets."
4. Exercise and Activity History
In what may seem like the ultimate unfairness, those who already hit the gym on the regular may struggle more to lose weight than people who haven’t laced up their sneakers in years. "The more sedentary you are, the greater the potential for impactful changes to your body weight, because it's like unchartered territory," Mentore explains. "This is why the Biggest Loser contestants were able to lose massive amounts of weight—in combination with their high weight and body fat levels, they had relatively no experience with physical activity."
If you're already physically active, don't get discouraged if the weight loss happens slower than you'd prefer. By following a consistent routine of regular exercise and healthy eating, you'll achieve steady and sustainable results.
5. Family History
You may appreciate inheriting your mother's eye color or your father's curls, but maybe not their tendency to gain and retain weight. According to Amer, your metabolic rate is partly determined by genetics, so if Mom or Dad had trouble losing or maintaining, you could face the same struggle.
"Nevertheless, the reason so many Americans are currently overweight has less to do with family history and genetics and more to do with simply eating too many calories for your body," Amer says. "Although there are things you can do to boost your metabolic rate—like maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly—what we get is pretty much what we get when it comes to our metabolism."
6. Too Many Changes
When you're eager to embrace a healthy lifestyle, it may seem like a good idea to start eating nutritious foods, cut out all sweets, exercise every day and adjust your sleeping schedule—but if you try to juggle all of those goals at once, they could come crashing down on you.
"Making too many changes at once can be difficult or overwhelming for many people," Goldman warns. "It's important to be realistic. Try making one small change at a time—nothing too drastic and nothing you can't maintain for the rest of your life, because that would just be a 'diet' anyway."
7. Hormonal Health
Your ability (or lack thereof) to lose weight could be the result of your chemical makeup. According to Mentore, your hormonal health governs most of the processes related to dropping pounds. "Weight loss, and even weight gain, is a biological shift," he says. "If your internal and external environment have favorable conditions, weight loss can happen rapidly—but if your hormones are out of balance, you can do everything in your power and the scale still won't budge."
If you think your hormone levels could be wreaking havoc on your weight, talk to your doctor.
Forget about the grey hair and wrinkles—stress could be making you fat. Mentore says that stress plays one of the biggest roles the entire weight loss process. "Weight gain is almost always a response to some type of stress, whether it's poor food choices, mental or emotional trauma or lack of physical activity," he says. "And when people pursue weight loss, that can also be a form of stress. Piling stress on top of an already somewhat stressed body can slow your progress."
While it may seem like burning the midnight oil or rising before dawn to squeeze in a workout will boost weight loss, the lack of slumber could send your goals spiraling. "Sleep is one factor that I find so many people undermine when it comes to weight loss," says Amer. "Research shows that getting even 30 minutes less sleep than your body needs can lead to weight gain. Sleep deprivation can change our hormonal responses and increase cravings, making it harder to lose or maintain weight."
The Final Weigh-In
With so many variables in the weight equation, what's a wanna-be loser to do? According to Mentore, you can't go wrong if you focus on how you feel and achieving a fit level of leanness. "The leaner you are, the happier and healthier you'll be," he says. "This can be achieved with a sensible approach to diet, exercise, lifestyle adjustments and stress management."