Skinny Daily Post


Learning (still) to set reasonable weight loss goals

I’m over my limit. I have a five-lb. range I let myself wander within since reaching my weight goal. At the moment I’m 6 lbs. up. And so, it’s back to pulling in the calories, stepping up my exercise, doing what it takes to wear my winter clothes comfortably again or risk frostbite.

Here’s what my brain leapt to, immediately: getting this weight off, plus two pounds more (holiday party insurance), by Thanksgiving. I set a stupid deadline. It doesn’t sound like an impossible goal, eight pounds in four weeks, but on my body, it is, absolutely.

I set a stupid, deadly deadline, when I know exactly where weight deadlines lead.

Every time I set a weight deadline in the past, I wound up fatter than when I started, and a whole lot more miserable.

We begin with wanting to lose 15 for some prom, 35 before my first day of freshman year, 45 before sophomore year, etc. It was 30 before my wedding, 60 before starting that new job, 75 before looking for the next one.

And of course there was the 100 I wanted to lose for my daughter’s wedding, which turned into 120-130.

I did lose a whole bunch of that weight, eventually. Over 100 pounds. I couldn’t have done it without adjusting my weight goal, and eliminating deadlines altogether.

The deadlines, looming there, were always thwarted by my body’s need to choose its own pace and my mind’s stubborn black-or-white thinking. I started out alright, setting what I thought was a steady pace, but then stressed and fretted when one bad day with food interrupted the pace or I hit a long plateau, or my body would not appear to let any weight go, period.

I became obsessive, I panicked, I felt terribly discouraged, or all three. I’d kick my eating plan to the curb when I didn’t get my way, and make up my mind that I was destined to be fat. Losing half the weight was not good enough. Forget it.

So I was guaranteed to feel miserable about myself and my body during whatever event I’d been dieting for, which was every holiday and sacrament, family gathering and life marker, every beginning and ending, for the past 30 years.

That’s a lot of self-inflicted pain. A lot of wasted joy. A lot of tears in bathrooms.

It took my groovy diet counselors a long time to talk me out of deadlines. I set them automatically. I have to work hard to erase them from my mind. When I started that last big push, I had a trip in mind, and wanted all the weight off before I left. My counselors kept asking me, what if I had only half of the weight off? What if I had only lost 10 lbs. in that time? How would I feel?

They wanted me to see all weight loss as accomplishment, as health profit. I could only see making my goal or not making it. Not making it meant fatness. Making it meant succeeding.

Working with other overweight people and seeing how much better everybody felt with just 10 percent of their extra weight gone helped me figure this out. Hearing about how much better their blood pressure readings were, and their cholesterol counts, and their asthma, I could see the benefits on other people faster than I could read it in my own body. Oh! Carol looks great, Fred is glowing!

I hit many-week plateaus, very dark times, but had to acknowledge that even while not appearing to lose weight, I was feeling better and better and better. Looking better. Carol and Fred said so. I could do more, walk farther, swim more comfortably, sleep through the night. That kept me trying even when I clearly wasn’t going to make my weekly, monthly, or ultimate deadlines at all. I blew so many internally set deadlines, but with help and support, just kept going. So I eventually stopped setting them.

That’s when it dawned on me that I wasn’t dieting anymore. I was just learning to live differently so the weight would come off. It was going to go like this for the rest of my life.

That’s when setting deadlines seemed silly. The only real one is the last one. The only real goal is feeling better. And better and better.

So, I realize this is catching many of you while you’re working on specific timelines. You have your own weddings and bar mitzvahs and anniversary cruises to lose for. I’m not suggesting you give up your goals, but do consider how you’ll feel if your weight loss slows down.

Try to see all success as real success. Don’t make yourself nuts or make crazy choices or starve yourself into that dress, tuxedo, smaller pair of jeans. Don’t pop pills, try to sweat it off, and don’t hate yourself if it doesn’t happen exactly when and how you hoped it would. Do keep going after that deadline, keep doing whatever good health asks of you.

So. 6 lbs. It’ll come off. Not by Thanksgiving. And the holidays will make it more challenging, yet. But I’ll focus. And it will happen when it happens.



Gary D. Foster, Ph.D., on setting reasonable weight loss goals

Setting diet and exercise goals from

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