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Unrealistic Weight Loss Goals

Monday, March 23, 2009 Posted by Peter Janiszewski, PhD

General observation would suggest that at any time point many people are attempting to lose weight – many go on fad diets, get gym memberships, or purchase some home-exercise gadget (Slender Shaper, Air Climber) or nutritional potion (Accelis, AcaiBurn) from a late-night infomercial – all in an attempt to shed the pounds. In fact, studies suggest that approximately 50% of Canadian men and 75% of Canadian women have tried or are currently attempting to lose weight. While the public awareness of weight loss need may seem encouraging, despite the high frequency of weight-loss attempts, obesity rates continue to climb. This is likely at least in part explained by the high recidivism to weight-loss strategies.

But why do so many people begin and drop a weight-loss program?

One possibility may be that people set the bar too high with regards to their weight-loss goal, making it almost impossible to ever succeed. In fact, a number of studies have shown that women attempting to lose weight want to lose approximately 30% of their current body weight. Additionally, it is suggested that a weight loss of less than 40 lbs would be considered a failure by most attempting to lose weight. While I don’t want to point fingers, I’m sure popular TV shows such as “The Biggest Loser” and the isolated news success stories of individuals losing hundreds of pounds have done nothing to tame these unrealistic expectations.

So what happens in reality?

Short of resorting to bariatric surgery, which is a viable option for some extreme cases, for most with garden-variety obesity, achieving a sustained 5% reduction in weight would be considered a success. Indeed, results from the Diabetes Prevention Project, suggest that given a structured lifestyle based weight-loss program, only 37% of participants met the weight-loss goal of 7% at the 3 year follow-up. In other words, this intensive program failed to reduce body weight by 7% or more in almost two-thirds of the participants in the long term.

On the other hand, while the weight-loss achievement was poor, almost 70% of the participants in this study met the physical activity goal of performing at least 150min/wk of moderate-intensity activity. Astonishingly, despite the abysmal weight-loss, this resulted in a 58% reduced risk of type-2 diabetes. Thus, as we have argued before, rather than setting up for failure with unrealistic weight-loss goals, merely focusing on healthy behaviours – increasing physical activity, limiting refined sugars, excess salt etc. – will improve health even if the scale barely budges.


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1 Response to "Unrealistic Weight Loss Goals"

  1. weight loss pills Said,

    these are really a great goals for successful weight loss plan, we can sure to loss weight with these goals.

    Posted on May 18, 2009 at 7:42 AM


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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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