How unrealistic goals can sabotage your success

You have the right intentions. You make the goals like everyone else makes – lose 20 pounds; decrease body fat percentage by 10%; fit into a size 8 pants. Then you make a plan of action – start exercising, eat better, stop drinking alcohol, sleep more, etc.

So you start all of these things … and then the scale doesn’t move. Or your pants don’t fit any better. Or you don’t like not being able to have alcohol on the weekend. Or you really don’t feel any better. And you say all of these things on Friday afternoon.

So screw it. Stop exercising – if I’m not seeing results then why waste the time. Stop trying to eat better – nobody likes kale anyways. And let’s go OUT this weekend, girlfriend! I can’t lose weight, so might as well drink anyways.

Then Monday comes around again and you’re still not happy with how you look or feel.

So what went wrong? Was it you and your lack of willpower?

Or was it how your set your goals and came up with a plan to achieve that goal?

First off, there is nothing wrong with setting a goal with a measurement and time-based expectation to it. That is called a SMART goal (specific, measureable, attractive, realistic and timely). However, it’s the WHY and the HOW behind the goal that can make or break you.

If you are setting a goal based on a weight that you had in high school, then you may be reaching to far. Most of us (not all of us), have no idea how good we had it in high school when it came to our weight and metabolism. We usually can’t go back to that lovely, still-supporting-growth metabolism, unfortunately. Not saying people don’t/can’t do it, but that may not be your initial goal.

If you are setting a goal based on what a fitness/health professional says is best for you, then you need to fire that person. Your goals need to be something YOU want to do and shouldn’t be based on someone else’s ideal of the best version of you.

So let’s start with WHY… a very good place to start.

  • WHY does the scale matter in your goal – is it for a competition where you need to be in a certain weight class, then this is a good goal to set. Does it matter what you are going to look/feel like, then this may not be the best measure of your success. The scale is very fickle – many people can lose inches, body fat percentage, look better, feel fantastic and still be the same weight (pounds, kilograms) as they were when they started. The scale is just a number – not a representation of your value to yourself, your family and friends.
  • WHY does body fat matter in your goal – are you going to be judged on stage for the amount of muscle seen/shown, if so, this is a good goal. Are you (and maybe your significant other) the only one that sees yourself in a state of undress most of the time? Yes? Then body fat may be a good measure to calculate on occasion to see how something is working, but know that it can very much depend on the amount of water you drink (or don’t), your sodium intake, how much sleep you had the night before, your stress levels, your type of food intake, etc. Too many factors can shift this number on a hour-to-hour, day-to-day and even week-to-week basis. That being said, it’s a better way to measure success than total weight is, but it’s still not perfect.
  • WHY does your pant/dress size matter in your goal – unless you are buying the exact same brand, color, fit, then this can be as fickle as the scale. One manufacturer may make a size 8 out of one proportion of a woman, and another manufacturer base it on an entirely different size woman. For example, my 5-year-old daughter fit into one size of skinny-cut jeans and another pair of straight-leg jeans were too big for her in that same size (same manufacturer). So to compare yourself in size of dress/pants may be ill-fitting for your success. Now if you fit better in that pair of jeans you have in your closet or have to go to a size smaller in that same fit/manufacturer, then that may be an indication that changes are happening,

WHY behavior matters more – in 12 weeks, I want to be exercising on average 5 days a week, eating vegetables at every meal, and sleeping without waking from 10pm-6am. Are these goals SMART ?- for someone they may be! But it’s also HOW they get to them that matters as much as the WHY.

HOW – start small and one at a time.

Say this person is not exercising once a week and wants to get to 5 times a week. Most people would start at the 5 times per week, but I say – have room to grow. If you start at 5 times per week, this is such a BIG adjustment from your normal routine. This may seem attainable, but probably will only happen for 1-3 weeks max before things fizzle out. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

The pyramids weren’t built in a day – start with one stone at a time.

Instead, start working out 1 or 2 days a week, and make those a solid routine before adding on more. BONUS – when you do add on more days then you are also using more calories than you did the week before, so you will still likely see progress towards your composition goals. Also, your body adapts after about 2 weeks to whatever change you impose, so you have to keep changing the equation.


WHY you want these goals matters most – I want to be a healthier, fitter, better version of me for my joints/kids/heart health/mental health. Go deep with your goal setting, trying to focus less on the surface and uncover what is really bothering you. Are your joints aching when you walk – even just to the bathroom? Are you having a hard time keeping up with your kids, even if it’s just playing in the backyard for 20 minutes? Is your cholesterol/triglycerides/blood sugar getting to the point of out of control? Are you not feeling like yourself anymore? Whatever it is, knowing these WHYs will also keep you going past the week of no changes on scale/body fat%/pant size. You’ll say, who cares, I know I have to keep doing this for _________________ (you fill in the blank).

So dig deep, my friends. Obtain that seemingly elusive success by setting yourself up for it with the best WHY and HOW in mind.


Published by Megan Salazar, RDN CSSD

Megan Salazar is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with over 8 years experience with coaching individuals towards more healthful lives. She loves sharing the potential greatness that individuals can achieve through food, movement and lifestyle. When she's not working with individuals or learning more, she is at home with her husband, 3 kids, and 2 dogs. She loves cooking, baking, and exercising.

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