January 17, 2017, by Emma Thorne

The tougher the target, the greater the gain?

In the latest of our New Year, New You blog mini series, Dr Amanda Avery, an expert in diet and nutrition in the School of Biosciences discusses how setting your sights high can be more successful in achieving the healthy lifestyle of your dreams.

Healthcare professionals often encourage us to set realistic targets when it comes to making lifestyle changes. Being realistic may perhaps help to protect us from disappointment from not being able to achieve more challenging targets.

However, recent research conducted by academics at the University of Nottingham, suggests that for some people wanting to lose weight it is really important that they visualise where they want to be. For those people who have quite a lot of weight to lose to become a healthy weight, this might mean that they set themselves quite challenging targets. In this study, the Slimming World members who set the highest targets lost the most weight 12 months after they had embarked on their weight loss journey.

Visualising what you would like to look like and what the benefits to you personally are going to be if you lose weight can be quite empowering and perhaps make you think a little bit harder about what you need to do to be able to achieve success. A key point is that the target needs to be personal and meaningful at a personal level. Individual targets will be different and this does not matter – it is just so important that the target is meaningful to the individual.

If you have set a challenging target it may mean that you are less likely to over-indulge in foods (and drinks) which deep down you know have a high energy content. If you have set a less challenging target then it may be that you think ‘just one more is not going to matter’ or ‘I will not do any exercise today – it can wait until tomorrow’.

For some people more challenging targets will mean a greater commitment to making sure that they access the appropriate support and have systems in place to help themselves become successful. For example, they may feel that they need to access a group to get the peer support and for there to be a regular monitoring system in place. Monitoring weight and other lifestyle changes on a regular basis can be a very powerful motivator – particularly if you see weight coming down in the direction you are hoping to see.

Challenging targets are tough and not everyone will succeed in getting to where they would like to be and indeed this was the case in the recent study. However, psychologically we’re likely to feel slightly less disappointed if we haven’t quite achieved a challenging target than if we had not been successful in achieving a more modest target – and of course the weight loss is going to be greater.

So 3 key messages;

  • Set a personal target which is important to you
  • Don’t be afraid of being ambitious, but make sure you have good support mechanisms in place to put yourself in the best possible position to be successful.
  • Challenging targets can be inspirational.


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