Will You Reach Your Monthly Weight Loss Goal?

You know that tracking what you eat can help you stick to a healthy eating plan and possibly lose more weight. But if you’re not setting a realistic monthly weight loss goal—and an action plan for how you’re going to achieve it—you might not hit your target. And trust us: Few endeavors are as frustrating as struggling with your body weight.

“Look at weight as just one of the indicators of progress but don’t let it be your sole indicator of progress,” says Torey Jones Armul, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

1. Eat sustainably, rather than drastically cutting

Approach your goal of losing about four pounds a month while developing sustainable eating habits, Armul says. For example: If you’re planning to give up all carbs to lose weight, then inevitably in the near future you’ll be presented with pizza, bread, pasta or another food you love, and you might binge—which will send that weight loss out the window. Just like that, you’ve undercut all your prior willpower.

A successful weight-loss diet “is not about being too extreme and cutting out some of your favorite foods or exercising nonstop to hit your monthly weight loss goal,” says Armul.

2. Measure your strength gains, too

There is so much more you can do with a goal than just looking at numbers on a scale,” says Armul. Simply measuring your “weight loss success” with a little box in your bathroom is tricky. Your overall weight is affected by other factors, like lean muscle mass—and you could be building muscle while losing fat, Armul says.

“Look at the strength gains you’ve made,” says Armul.  If you were curling 8-lb dumbbells last month and you’re now hefting 10 lbs in each arm, that’s a leap of progress. If you can deadlift another 10 or 20 pounds now, write down that success and reflect on it. You’re getting stronger! You’re building a lean, muscular physique—and it’ll show.

A better idea: Look at measurements that are more precise than the scale, suggests Armul. “When people are too focused on a number on the scale, it can actually do more harm than good. They might say, ‘I’m already two pounds up. I might as well order dessert tonight.’ People tend to either give up too easily or make some irrational choices based on where they see happening on the scale sometimes,” she says.

3. Remember: the scale can lie

“You want to be well-hydrated—it’s important for weight management and weight loss,” Armul says. “But hydration can have a big influence on what the number shows on the scale.”

Between women’s fluctuating hormones, the whole endocrine system, and whether you’re getting your period…that kind of bloating certainly can retain excess water and that’s going to show up on the scale, says Armul.

“If it’s around that time of the month, well, it’s very common for your body weight to be a little bit higher because you are retaining fluid,” she says. Our bodies ebb and flow in weight, so if you were eating out a lot last week or you’ve been traveling or you were sick, the number you’re seeing on the scale might be higher or lower due to water retained or even water weight lost.

Bottom line: Don’t conflate water weight with fat weight or muscle weight.

4. Factor your age into your monthly weight-loss goals

When you were a decade younger, losing five pounds probably seemed to happen more quickly and more easily. As you get older, dropping vacation or holiday weight can take two months or more.

“As people age, it can certainly be harder to stay at a steady weight, and to see weight loss results as quickly,” says Armul.

There are a few reasons for that. “First, life gets pretty busy, and you may just have less time to devote to exercise, meal planning, and healthy eating. Second, metabolism does tend to slow down a little bit as we age.”

But don’t give up. Aging’s effect on metabolism has likely been overstated, according to research. If you do remain active, especially with strength training and HIIT workouts, you should be able to keep your metabolism steady as you age, Armul says. For example: Strength training and building lean muscle mass helped increase study subjects’ resting metabolic rate (RMR) in both younger and older participants, according to a study published in Europe PMC.

“There are a lot of lifestyle reasons why people may start eating more and exercising less as they age,” says Armul. “But [that metabolic slowdown] certainly can be overcome with a healthy lifestyle, and especially with strength training to maintain [or increase] your metabolic rate.”

5. Should you weigh yourself daily, weekly, or monthly?

If we got to choose a relationship status for our scales, a lot of people would probably settle on “It’s complicated.” How often you should weigh yourself depends on how this tool works best for you. It’s probably the most helpful resource in your arsenal, but you can’t let it determine how you feel or what you think you’re worth that day.

“I generally recommend weighing yourself about once a week, at the same time of day, first thing in the morning before you’ve had anything to drink or eat,” says Armul. “That tends to be the most consistent. And it can serve a useful purpose of keeping yourself on track; acting as an unbiased indicator of where you are and where your body is.”

Remember: Your weight fluctuates hour to hour and week to week. “There’s going to be some natural fluctuation,” Armul says. “You should look at that data at a month’s glance at a time. I have recommended both more frequent weighing for some people and less frequently for others.

“I know some people who like to weigh themselves every day or every other day. I wouldn’t recommend that to most, but for some, it’s just part of their daily routine and it kind of keeps them accountable. They usually know that their fluctuations happen, plus or minus a couple pounds. They’re kind of looking at big picture.”