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Shawn's Story: For Weight Loss, Set Goals Not Timelines

Shawn W shown before and after weight-loss surgery

Shawn Walsh had a laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy at Penn Medicine with weight-loss surgeon Dr. Gary Korus in December 2017. In this blog, he talks about setting realistic goals, or “microgoals,” for sustainable weight loss.

One of the things that I found has been most helpful for me is setting goals. 

Now, I know what you are going to say, every weight-loss plan has goals, right? Well I am here to tell you that not all goals are created equal. 

Set realistic, short-term goals

An example of a goal that many weight-loss programs set is to lose 30 pounds by a fixed time in the near future — by Christmas, for example. Personally, I see several issues with this goal. 

First, it’s unrealistic to think the average person can safely and sustainably lose 15 pounds in less then a month. This may be unrealistic even if you are a bariatric surgery patient, depending on where you are on your weight-loss journey. And, it’s always wise to discuss your goals with your bariatric care team to determine their appropriateness. 

For example, immediately after my bariatric surgery, I lost 15 pounds or more for the first 2 to 3 months. After that, I never saw numbers that high again. 

Focus on progress

Secondly, 30 pounds — while it’s a noble weight-loss goal — is too big of a number to focus on. As humans, our attention spans are limited and we’re not generally programmed to keep information (like goals) in the forefront of our minds for long periods of time. 

What has worked for me, instead, is the use of what I call microgoals (I will go into greater detail about this in another blog and touched upon it briefly, here). 

What I would do instead of setting a goal of 30 pounds is look at my currently weight.  If I were 242 pounds, I would set a microgoal to lose 2 pounds.  That is a small enough to be reachable in a week to two. I could then celebrate that victory and then set a new microgoal. 

When I keep hitting these smaller goals in shorter periods of time, I can better manage and maintain my progress. I feel that they create more of a sense of progress for me. I also feel less defeated for not having hit the 30-pound weight loss, yet. 

Give yourself some time

The last thing that I find wrong with the initial goal, was the timeline. I find that timelines are self-defeating in terms of weight lost. They generally are too aggressive, and when missed, often leave you feeling depressed, dejected, and on the verge of giving up. If you ever have those feelings of defeat, discuss them with your bariatrics care team. They are here to help. (Here’s why staying in touch with your care team is important.)

Guess what? You don’t need them! Stop being so hard on yourself about getting to a to a specific number by a certain date. Set goals without date restrictions.  

As long as you are moving in the overall direction of that goal, then you are doing something right. For instance, in you lose some weight before Christmas, celebrate it! Don’t mourn the fact that you didn’t lose 30 pounds.  

If you mourn a bad timeline, you’re more likely to reach for your coping mechanism, which, for many of us, is food. This is where we get the yo-yoing of our weight. 

By not associating your goal with a timeline, you give yourself one less factor that could derail your progress. 

Celebrate your achievements

Another thing to remember is that numbers fluctuate. 

The overall goal is that the number of the scale moves downwards, but, don’t let small bumps in the stop you. Acknowledge that you could have done better without dwelling on the scale, and recommit to hitting you microgoal. 

Since microgoals are so small, you can quickly turn that small bump into another victory. Celebrate all the small victories and let them give you the drive to finding the healthier you. (Here are five ways you can celebrate non-scale victories.)

Keep Up with Shawn

Over the next several months, we’ll be checking in with Shawn to see how he’s progressing along his weight-loss journey. You can follow along here and on our Penn Medicine Weight Loss Facebook page.

About this Blog

Learn about bariatric surgery and get the support you need to continue on your weight-loss journey. We offer workouts, recipes and tips from Bariatric Surgery program team members, and stories from patients like you.

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