How You'll Know When You've Reached Your Goal Weight

Weight loss isn't all about the number on the scale.

How Will You Know When You've Reached Your Goal Weight?
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When people set out to lose weight, they often have a specific number goal in mind. Maybe it's the weight you were in college, a pre-baby weight, or something more arbitrary — a number that you think will make you happy. But those who are successful in reaching weight-loss goals are often left wondering when they're actually *finished* with their weight loss. Is it when you hit that specific number goal? Is it when you fit into a certain pair of jeans? Is it when you're tired of thinking about your weight? Here's how dietitians help their clients decide when it's time to go into maintenance mode — their perspective might surprise you.

Why Your Weight Loss Goal Should Be Flexible

First thing first: Dietitians, nutritionists, and other professionals don't really encourage the idea of a "goal weight" that comes in the form of a specific number. "People may have an idea in their head about what a goal weight for them should be, but it's usually unrealistic juxtaposed against the life they actually want to live that's filled with energy, vitality, and strength; or against the body shape and size they seek to have," says Emily Field, R.D. For example, you may be proud of all the muscle you're putting on thanks to your dedicated strength sessions, but those gains could increase the number on the scale — even though you're maintaining healthy habits. In that case, your supposed goal weight might be in opposition to another goal you value.

What's more, sustainability is key, and often an "ideal weight" based on a chart or weight from years ago simply isn't possible to maintain. "The whole trick with weight loss is actually to keep it off, not to get it off," says Brigitte Zeitlin, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.N. After all, research shows that many people who lose weight end up gaining some or all of it back. While it's not a foregone conclusion that this will happen after successful weight loss, setting a realistic goal can help prevent regaining weight. "If you set a weight that is too unrealistic for your body, then you will never maintain it long-term, even if you reach it, and reaching it may even feel like torture because your body is not meant to live at the number," says Zeitlin. So set a realistic goal weight with the help of a medical professional and you'll probably get there and stay there.

Plus, there's the fact that many people who successfully lose weight end up feeling amazing at a different number than they anticipated. "I have worked with some clients who feel great after losing 10 pounds and decide they are happy with that and not the initial 15 they wanted to lose," says Zeitlin. "Health is so much more than a number." More recently, adherents to the Health At Every Size (HAES) movement are advocating for a perspective that values a holistic view of health and ditches the notion that health should be viewed through a weight-specific lens.

The Signs You've Reached a Sustainable Weight for You

So how do you know when you've reached that magical happy place that is your ideal weight? While it varies from person to person, there are some general commonalities you might notice. Here are the top signs that your body is at a happy weight, which don't have anything to do with the number on your scale.

Your doctor says you're healthy.

"Looking at medical numbers such as blood pressure, resting heart rate, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels can be big indicators of health, many times more than the number on your scale," says registered dietitian Amanda Barnes, R.D.N. It's a huge misconception that someone with a technically "overweight" BMI cannot be healthy — and the formation of the BMI system was influenced by racial and social biases. If your own personal ideal weight happens to be at a higher BMI and your doctor says you're good to go in terms of metabolic health, that's perfectly fine — and maybe a sign that you should adopt a HAES mindset.

Your non-scale measurements of success are improving.

These metrics can be pretty much anything you want, but it's important to have them so you'll know when you're getting closer to where you want to be, says Field. "I use a variety of assessments to track progress with my clients," she says. "We take body measurements, assess lifestyle changes, measure food volume or total macronutrients over time, and record athletic performance improvement." These are all specific, measurable ways to figure out how you're doing with your weight loss. Taking body fat measurements can also be helpful. "I can show clients incredible body composition changes (lean muscle gain and fat loss) in spite of never really seeing significant and drastic changes in scale weight," says Field.

Your energy is on point.

How your body feels as you go about your daily routine is also a helpful indicator of when you're nearing your goal. "For many, this is the weight when they perform well in the physical activities they love, have great energy consistently, are sleeping well, and feel resilient through challenges and stressors," says Field. So if you notice that you're not breathing as heavily when you're running your usual 5K, or you finish an hour of cycling and feel like you could do more, that might be a sign that you're at your ideal size.

You're able to keep your weight constant.

If your weight has been consistent for a while and you feel that it's not difficult to keep it there, that's a pretty sure sign that you're in a good spot. "You might have reached your ideal weight if it feels effortless to maintain," says Field. This will usually mean you're able to eat in a way that makes sense to you, and that makes you feel satisfied mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Your eating plan has become uncomplicated.

"When you are losing weight in a sustainable way, it will affect the way you plan your meals and think about your plate, which will eventually feel like second nature," says Zeitlin. This is also a good indicator that you'll be able to maintain your weight loss long-term. "Once the amount of vegetables on your plate just comes naturally to you, that's a good mental sign that you've changed your lifestyle habits and have reached a good goal." You might also find yourself practicing intuitive eating, a style of non-dieting that teaches people to trust their body's signals — whether that means ditching your planned kale salad for a lunchtime sandwich with fries, or swapping in a greens-filled smoothie when it sounds delicious to you.

You're enjoying your lifestyle.

"It sounds simple, but I truly believe that your best weight is whatever weight you reach when you're living the healthiest life you actually enjoy living," says Field. That means if you enjoy hitting the gym five days a week but you also want to have pizza and beer with your friends once a week, your ideal weight is one where you can do both of those things and feel good about it. Because while maintaining healthy habits is important, so is living your life.

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