A Realistic Look At Goal Setting: Fat Loss

I am starting with fat loss because for this is what the majority people are battling and why they matriculated to my part of the interwebz. You can find the introduction to goal setting here.

A truthful assessment

When setting a goal you have to be realistic about what point you’re starting at. This means stepping back and taking a deep and honest look at yourself. This is not the time for flattering light and proportionate clothing choices. If you want to achieve anything in life you have to have a clear base to work with. Cheating yourself right off the bat is the start of failed results. You have to come to terms with what you want to change about who you are.

©Exodus Photography

From my experience in working with clients I have found the following things to be vital to assessments.

Scale weight
Estimated body fat percentage
Clothing size
Full body pictures (front, side, back)
Performance (cardio, flexibility, strength)
Lifestyle questionnaire (happiness, food relationships, goals)

The combination of these elicit a strong emotional response from my clients. It is this response that provides me with a chance to build off of it to figure out what they want. The kicker is you can do this for yourself with a little bit of personal honesty. Even if you don’t know how to solve the problem you at least have the right questions to ask.

Why the scale does matter

I am one of the few professionals that will tell you the scale matters. It doesn’t tell you everything, no, but it matters. I discussed previously how to read the effects of scale weight but I want to discuss now why the numbers are important.

The majority of people lack a understanding of how low in physical scale weight they need to get to achieve the desired look that they want. This industry is very obsessed with discussing how much lean mass one can put on while also removing body fat.  You might see things like “They lost 10lbs of body fat and gained 10lbs of muscle in 4 weeks!” Often time this just isn’t the case on the level they claim it to be. If you are stuck at 0lbs change in 8 weeks then you simply aren’t doing it right.

Even with the blessing of youth and aggressive training you can only accumulate so much lean mass. I will talk about this in another goal setting post but the point is most people aren’t having results. There isn’t magical muscle mass keeping them from seeing scale drops over a long term. Eventually it does have to move. I will say that the lower in body fat you are the slower the pace will be, so when you enter the 10lb left range this is where trading out is more likely to occur on small levels and you enter into body re-composition.

When you are entering into a fat loss program you need to be realistic about how much fat you need to lose in order to achieve your results.  It is often much lower than you might first anticipate. The majority of females I work with are off by 15-20 pounds in what they think their final weight needs to be. Men are surprisingly worse thinking that they should weigh roughly 30 pounds more on average than they should.  For the average 5’5 woman I train their ideal body, with moderate muscle gains, is usually around 115 pounds.  For the average man of 5’10 I train their “six pack” point usually clocks in at 160 pounds given an intermediate training level.  If they are of a lower training conditioning with little muscle it could be as low as 140 pounds before they saw abs and there would not be much of them. We would then have to move into a lean bulking program to help them achieve the look they want. You have to be willing admit that this round of fat loss is just the first phase.

Those numbers are shocking to most people when I discuss them. Even the biggest pro level, steroid using competitors barely break the 200’s as males and the 140’s as females. Female are notorious for competing at too high of a body fat level as well.

Sustainable loss

For both genders who end up achieving the loss that they desire a new issue arises in the area of sustainable loss.  Sustainable loss means the body fat level you can carry and keep. The main issue with keeping lower body fat levels is hormones.

Lower body fat levels can present health issues in different ways. I should caveat this by saying that it isn’t only low body fat levels that can present the issues but a steady state of over stressing the body with a caloric deficit and overtraining as well. The combination of the all can cause issues  with everything from how hungry you are, to sexual hormone levels in the body. It can affect bone health, libido, thyroid function, wound healing, etc. You name it and it can play a role in how you feel. Your body doesn’t generally like to be starved  without the aid of nutrition, so it forces you to do something about it. You could call it “Set point” or common sense. Whatever the reason you have to make a realistic goal for what you can keep.

The role of training for fat loss

Training in a fat loss state serves different purposes for different people. Not everyone has the same body composition desires and not everyone has ability to achieve them even if they did.  It is safe to say that a “one size fits all” training philosophy for fat loss makes about as much sense as the same diet for everyone. The majority of people’s focus leads more towards increasing intensity while decreasing calories. When you think about it logically it certainly doesn’t make sense. The idea is usually set in a good intent by focusing on change and shock in the system of life. The epic fail comes when that shock leave you sprawled out on a couch with injuries, screwed hormones, and hunger to rival that of Ethiopians on South Park.

It is important to properly gauge your conditioning before entering into a cut and then to adjust as needed based on your response. Many find that in a maintenance caloric level or surplus they can train very aggressively with fast recovery but this can downgrade quickly once caloric intake is restricted. Most don’t have to trade intensity, just volume. Reducing volume of training can be the simple answer to this problem. For some even that isn’t enough and it is possible you may need to downgrade to general activity and mobility drills.

Wherever your line falls you may need to realize that this isn’t the time for the Rocky montage, that may come later when you can actually eat something while in the mountains of Russia. Your goals should be in line for the need, not the ego or youthful day dreams. Don’t sacrifice results because of stubborn or pride, it will leave you only with regret.

The after effect

The end is the beginning. More often than not people don’t understand how to come out of fat loss. It is common to assume the amount of caloric intake for fat loss is the same amount you have to eat for maintenance. This is why I am not really a fan of phrases like “this is a diet for life.” The intent is to drive home the point that eating is healthy is to be practiced for good. What is not usually stated is that the deficit should not be. The after life of your diet shouldn’t be one of gluttony either though, remember how you got there in the first place.

On a different note it is important to tackle the changes in lifestyle as well. When you achieve change you should live it, if you don’t then change isn’t a change at all, it is a blip. When determining your goals you need to include personal ones that may have been inhibited previously because of insecurity or confidence.


-Give a realistic assessment of where you are at. Brutal honesty is key.
-Be realistic about how long it is going to take to achieve your loss and where it might land.
-Set a sustainable goal.
-Adjust training for need, not pride or movie montage glory.
-Realize that the deficit should end and life should begin.

Before starting any new diet and exercise program please check with your doctor and clear any exercise and/or diet changes with them before beginning. I am not a doctor or registered dietitian. I do not claim to cure any cause, condition or disease. I do not provide medical aid or nutrition for the purpose of health or disease and claim to be a doctor or dietitian. This is merely an opinion blog. Read full disclaimer here - http://www.leighpeele.com/disclaimer