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A Realistic Look at Goal Setting: Fat Loss

I am starting with fat loss because this is what the majority of 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 where you are starting. 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 work from a place of honesty and self-awareness. 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.

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From my experience working with clients, I have found the following information vital for an accurate assessment.

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 usually elicit strong emotional responses from my clients. It is these responses that provide me with the opportunity to figure out what they truly 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, at least you will be asking the right questions.

Why the Scale Matters

I am one of the few professionals that will tell you the scale matters. It doesn’t tell you everything, but it matters. Previously, I discussed how to read the effects of scale weight, but now I want to explain why the numbers are important.

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

Even with the blessings 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 getting results. There isn’t magical muscle mass keeping them from seeing scale drops over the 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 10 pound remaining range, trading out is more likely to occur on small levels and you enter into body recomposition.

When you begin 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 anticipate at first. The majority of females I work with are usually over by 15-20 pounds when they tell me what they think their final weight should be. And estimates that men give are often worse; the majority of them overestimate what they should weigh by roughly 30 pounds. The average 5’5″ woman I train usually has an ideal body with moderate muscle gains of around 115 pounds. For the average 5’10” man I train, their “six pack” point usually clocks in at 160 pounds given an intermediate training level. If they are at a lower training and conditioning level with little muscle, it could be as low as 140 pounds before they see abs, and even then there would not be much definition. A lean bulking program would be required to help them achieve the look they want. You have to be willing to 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 200s if male and the 140s if female. Females are notorious for competing at too high of a body fat level as well.

Sustainable Loss

For those who end up achieving the loss they desire, a new issue arises in the area of sustainable loss. Sustainable loss means the body fat level you can carry and keep, and the main issue with keeping lower body fat levels has to do with 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 issues, it can also be a steady state of overstressing the body with a caloric deficit and overtraining. The combination of these can cause issues with everything from how hungry you are to the sexual hormone levels in your 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 can call it “set point” or just common sense; but whatever the reason, you have to make a realistic goal for what you can maintain.

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 the 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 toward increasing intensity while decreasing calories. When you think about it logically, it doesn’t make sense. The idea comes from a place of good intentions; it focuses on change and shock to the system of life. The epic fail comes when that shock leaves you sprawled out on a couch with injuries, screwed up hormones, and hunger to rival that of the Ethiopians on South Park.

It’s important to properly gauge your conditioning before entering into a cut, and then to adjust as needed based on your response. Many find that at a maintenance or surplus caloric level, 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 the volume of your 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 a Rocky montage; that may come later when you can actually eat something while training in the mountains of Russia. Your goals should be in line with your need, not with your ego or youthful day dreams. Don’t sacrifice results because of stubbornness or pride; doing that will only leave you 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. It is not. 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 and should be practiced for good. What is not usually stated is that the deficit should not be. The afterlife of your diet shouldn’t be one of gluttony either, so remember how you got there in the first place.

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


-Give a realistic assessment of where you are. 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.

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