Slimmers who set ambitious targets lose twice as many pounds as those who try to be realistic, according to new research.
A study of more than 24,000 dieters found those who set the toughest goals shed almost a fifth of their body weight - about double the amount of those who lowered the bar.
The findings are food for thought for those making a New Year resolution to go on a diet.
And obesity experts are calling for changes to public health guidance which suggests slimmers set themselves a ‘realistic’ target of losing 5-10 per cent of their starting weight.
They want patients to aim for their ‘dream weight’ after the dramatic results of the 12 month experiment reported in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics .
The participants were Slimming World members with a BMI (body mass index) of at least 30 which put them in the obese category who were all attending weekly group support sessions.
Those whose aim was to lose less than 10 per cent of their body weight did typically achieve their goal shedding an average of 11 per cent - equivalent to 1st 11lbs for someone who weighs 16 stone.
But those who set the most ambitious targets lost almost twice as much weight overall - an average of 19 per cent in a year, or 3st 1lb for someone weighing 16st.
Change of approach needed?
In the UK around a quarter of people are obese, meaning their weight could be seriously affecting their health.
The traditional approach advised by NHS Choices is thought to be based on the thinking ambitious goals are less likely to be achieved, which could result in disappointment, decreased effort and people giving up on their journey.
But the new research suggests rather than trying to protect them from disappointment health experts should instead be encouraging slimmers to ‘shoot for the moon’ and get support to achieve their goals.
Professor Amanda Avery, a nutritionist at Nottingham University, said: “January is the most popular time of the year to start a healthy weight loss programme and so it’s really important people have the information they need to maximise their chances of success.
“We know current NHS and NICE advice around realistic weight loss targets is designed to protect slimmers from disappointment.
“However, suggesting that people place limits on their weight loss aims could stop people from seeing what they’re capable of. It’s important that people have aspirations and can visualise themselves achieving success.
“This research shows that, when it comes to losing weight, it’s best to inspire people to set the weight loss target they would personally really like to achieve. This will help with their motivation as, if it is really their dream weight, they’ll be far more committed to achieving it.
“Setting a target is really only the beginning, though, and it’s vital that people also get regular support to make healthy changes to their eating and activity habits and to help them stay focused, committed and encouraged.
“Working together with others to share experiences and solutions to challenges and to celebrate successful weight loss and behaviour change can keep people motivated to achieve long-term success.
“It’s great that the NHS and NICE already encourage people who want to lose weight to set a target, as our study found that people who set their own personal target - as most of our members choose to - were 10 times more likely to be successful.
“The next stage is for them to look more closely at how encouraging patients to aim for their dream weight can increase their chances of success, as long as they’re also getting support along the way.”
“I set myself that high target and I haven’t looked back.”
Hollie Barrett, 30, from Suffolk, lost 8st 6lbs after her Slimming World Consultant encouraged her to set the Personal Achievement Target she really wanted.
She said: “I was 17st 11lbs at my heaviest and my confidence was really low. I felt like my weight was holding me back in every aspect of my life, especially when it came to doing things with my children.
“Even things other mums might take for granted, like taking the children swimming, seemed off limits because I felt so self-conscious. I once chased my daughter, Imogen, up the stairs to bed and was so breathless I couldn’t speak properly to read her a book - it broke my heart. I didn’t want them to be bullied at school because their mum was so overweight either.
“My whole life I’d wanted to be a size 8 but I never really believed I could be.
“I set myself that high target, committed to following the plan 100 per cent and in my first week I lost 9½lbs! From there I haven’t looked back.”