Obesity Myth #2: Importance of Realistic Goals

The second myth in the New England Journal Paper on obesity myths, is described as,

“Setting realistic goals in obesity treatment is important because otherwise patients will become frustrated and lose less weight”.

The authors point out that there is little data to support the notion that people with unrealistic goals will lose less weight than those with realistic goals and note that there are even a couple of papers suggesting that those with the most optimistic (but unrealistic) goals may achieve the greatest weight loss.

While I agree that the data to support this “myth” may be lacking, I remain wary of the idea that setting unrealistic goals (or making unrealistic promises) is a helpful practice or should be encouraged.

Given the number of “all or none” thinkers, I see in my practice, I have often seen patients despair and even give up because their efforts got them nowhere close to their “dream weight”.

I also consider it a simple matter of ethical practice to not promise or support patients to pursue unrealistic goals, although I know that some readers and practitioners may prefer to “keep the hope alive”.

Myth or no myth, I will certainly continue counselling my patients to focus on realistic and sustainable goals rather than aim for targets that are unachievable and unsustainable.

This is certainly a ‘myth’ that I’d like to hear my reader’s opinions on – I realise opinions are not data – but they do make for interesting discussions.

Edmonton, AB