Goal setting for weight loss

Behaviors That Will Help You Lose Weight and Maintain It

(The following is excerpted from The National Institutes of Health)

Set the Right Goals

Setting the right goals is an important first step. Most people trying to lose weight focus on just that one goal: weight loss. However, the most productive areas to focus on are the dietary and physical activity changes that will lead to long-term weight change. Successful weight managers are those who select two or three goals at a time that are manageable.

Useful goals should be (1) specific; (2) attainable (doable); and (3) forgiving (less than perfect). "Exercise more" is a great goal, but it's not specific. "Walk 5 miles every day" is specific and measurable, but is it doable if you're just starting out? "Walk 30 minutes every day" is more attainable, but what happens if you're held up at work one day and there's a thunderstorm during your walking time another day? "Walk 30 minutes, 5 days each week" is specific, doable, and forgiving. In short, a great goal!

Nothing Succeeds Like Success

Shaping is a behavioral technique in which you select a series of short-term goals that get closer and closer to the ultimate goal (e.g., an initial reduction of fat intake from 40 percent of calories to 35 percent of calories, and later to 30 percent). It is based on the concept that "nothing succeeds like success." Shaping uses two important behavioral principles: (1) consecutive goals that move you ahead in small steps are the best way to reach a distant point; and (2) consecutive rewards keep the overall effort invigorated.

Reward Success (But Not With Food)

An effective reward is something that is desirable, timely, and dependent on meeting your goal. The rewards you choose may be material (e.g., a movie or music CD, or a payment toward buying a more costly item) or an act of self-kindness (e.g., an afternoon off from work or just an hour of quiet time away from family). Frequent small rewards, earned for meeting smaller goals, are more effective than bigger rewards that require a long, difficult effort.

Weight Loss & Well-Being - The Y's Approach

Our goal at the Y is to help you stay happy, healthy and active for the long term. We feel that adopting and sustaining healthier habits is more important than achieving an idealized body image and the benefits are much greater. It's not a project to get out of the way but a lifelong journey that will pay dividends for decades. It's both fun and hard work that involves taking small steps, getting and giving support, and celebrating achievements and milestones along the way. Ultimately the sense of satisfaction we get from our progress and the relationships we establish are the fuel that keeps us going.

Looking For a Quick Fix?

Quick weight loss methods don't provide lasting results. Weight-loss methods that rely on diet aids like drinks, prepackaged foods, or diet pills don't work in the long run. Whether you lose weight on your own or with a group, remember that the most important changes are long term. No matter how much weight you have to lose, modest goals and a slow course will increase your chances of both losing the weight and keeping it off.

National Institutes of Health

Get Started at the Y

Becoming More Active, Healthy and Strong

Looking to join the Y for the first time? Or maybe you're returning after an extended layover. Either way, we're ready to support you on your path to well-being. We know that just getting started can be a big step and we want to make it as easy as possible.

We've found that members’ odds of success get much better when they start with a good plan that's personalized to their unique needs, and when they get ongoing encouragement to stay the course. Through your free Total Health Consultation, we'll listen to your concerns and desires and work with you to establish realistic personal goals and steps to create healthier habits. Over time, the relationships you build at the Y will allow you to take bigger and bigger steps towards change, help to hold you up when you stumble and keep you focused on the journey.

We support the whole you

At the Y, we celebrate and encourage the whole person. Well-being means more than simply being physically active (although that's important). It’s about maintaining a balanced spirit, mind and body rather than trying to achieve an "ideal" physical goal. The Y is a place where you can work toward that balance by challenging yourself to learn a new skill or hobby, fostering connections with friends through our lifelong learning programs, or bringing your loved ones closer together through our many family-centered activities.

The Y is a Safe Place to Start

Feeling comfortable in your surroundings and feeling welcome and supported play an important role in your success when making life changes. When you come to the Y you'll find a diverse range of people sharing the common goal of staying active, healthy and strong. Take it from Christine, a Y member in Bellevue: "I was impressed that the people seemed warm, open, down to earth and genuine."

Build powerful connections

As you meet others like you at the Y, you can look forward to each new visit, knowing that you're growing stronger and helping to encourage fellow members. “There was a lot of camaraderie in my class. It made it fun. I wanted to come to class,” Christie from West Seattle relates. You'll find that connections like these and the encouragement that our members offer to one another are powerful forces to help you stay on your path to well-being. Even now and again when life gets in the way, you know that your supporters will welcome you back with open arms and motivate you to pick up where you left off.

Learn From Knowledgeable Instructors & Personal Trainers

The instructors and trainers at the Y come from diverse backgrounds and have a wide variety of interests. What they have in common is their ability to listen and ask the right questions, and a dedication to making a real difference in the lives of members. "I love my classmates and my teacher,” says Jana from West Seattle. “Sue is very supportive – even though it’s a group class, she does her best to customize each class based on our level and our needs on any particular day. She’s creative and brings in props to mix it up. In 3 years, I’ve never been bored.” In your initial Total Health Consultation we will recommend classes and trainers that complement your personality, interests and needs.

Find Great Classes to Get Started

The Y offers a wide variety of classes that allow you to start at the level that's best for you, regardless of age or current physical ability. Besides active classes like Zumba®, yoga, cycling and water aerobics, we offer programs and classes that address behavior change, nutrition and healthy cooking. We even offer a number of programs and classes designed specifically for those with arthritis, cancer, Parkinson's and pre-diabetes. When your routine gets too routine or you need more (or less) of a challenge, with hundreds of Y programs to choose from you can always find something new to keep you energized and motivated. See a list of great beginner classes here.

Enjoy the Benefits of Better Health

  • Have More Fun
  • Gain Energy
  • Build Stamina
  • Reach a Healthy Weight
  • Reduce Stress
  • Get Stronger
  • Improve Flexibility
  • Lower Risk of Disease
  • Reduce Risk of Injury
  • Increase Self-Esteem
  • Feel Younger and More Vital
  • Meet New Friends and Enjoy Life!

Beginner Programs at the Y

Great Starting Points for Beginners

We are committed to helping you achieve your goals at the YMCA every step of the way. We've developed a number of fun beginner programs with you in mind. The Creating Lasting Change-Lose to Win program provides a supportive group based environment for those looking to improve their nutrition, physical activity and lose weight. If you are looking for activity, look no further. The Y has a wide menu of options for folks new to physical activity or returning to it after a prolonged absence. Our 101 classes and Express classes are designed for beginners. The Express classes are 30-minute abbreviated versions for those a little short on time.

If you would like to know more about these programs and which ones are best suited to your needs and interests, see the health and wellness director at your local Y. Then join the fun with others just like you! Not all of these classes are available at all Y locations so check your local Y’s program listings.

Most of these programs are free with your Y membership!

Getting Started Series

Are you new to the YMCA? Join the Getting Started Series to learn about various Y programs, meet our expert staff and make connections with other members. Consisting of a monthly orientation class and a rotating schedule of health seminars, the Getting Started Series will give you the tools you need to meet your health and wellness goals while becoming part of the Y community.

101 & Express Group Cycling

Ready to go for a little ride? Don't worry, we'll start out slow and ease into the fun. For those who've never participated in a cycling class, hills and flat terrain are simulated by using various resistance levels on a stationary bike. You control the bike tension to make this workout as challenging or as easy as you like while your instructor guides you on your tour.

101 & Express Pilates

Based on Joseph Pilates' mat technique, this beginner class is designed to increase core strength and flexibility plus align the mind and body. You'll be guided through a series of movements that are coordinated with breathing and performed from a sitting, reclining or standing position. Your class may include equipment such as stability balls, resistance bands and weights. A great way to get started!

101 & Express Step

Take your initial step in stride with low-impact movements performed on and off an adjustable step. Slowly increase in speed and number of steps as you groove to the choreography developed by your instructor.

101 Tai Chi

Introduce yourself to martial arts through this beginner class that uses slow movements to promote health, circulation and relaxation. You'll concentrate on breathing, core muscle strength, and the harmony of your mind, body and spirit. This class is suitable for all levels.

101 Qigong

Experience meditation with gentle movements to cultivate the body's vital energy and stimulate self-healing, spiritual growth and prevent illness.

101 & Express Yoga

Enjoy an introduction to this ancient practice that uses a combination of relaxation, breathing techniques and exercise to combat stress, help circulation and movement of the joints. It can be practiced by anyone to achieve greater health.

Creating Lasting Change-Lose to Win

Learn sustainable ways to eat healthier, move more and lose weight. There are no gimmicks or restrictive approaches just the tools you need to make the necessary changes in your lifestyle to achieve your weight loss goals.

Join this FREE program today and get started on 'Creating Lasting Change!'


Learn to relieve stress and cultivate mindful awareness. Gain balance and perspective by quieting the busy mind. All are welcome.

Low Impact

Learn simple floor movements that will help you improve your cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and flexibility. These routines are great for any age.

Pilates Reformer

This workout is so unique that it cannot be simulated by any other piece of equipment in the gym. Training on the Reformer can completely change the shape of your body because you will be working every muscle group while maintaining core control. Gain strength without adding bulk and end up more flexible with beautiful posture. A small class setting of 5 students to 1 instructor ensures personal attention.

Total Conditioning

Learn to incorporate elements of step, sports agility training, strength, core and mind-body awareness using a variety of equipment. This class is formatted with easy-to-follow progressions.

Walking Group

Enjoy a fun, social way to stay fit and get a great cardiovascular workout. Appropriate for all levels of walking fitness, this class will teach proper walk posture, technique and basic fitness know-how. Walks take place outside, so be sure to dress for our beloved Northwest weather!

Shallow Water Aerobics

Want to get your feet wet? Join us for walking, running, jumping and a variety of aerobic movements that you'll perform in the shallow end of the pool. Increase your heart rate and get a cardiovascular and strength training workout with very little impact. Great for all ages and abilities!

Functional Strength

Try this full body workout, focused on body alignment, awareness and integrated strength to help you perform day-to-day activities with ease. The disciplines of yoga, Pilates and traditional strength and core may be incorporated into this class, which uses a variety of resistance tools to help you become a stronger, more functional you.


At the Y you’ll find a warm environment with friendly members who are all part of a cause dedicated to bringing about meaningful change for themselves and for their community. Y members are a diverse group of people from all walks of life. Here are a few of their stories:

On Eating

If I really want the 'sweet' treat I don't deprive myself, but I learned to make up for it with increased activity. I learned how to ask for support and get it. I learned creative ways of coping with issues as they come up. This happened during our group time together, supporting one another as we journey our way to life-sustaining health. - Carolyn

On Support

With the encouragement and support of my "Y village" I have lost 25 pounds and increased my balance, flexibility, and strength. There are so many fulfilling activities at the Y that I have to remind myself there are only so many hours in the day. - Elsa

On Community

When we moved to Bellevue in 2005 we joined the Y. Lily was not yet two and I was pregnant with Will. Not yet knowing anyone, we had a lot of time and began spending a lot of it at the Y. The Y soon became our connection to a sense of community and belonging here. The people at the front desk learned my name and said hi to me when I came in and the people in the child care rooms were so loving that Lily soon loved going there. - Hope

On Behavior Change

I am a group person, so for me it was motivating to meet in a group once a week. I actually wished the program was longer because the classes really kept me on track. The group was supportive and it was helpful to be accountable to someone else while trying to change my habits. - Gladys

On Success

I still can't believe that I did it! It has been incredibly empowering and has propelled me into a completely different lifestyle. I feel healthier, happier, and I get great pleasure from setting fitness goals and working towards them. - Lynanne
WI exercise more and I am more conscious about nutrition. I walk regularly and I have added a number of local 5K walks to my calendar. I have also started a group at work where we walk together at our lunch break. This program was a new beginning for me and gave me a chance to change my life. - Gladys

Ask a Question

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More Health Programs


LiveSTRONG® at the Y is a small-group program that helps adult cancer survivors reclaim their health and well-being following a cancer diagnosis. Through this program we help create communities among cancer survivors and guide them through safe physical activity, helping them build supportive relationships, and reduce stress—leading to improved quality of life.

Family Coaching

Everyone knows that doing things with others is much more successful than trying it alone. We offer the whole family a way to work on behavior change together. We’ll set goals, learn to listen to one another’s needs, teach you how to make time for energy building activities and help the whole family get on track with a healthy lifestyle. This personal touch allows each individual to create their own health outcomes with support from the people they love and need most. In an engaging environment, families build camaraderie, cohesiveness and established patterns for healthy habits that last a lifetime for children.

Options vary by branch.