How often should you weigh yourself?
Stepping on the scales is a common practice among dieters who want to shed excess body fat. But how frequently should you weigh yourself when attempting to lose those extra kilos and keep them off?
It’s well known that regular self-monitoring methods, such as recording your physical activity, keeping a food diary and tracking your weight, are fantastic tools to assist with weight loss and maintenance if you’re overweight. The question under debate though, is how frequently you should track your weight.
It was previously recommended that jumping on the scales daily may not be such a good idea because it won’t accurately reflect true weight loss (particularly body fat) since your weight tends to naturally fluctuate throughout the week—think body water fluctuations for one thing. This is probably where the ‘weekly weigh-in’ rule originated, and this point may still have some validity.
The latest thinking
But evidence has been mounting over the past decade that more frequent weighing may, in fact, be the hallmark of success for dieters and weight maintainers. How? It may have something to do with maintaining your motivation due to the constant feedback, which helps keep you focused.
A study from Tempere University of Technology in Finland found that the more frequently dieters weighed themselves, the more weight they actually lost! Researchers have also shown that as the frequency of weight checks decreased—going from weekly to monthly and less than monthly—the larger the weight gained.
This suggests that if you only weigh yourself once a month, you’ll be more likely to gain weight in between, compared to if you step on the scales each morning.
Although this study can’t prove causation, it does demonstrate a distinct link between frequent self-monitoring (weighing yourself) and successful weight management. It has even been suggested that daily weighing may be useful in preventing age-related weight gain that seems to creep on!
Other tools to help you self monitor
Living in the age of technology means there are many useful devices at your disposal developed for health tracking. Just searching the word ‘health’ in the app store generates thousands of results.
Using internet-based food and activity log books has been widely researched and found to be a useful strategy to promote weight loss. If you’re a smartphone user, you’ll find apps that can help you easily track food intake and steps on the go, rather than struggling to recall your habits later on.
Other forms of technology are available to assist you including the popular wearable devices that allow you to record your activity, food intake, weight and sleep in the one place.
And they can be synced with your smart phone and computer for ease of use. Not only that, they’re something you wear all day, which is another great reminder for you to keep on track each time you look down at your wrist!
Preventing weight regain
One of the biggest concerns we dietitians have is for overweight people who struggle to maintain their weight loss. Often, weight regain occurs when clients have achieved their goal weight and wave us goodbye at the door, thinking they’ll now be fine.
Research from the National Weight Control Registry indicates it takes between two and five years for weight maintenance to become easier!
This means that even when you’ve achieved that magic number on the scales, the work is not over. You’ve just entered the ‘maintenance phase’ of your weight management. This means you’re at risk of weight regain if you take your eye off the prize.
This is where professional accountability and self-monitoring methods (as discussed above) can be useful.
In fact, a study published in the Annals of Behavioural Medicine, which compared a group of people who ‘weighed in’ daily to a group weighing in weekly, found that the daily group continued to lose weight after a 10-week maintenance period, while the weekly group actually started to regain some of their lost weight. This means that even in the ‘maintenance phase’, the frequency of weigh-ins appears to have a significant impact on long-term weight management!
In our opinion, a major problem with weight loss programs and fad diets is that they neglect this ‘maintenance phase’. That means, if you don’t have a maintenance program planned, the weight inevitably creeps back on as soon as you return to your normal routine.
True weight loss is not about a temporary change in diet, but a permanent change in your lifestyle, including what and when you eat.
The bottom line
If you’re overweight, whether you want to lose weight or maintain a reduced weight, daily weighing appears to be an effective strategy for success. It allows you to observe any changes to your weight immediately and intervene before you experience significant weight regain.
However, for a truer reflection of your actual body fat loss, it’s still useful to look at weight trends over time. If you have a disordered body image or are underweight, frequent weighing is not advisable. You should seek personalised advice from a dietitian and psychologist experienced in this area and the weighing scales may be removed entirely.
Sue Radd is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and one of Australia’s leading nutritionists and health communicators. Her most recent book Food as Medicine: Eating for Your Best Health received the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best Health and Nutrition Book in the world for 2016.
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