Does it make any difference how often you weigh yourself? While stepping on a scale doesn’t use many calories the results can have a profound effect on motivation to continue (or abandon) your weight loss efforts.

If you’ve been dieting you might feel especially virtuous because you’ve had a good day. You ate reasonable portions and avoided desserts and other calorically dense foods. If you step on the scale the next morning and find that you’ve gained two pounds how would you feel? You could get discouraged and might be tempted to give up. Would you be better off if you didn’t weigh as frequently?

Opinions and practices vary widely. I remember one anorexic patient who refused to be weighed. When the hospital staff required her to get on the scale she faced backward so she wouldn’t have to see the result. A bulimic college student I was working with weighed herself before lunch, halfway through lunch and again when she was finished.

If you look at diet books the issue is ignored or if it is addressed, you’ll get conflicting advice. For example, The Beverly Hills Diet is insistent that you weigh yourself every day while The Beck Diet Solution, like many commercial programs, advises you to limit yourself to once weekly weighing. In contrast, Eating Mindfully wants you to, “Put the scale away. Hide it, trash it, give it away, or tape over the numbers.”

The first thing to consider in planning weigh-ins is your weight goal. Rather than setting a specific number as a goal, it’s more realistic to set a five-pound weight range. This will minimize the discouraging effects of temporary fluctuations that might result from water retention, constipation or any of the other bodily functions that have nothing to do with long-term progress.

Once you’ve established a reasonable weight range goal consider weighing yourself every day, the first thing in the morning, before you get dressed and have anything to eat. A recent review of the research suggests that contrary to the frequent advice to limit yourself to once weekly weighing, daily weighing can be a useful strategy to lose weight and prevent regain after weight loss. Seeing a small loss may be rewarding. On the other hand, if there’s been a gain over yesterday’s weight, it’s a reminder that an increased focus on today’s intake is needed. The review didn’t find any evidence of harmful psychological consequences of daily weighing. While this advice doesn’t apply to people battling anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, for the rest of us, daily weighing can be a useful strategy to help with weight loss.

References

Pacanowski, C. R., Bertz, F. C. & Levitsky, D. A. (2014). Daily self-weighing to control body weight in adults: A critical review of the literature. Sage Open, 4(4): 1-16. doi: 10.1177/2158244014556992.

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