Some people view the scale as their enemy. Others see it as their best friend, a partner in their journey to better health. Can a scale really inspire such diametrically opposite views? It certainly can, and it’s been the center of controversy in the weight loss world for many years, mainly focused on the frequency of its use. That’s because one of the toughest battles after losing weight is keeping it off, and promising research suggests that weighing yourself daily can help you do that.
In a recent two-year study conducted by Cornell University, researchers followed people as they lost weight by their own chosen method for the first year, and then as they worked to maintain their weight loss in the second year.
Throughout the study, participants weighed themselves frequently and then charted their weight on a graph. The study found that the act of daily weighing and then charting the results proved to be an effective tool for weight maintenance. Men lost more weight in the study than women, though the researchers are not sure why. “It used to be taught that you shouldn’t weigh yourself daily, and this is just the reverse,” the study’s senior author, David Levitsky, PhD, a professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell, told The Cornell Chronicle. “We think the scale also acts as a priming mechanism, making you conscious of food and enabling you to make choices that are consistent with your weight.”
But a daily weigh-in is not without potential drawbacks. For one thing, weighing in daily can cause dieters to become overly obsessed with the number on the scale, prompting them to go overboard with diet and exercise, according to Prevention. It can also be misleading, as weight naturally fluctuates throughout the day, and even the week. If the number spikes randomly, dieters can get discouraged.
David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center, specifically recommends against daily weigh-ins. “Body weight can vary by up to five pounds simply due to changes in body fluids and other natural variations,” Dr. Ludwig has said. “More importantly, the waist is a much better indicator than the scale.” For example, after three months on a weight loss diet, one person might lose 10 pounds from fat and 10 pounds from muscle (20 pounds total), whereas another person might lose just 10 pounds from fat, and the scale wouldn’t know the difference. “The scale would suggest that the first person had a better result, whereas biologically, the second one is better off,” Dr. Ludwig says. “For these reasons,” he adds, “I recommend in my new book Always Hungry? weighing yourself not more than once per week, while also monitoring waist circumference.”
Whether you choose to step on the scale and when is ultimately your choice, but there’s value in regular feedback, as it allows you to catch any weight gain quickly and head it off at the pass, by say, trimming portion sizes or revving up your workout regimen. “I find that awareness is the first step in healing,” Dean Ornish, MD, author of The Spectrum, and clinical professor at the University of California San Francisco Medical School, told Reader’s Digest. “Being aware of the way your body works can encourage making significant changes in your lifestyle that allow you to reverse and prevent many health conditions.”
For the most accurate reading, always step on your bathroom scale at the same time each day, preferably first thing in the morning.