Monday, February 8, 2010

To Weigh or Not To Weigh

Should you weigh yourself every day? Good question! We used to teach restraint with the bathroom scale. We thought that it was better to weigh only once a week so that you could see your progress over time and not be fixated on the slight fluctuations that happen in normal weight management. Well, data from the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) show otherwise. People who are successful losing weight and maintaining weight loss, weigh themselves daily. The logic is that if (or when) you gain a couple of pounds, you will correct for that gain with more activity or decreased food intake. This is an important skill to master in weight loss and maintenance.

Energy balance is maintained when energy intake is equal to energy output. But this equation is not easy to achieve, in fact, it probably is never achieved on any one day. The best that research has been able to show is within 50 to 100 calories of input or output. So there is never a day when we burn 2000 calories and eat 2000 calories. Maybe we burn 2014 calories and we eat 2115 calories. And the next day we burn 2354 calories (we exercised that day) and we eat 2274 calories. And that's how it goes. We need a tool to be able to measure the effect that this has on our body. The scale is such a tool. Whether you hate it or not, it can keep you honest about what you are really doing.

My recommendation to my weight loss clients now is to start with weekly weights until about five pounds are lost. Then it's time to weight daily. I know how much work goes into losing weight and I want my clients to be successful and not regain lost weight. The key with monitoring weight is to weigh on the same scale at the same time of day, wearing the same clothing (it is best to wear no clothing or minimal clothing). Write it down in your journal (because writing everything down increases your chances of success) and move on. At the end of the week go back and look at your weights and write a summary of your progress. It may go something like this:

Started the week at 155.6 pounds. Weight went down to 154.3 by midweek. Ate Chinese food for dinner at the end of the week and noticed that weight went up to 155.1 pounds. Probably holding extra water from all the salt in the restaurant meal
the night before. Finished the week at 154.7. Lost almost one pound this week.
Now, weighing daily is not good for people who struggle with eating disorders. If you are aware of disordered eating patterns, you will require both diet and psychological/behavioral therapy and you will have recommendations made by eating disorder specialists. The rest of us need to stop hating the scale. When we hate the scale, we hate ourselves. It's just a number that helps us measure progress toward our goal. We expect to see drastic changes in a short amount of time, but research again shows us that those who are most successful with maintaining weight loss, lose weight very slowly, 1/4 to 1/2 pound a week. So when the scale tells you that you've lost 0.4 pounds in one week, feel confident that slow and steady wins the race!


  1. Great post on weight loss, Carol! Ever since I started trying to lead a much healthier lifestyle, I've been weighing myself on a weekly basis. Every Sunday morning right when I get up. It's definitely helped me a lot monitoring my weight.

    As far as weighing in daily, I agree that it might not be as beneficial for people who may have eating disorders or who heavily rely on the scale to determine what they should do about it. Like some might even starve themselves instead of doing more exercise as I've witnessed before.

    What do you think of the new scale they came out with that post your current weight on Twitter?

  2. Your mention of the "Twitter Scale" is the first I heard aboout it. It's a very interesting concept and I understand the idea behind it (similiar to the public weigh-ins that some weight loss groups employ). I think it can be useful for some people. But I also think that it won't be popular with a majority of people. I think many people are very private, despite all their involvement on social media. To me, this seems too over the top. I doubt I'll be recommending it. Thanks for your post!!