Q. I'm Following A Weight-Loss Plan. How Often Should I Weigh Myself?
People trying to lose weight tend to fall into two camps: Some swear by stepping on the scale daily, while others check their weight weekly or only occasionally—and even then, they might be holding their breath and peeking through their fingers.
This might seem like a matter of personal preference, but research indicates there's more to it than that. So is one method better than the other for your overall results?
Option 1: The Occasional Weigh-In
Your weight on any particular day can be impacted by numerous variables, including the previous day's food, fluid, and sodium intake, and even your stress and sleep habits. The swing, both up and down, can be larger than you expect, too. One day you're down. Hooray! The next, you're up—then up again. Yikes! If you're the type of person who feels like you're personally on trial every time you step on the scale, this can be exhausting.
But is the weekly version of this ritual any better? A study out of Psychological Reports found that weekly weigh-ins, the preferred method of choice for many popular group weight-loss meetings, motivated many people to "beat the scale" by engaging in unhealthy weight-control practices in an effort not to look bad or feel embarrassed.
Of course, "beat last week's weigh-in no matter what it takes" isn't an ideal way to make a lasting, healthy lifestyle change. Additionally, having large spaces between weigh-ins may leave weight gain unnoticed, making a single weigh-in feel like a serious punch in the gut.
Have people been successful with weekly weigh-ins? Of course. But just as many, if not more, saw something they didn't like and gave up altogether. That's exactly what we're trying to avoid here.
Here's my take: If you're going to gauge your progress by what the scale says—which is a big "if," as I'll discuss later—get on it more often than just "occasionally."
Option 2: The Near-Daily Weigh-In
Stick with daily weigh-ins for long enough, and you'll quickly see that your weight isn't static. It fluctuates! On the other hand, while a day or two might be off, if you pull back and look at weekly or monthly averages, you can still see whether you're heading in the right direction. That's definitely easier to see with multiple weigh-ins each week rather than just one.
But does it actually lead to results? Yes, the existing research shows numerous cases where daily weigh-ins helped people build a healthier approach to weight loss compared to those weighing in less frequently. For example, a study published in PLOS One examined the relationship between self-weighing frequency and weight loss over time.
Researchers looked to see if there was a link between how often people weighed themselves and their weight-loss results over a long period. They found that those who weighed in daily (versus a group with 1-6 days between weigh-ins, 7-29 days, or 30-plus days) lost significantly more total weight. Those with longer intervals between weigh-ins had a much slower rate of loss and lost less total weight.
"Sure," the weekly weigh-in advocate chimes in, "but those people were miserable and felt bound to the scale." Not necessarily. A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine looked at depressive symptoms, body satisfaction, restrictive behaviors, control over food intake, and susceptibility to hunger in patients participating in daily weigh-ins versus those who weren't. Researchers found those weighing in daily lost more weight and didn't have as many adverse psychological outcomes.
Specifically, those who weighed in daily demonstrated increased dietary restraint and feelings of control, improved body image, and decreased susceptibility to hunger. Other studies have confirmed similar findings. And once the weight has been lost, numerous studies have demonstrated an association between more frequent weighing and improved weight maintenance.[5-8]
Still not convinced? Let's take a look at a group of weight-loss professionals. The National Weight Control Registry contains information on thousands of individuals who've lost more than 30 pounds and kept if off for at least one year. More than 44 percent report weighing themselves at least once per day, while 79 percent report weighing themselves at least once per week.
Put it all together, and it seems that for many people, frequent weighing is an integral component of their long-term success.
Can daily weigh-ins be done wrong? Definitely. Plenty of people have seen their weight go up a pound and, say, not eaten on that day or made a similarly drastic choice. But with the right mindset, the daily ritual can be a very helpful tool. Just remember that the number itself doesn't matter. Seriously—go buy a scale that's off by 30 pounds, if it helps you to just watch the trends.
So now I'm going to tell you to weigh yourself every day without exception, right? Actually, I'm not. While I see value in the research into daily weigh-ins, I don't think everyone needs to weigh themselves that often. Among other reasons, it strikes me as giving too much credence to the scale itself.
The thing about weight is that it's really just one piece of the progress puzzle; it's not the piece. Exercise performance, appearance, measurements, energy level, body-fat percentage—all of these things indicate important changes, but you can't measure them as readily as weight. I've found that for fairly "enlightened" fitness folks, a daily trip to the scale can make that number begin to mean too much.
Have you found a routine that works for you? Do you feel like you're in control of your situation? Is your nutrition humming along, or is it a raging tire fire? Are you pushing yourself adequately, but also recovering adequately? These things are far more important than a single number.
If weight loss is your goal, then sure, weigh yourself. Two or three times per week should be sufficient to give the benefits of the daily weigh-in without the stress of the weekly one. But know this: Sometimes the scale won't budge for days or even weeks, even though important changes are happening in the realms of body composition and athletic performance.
When this is the case, it's just a question of riding out the doldrums and continuing to keep up your quality training and solid nutrition. Keep these parts of your fitness life rolling, and the numbers will catch up!
- Heckerman, C.L., Brownell, K.D. & Westlake, R.J. (1978). Self and external monitoring of weight. Psychological Reports, 43(2), 375-378.
- Helander, E.E., Vuorinen, A.L., Wansink, B. & Korhonen, I.K.J. (2014). Are Breaks in Daily Self-Weighing Associated with Weight Gain? PLOS One, 9(11): e113164. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113164.
- Steinberg, D.M., Tate, D.F., Bennett, G.G., Ennett, S., Samuel-Hodge, C. & Ward, D.S. (2014). Daily self-weighing and adverse psychological outcomes. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 46(1), 24-29.
- O'Neil, P.M. & Brown, J.D. (2005). Weighing the evidence: benefits of regular weight monitoring for weight control. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 37(6), 319-322.
- Jeffery, R.W., Bjornson-Benson, W.M., Rosenthal, B.S., Lindquist, R.A., Kurth, C.L. & Johnson, S.L. (1984). Correlates of weight loss and its maintenance over two years of follow-up among middle-aged men. Preventive Medicine, 13(2), 155-168.
- Jeffery, R.W. & French, S.A. (1997). Preventing weight gain in adults: Designed, methods and one year results from the Pound of Prevention Study. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 21, 457-464.
- Klem, M.L., wing, R.R., McGuire, M.T., Seagle, H.M. & Hill, J.O. (1997). A descriptive study of individuals successful at long-term maintenance and substantial weight loss. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 66(6), 239-246.
- Butyrn, M.L., Phelan, S., Hill, J.O. & Wing, R.R. (2007). Consistent self-monitoring of weight: A key component of successful weight loss maintenance. Journal of Obesity, 15(12), 3091-3096.