When it comes to losing weight, we all employ various tools and methods to ensure we achieve our goals, whether it’s a workout buddy, food diary, fitness-tracking watch or weekly selfies. One of the most popular? Simply weighing oneself to track pounds. Two recent studies examine how stepping on the scale may affect us.
Daily self-weighing gets weight loss results
For some people, getting on the scale every day is a real motivator. A new study found that when obese or overweight people weighed themselves daily, they shed more pounds than less-frequent weighers did.
At the start of the study, 91 people completed questionnaires about their diets, exercise and other health-related behaviors. They tracked their weight loss over time, with half the group instructed to weigh themselves every day. Six months later, the daily weighers lost 13 to 14 pounds while the less-frequent weighers shed about seven pounds. The daily weighers were more likely to leap whole-heartedly into a weight-loss program while adopting additional healthy habits, like cutting between-meal snacks, restaurant meal and TV time and adding exercise, says lead author Kristine Madsen, MD, of the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health.
So why do those who weigh themselves consistently make healthier lifestyle choices? Perhaps they didn’t want to see the numbers go up despite all their efforts, or just the opposite: They become extra motivated as they saw themselves get closer and closer to their end goal.
Frequent self-weighing is linked to depression
On the other hand, another study suggests that compulsively checking weight may do more harm than good. Researchers found that young women who monitor their weight too frequently may be at risk for depression. They are much more likely to also have lower levels of self-esteem and body satisfaction, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
Over 1,900 young adults, nearly two-thirds female, took part in the study. For over a decade, researchers tracked the girls’ weighing habits, as well as weight and psychological well-being. Girls who weighed themselves frequently engaged in “extremely dangerous weight-control behaviors at a rate of 80 percent," said lead author Carly Pacanowski at the University of Minnesota.
Researchers, however, were clear this study does not indicate a cause-and-effect relationship (e.g. the participants may have been predisposed to depression or anxiety about their weight). Still, this study highlights the importance of balance: Weighing yourself once a day may be encouraging as a useful tool to measure progress, but any more than that and the weight-loss journey may simply become an obsessive numbers game.
Whether or not you use the scale to help you drop pounds or maintain your ideal weight, these studies remind us of the most important weight-loss skill there is: remembering it’s really all about your health—not what the scale reads.