Jeff Novick, MS, RDN, LDN
People who are trying to lose weight, as well as those trying to maintain weight loss they have already achieved, typically use a scale to keep track of how they are doing. The question of how often to weigh yourself is common and, since daily weight fluctuations can be discouraging, people sometimes ask if weighing yourself regularly is considered a good idea.
To answer the question about if and how often we should weigh ourselves, let’slook at the conclusions of three recent reviews on the topic.
* “Adding self-weighing to a behavioural weight loss programme may improve weight loss. Behavioural weight loss programmes that include self-weighing are more effective than minimal interventions. Accountability may improve the effectiveness of interventions that include self-weighing.”(1)
* “Self-weighing is likely to improve weight outcomes, particularly when performed daily or weekly, without causing untoward adverse effects. Weight management interventions could consider including this strategy. “(2)
* “The findings from prospective, longitudinal studies provide evidence that regular self-weighing has been associated with weight loss and not with negative psychological outcomes.”(3)
As we can see, regular periodic weighing can be beneficial, without negative psychological harm, especially when combined with interventions that include accountability.
The National Weight Control Registry has published several studies on the habits of those who have successfully achieved and maintained significant weight loss over 10 years (4, 5, 6, 7). Their findings are based on the tracking of over 10,000 individuals through detailed questionnaires and annual follow-up surveys designed to identify behavioral and psychological characteristics and strategies used to maintain weight loss. 75% weigh themselves at least once a week.
How often are people weighed during the 10-Day McDougall Program?
All participants are weighed at least three times during the Program. Most of them are weighed on their first or second day (when they first see the doctor), again about halfway though the program (when they have their follow-up visit with the doctor), and on the next to last day of the program (when they have their final visit with the doctor). In some situations, such as when a patient has a change in certain medications, they may need to be weighed every day.
How often should you weigh yourself?
It is important to recognize that weighing yourself is a tool that you can use, not a rule that you must follow. Weighing yourself can be an encouragement (watching the weight go down). It also can be a warning sign (if you see your weight starting to go up).
If you are tying to lose weight, I suggest that you weigh yourself once a week. If you are trying to maintain a weight loss, I suggest weighing yourself more frequently.
The reason that I suggest weighing yourself once a week (and not more often) if you are trying to lose weight is there are many things that can contribute to daily weight fluctuations, including changes in glycogen, water, fiber, stools and salt. Seeing those fluctuations when they go up can be discouraging. If you are someone who wants to weigh yourself every day, don’t focus on the daily weight number. Use a rolling average, which will help smooth out any daily fluctuations.
The reason that I suggest weighing yourself more than once a week if you are trying to maintain a weight loss is that weighing yourself more frequently can be helpful to identify any upward trend before it gets out of hand. Research and my professional experience confirm that catching an upward trend quickly and taking steps to correct the problem right away is a big part of the success of those who have maintained long-term weight loss. If you are following a consistent healthful diet, the odds of you having daily fluctuations are greatly reduced.
Keep in mind that while not all weight changes or fluctuations are due to an increase of fat (most are due to fluid/water), it is still valuable to notice them because they help you to see the impact of what you are eating. For instance, you will be able to see the impact of anything that is high in salt on your weight fluctuations. If you went out to eat at a restaurant and gained 1-3 lbs, you know that food was very high in salt.
On average, most people will lose about 1-2% of their weight per week. So for anyone who is 150-300 lbs, this will be about 1.5 to 6 lbs per week. This means that the more you have to lose, the more you will lose each week. Regardless of whether you have a lot or a little to lose, the amount you will lose each week will slow down over time.
If you want to lose weight and maintain that weight loss permanently, your main focus needs to be on eating well consistently over time. But tracking your weight (whether you want to weigh yourself once a day, once a week, or once a month) has been shown to be a very helpful and effective practice.
(1) Is self-weighing an effective tool for weight loss: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2015 Aug 21;12:104. doi: 10.1186/s12966-015-0267-4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26293454
(2) Self-weighing in weight management interventions: A systematic review of literature. Obes Res Clin Pract. 2016 Sep – Oct;10(5):493-519. doi: 10.1016/j.orcp.2016.01.004. Epub 2016 Feb 17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26896865
(3) Self-weighing in weight management: a systematic literature review. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015 Feb;23(2):256-65. doi: 10.1002/oby.20946. Epub 2014 Dec 17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25521523
(5) Butryn ML, Phelan S, Hill JO, Wing RR. (2007). Consistent Self-monitoring of Weight: A Key Component of Successful Weight Loss Maintenance. Obesity, 15, 3091-3096.
(6) Thomas JG, Wing RR. (2009). Maintenance of long-term weight loss. Medicine & Health Rhode Island 92, 2, 56-57
(7) Thomas JG, Bond DS, Phelan S, Hill JO, Wing RR. (2014). Weight-loss maintenance for 10 years in the National Weight Control Registry. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 46, 1, 17-23.