Does Tracking Your Weight Help Or Hinder Weight Loss?

Does regularly weighing ourself help with weight loss, or weight maintenance? The answer depends on how we use the information our bathroom scale gives us.

According to research and expert opinion, weighing-in two or more times each week can help if we view our bathroom scale objectively, as a useful tool for tracking body mass. However, scales can become a detriment when its numbers stir negative feelings, cause us to feel bad about ourselves, or become a preoccupation.

Upside of Tracking

In The Mayo Clinic Diet Book, it’s suggested that people weigh themselves just twice each week, and keep a record. The book explains that checking more often can provide an inaccurate, and sometimes discouraging picture of our progress owed to daily weight fluctuations.

However, recent studies indicate that daily weigh-ins can help people shed pounds. This is particularly true when the weigh-ins are coupled with weight-loss education and support. Regular tracking may help individuals cultivate, and adhere to meaningful weight loss behaviors as well.

A 2015 Cornell University study, for instance, found frequent self-weighing, and tracking the results on a chart effectively helped people lose weight—and keep it off. Tracking weight “forces you to be aware of the connection between your eating and your weight,” said researcher David Levitsky, a Cornell professor. “It used to be taught that you shouldn’t weigh yourself daily and this is just the reverse.”

The Cornell investigators believe that frequent weight-tracking reinforces certain healthy behaviors, such as eating less, or going for walks. They also suggest the scale functions as a priming mechanism, making people more conscious of their food and activity choices.

Downside of Tracking

Unfortunately, though weight-tracking can enhance diet and activity awareness, it may not motivate some individuals, and can trigger harmful preoccupations in others.

If hopping on the scale and recording weight is a continuous source of anxiety, anger, hopelessness, dread, sadness, or self-loathing it will naturally be counterproductive for weight management. The dietary restraint generated by tracking weight can then spiral down into a depression, disordered eating habits, or other body-image related conditions.

Constant weight checking is one sign that medical professionals look for in people with eating or body-image disorders. Yet, the problem is not engaging in frequent weight checks, it’s feeling driven to do them. The scale’s read-out becomes a distressing preoccupation that may in turn dictate how many bites of food can be eaten, or how many hours of exercise are required.

When weight and food become an obsession, the bathroom scale is no longer a positive, objective tool for awareness, but a negative, subjective assessment of self-worth.

A Better Question

Because weight-tracking can affect each of us differently, there is no pat answer for whether it’s beneficial. It seems the question to ask ourselves is, “Do regular weigh-ins help me stick to my diet and exercise goals, generating progress and positive feelings?” If yes, we may want to invest in a quality bathroom scale and take advantage of its accurate feedback.

If our answer is no, because scales and numbers just don’t motivate us, we might experiment with other ways of staying on track, such as being accountable to a friend or family member for what we consume each day. If the answer is no because food and weight are a distressing preoccupation, getting help from our doctor, and mental health professionals is recommended.

Sources: Cornell News; Obesity Society / Online Library; Healthy Living Matters; Mayo Clinic
Photo credit: Franck Mahon

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