If you have never struggled with a weight problem, I know the following scenario may sound crazy.
But if you have, you know exactly the angst we weight-challenged have associated with the scale. You jump on the scale in the morning and your weight registers up 3 pounds from yesterday. Crushed, you check at 10 a.m. and it’s up again! You figure, OK, I’ve had breakfast and beverages so of course the read is higher. But that somehow doesn’t diminish the blow of the numbers. And it doesn’t make you feel any better.
Still, this doesn’t stop you from weighing a couple of more times that day, hoping for the best at bath scale roulette. The next morning you do the same thing. Except this time the scale reads 2 pounds lower than yesterday. Wow! You must be doing something right! Then the next morning….
This is classic OCW – obsessive compulsive weighing. Back in the day I was a season ticket holder on the weighing OC team. This is a disturbance that has many faces. Yours may look a little different yet have the same demoralizing effects.
It doesn’t need to be that way. I’m living proof that the scale can be your friend, a tool in your healthy fitness quest. You may be among the ranks of those who figure the best strategy is to throw the scale away because you’ve had it with the emotional whiplash. But this is living in fear and gives more power to the scale than ever. There is another way. Let’s see what the research says about weight and weighing in. Then I’ll tell you a little bit about how I’ve befriended the ‘numbers beast’ to my benefit and how you can too.
When it comes to stepping on the scale, what is the truth: does it help or hinder weight management?
It’s a source of common, often emotionally charged, debate: will weighing yourself help you to lose and/or manage your weight?
I’m an all-cards-on-the-table kinda woman when it comes to fitness stats – spare me the wishful thinking and give me the facts. So I’ve cultivated the now healthy habit of weighing in regularly to help track and keep my weight in check. Thank goodness I no longer “OC” about it, as in the old days. Now it serves compatible purpose.
How did I make the switch from OCW and letting the scale readout manage my moods? More about that later, I promise. In fact, I’ll bring you an entire article and guide as follow-up.
First, it’s high time someone did some research on the positives or negatives on weighing when it comes to weight management and actually it has been done. The results were reported by The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.
Here’s the study prompt as background:
Admittedly, self-weighing has received “conflicting endorsement” in the obesity literature – from both researchers and practitioners alike! Some recommend it is a key strategy for weight management. Others caution that self-weighing can be an emotionally loaded practice that can cause negative consequences, psychologically speaking, with weight management failure. The purpose of the research by the IJBNPA was to evaluate the evidence. That is, evidence regarding the use of regular self-weighing for both weight loss and weight maintenance.
The study consisted of, primarily, a literature review. That means, the researchers reviewed previous studies on self-weighing. Interestingly, 11 of the 12 studies reviewed indicated that more frequent self-weighing was associated with greater weight loss or weight gain prevention. The reviewers admit that the studies were not perfect. And believe me, from my experience in research it is darn-tootin’ hard if not next to impossible to have “perfect” research when it comes to human behavior – too many variables. But the researchers concluded – their findings from 11 of the 12 reviews conducted – that there does not seem to be, after all is said and done, anything bad about weighing yourself. As a matter of fact:
Based on the consistency of the evidence reviewed, frequent self-weighing, at the very least, seems to be a good predictor of moderate weight loss, less weight regain, or the avoidance of initial weight gain in adults. More targeted research is needed in this area to determine the causal role of frequent self-weighing in weight loss/weight gain prevention programs. Other open questions to be pursued include the optimal dose of self-weighing, as well as the risks posed for negative psychological consequences.
Truthfully? I find that the scale DOES help me stay on track. Yet I also am quick to caution you on other elements to consider when weighing.
Keep in mind: factors other than fat gain can contribute to weight gain on the scale:
- added muscle can mean added weight that benefits you; at the same time, inch loss with a stable weight is a powerful indicator of increased and maintained muscle mass, something you definitely want. Yet keep in mind that muscle is hard won. You don’t gain 5 pounds of muscle in a week. Or two weeks. As muscle is challenged, and being built, it will retain more fluid in the tissue in the process of repair and growth that can show up on the scale as well.
- weight can fluctuate somewhat “wildly” (we tend to freak out about 2 – 3 pounds) from day to day depending on hydration, sodium intake, carbohydrate intake, hormonal profile, and other dietary or pharmaceutical factors. It is the averages over the course of weeks that is a more true indicator.
- time of day makes a difference. Always weigh first thing in the morning, before drinking or eating, and in the same lightweight, minimal clothing.
How to get off the fear of the numbers and make the scale your friend
It is possible to cultivate a detachment from the numbers that allows you to use the scale objectively for your purposes of weight management. I’ve done it and so can you. Stay tuned for the followup guide: Be present with your poundage: How to weigh mindfully, get out of fear of the scale, and use the bath scale to help you lose weight.
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[Reference: Int J Beh Nutr Phys Act. 2008 Nov 4;5:54. The Impact of Regular Self-weighing on Weight Management: A Systematic Literature Review. VanWormer JJ, French SA, Pereira MA, Welsh EM]
I got rid of my scale years ago and it was the best thing I ever did. Now that it’s watermelon season I’ve been eating an entire watermelon every day. So I’d rather have OCWE (obsessive compulsive watermelon eating) because although my tummy swells when I eat an entire watermelon, it always goes back down. Also, watermelons are high in lutein, folic acid and alkaline water, among other essential nutrients.
Don, I love your response and sense of humor. OCWE indeed!
The value of weighing to manage weight and health is not for everyone, as noted – the research simply shows it is a helping factor to many. Obviously you’ve got your own effective system. Bravo and thanks for sharing!
laugh. I’m with Don on the watermelon. Hubby gets a kick out of how much watermelon I eat. he gets me watermelon instead of junk food now days when he’s getting himself a treat.
Condalicia I know what you mean. We don’t have small bowls of watermelon around here – it’s a BIG bowl or plateful. Yums!
hi Lani, god that article you have posted has my name all over it, i weigh every day and the scales predict my mood for the day unfortunaltely. I weigh in the same time every day and some days (even when my diet does not change) the scales can tell me i have gone up by a kilo, then the next day a bit more ans soon. Then i take more strict measures for the next day and still the scale will go up and then somedays it will then go down slightly, so i spend most of the time up and down up and dow, GRRRRRRRRRRRRR very frustrating. One thing for sure though is that i will remain a vegan no going back. you say carbs are also the indicator for the scales going up, very hard to cut back on when you are a vegan eater. Unlike friends who can eat a whole water melon he he , good on them wish i could but it doesnt satisfy me enough to eat with nothng else, am i doing smething wrong, anyway still great information and was rapt to read it, thanks Lani, cheers Anna
Anna, don’t get me wrong – I didn’t say anything about cutting on carbs to make the scale not go up. The binding of water to carbohydrate is NOT a problem and far better than the fat you can easily gain on high fat fare! I simply pointed it out so that people would be aware of some of the reasons for short-term gain by the scale. It’s fat gain we are concerned about, not the ounces of water clinging to carbohydrate.
Now that I’ve cleared that one up, what can be helpful is to plot the weight on a graph and over the weeks, if needing to lose weight, you would see the graph angling down. That way you can give purpose to the more frequent weigh-ins without having every one of them hold such clout.
And no worries – I’ll be addressing how to deal with scale fear – which is deeply tied to mood swings – in a follow up article coming soon!
Great article Lani 🙂
I have found that weighing weekly is helpful – helps to not obsess and gives a more accurate sign of how things are going, whereas like you mentioned daily is so up and down and no one needs those emotions of “3 pounds heavier than yesterday”….
I love how your scale at the top says “a good day or a bad day” hehehee, but sometimes it truly feels like that even though it shouldn’t! I look forward to your next one about the emotions!
I have learnt to de-tach myself – finally – after many many years so being OCW! phef to lightweight clothing I had to be totally nude to weigh cause i couldn’t be sure of my “true” weight if i had clothing on!!!!!!
Its kinda funny reading this now knowing that I’m not worried about it because I’m happy with myself and where i’m at with my lifestyle (eating, exercise etc) but given 2 years ago this was a real sore point for me!!!!!!
I LOVE that this has given you the opportunity to congratulate yourself on progress and to recognize same. That is so exciting!
Thank you for your candid thoughts. When we tell the truth everyone benefits.
thanks Lani, always good for scientific advice, LUV IT, i am aware that fat you eat is way more of a problem then carbs you eat but what about protien that they are always promoting ? especailly animal fare? they say it is better for weight loss to eat a high protien diet than a high carb, where vegan is more of a high carb fare, thanks Lani, cheers Anna
“They say” is pretty broad. You have to look to what is behind the ‘they’. Is it years of study of large populations of people, considering all health parameters? Are is it a 2 week study where people lost weight – we want health and proper weight for a lifetime. Always look at the big picture.
High protein and cutting carbs releases water, showing up on the scale as weight loss. Always alluring, but what’s the truth about that? High protein also stresses the kidneys, creates acidity in the body, has no fiber and can cause elimination problems – you know the list.
It can be like swimming upstream to be armed with this information in a protein-pushing culture. I honor you for carrying the flag and helping so many people. And for staying connected to stay edified and educated about it all.
as usual Lani you are right, i have to look at the big picture, but with me helping our study patients i really have to knwo what i am talking about and have all the facts, so with out your help where would i be, so thanks so much for your time. Why i asked about the high protien animal diet for weight loss is that it seems to be everywhere and carbs are the downfall according to diabetes Australia and of course every latest diet craz is about cutting carbs, cant see any where where they promote them for weight oss only for health. Isnt that amzing, they say cut crbs on one hand for diabetes and weight and then turn the page of the book and they are teeling us that we dont eat enough wholegrains? so what do you do, yep you get in a panic on which one you want, health or weight? grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr life sucks , cheers Anna
Anna, do you have a copy of Reversing Diabetes by Dr. Neal Barnard? It would be an excellent tool in your arsenal along with the McDougall materials.