Daily Weighing

April 14, 2015 in Fitness, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

How many weight management articles have you read that advise the reader that it is harmful to weigh daily? I know that I’ve read this advice for decades; but have personally found it helpful to weigh daily. The issue is finally getting a little press based upon a study out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University - Weighing Every Day Matters. This study caught my attention, because of my long-standing opposing opinion against the standard advice.

Daily weighing has taught me quite a few bits of helpful information over the years. Among the things that I have learned is how much saltier the food is when I eat out. It’s amazing that my body can retain a pound or two of water after just one salty meal. I also can see some weight gain when I start a new exercise; for example, when the spring comes and I jump into a heavy gardening day, I can see a bump in weight from the water that cushions my over-used muscles. I recognize that it is WATER WEIGHT GAIN. That’s important! The fact is; if a person weighs daily and doesn’t have some ideas of what’s going on, they may be discouraged about the weight fluctuations due to water. That’s probably where the long-standing advice began – to protect the person trying to lose weight from being discouraged from water fluctuations. So if you do not give up when a temporary setback occurs, especially one due to water fluctuation, it empowers each of us to be aware of what might have caused a weight fluctuation. Then there is a lot of potential for real benefit from daily weighing.

Another thing that I’ve learned is that when I eat a certain way, and don’t muck up the scale with a big salty meal, I will see a quarter pound a day drop off. I should note here that I have a medical scale that is pretty accurate. That, of course, adds up to my knowing, that historically, I lose about one and three-fourths to two pounds a week when I eat and exercise a certain way. I have frequently counseled each person to find what works for them, so my way is not chiseled in stone as the one true way, but the principles of the Mediterranean-style of eating, plus various choices in exercise, cast a broad net for individual variations. You too can find a way that drops off 1-2 lbs per week.

Weighing daily has proved valuable for me recently in helping me observe something else. I’ve known that aging can decrease the metabolic rate (how fast we burn food), but witnessing the actual differences on the scale is an interesting phenomenon. Since aging is not our fault, while saddening, it need not be discouraging. I gained weight during the time before I got my two new knees (titanium) at the end of 2013. Also during the period of recovery and slowly returning to my previous level of activity I continued to gain weight. It averaged close to a pound a month; I watched it go up, having always used exercise as a way to be able to eat an amount of food that I considered reasonable. Then, of course, after about 14 pounds, I though, “Certainly, this needs to stop!” During the past few months I’ve been able to do more exercise (for that I’m grateful). The interesting phenomenon is that I’ve eaten the way that I historically would expect the pound or two of weight loss a week; but sadly, I see much less weight loss. Rats! My body is not going to be different than everyone else’s. This body is getting older and I’m going to have to either exercise more or find ways to cut down on calories. The weigh gain halted some months ago; but the weight loss since then is VERY slow.

I’ve always felt that one of the most valuable benefits of daily weighing is that you learn about weight gain before it gets crazy. Someone that’s very close to me, knew that they had gained some weight but did not realize that it was 40 pounds until they weighed at work. What a shock! Better to have weighted at home daily.

Why bother with weight loss and what can we learn from the new research? In answer to these questions, it’s not a news flash that there’s an epidemic of obesity in the US. This epidemic brings with it, increased risk of many chronic diseases and even some cancers. It has been shown that weight loss as low as 3% can improve risk factors for many of these diseases. The experts in weight loss and weight management have found as the result of past research, that the most successful weight loss treatments include elements of self-monitoring as a means to increase self-awareness about how behaviors influence weight. So the researchers had the idea that self-weighing may lead to better self-regulation because the individual could identify on a daily basis changes in diet and exercise that initiated a result.

In the study out of Chapel Hill and Duke (and reported as Weighing Every Day Matters) the two big pieces of information that were found are that those who weighed daily lost significantly more and, in addition, they adopted more weigh control behaviors than those who weighed less often. The researchers believe that weighing daily may trigger “the self-regulating processes that promote behavior change.”

The researchers identified some limitations of their study; namely: a small sample size; no randomized comparison group; and the fact that their subjects were predominately female, white, and college educated. Noting these limitations, I’m biased to say that the possibility of feeling more in control by monitoring ourselves through daily weighing, may lead to adopting behaviors that support weigh management and maybe even weight loss. You can see the entire list of behaviors in the study; but I’ll list a few that were among the most popularly chosen by those in the study.

  • Reduced caloric intake by 500-1000 kcal/day
  • Cut out/reduced sweets or junk food
  • Cut out/reduced late night snacking
  • Increased water consumption
  • Increased fruit and vegetable consumption
  • Increased daily steps
  • Removed high-calorie foods (cakes, cookies, or candy) from home or office
  • Exercised for a period of 30 min or more
  • Drank fewer fruit juices or fruit drinks (100% fruit juice, fruit punch, lemonade)
  • Decreased number of times eating out at other restaurants
  • Reduced portion sizes

If daily weighing can lead to adopting behaviors that lead to weigh loss (even a loss as small as 3%); and, if a big part of the benefit is reduced risk for many diseases, that is a pretty nice outcome. If you’re been influenced that daily weighing is somehow harmful, maybe you want to look yourself in the mirror and see a strong person that will not be easily influenced by a simple and temporary water weight gain. You may want to give daily weighing a try. It helps you take more control, and gives you real evidence to evaluate its benefits in your weight management goals.