Guest post by Lindsay Krasna, Grit by Brit Nutrition Expert – A registered dietitian, psychological counseling grad student, former Israeli professional basketball player, former college teammate of Brit.
Imagine if you stepped on a scale every day, recorded your weight into an excel spreadsheet, and then created a chart representing your weight trajectory for a whole year. What, if anything, might you learn about your body weight pattern? And what, if anything, would be the effect on your weight itself?
My dear friend Carly Pacanowski, a Cornell nutrition researcher and fellow Registered Dietitian, has spent the last 3 years investigating these types of questions. And her research as yielded some pretty remarkable results: Carly and her team found that people who simply stepped on a scale and recorded their body weight each day were more successful at losing and/or maintaining their weight!
Recommending daily self-weighing as a weight loss tool remains controversial though, and for good reasons. Although daily weighing may help some regulate their body weight, critics have expressed concern about the impact this routine might have on the psyche. After all, we are not robots, and for a lot of people, weight is not just a number. Would seeing your weight pop up on the scale can negatively impact your self-esteem or trigger upsetting emotions? Even if daily self-weighing does help you lose or maintain your weight, would it cause you psychological distress? Could it lead to a weight obsession, or in extreme cases, lead to an eating disorder?
I sat down (well, actually, went on a walk :) with Carly to get her thoughts on the practice of daily self-weighing. Read on for her expert opinion, so that you can decide for yourself whether or not self-weighing is a habit worth incorporating into your daily routine.
Lindsay: How does self-weighing supposedly lead to weight loss/maintenance?
Carly: This is actually still not completely understood. There are a few different mechanisms proposed for how daily weight monitoring can help prevent weight gain/may even facilitate weight loss. One idea stems from the school of thought behaviorism – that the feedback (weight) of the consequence of our actions (eating/physical activity) is necessary to inform future behavior. The way I like to think about this is like a long term biofeedback. This includes not only weighing oneself daily, but also viewing a graph of their weight trajectory over time. All participants in the studies we do use a computer program to view the graph as well.
Lindsay: What are the potential benefits of daily self-weighing?
Carly: Benefits of self-weighing include increased information about body weight and body weight patterns/fluctuations, which can lead to increased awareness of your eating behavior. An added benefit of daily weighing for women is that they learn to expect a monthly change in weight when they are menstruating. Daily self-weighing may help women recognize and become accepting of this natural change when they see that it is a normal part of their monthly cycle.
Lindsay: What about the potential risks of daily self-weighing?
Carly: For some, daily self-weighing is clearly not a good idea. Other researchers have found associations between frequency of weighing and unhealthful weight control behaviors (excessive restricting, excessive exercise, purging, etc.). On the other hand, there are also associations between daily self-weighing and healthy weight control behaviors (consuming more fruits and vegetables, improved portion control, etc.) More research is needed to identify those who will benefit versus those who might be adversely affected by this practice.
Lindsay: What would you tell someone who is considering daily self-weighing?
Carly: I think I’d first be curious to know their intention for adopting the practice. There is better data showing that daily self-weighing is effective for: 1) preventing gradual weight gain that comes with age, and 2) for preventing regain after weight loss. There is less evidence for self-weighing leading directly to weight loss. But then again, this could simply be because there have not been many studies done on the latter.
Lindsay: Anything else GRIT readers should know about daily self-weighing?
Carly: Whether this practice is beneficial or not really depends on the person. While some may find it to be psychologically detrimental, it works very well for many others who find it to be a useful tool to help them notice a small weight gain before it gets out of control. If you do decide to weigh yourself daily, it is important to be both aware and honest with yourself about the trade-offs.
To learn more about Carly and her research on weight regulation, check out her page: http://www.human.cornell.edu/bio.cfm?netid=crp56
GRIT readers, feel free to share your thoughts, reactions, and personal experiences with daily self-weighing. This is a very new topic, and it would be great to hear your feedback too!