Should you weigh yourself every day? Should it be once per week? Or never at all?
The advice about weighing can be as confusing and conflicting as the advice about eating eggs or drinking wine.
Some experts say that weighing should be kept to a minimum so that we don't get obsessed; others say more frequent weighing is the best way to stay honest with yourself. Who is right? How often should we weigh to improve our chances of managing weight for life?
Most dieters believe that the more often they weigh, the more motivated they'll be to lose weight. The typical dieter weighs every day. But, when weight is our primary focus, there's less attention paid to the behaviors that result in weight loss. With too much focus on the scale, it's easy to feel defeated if the weight doesn't come off as expected. This is when dieters start avoiding weighing in or go off their diets.
If you use the scale to determine if you are a success or a failure, then weighing in, no matter how frequent, will be a problem. Weighing in is only an opportunity to get information, and it's not the most important information to achieve weight goals.
It's possible to use a household scale in productive ways. But you need to understand the basics of the information it provides. The scale registers your total weight at the moment you step on it (assuming the scale is accurate). If the scale indicates you've lost weight, there's no way of knowing how much of the lost weight is fat, water, muscle or waste. The scale only indicates your weight, not body composition.
Weight can vary from one day to another, or at different times of the day, even if you're not trying to lose weight. So you need to view the scale realistically and not give it more importance than it deserves.
There are several factors that determine the best weighing method for each individual.
• Attitude. Your mind isn't going to want to do anything that's uncomfortable, so if weighing in involves being judged or punished in any way, the brain will resist. And that's exactly what weighing in has come to mean for most people — a time to judge or measure worth. It's important to approach the scale unemotionally. Weighing in should not be a test; it is simply a tool that you may choose to use.
• Expectations. Remember that your body and brain are the experts about your physiology. They know exactly how fast or slowly you are able to lose fat based on the food and exercise you are providing. Rather than getting frustrated or angry at the number reflected on the scale, use that number to help you figure out if your behaviors need to change.
• Goals. Your focus should be more on behaviors than a number on the scale. Goals dealing with activity, nutrition, portion control and priorities will influence fat loss far more than any number you've chosen to focus on.
• Lifestyle. If you're going to focus on numbers at all, it makes more sense to think of a weight range, or better yet, think of the lifestyle you wish to have on a long-term basis. Let's say my lifestyle includes walking every day for an hour, having a full-time office job, watching TV for an hour each day, dining out several times a week and playing tennis once per week. I would then focus on achieving that lifestyle and let my body tell me what weight it can maintain with that lifestyle. If I want to weigh less, I might have to forgo some restaurant meals, or increase the tennis. But maybe I'll decide I'd rather weigh more and keep my lifestyle just as it is.
The scale can help you correlate habits and weight so you can make choices — if your attitude toward the scale is based on reality.
Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. Reach her at (813) 240-9557 or firstname.lastname@example.org.