Nov. 18, 2005 -- Making friends with your bathroom scale just may help you lose those extra pounds and keep them off.
While most weight loss programs don't encourage the practice, a new study suggests that daily weighing may be better for weight loss and weight control than weekly or less frequent weighing.
People in the study who weighed every day lost more weight or maintained their weight better than people who did not.
The early findings must be confirmed, but researcher Jennifer A. Linde, PhD, tells WebMD that daily weighing may serve the same function as keeping track of daily food intake and exercise.
"People who make lifestyle changes consistent with weight loss use all kinds of tools to help them," she says. "Daily weighing provides feedback. It may be one more thing that someone can do to keep them on track."
Daily Weighers Lost Twice the Weight
Linde and colleagues at the University of Minnesota examined the self-weighing practices of more than 3,000 people for two years. About 1,800 were either obese or overweight and were enrolled in a weight loss program. The rest were overweight and enrolled in a program designed to keep them from continuing to gain.
About 20% of the people in both studies reported never weighing on their own and 40% said they weighed either weekly or daily, according to Linde.
In both the weight loss and weight control groups, people who weighed themselves daily lost more weight than those who weighed less frequently.
People in the weight gain prevention group who weighed themselves less than once a day tended to gain rather than lose weight during the study.
Daily weighers in the weight loss group lost twice as much weight as weekly weighers -- an average of 12 pounds vs. 6, Linde says. People who never weighed on their own gained about 4 pounds.
The next step, Linde says, is to test the findings in a larger study in which people are assigned to different self-weighing schedules.
Daily Weighing Not for Everyone
It is clear, however, that some people shouldn't weigh themselves every day. Constant weight monitoring is common among people with eating disorders. And Linde says unpublished research suggests that daily weighing may not be a good idea for people who are clinically depressed.
"We would not want to encourage a behavior that is symptom of an eating disorder," she says. "But for reasonably healthy people who want to control their weight, stepping on a scale every day might be one more tool they can use."
Daily weighing is not encouraged at Duke University Medical Center's Diet and Fitness Center, its director, Howard Eisenson, MD, tells WebMD. He says the issue of when to weigh remains controversial in weight loss circles. But he adds that he can see potential advantages for some people.
"I don't think there is anything in the treatment of obesity that is absolute," he says. "There are some people who shouldn't get on the scale once a month, but others may be well served by daily weighing."
Dieters following the Weight Watchers International program weigh in each week prior to meetings. The program discourages clients from weighing on their own at home while they are trying to lose weight, says spokeswoman Karen Miller-Kovach, MS, RD, because daily weight fluctuations can be discouraging.
Miller-Kovach, who is chief scientific officer for Weight Watchers, says people tend to obsess about the numbers early on and can end up elated or discouraged based on what they see on their scale each day.
"During weight loss people are psychologically looking for big changes," she says. "The bathroom scale is really not going to reflect what is going on."
But Weight Watchers does encourage members trying to maintain their weight loss to weigh often on their own so that they can identify significant changes early.
"The studies show that the best time to take action is as soon as the weight starts to creep back up," she says.