Want to lose weight? It's time to get up close and personal with your bathroom scale. While researchers agree that it's not healthy to obsess about numbers when it comes to weight loss, they also agree that keeping track of your weight — and stepping on the scale every day — can help you lose weight and keep it off.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing and University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, studied the self-weighing habits of 1,042 adults over a 12-month period. The participants who either never weighed themselves or only weighed themselves once a week did not lose any weight. However, those who weighed themselves six to seven times a week lost an average of 1.7 percent of their body weight.
According to the study's authors, the results show that "monitoring your behavior or body weight may increase your awareness of how changing behaviors can affect weight loss. These findings support the central role of self-monitoring in changing behavior and increasing success in any attempt to better manage weight."
There is older science to back this study up. Several years ago, another survey examined the effects of weighing yourself daily over a longer period of time.
In a two-year study, researchers at Cornell University looked at the best strategies for long-term weight loss that participants could employ when it came to weighing themselves. They tracked participants over two years so they could see not just what they did while they were trying to lose weight but also what they did in the weeks and months that followed. Statistically, most people regain about 40 percent of lost weight within the first year and 100 percent of lost weight within five years.
For this study, researchers split 162 participants into two random groups. Half of the participants were given a scale and asked to weigh themselves and record their results every day. The other half were not given a scale nor any instructions about daily weigh-ins. Participants were then given a target to lose 1 percent of their body weight using any method. Once they achieved that goal and maintained that weight loss for 10 days, they were given a new target for another 1 percent weight loss. And so on and so on until they lost roughly 10 percent of their initial body weight.
Researchers found that almost one-third of the participants who weighed themselves daily lost at least 5 percent of their initial weight during the first year, compared to only about 10 percent of participants in the control group. The daily weighers were also more likely than their peers to keep that weight off.
Participants who weighed themselves daily and tracked their weight using a spreadsheet were more likely to associate what they ate with what they weighed. Overall, researchers think the simple act of stepping on the scale reinforces healthy eating and exercise patterns and makes participants aware of times when their less-than-healthy behaviors are affecting their weight.
Interestingly, the daily weigh-ins were most effective for the male participants in the group. Women certainly lost weight, but men lost more.
“It seems to work better for men than women, for reasons we cannot figure out yet,” said David Levitsky, professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell and the study’s senior author.
Ready to shed a few pounds — and keep them off for good? Get friendly with your scale and write down those results.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in September 2015.