Daily weigh-in helps keep the weight off

18 Jun

A study recently published in the Journal of Obesity suggests that frequently weighing

oneself and looking at the progress on a chart every day is an effective way to lose a modest amount of

weight and – just as importantly – keep it off.

man standing on scales
The researchers say measuring and charting our weight daily makes us see the link between what we eat and our weight.

However, for reasons they could not explain, the researchers found this method seems to work better

for men than for women.

“You just need a bathroom scale and an excel spreadsheet or even a piece of graph paper,” explains senior author David Levitsky, a professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University, Ithaca,


He says this forces you to be aware of the link between your weight and what you eat, and notes that

this goes against what we used to be told:

“It used to be taught that you shouldn’t weigh yourself daily, and this is just the reverse.”

In the 2-year study, participants who lost weight in the first year were able to keep it off

through the second year. The result is significant because many studies show that around 40% of weight lost through dieting is

often put back on within a year, and within 5 years, all of it is regained.

For their study, Prof. Levitsky and first author Carly Pacanowski, a nutritional sciences PhD

candidate, randomly assigned 162 overweight men and women to an intervention group and a control


All participants attended an initial educational session where they learned about evidence-based

strategies for weight loss, including specific approaches based on choosing one’s own weight loss method –

with an emphasis on making small changes.

The small changes suggested included skipping dessert a few times per week, using a meal replacement

for lunch three times a week and avoiding snacks between meals most of the time.

Members of the control group then left the session, which went on to give the intervention group

instructions and equipment for daily self-monitoring.

They were given a typical bathroom scale and asked to weigh themselves at the same time every day –

preferably first thing in the morning – and record the result on a website chart set up by the


Self-monitoring men more successful than women at losing weight

The intervention group were then given a target of losing 1% of their weight, in any manner

they chose. This is roughly the equivalent of consuming around 150 calories a day less than usual for

around 2 weeks.

Once the participants had maintained their 1% weight loss for 10 days, they were asked to lose another

1%. This pattern continued with a long-term goal of losing 10% of their starting body weight in the first


Prof. Levitsky says each participant devised

his or her own way of losing weight – some reduced portion size, others stopped snacking, and some

skipped meals.

After the first year, the control group was then given bathroom scales and briefed on self-monitoring, as the intervention group had been at the start of the first year.

During the second year, the intervention group were asked to just monitor their weight every day by

stepping on the scales and plotting the result on the website chart. On average, the intervention group members measured and plotted their weight four times

a week.

Even though weight loss is modest, self-monitoring seems to be effective

The results in the first year showed that on average, the intervention group lost more weight

than the controls (2.6 kg versus 0.5 kg). The researchers also found that men were significantly more successful than women at losing weight in

the first year, and keeping it off in the second year.

Commenting on the findings, Prof. Levitsky says the self-monitoring approach “seems to work better for

men than women, for reasons we cannot figure out yet.”

The authors suggest that by stepping on a scale and seeing the results tracked on a chart every day

acts as a reinforcer of behavior that helps reduce weight and keep it off – such as eating less, and

taking exercise. Prof. Levitsky adds:

“We think the scale also acts as a priming mechanism, making you conscious of food and

enabling you to make choices that are consistent with your weight.”

The authors conclude that even though the intervention group on average only managed to lose 2% of

their starting weight and keep it off over the 2-year period, it is enough to show that self-weighing and

visual feedback could be a useful weight management strategy, combined with other techniques.

They note that as little as 5% weight loss has been shown to be clinically significant in overweight


It is well-known that obesity is linked to type 2 diabetes – fat cells help spur the disease by

changing metabolism and inducing chronic inflammation. However, less well-known is that a possible route

through which this happens is via the microbiome – the diverse colonies of bacteria that inhabit our


As people gain weight, they are likely to have large amounts of staph bacteria living on their skin.

MNT recently learned that this could help trigger type 2

diabetes because the staph bacteria release toxins that interact with fat cells and the immune system

to cause inflammation.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD