To Weigh, or Not to Weigh

A public weigh scale in Austria / Photo by Andreas Praefcke (Own work (own photograph)) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
People react with shock when I mention that I weigh myself daily. After all, common wisdom dictates that this is a bad thing. I’ve even had a doctor have a hissy fit when I’ve mentioned this.

But why is it a bad thing?

Indeed, it is a bad thing if you use the data to reward or punish yourself. If you celebrate with a big hunk of chocolate cheesecake because the scale says you lost 2 pounds since yesterday, that isn’t so good. Or if you give up on new habits in despair because the scale says you’ve gone up 2 pounds since yesterday, that isn’t so good, either.

Even with very extreme dieting, you simply cannot lose or gain that much fat in a day. What you are measuring is dehydration or water retention or digestive issues or some other factor that isn’t actual weight gain or loss. It’s biologically impossible.

And that is precisely why I do like to weigh myself daily. With a weekly weigh-in, a larger-than-expected gain can indeed be true weight gain—or it can be some weird non-weight issue. I’ve had times when my weight has fluctuated as much as 5 pounds in one day. If I see that kind of change over the course of a day or two, I know it’s not something to worry about and that it will just as quickly reverse itself. But if I see a gradual increasing trend, I see it as an early warning signal indicating that I need to tweak my habits a bit before things get out of hand.

So if you find it kind of interesting to watch the strange ups and downs of the numbers on the scale and can treat this as useful data over the long run, go ahead and weigh yourself every day. It’s something that many long-term weight maintainers (such as many of those on the National Weight Control Registry) do.

But if you react emotionally to frequent weighing, then it’s not a good idea. Quite frankly, in that case I think it’s better not to weigh yourself at all. Focus instead on building good habits, and your health will improve regardless of the speed with which your weight does or does not come off.

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