Have you ever had a weight loss expert tell you to “throw away your scale”? Or maybe you heard that too much focus on scale weight can turn you into an obsessive-compulsive? Well, body composition is more important than body weight – you won’t get any argument from me about that. But what if I told you that research supports a strong correlation between daily weigh-ins and long term weight loss success? Yes, I said DAILY weigh-ins. Do you think that’s crazy, or could this habit be something that might help you increase your fat loss success? This week’s Burn the Fat Blog Q & A column answers…
QUESTION: Tom, I know your Burn The Fat program recommends weekly weight and body fat measurement, but what do you think about daily weigh-ins? What about using a moving average? The problem with daily readings is they may fluctuate based on a number of factors. You never know which is an “up” and which is a “down” reading. But I was thinking the same could be true weekly. You don’t know if your weekly weigh-in is actually a bit higher than your “true” weight or a bit lower. A moving average would smooth out those variances and give you a better idea of your “real” weight and the general trend of your improvement.Thoughts?
ANSWER: Should you weigh yourself every day is a good question that’s debated for more than one reason. You’ve made a good case for how daily weighing could give you more data to work with, and that could help you get a better sense of your true progress and make better decisions… if you know how to read that data correctly.
It’s normal for your body weight to fluctuate, so yes, it is important to control and account for those variances when you weigh-in and chart your progress. Your weight fluctuates not only on a weekly and day to day basis, but even within the same day – sometimes by several pounds just from morning to night!
Changes in weight can be based on numerous factors including hydration (loss or gain of water weight) and contents of your digestive system (how recent the last meal and bowel movements were). A moving average could definitely smooth out the variances.
To get accurate weigh-ins, consistency is also a key. Always do your best to duplicate the weigh in conditions every time: Fed or fasted, clothed or not clothed, bladder empty or full, pre or post workout, morning or evening, high carb or low carb day, amount of fluids ingested, diuretic substances consumed, etc. If you control for all these factors, you’ll get more accurate weight and body composition data and also help eliminate a lot of false positives and false negatives.
As part of the Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle program, I recommend taking a body fat measurement only once a week (once every two weeks would probably suffice, but I prefer weekly feedback). I also recommend weighing yourself “officially” once a week, on the same scale, under the same conditions. But I believe daily weighing can be helpful as long as you’re controlling the variables and as long as you don’t obsess over daily fluctuations (instead, using the multiple data points to track the trend over time).
If you weigh yourself daily, you can log your weight into a spreadsheet and then convert your progress into a graph with the date on the horizontal axis and weight on the vertical axis. The key is to look for the trend over time. Body fat (and weight) should be heading down in a long term trend and lean body mass should be staying relatively stable.
You could also add a column for 7-day moving average if you choose. I think that’s a great idea, which would smooth out the fluctuations or “statistical noise.” Maybe only the analytical, number-crunching “nerds” will go that far, but then again, we have quite a few of them in our Burn The Fat ranks… and some of them are pretty darn lean!)
Another benefit of tracking your measurements frequently is that you can compare your weight and body composition results to your training and nutrition for the same time period to look for correlations between methods and results and hopefully learn what methods work the best for you.
Many weight loss experts say you should “throw away your scales.” They believe it’s a bad idea to weigh yourself daily or even to weigh yourself at all. I disagree, and there’s a LOT of research showing that self monitoring behaviors such as tracking food intake, exercise, body weight and body composition helps to increase compliance and improve weight loss and maintenance.
It’s common sense for weight management, but also well accepted wisdom in teaching, coaching and business management — that you can only expect what you inspect – and what gets measured and tracked gets improved. When measurements are reported to an authority figure, and you are “graded” and held accountable for what gets measured and tracked, results usually improve even more.
Although weight gain can sometimes happen quickly when there are sudden changes in environment, body weight and body fat usually tend to “creep” when left unchecked. Folks who don’t monitor weight or body composition seem to wake up one day and realize they “suddenly” got fat. Of course, what really happened is that tiny increases in fat and waist line went unchecked and therefore, unnoticed over a long time period (or they were noticed, but high standards and limits were not set for what kind of gain is tolerable).
Successful weight reducers and maintainers have a common behavior pattern and that is they keep track of their weight. Weight monitoring could be daily or weekly, but either way, most people will get best results by checking it regularly. This way, if results are negative, you’ll be alerted and you can increase compliance and “buckle down” or change your strategy. Frequent (weekly or even daily) weighings provide a feedback tool which increases awareness, allowing for a quick course correction.
By the way, people who have to wear well-tailored suits or tight fitting clothes have a feedback mechanism they can check themselves with every single day. Those who wear baggy clothes / elastic waist bands who also do not weigh themselves tend to succumb to the weight creep and not realize it. If you don’t have to dress up for work every day or if you wear loose, baggy clothing most of the time, its not a bad idea to have a pair of “lean jeans” that you try on regularly just to see how they’re fitting.
Just to be fair and show both sides, the only potential criticisms / drawbacks to frequent weighing that remain include:
1. It might encourage obsessive behaviors (if someone is psychologically susceptible). People with eating disorders and or body image disorders may be better off not weighing themselves at all, let alone every day.
2. There may be only a small amount of measurable progress after one week, and no measurable change after just a day – both of which might lead some people to impatience and frustration if they don’t have a long term time perspective or they don’t have realistic expectations for the rate of weight loss.
So, I admit, daily weighing may not be for everyone. In fact, I think it’s best practice to suggest measuring and recording body weight “at least once a week” and then leave it up to the individual to decide whether they want to weigh daily or not.
Keep in mind, weigh ins are not an absolute necessity and the mere act of weighing yourself every day or every week doesn’t guarantee more weight loss. There are people who for various reasons, choose not to weigh themselves at all, who never go near a scale who successfully lose weight and maintain their ideal weight.
However, regular weigh-ins have consistently been correlated with improved weight loss and some research says that daily weigh ins correlate even more highly with long term success than weekly weigh ins. Studies have also concluded that people who weighed themselves regularly improved weight maintenance and avoided weight regain/cycling as compared to people who didn’t weigh themselves at all.
There’s one last thing I want to re-emphasize and that’s the importance of measuring and tracking body composition (fat vs. muscle) not just scale weight.
Understanding body composition (not just body weight), and developing the patient-person’s lifestyle mindset are the final keys that really complete this self-monitoring advice and helps you avoid compulsive behaviors or obsessing over short term results. This is exactly the approach I teach in the Burn The Fat System
I know there are lots of different opinions on this subject and readers are welcome to share theirs in the comments below (it’s ok if you disagree and say, “Ignore Tom – throw away your scales!). However, just so you know I’m not pulling this out of thin air, or just saying, “That’s what worked for me and my clients,” some of the studies suggesting frequent weigh ins help with permanent weight loss are posted below.
About Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is a natural bodybuilding and fat loss expert. Tom is a former competitive bodybuilder and today works as a full-time fitness coach, writer, blogger, and author. In his spare time, he is an avid outdoor enthusiast, hiker and backpacker. His book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle is an international bestseller, first as an ebook and now as a hardcover and audiobook. The Body Fat Solution, Tom’s book about emotional eating and long-term weight maintenance, was an Oprah Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine pick. Tom is also the founder of Burn The Fat Inner Circle – a fitness support community with over 53,000 members worldwide since 2006. Click here for membership details
Monitoring weight daily blocks the freshman weight gain: a model for combating the epidemic of obesity. Levitsky, DA et al. Int J Obes (Lond). 2006 Jun;30(6):1003-10
A descriptive study of individuals successful at long-term maintenance of substantial weight loss, Klem, M et al, Am J Clin Nutr 1997, 66: 239-246, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (National Weight Control Registry -NWCR
Charting of daily weight pattern reinforces maintenance of weight reduction in moderately obese patients. Fujimoto, K, 1992, Am J Med Sci, 303(3), 145-150. Kyushi University, Fukuoka, Japan
Irregular patterns in the daily weight chart at night predict body weight regain. Tanaka M et al, Exp Biol Med, 2004, 229(9) 940-945
Self weighing in weight gain prevention and weight loss trials, Linde, J, Ann Behav Med, 2005 30(3), 210-216, University of Minnesota