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Should you Weigh Yourself?

Learn the pros and cons of checking your weight and how to determine if it is right for you.

The Big Question: How Often Should I Weigh Myself?

“Should I weigh myself?” It’s a common question from my clients, along with its follow-up: “How often should I step on the scale?” Some of my clients haven’t stepped on a scale in years out of fear of what they’ll read on the display and living in unhealthy denial. Others are the polar opposite, weighing themselves multiple times daily and obsessed over mere fractions of pounds.

The truth is, there’s no easy answer to these questions, and the right solution will differ from person to person — and even change for the same person over time. Sometimes a simple weigh-in can offer constructive facts to someone who has been avoiding the truth, while for others the same process might be a trigger for an eating disorder. In a culture that idolizes thin bodies, and in which bathroom scales are more or less ubiquitous, there is no one-size fits all solution. But there are guidelines for helping to make the best decision for yourself and where you are today. 

How Weighing Yourself Can Bring Awareness

“Gravitophobia” is the fear of stepping on a scale, and it’s apparently more common among people who believe that only strict control will allow them to manage their body weight. In other words, when an indulgence makes you feel like you’ve lost control, you might be afraid to see the consequences on the scale. If you don’t weigh yourself, you don’t have to face the truth and you can put off considering any lifestyle changes.

But getting on the scale and seeing those numbers can help you reach your goals. You can’t accept what you don’t know, and you can’t change what you don’t measure. A 2015 study found that participants who tracked their weight daily while on a six-month eating plan lost 13 pounds more, on average, than those who didn’t track their weight as frequently.

"Stepping onto the scale on a regular basis can serve as positive reinforcement for the effort you’re putting in to adjust or maintain your body weight."

Stepping onto the scale on a regular basis can serve as positive reinforcement for the effort you’re putting in to adjust or maintain your body weight. You’ve probably heard that people generally gain back two-thirds of their weight within two years after weight loss, but research also suggests that regular weigh-ins can assist you in keeping that weight off for the long haul.

Regular weighing can help you unlearn mistaken beliefs about body weight when you see that a single activity or one slice of cake doesn’t have a dramatic impact in the long-term. Your bathroom scale might also help you detect any health issues related to sudden changes in weight. But there are potential downsides to weigh-ins, too, and they can’t be ignored.

Why Stepping on the Scale Can be Toxic

When you don’t like what you see on the display, there’s a real danger of getting obsessed with your bathroom scale. It’s too easy to blame a single indulgence for changes on the read-out. You might weigh yourself too often and worry over the smallest fluctuations. This can lead to restrictive and disordered behavior like skipping meals, excessive exercise, or even bingeing and purging.

"If you’re trying to lose weight and have been seeing steady loss on the scale but then hit a plateau, you might forget that this is completely normal."

If you’re trying to lose weight and have been seeing steady loss on the scale but then hit a plateau, you might forget that this is completely normal. Rather than focusing on the progress you’ve made and how you feel in your body, you might zero in on the numbers on the scale instead. It doesn’t help that scales seem to be everywhere — in the home bathroom, at the doctor’s office, and in the locker room at the gym.

In a study on “blind” versus “open” patient weighing published in the Journal of Eating Disorders in 2020, researchers found that participants experienced less anxiety, less preoccupation with their weight, decreased symptoms of eating disorders, and increased body trust when they relinquished control and didn’t know their exact weight. These participants learned to rely on other factors — like the fit of their clothing — to gauge their progress and well-being. This same study found that when participants did know their weight, they showed decreased motivation to stick to meal plans, increased anxiety, and greater resistance to recovery from eating disorders.

If you have a history of eating disorders, anxiety, or depression, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about weighing yourself at home. Warning signs of a toxic relationship with the scale include weighing yourself multiple times a day, fasting to get the numbers to go down, and changing your behavior or even punishing yourself based on what’s on the scale’s display and whether or not you’ve met a goal that might not be realistic. If you find yourself engaged in a similar pattern, it might be time to jettison the scale altogether so you can focus on healthy eating, avoiding triggers, and building self-esteem and self-acceptance.

How to Decide If, and How Often, You Should Step on the Scale

Finding your rhythm for weigh-ins depends on your current health and your goals. While stepping on the scale daily may be effective when you’re trying to lose weight — as studies have shown that daily weight measurements is supportive of weight-loss success — weekly monitoring may be appropriate for weight maintenance.

A monthly weight check still offers some information, but makes it difficult to track your health or fitness progress. Regardless of your rhythm, experts recommend sticking to the same time of day for body weight measurements, like first thing in the morning, because your body weight fluctuates naturally during the day due to hydration, exercise, and other factors. It’s also easier to set a consistent habit when you’re stepping on the scale early in the day. Other suggestions for daily morning weigh-ins include using the bathroom first, keeping the scale on a flat and even surface, and wearing as little clothing as possible.

"For many people, a weekly weigh-in will give you a accurate assessment of your body weight."

For weekly weigh-ins, sticking to the same day each week yields the best results. Wednesday is the optimal day for weekly weight check-ins, according to research, after any weekend indulgences or other aberrations have had time to settle out. For many people, a weekly weigh-in will give you a accurate assessment of your body weight. If more frequent measurements give you good feelings and are positively motivating you along your weight-loss journey, you should feel free to support yourself this way, but be mindful of any feelings stress or other warning signs that might arise.

What if you don’t want to weigh yourself at all, but still want to keep tabs on your health and fitness? The scale doesn’t determine who you are in the world, and weigh-ins aren’t the only way to gauge your overall health. You can use a measuring tape around your arms, waist, hips, and thighs — because simultaneous muscle gain and fat loss may not register on the scale. You can pay attention to your energy levels and how your clothes feel on your body, or you can monitor your body fat percentage. Any weigh-in presents an opportunity to get attached to the numbers on the scale, and to give into soaring heights of self-satisfaction or plunging depths of frustration, guilt, and shame, all based on the numbers on the display. These are signs that something deeper is at work and needs to be addressed.

What’s most important is not fixating on the results, which can take a toll on your mental health and self-esteem. Always keep in mind that body weight alone isn’t the only indicator of health. Other factors — like blood pressure, mental wellness, muscle mass, and quality of life — can’t be measured on a bathroom scale but are also key to everyone’s health equation. While knowing your weight and monitoring changes can lead to greater body awareness, it’s also important not to lose sight of how health and weight are not “one size fits all.” With body diversity comes different measurements of well-being. A weight or waist measurement that’s healthy for one person may be too much or too little for the next person.

Here’s the bottom line: if you’re experiencing any anxiety or other triggers around weighing yourself — including having an unhealthy relationship with food — then weigh-ins aren’t for you at this time. You can get help by talking to your doctor or reaching out to a trusted therapist. You might even want to let go of the scale entirely. If you decide that weighing yourself will support you in your efforts to build and maintain your strong and healthy body, always keep in mind that the number on the scale has nothing to do with who you are as a person — no scale can measure your true value.

In the end, your worth is so much greater than any weight loss or gain, and that’s what is most important.

Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Sera Lavelle, is the cofounder of Bea Better Eating and owner of NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy in NYC. To learn more about Bea Better Eating and our mission, please click here.

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