If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that the number on the scale doesn’t paint a complete picture of your health. It can, however, be a useful tool when tracking weight-loss progress. For those who are trying to shed some pounds, new research suggests that you might want to weigh yourself more often than you think.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing and the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine found that people who weighed themselves daily were more likely to lose weight than those who didn’t.
According to the unpublished research (which will be presented this week at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2018), the researchers analyzed data from 1,042 adults with an average age of 47. Over the course of a year, participants weighed themselves as they normally would, but they used Wi-Fi or Bluetooth–enabled scales that sent data to the researchers. The participants were not given any advice or directions, except to monitor their weight as usual.
When the year was up, those who never weighed themselves or did so only once a week didn’t lose any weight. Participants who weighed themselves six or seven times a week, however, lost 1.7% of their body weight, which the study considers significant.
What’s so special about stepping on the scale on a daily basis? The theory is that keeping a close eye on your number makes you more aware of how certain behaviors (what you eat, how much you exercise, etc.) affect your weight.
Edward Abramson, PhD, author of It’s Not Just Baby Fat! and professor emeritus of psychology at California State University, agrees with that theory. Humans aren’t cut out to live in an environment where calorically dense and delicious-tasting foods are readily available, Abramson tells Health.
“You’re never far from a Starbucks or a McDonald’s, or you can pop something in your microwave or buy a Snickers bar,” he says. “To cope with an environment that promotes unnecessary eating, you really have to be conscious and deliberate about the choices you make.” One way to be more tuned in: daily weighing.
Before you go making your scale your new best friend, it’s important to know that such rigorous monitoring isn’t for everyone. Anyone who’s struggled with their relationship with weight or body image should steer clear of daily weighing, especially those who have battled an eating disorder.
“Some of my clients view weight simply as a data point. Others experience an emotional connection to that number that can trigger a great deal of anxiety, and even depression, or other unhealthy patterns, like under-eating and rebound binge eating,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health contributing nutrition editor.
Abramson says in his experience, daily weighing is too much for patients with a history of disordered eating. To avoid making the number on the scale a focal point of life, he suggests these patients weigh themselves once a week if they need to at all.
Weighing in daily is only helpful if you’re able to use the information you get from it as nothing more than, well, information, Sass says. “For these people, the number can help them understand patterns and make connections between certain behaviors and weight, like dining out, or drinking alcohol.”
Bottom line: You need to be confident in your relationship with your body before you make stepping on the scale part of your daily routine. But when you’re ready to give it a go, it could be a useful tool for keeping your weight-loss journey on track.