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The Myth of the Weekly Weigh In

It’s a myth. Did you really believe that you could manage your weight better when you step on the scales just once a week instead of every morning?

It’s a sad fact that most of the so-called experts tell us that it’s a mistake to weigh daily. “In most instances, weighing yourself every day is unnecessary and unhealthy,” is supposedly one of the “10 Common Mistakes” we make about weighing ourselves. Actually, suggesting that weighing daily is a mistake is itself one of the most common mistakes you can read about and hear.

Girl with a pearl earring

When I learned I have type 2 diabetes, my doctors and nurses told me to weigh myself once a week because the inevitable daily fluctuations would discourage my weight loss efforts. They probably told you the same thing. They were ignoring two small studies “Charting of daily weight pattern” and “The efficacy of a daily self-weighing.” But they can’t ignore a large, new study that shows that daily weighing helps us take off the pounds and keep it off.

Researchers at Cornell University randomized 162 people with an average body mass index, or BMI, of 33.5 to intervention and control groups for two years. That high BMI means they were obese. The Journal of Obesity just published their results, which are freely available online.

For the first year of the study the intervention group got a typical bathroom scale and were asked to weigh daily right after getting out of bed in the morning. They were taught the “Caloric Titration Method,” which is simply to weigh on their scale and then check off a data point on a chart that they hang on the wall over the scale.

Simple Tools Are All You Need

“You just need a bathroom scale and an Excel spreadsheet or even a piece of graph paper,” says Professor David Levitsky, who teaches nutrition at Cornell University and who is the study’s senior author. He says that the people in the intervention group were given weight loss targets, but “because we didn’t prescribe, they found their own ways of losing the weight.”

After one year the people in the intervention group lost significantly more weight than those in the control group, 13 pounds vs. a little less than 9 pounds. Then, in the second year of the study the people in the control group started to use the Caloric Titration Method while those in the intervention group continued to use it for their weight maintenance. Now, the control group people were able to get similar results as the intervention group got in the first year of the study. And the intervention group kept their weight off.

This result is a pleasant surprise. Most dieters gain back 40 percent of their weight loss after one year and typically regain all of it after five years.

Strangely, Men and Women Are Different

Strangely, however, the amount of weight that men and women lost was significantly different. Women lost weight on the program, but far less than the men.

“It seems to work better for men than women, for reasons we cannot figure out yet,” Professor Levitsky says.

In any case, weighing on a scale and then recording the number primes “you to be aware of the connection between eating and your weight,” he says. “It used to be taught that you shouldn’t weigh yourself daily, and this is just the reverse.”

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • Chris Jones at

    Thanks for mentioning Drs Eenfelt and Fung. Its good to see a counter argument to my own Drs view. Being T1 I am discovering how one needs to be careful to avoid hypos and that could be the reason my Dr recommends I don’t fast.

  • Chris Jones at

    I think it’s a great idea to weigh daily after getting out of bed, recording the result in a spreadsheet or marking it on a chart.

    The variation from day to day can be surprising and when you plot it you get used to that fact. Otherwise you could get dishearted and wrongly believe you have failed to lose weight.

    I have just begun a fasting diet which is not recommended for people with Type 1 diabetes like myself. But I’m doing fine.

    You can see the large weight variation on my chart at http://www.diabetesfirsthand.com/diet-food/the-52-intermittent-fast-diet-with-type-1-diabetes The swings are huge when you fast.

    • David Mendosa at

      Great point about getting used to the fact that when you chart weight gain and loss you get used to the fact that it varies greatly. Thanks for sharing the link to your website too, Chris. I also think that the most knowledgeable doctors, like Drs Eenfeldt and Fung, actively PROMOTE intermittent fasting for all of us who have diabetes.

  • Judy at

    Along with a daily weigh-ins keeping a food journal helps with the accountability.

    The food journal and the weigh-ins have helped me pen-point unexplained weight gains to eating out and certain foods even though I didn’t go over the daily caloric limits.