For many, the scale in the bathroom might as well be a rattlesnake—something you go out of your way to avoid stepping on.
But when it comes to shedding pounds, you need to summon the courage to weigh yourself in order to gauge whether your diet and exercise plan is actually working. There is, however, one caveat: Experts can't seem to agree on how often a person should weigh in for the best results. Past research has shown that people who weighed in daily lost more weight, but experts didn't know whether the weigh-ins were helping the weight loss or if people who lost more weight were simply more motivated to jump on the scales every day.
A new study has made things a bit more clear. Researchers split 183 obese people into two relatively even groups. One was given a set of scales and asked to step on daily. The other group was specifically told not to weigh in. After three months, there was no significant difference in weight loss between the two groups—the scales neither helped nor hindered weight loss.
"A scale can either be a tool or weapon," Susan Albers, author and psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told Yahoo Health. As a tool, it helps people keep stats and monitor progress. If a person is losing weight quickly, it can be a good motivator. "But we can also become tied to the scale," added Albers. "When you step on it, it can either make or break your mood; you either feel great, or you feel awful." So weighing in daily becomes a gamble, and the more you do it, the greater chance of a letdown.
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Weigh yourself on Wednesday
Every day your body experiences natural weight fluctuations caused by what you eat, how much water you drink, and your level of physical activity, said Albers. So daily weigh-ins won't give you an accurate picture how well things are going. But that doesn't mean you should avoid the scale completely.
"People should try to weigh themselves once a week at the same time of day and under the same conditions," she said. For example: Wednesday morning before you get in the shower. "A lot of people are tempted to do it on Monday, which is often not the best time because it's after the weekend when people are more likely to get out of their routine," Albers continued. "Wednesday or Friday is often the best day."
Stop thinking about numbers
When trying to lose weight, people like to focus on one number. They want to lose 10 pounds, or they want their weight to be X pounds. Albers suggests people should try to pay more attention to how they feel, and the numbers will take care of themselves. "When people step away from the scale, they are forced to be more mindful of their body and what they are eating," she said. "If they don't have to focus on a specific number, they are much more tuned in to what is going on inside, instead of using an external device, the scale, to measure their progress."
Daily goals, not weigh-ins
Losing weight is all about setting goals, but it's important to set them in a way that will help. Many times people have what Albers calls "outcome goals," meaning they want to lose 10 pounds in two weeks, for example. "That kind of goal can be frustrating because it is longer term," said Albers. "It's better to make daily goals — or process goals — things you can cross off a list, which will lead to the ultimate goal of losing 10 pounds." An example might be to walk for 20 minutes today, so when you cross that off the list, it feels really good and it will help get you to the main goal. But you are more focused on the present instead of worrying about what will happen in two weeks.