If you want to lose weight, by definition you need to track weight in order to achieve your goal. If you wanted to drop a dress size, you need to check your dress size every now and again. If you want to increase the top speed of your car you would make modifications and retest the top speed. If you wanted to lower the amount of Facebook friends you had you would go on a cull and recheck your home page to ensure Facebook rid you of the chancers and bluffers that didn’t make the cut. You get the idea now I hope.
The simple process is detailed below just in case you are still unsure.
“I want to change something”
“I will measure that thing using an appropriate tool to see where I am today”
“I will attempt appropriate changes in order to change the thing I want to change”
“I will retest and determine if my changes were successful or not and if further investigation is needed”
The Important things to pay particular attention to in the process example is “appropriate tool” and “if further investigation is needed”. These points are vital in the sad step deconstruction but I will come back to them a little later. To lose weight we need to measure weight. So we 100% need a scales to do this. If you just want to measure waist circumference you are not going to use a scales. It will not tell you want you want to know. If you want to know your body fat you can test it using a number of different tools with the accuracy of the tool being the major difference in each. Think callipers versus DEXA scan versus Bod Pod. A scales will not usually tell you your body fat with any real accuracy even if some claim to do so. So the actual question before even starting is what exactly do you want to measure? I know from 8 years as a personal trainer that people want to just look better naked and fit into any piece of clothing that catches their eye. So using the mirror and pictures is quite useful to measure this visual change that people want. While pictures are a great tool and there is a reason 99% of personal trainers use before and after videos they do have limitations.
Therefore using many different tools to measure “progress” is vital so that you are giving yourself a fair chance of actually seeing if things are changing or not and to know if the things you are doing (think your training program and eating strategy) are working or not.
The Science of the scales:
So what do the fine men and women who dedicate their lives to figuring things out have to say on the topic. Keep in mind the science is not gospel but it is the best source of information we have. Looking at multiple studies, they are quite in agreement that the weighing scales is very good at helping you lose weight and keeping it off. This also means that my love of the scales isn’t just my opinion or something I just want to be right about. It is simply about correct information and what I feel will works best for my clients.
“We found that an approach that included daily self-weighing along with investigation of a weekly e-mail that included tailored feedback and skills training can be effective for producing clinically meaningful weight loss. Our results indicate that daily self-weighing can be an effective self-monitoring strategy that warrants inclusion in weight loss interventions” (1)
Hurray, a win for scales manufacturers the world over. 91 overweight men and women looked at over 6 months in this one.
“Daily weighing was associated with greater weight loss than weighing most days of the week. This difference is likely because those who weigh daily also report greater adoption of diet and exercise behaviours associated with weight control”(2)
Another winner winner for the scales here and this study also looked at how the scales affected what they deemed as weight control behaviours.
They found that those weighing daily (47 overweight men and women over a 6-month period) adopted better to 27 behaviours deemed to promote weight control. These included such things as reducing portions, refusing food from others if not hungry, increasing water intake, exercising regularly etc.
I have seen this quite a bit with my own personal training clients so it is great to see that the research also looks at the further benefits of the scales and how the act of weighing can actually be a behaviour trigger for fostering weight loss habits.
“Results indicate that a weight-loss intervention that focuses on daily self-weighing does not cause adverse psychological outcomes. This suggests that daily self-weighing is an effective and safe weight-control strategy among overweight adults attempting to lose weight”(3)
Now we have a very interesting aspect of daily weighing being looked at. The building of a psychological shit storm when the scales tells you something you don’t want to see is a genuine problem. Basically think of someone who’s life is defined, dictated and controlled by how much they weigh. Think maybe those who had to weigh a certain amount for their profession or sport at one time in their life i.e. a dancer, model, boxer etc.
The evidence suggests it may not be the act of weighing that can cause this population to lose the head with the scales. Anecdotally I find a lack of education of the topic of nutrition in general and daily weight fluctuations in particular is what cause these folk to get under pressure with the “sad step”.
91 over weight men and women looked at over a 6-month period here also.
“In balancing the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence reviewed, frequent self-weighing seems to be a helpful strategy for adults who have been successful at losing weight, maintaining weight loss, or preventing weight gain”(4)
Losing the weight and keeping it off for good. Banishing the after after picture. Beating yoyo dieting and ending “on the wagon off the wagon” type behaviour is a real issue for trainers trying to help their clients lose weight. Most people can lose weight but most people cannot avoid putting that weigh back on. Losing the weight and keeping it off for good is really the holy grail of the health and fitness industry.
The study above was a systematic review, basically a study of studies. They looked at 12 studies and found 11 to show that the beloved scales not only helped people lose weight but those that weighed in daily had a much better chance of keeping it off long term. A good rule of thumb for long term weight loss is how much of the weight you lost in an initial protocol or program have you kept off 12 months later.
Losing weight is hard. Maintaining weight loss is super hard. I really believe it’s the holy grail of the health and fitness industry. Weighing yourself daily for long periods of time has been shown to help you lose weight, help you keep it off and doesn’t directly lead to adverse psychological outcomes i.e. hating the scales and/or throwing the dam thing out the window on the weekly.
The important thing at the end of the day is what you do with the data you collect from the scales. If your goal is to lose weight and its not happening over the weeks and months, then you know something may be a miss and you have an opportunity to investigate further. Use the scales as not just a tool of measurement but also as a catalyst for you to understand your body better, how you respond to stress, how your training volume effects your performance and above all how your daily weight should have absolutely no influence on your mood.
Death to the sad step stereotype because it is stupid, miss-informed and only adds further fuel to people’s frustration in general with weight loss.
Use the scales, get the results and keep them for longer.
- Steinberg, Dori M., et al. “The efficacy of a daily self‐weighing weight loss intervention using smart scales and e‐” Obesity21.9 (2013): 1789-1797.
- Steinberg, Dori M., et al. “Weighing every day matters: daily weighing improves weight loss and adoption of weight control behaviors.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics4 (2015): 511-518.
- Steinberg, Dori M., et al. “Daily self-weighing and adverse psychological outcomes: a randomized controlled trial.” American journal of preventive medicine1 (2014): 24-29.
- VanWormer, Jeffrey J., et al. “The impact of regular self-weighing on weight management: a systematic literature review.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity1 (2008): 54.