At its best, stepping on the scales is a simple exercise in maths. At its worst, that maths can feel like you’re tackling algebra without a teacher: puzzling, stressful, frustrating. (And you don’t even get a cool pencil case as a reward.)
So, does this mean we’ve got our scales technique all wrong?
Quite possibly, says Dr Cindy Pan, a women’s health expert with over a decade’s experience as a GP. “If you feel good, look good and are generally in good health, there’s no reason to weigh yourself at all,” she reveals.
In this case, the fit of your clothes is a better guide of any weight fluctuations. “If you’re eating healthily, daily weigh-ins aren’t helpful. It would be like having a mammogram every day – there’s just no need.”
If you are trying to lose weight, say, for health reasons, Dr Pan agrees that weighing yourself can be encouraging. But it has to be done in a way that benefits YOUR cause, “And there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to this,” she admits.
If you’re motivated by getting lots of feedback, weighing yourself daily could be the way to go. A study in science journal PLOS ONE monitored 40 people signed up to health-improvement programs, and found participants were more likely to lose weight when they weighed themselves daily – and gain weight when they left it over a month between scales visits.
However, if you’re going to wind up frustrated by the lack of big change shown in daily readings, it might be worth leaving it longer. Weight Watchers, for example, recommends weekly readings.
You’ve hit your target when you’ve found a frequency that increases your motivation, health and esteem – without taking your anxiety levels along for the ride too.
But remember these golden rules:
- Scales aren’t always accurate. For this reason, Dr Pan believes that measuring your waist circumference can be a more useful tool.
- Weight fluctuations are normal. A study published in Nutrition Reviews showed that young women’s weight varied by as much as 0.8kg from day to day – because of water retention not calorie intake.
- Weigh yourself first thing. Variations in what you eat and drink mean you’re likely to be heavier at the end of a day – but not always to the same extent.
- A weight plateau isn’t a bad thing. Especially if you’re exercising: your body fat is decreasing, it’s just that your muscle is on the up.
But don’t weigh yourself after a workout. All the water you’ve lost through sweat may give you an inaccurately low result.
If in doubt, trust common sense and how you’re feeling above the number on your scales. You’re the most important element in the weighing process – YOU – not the piece of metal you’re standing on. And we think you rock.
Do you weight yourself? If so, how often?