Checking your weight is one type of self-monitoring, which falls under the umbrella of Self-Regulation theory of behavior (Bandura). Other common self-monitoring variables include tracking daily calorie intake, activity levels, blood pressure, and sleep patterns. The question at hand is if checking your weight regularly will help with the weight loss process as well as help with maintaining a healthy weight. Interestingly, for some of us, there has been a fair amount of studies done on this particular topic, ya for us! Another plus is that there was a review paper on this subject published in 2008 which means that others have already done the arduous work of reviewing all of the relevant research in this area, ya for me! Lets see what the review has to say.
VanWormer et al concluded
“Based on the consistency of the evidence reviewed, frequent self-weighing, at the very least, seems to be a good predictor of moderate weight loss, less weight regain, or the avoidance of initial weight gain in adults” (p.1)
Seems pretty good so far. But there are a few additional aspects that should be considered which I will cover briefly before giving my conclusion on the subject.
First, the authors of the review are clear to point out that the quality of studies done on this subject of are rather poor. They state;
“Using the ADA-adapted evidence grading system only one study [they included 12 studies] provided A-level evidence in terms of methodological quality. All other studies provided B- or C-level evidence, primarily due to weaker research designs, high non-response or loss to follow-up, under-powered samples, and/or incomplete statistical analyses” (VanWormer et al, p.4)
They go on to say;
“Perhaps the most significant methodological limitation of the reviewed studies involved the potential for measurement bias. Self-weighing was assessed exclusively by self report” (VanWormer et al, p.9)
What this means is the results from the current research needs to be considered tentative until higher quality research is available to support the current views.
Another concern with frequent weighing, usually considered daily or weekly, is the potential for negative psychological outcomes, such as depression, poor body image and the adoption of unhealthy eating habits. However, for adults, the current evidence does not support the idea that negative psychological outcomes will be caused from frequent weighing (Gokee-Larose et al; VanWomer et al; Welsh et al).
A final thing that I think needs to be considered is the AUTONOMY aspect, which I have been discussing a bit of lately, see HERE. Basically, an increase in autonomy or “ownership” of a particular behavior is vitally important for long-term behavior change and overall mental well being (Reeve; Silva; Teixeira). Therefore, in this context, I think it is important to present the evidence for the potential benefits of checking bodyweight often, but that the individual needs to decide if this method of self-monitoring sits well with them and they need to decide what frequency seems to work for them. Presenting the behavior in this manner would likely lead to better long term results and reduce the occurrence of negative psychological outcomes.
More high-quality research is needed in this area, but from what is available, I would say that if one of your top goals is to get rid of some extra fat, or if you struggle to maintain a healthy weight, it seems that checking your weight on a regular and consistent basis (in the range of weekly to daily) will likely be a behavior that will be helpful and will not likely lead to negative psychological outcomes, particularly if you “own” your behavior.
Bandura, A. (2005). The primacy of self-regulation in health promotion. Applied Psychology: An international review. 54(2): 245-254.
Gokee-Larose, J. et al (2009). Behavioral self-regulation for weight loss in young adults: a randomized controlled trial. Inter J Behavioral Nutr Physical Activity; 6:10
Reeve, J. (2004). Understanding motivation and emotion. John Wiley & Sons. Hoboken, NJ.
Silva, M. et al (2011). Exercise autonomous motivation predicts 3-yr weight loss in women. Med Sci Sport Exer; 43(4): 728-737.
Teixeira, P.J., Patrick, H. et al (2011). Why we eat what we eat: the role of autonomous motivation in eating behavior regulation. Nutrition Bulletin; 36: 102-107.
VanWormer, J. et al (2008). The impact of regular self-weighing on weight management: A systematic literature review. Inter J Behavioral Nutr Physical Activity; 5: 54.
Welsh, E. et al (2009). Is frequent self-weighing associated with poorer body satisfaction? Findings from a phone-based weight loss trial. J Nutr Educ Behav; 41(6): 425-428.