Updated: Jun 4
The short answer
The short-ish answer
The best evidence suggests those who weigh themselves daily are more likely to lose weight. Moreover, concerns about negative psychological consequences of frequent weigh-ins are outdated and not supported by current literature (more on that below).
The long answer
This is a long post, so in addition to the short and short-ish answers, I have split it into the below sections:
The psychological model of Contemplate has three core steps that are repeated every day:
Check-in on your progress (i.e., weigh-in),
Make a general short-term expression of the direction of progress you would like (i.e., enter how much you intend to weigh a week from now),
Contemplate on one of the areas we understand to be core blockers for people following through on their intentions.
Makes sense, right?
Take a moment to figure out where you are, where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there.
When I started Contemplate I drew on my network to find people who might be interested in testing it. For me, that meant a few close friends, but mainly people through a few psychology and personal training networks.
While the feedback on Contemplate was encouraging (you wouldn’t be reading this if it wasn’t), I noticed something strange.
Nearly half of the people I first invited to test this new approach to weight loss were skipping the weigh-in.
While I have some colleagues that specialize in eating disorders and was aware of the common clinical recommendation not to weigh in every day, I also know the vast majority of research supports daily weighing if you want to lose weight, have weight to lose, and don’t have an eating disorder.
Based on prevalence alone, I expect maybe 4-10% of people using Contemplate could have some history of eating disorders, but that certainly didn’t explain nearly the 50% who weren’t entering their weight.
So why were so many people skipping weighing in each day? Well, in the majority of cases it was because a health professional told them not to.
The evidence against daily weighing
Since the 80s, keeping a daily record of your diet and exercise has been central to successful weight loss. It wasn’t until more recently that daily weighing has been added as a key part of sustainable weight loss.
Early research tended to focus more on how unreliable daily weight measurement can be, with fluctuations due to fluid intake, hormones, time of day, exercise, etc. (Zheng et al., 2016). You can mitigate these fluctuations by weighing yourself every day, at the same time, preferably in the morning after you go to the toilet, and always wearing the same thing, but your weight will still fluctuate based on things like your hormones, water retention, sleep quality, and the position of the moon (true with a really sensitive scale). But that’s OK, because it will also fluctuate based on how much your weight has changed from diet and exercise. And that’s what we care about. We expect it to go up and down day-to-day, as well as show us longer trends.
But some studies have found that frequent weighing might not just be confusing, but also harmful. In 1997 Ogden and Whyman published a paper showing daily weighing could result in higher depression, anxiety, and lower self-esteem. By all accounts, this seemed an important finding. If subjecting people to the scale was detrimental, [i]and[/i] seemingly arbitrary fluctuations were normal, then why should we ask people to do it?
It turns out later researchers have had trouble finding the same negative psychological consequences for daily weighing (Wing et al., 2007). Why? Well, the 1997 study had a few limitations. Namely, the authors only followed 16 people who weighed daily for 2 weeks. All study participants were in a healthy weight range and not trying to lose weight, they were young (oldest was 23), and all were female. All great things to be, but hardly representative of the broader weight loss community.
The closest I could find to more representative studies that criticised daily weighing were two separate studies in 2012, each reporting both negative [i]and[/i] positive effects of frequent weighing.
So what were the bad things? Well, one study of 2,287 young people (Quick et al., 2012) found those who weighed themselves more frequently were more likely to report binge eating, use of steroids and/or laxatives, more depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem in women, and lower body satisfaction in men. But the authors also found frequent weighing was related to muscle-enhancing behaviours, a higher probability of following a diet, eating fewer sweets, and periodic fasting. The other study (Klos et al., 2012), which looked specifically at body image concerns, found female students who weighed themselves more frequently had more body image concerns, while men tended to have more body image satisfaction.
While there does seem to be a common theme of frequent weighing being related to negative body image and depressive symptoms in women, these two larger studies weren’t able to determine if one causes the other. That is, does frequent weighing cause body image concerns in women, or do women who have more body image concerns tend to weigh themselves more?
Studies suggesting negative effects of daily weighing did not firmly agree on what the negative consequences were. One study found higher depression, anxiety, and lower self-esteem, but not body dissatisfaction, while another found higher body dissatisfaction, but not lower self-esteem. Depressive symptoms were also not found in a much larger study that followed participants over 18 months (Wing et al., 2007).
At best, the criticisms of daily weighing are contested.
The evidence for daily weighing
Not only have other studies failed to find negative psychological consequences for daily weighing, but many have found clear benefits.
For example, increases in the frequency of weighing have been associated with decreases in binge eating (Wing et al., 2007).
Gokee-Larose and colleagues (2009) found those who weighed themselves daily had less disordered eating, fewer depressive symptoms, and improved body image over 20 weeks. Not only that, but they also lost more weight than those weighing themselves less frequently.
Steinberg and colleagues (2013) found those who weighed daily not only felt positive about daily weighing, but were more likely to have lost 5-10% of their body weight over 3 months and kept it off at 6 months.
Similarly, Steinberg and the same colleagues (2014) found no adverse psychological consequences of daily weighing in overweight adults and firmly recommended: “Daily self-weighing should be implemented into weight-control programs without concerns for negative psychological consequences” (p.29).
Steinberg must have had a busy few years, as with different colleagues this time (2015) she found that not only did weighing every day lead to greater weight loss compared to those who weighed weekly or less, but daily weighing led to better weight control behaviours and greater weight loss than those weighing most days per week.
I could go on, but instead, I’m going to break up this wall of text with a graph from a 2-year study of 1,222 people:
Change in weight (kgs) as a function of the frequency of weighing for a healthy weight, overweight, and obese participants. Source: VanWormer et al. (2012).
The benefits of frequent weighing have been supported by a systematic review of 22 studies (Burke et al., 2011), a meta-analysis of 21 studies (Madigan et al., 2015), and a critical review (Pacanowski et al., 2014), which included the above systematic and meta-analyses as well as empirical studies.
Hard to argue with that.
But it is unlikely that there is something magic about weighing yourself. Weight is just one piece of information (an imperfect one at that), and weight loss is dependent on so many complex variables. There seems to be a benefit in monitoring all of your weight-related metrics. For example, Akers and colleagues (2012) found that it wasn’t just daily weighing, but also calorie counting, fruit and vegetable logging, step counting and maybe even measuring how much water you drink that all have benefits to weight loss.
So, you should measure everything, all the time, right?
Is it worth the inconvenience?
(if you’ve skipped to here at least scroll up and look at the graph)
By now it should be clear to you that if you want to lose weight, you should weigh yourself every day. But does that mean it is worth the inconvenience?
For some perspective, calorie counting is strongly related to weight loss. Even more so than daily weighing. But it’s also exhausting, with the majority of people giving up on calorie counting before reaching their goals (McEvedy, 2017; Solbrig et al., 2016).
Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan of calorie counting. But I also know that if a habit is exhausting, then you’re less likely to keep at it.
What about weighing? Well, while it may only take a few seconds, it may not always be on your mind, and might not exactly be inspiring to be confronted by just how little progress you've made, or even the impression that you may have gone backwards.
You’re busy. You have a life. Stuff to do. Other problems to solve. Facing your weight might only take a few seconds, but it rarely feels motivating.
That’s kind of the point though…
You can't expect weighing yourself to always feel motivating. Or even usually.
But if your weight isn’t on your mind enough to spare a few seconds weighing yourself each day, will your weight be on your mind when you’re choosing between a panini or a pizza for lunch?
Perhaps it would help if I talked less about what works for other people, and more about why it will work for you.
The best we can tell is weighing daily helps with weight loss for three main reasons:
Stepping onto the scale, particularly in the morning, can prime you to thinking more about your weight-related behaviours that day. You’re more likely to do things that shift the number in the direction you want if the memory of that number is fresh.
Seeing a graph of weight change over time gives you feedback on a general trend. Though there is a lot of fluctuation day-to-day, it is the trend you should care about. Also, with a higher quantity of data, varied though it may be, you can have more faith in the quality of the data and are more faith in the trend.
The scale is a source of both positive and negative feedback. When you know you did the wrong thing yesterday, and the scale reflects it today, it is difficult to hide from reality. On the other hand, when you work hard and do the right thing, and the scale reflects it, then you will know sooner rather than later. So long as you are familiar with the pattern of daily fluctuations, the scale can help you course-correct before you go too far off track.
What if you don’t weigh every day, or miss a day?
You’re probably fine. A lot of studies are fairly vague about exactly how often you should weigh yourself. The benefits seem to lie somewhere between more than a few times and week and less than 4 times a day.
If you want to set an expectation for weighing yourself frequently, setting a strict target of daily weighing can be setting yourself up for disappointment when you inevitably miss a day. Instead, try to set a softer target, like not missing two days in a row.
Like most things, it’s a balance. You need to trade-off between doing it regularly enough that it becomes a habit and not doing it so much that you become obsessed and adversely affecting your mood or motivation.
Struggling to turn daily weighing into a habit? Check out this New York Times article for some tips.
Who shouldn't weigh themselves daily?
It’s important to point out that large studies tend to focus on trends and general rules, rather than exceptions. But if being a psychologist and a scientist has taught me anything, it’s that exceptions are more common than rules.
Some people, particularly those with a history of eating disorders, can have a complex relationship with the scale, and have learned it’s best not to weigh themselves every day. Seeing their weight can activate debilitating feelings. The majority of these people are not overweight by the current medical definition, but some may be.
So, while there are a great many benefits and limited convincing substantiated risks to daily weighing, I can’t say with certainty that you are not an exception to this.
Additionally, most criticisms of daily weighing are from studies of people in a healthy weight range. So, if you’re not actively looking to lose weight and you have weight to lose (seek medical advice if you’re not sure), then it’s probably not helpful to be weighing yourself every day.
There is a real risk that health professionals with the best intentions are operating on old information and advising people looking to lose weight not to weigh themselves daily. For most people, this is bad advice.
If you have previously been told that weighing yourself regularly can be bad for your headspace, please take a moment to consider: Are you willing to accept the short-term discomfort of the scale for the sake of long-term progress? Would you rather sit with the discomfort, but have the knowledge of where you’re at, or are you confident enough that you’re doing the right things without stepping on the scale as often?
At no point will we deliver a program that forces all users to do ‘what works for most’ at the risk of excluding or harming those few who genuinely have different needs. I am all too aware that science and academic psychology can be guilty of looking at the rules and forgetting the exceptions.
Compared to the early days, contemplators don’t skip quite as many weigh-ins as they used to. However, at the time of writing this (April 2021), about 20% (19.4%) of all daily contemplations still do not include a weight.
Based on the prevalence of eating disorders in the countries where most contemplators are, that number should be closer to 4-10%. So, at 20% I think we are doing OK. But perhaps we could be doing better.
If you have concerns about anything contained in this article, please email us at email@example.com.
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Zheng, Y., Terry, M. A., Danford, C. A., Ewing, L. J., Sereika, S. M., Goode, R. W., ... & Burke, L. E. (2018). Experiences of daily weighing among successful weight loss individuals during a 12-month weight loss study. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 40, 462-480. https://doi.org/10.1177/0193945916683399