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For Your Health: Making friends with your bathroom scale

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For Your Health Graphic 2020
Dr. Graham Colditz HeadshotIt can feel like a real victory when we discover those little tricks that make daily life a bit easier. Whether it’s a quicker way to finish chores or a simple dish that tastes like it took hours to make, it’s hard to beat the satisfaction of getting more done with less time and energy.

When it comes to our health, little tricks can feel rare. But a quick and easy one many people don’t think about is stepping on a scale regularly.

It’s understandable why many of us avoid it. Scales can deliver unwelcome surprises, especially if we’ve gone months or years between weigh-ins. But what regular weighing can do is prevent such surprises. By keeping track of your weight, you can note if it’s creeping up and can make small adjustments to how much you eat and how active you are. A 2015 analysis that reviewed 17 studies on regular weighing found that this simple trick not only helped people with maintaining their weight, but also helped with losing weight and keeping it off.

“The overall evidence suggests regular self-weighing can enhance weight loss, particularly if the self-weighing is regular and continues,” says Dr. Rachel Tabak, a registered dietitian and research associate professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

And getting started is about as easy as it gets. First, if you don’t have a scale, buy or borrow one. There are many different scales out there, but a basic, inexpensive one is all you really need. Then, weigh yourself regularly – once a day or once a week or something in between – and keep a log of your weight. A paper log works great, or you can go higher tech with a scale that automatically logs your weight to your computer or smartphone.

Overall, it’s currently unclear what an optimal weighing schedule is, adds Tabak, but some newer studies “suggest that more frequent weighing, daily rather than weekly, is associated with better weight loss outcomes.”

The most important thing is that you do it regularly and keep up with it.

As you get started, you’ll see that your weight has small fluctuations – up a few pounds one day and down the next. That’s natural. What really matters is the overall trend over time. If your goal is to lose some weight, but instead it’s steadily going up or staying the same, try to identify why that might be and make changes to what you’re eating and how much activity you’re getting.

Though stepping on the scale may not always be the high point of your day, these regular check-ins can play an important role in meeting your weight goals. More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, which increases the risk of many serious conditions, from cancer and stroke to diabetes and physical disability.

Maintaining a healthy weight has huge health benefits for individuals – and the nation. So, stepping on the scale regularly just may be a step worth trying.

It’s your health. Take control.


Dr. Graham A. Colditz, associate director of prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is an internationally recognized leader in cancer prevention. As an epidemiologist and public health expert, he has a long-standing interest in the preventable causes of chronic disease. Colditz has a medical degree from The University of Queensland and a master’s and doctoral degrees in public health from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.