What does the science say about stepping on the scale? Find out if making this a daily habit promotes weight loss or sabotages your efforts.

Brierley Horton, MS, RD

If you're planning to go on a diet, or maybe you're in the throes of one, there's a good chance you're wondering how often you should weigh yourself for the most success with losing weight.

The answer is both complicated and simple.

Trying to find the answer may leave you feeling like a battered Ping-Pong ball. The controversy is something along the lines of: "weigh yourself every day and you'll not only lose the weight, but also keep it off" versus "throw out your scale; standing on it too much could lead to an eating disorder."

With such strong statements in either direction, you're likely feeling confused about whether stepping on the scale can help motivate you along, or whether you need to throw your scale in the garbage. Here's what you need to know.

Related: 6 Secrets to Losing Weight

What the science says

Dive into the research more, and you can make a persuasive science-backed argument in either direction. For example, a 2015 review study (i.e., a study of studies) concluded that regularly weighing yourself was was associated with weight loss and there were no reports of negative psychological outcomes-plus, other studies with similar findings have been published since. Then another study, published in the same year, said that regularly weighing yourself does affect the psyche (self-esteem, eating habits, etc.).

According to science, weighing yourself may be helpful or it may be detrimental. See! Ping-Pong ball, #amiright? This is why it's complicated.

There is a simpler view, though.

Ask yourself this important question

Research does support daily and weekly self-weighing to help people lose weight, and it can also make keeping the weight off easier. "But it's important to ask, 'how do you feel about weighing yourself?'," says Kara Mohr, Ph.D., FACSM, co-owner of MohrResults.com. "For many people, the number on the scale means more than a measure of their weight-they may use it to define their happiness or success, and even their self-worth," she says.

If that feels or sounds familiar, "putting the focus on cultivating sustainable health habits is more important than the number on the scale," says Marci Evans, M.S., RDN, a dietitian in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Perhaps using other body measurements like waist size or body fat percentage, would be more helpful for you. Or take progress photos, or see how certain clothes fit (ahem, skinny jeans).

If that still keeps you too focused on numbers, veer into different territory altogether: "Focus on adding more fruits and veggies to your meals, getting more high-quality sleep, taking a break for a walk during the workday, or trying out a meditation app to reduce stress," says Evans.

Beyond the numbers

Check in with yourself in other ways besides your weight. Here are some ideas to get started.

Measurements beyond the scale:

If the numbers on the scale aren't working in your favor, use these metrics to help track your success and keep you motivated.

  • Progress photos
  • How your clothes fit
  • Athletic progress (think: how fast you can run a mile or how many seconds you can hold a plank)
  • Body measurements, like waist size
  • Body fat percentage

Healthy habits to focus on to get back on track:

If you're feeling stuck in a rut, boost your health back up by focusing on a small positive behavior each day.

  • Add more fruits and vegetables
  • Get more sleep-aim for 8 hours a night
  • Move every day; try walking
  • Use a meditation app to help reduce stress

The bottom line

What might feel sustainable for one person, might look very different than what is sustainable for another. If you feel neutral, even positive, about weighing yourself, this is Mohr's advice: "For someone who is actively trying to lose weight, then a daily weigh-in at the same time of day (and under the same conditions) can be extremely beneficial for tracking progress and ensuring that changes are due mainly to changes in body weight." Anything more frequent and the various fluctuating factors (eating or drinking, exercise or bathroom visits, etc.) in our bodies can be misleading about our weight.

Slow down, tune in and listen to yourself. At the risk of sounding too touchy-feely, how do you feel about standing the scale every day, or every week? Let that answer be your guide.

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