Wednesday, January 24, 2018

In Practice: What I Learned from Weighing Myself (Almost) Every Day

by Hank Dart

In my many years of writing about and promoting healthy behaviors, I’m happy to say that I’ve at least tried to put into practice just about everything I’ve espoused. Of course, like many people, my success at doing so can be uneven. Some behaviors I do pretty well with - like exercise, olive oil, and fruits & vegetables. And some I admittedly struggle with - like, whole grains and added sugar.

But there’s one behavior I've written about a great deal but have never actually done myself. Regular weighing.  Stepping on the bathroom scale every day (or every week) and logging my weight.

Studies show that regular weighing can be a good tool for maintaining weight, especially in those who have lost weight and are working to keep it off. Because weight gain can creep up on people - a pound here, two pounds there - it's pretty easy to step on the scale after some months or years away and be surprised at the number staring up at you. Regular weighing can keep such jolts at bay and help us make small adjustments to how much we eat and how active we are so we can keep moving toward our long-term weight goals – whether it’s keeping weight steady or trying to slowly lose some weight.

And weight is a struggle for most of us in the United States.  Over two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese, and this has a huge impact on the health of individuals and the nation.  Being overweight is a cause of numerous cancers as well as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.  It can also hamper mobility and overall quality of life.

So, after years of writing about the benefits of regular weighing, it was time to put down my keyboard and hop on the scale.  On November 18, the week leading into Thanksgiving, I weighed myself for the first time in probably nine months and began my (almost) daily weighing program (see figure).

What did I discover over my first two months of weighing? Here are some highlights:
Routine. Creating a routine makes things easier. Decide when and where you’re going to weigh yourself and really try to stick to it. I chose first thing in the morning – bleary-eyed and before coffee. If you miss some days, don't stress. While I stepped on the scale on most days, I missed 11 weigh-ins over two months. Some days I was feeling too busy to do it.  Some days I just didn't feel like. But overall, I tried to keep missed days as outliers and used them as a time to remind myself that this was a goal I wanted to work on.   When it comes to routine and consistency, find what works best for you. Different approaches work for different people.
Fluctuations. Day-to-day there will be fluctuations in weight. Sometimes up. Sometimes down. That’s natural. Two days after my first weigh-in, my weight was up about two pounds and stayed there on-and-off for the next 10 days. And about 30 days after that, I had a seven-day stretch where my weight changed by over four pounds. And I had no real explanation for either of them. As you get used to these natural ups and downs, you learn to place less importance on them and see them as part of your larger trend. 
Mindfulness. One of the most important parts of daily weighing, I found, was simply the act of stepping on the scale. No matter what number came up, it helped me keep my goal in mind. This doesn’t mean you should obsess about weight. But daily weighing can help you be a bit more mindful about your weight goals throughout the day. The world that surrounds us is filled with cues that entice us to eat – a lot. Daily weighing can be one way that helps counter that influence, helping us be more mindful of our goals and keep an eye on making healthy choices. 
Frustrations. Daily weighing can have some frustrations, especially when the numbers don’t seem to reflect the work we’ve been putting in. In those times, it’s important to stay positive.  By weighing yourself you're gathering information that can help you adjust your approach and successfully work toward your long-term health goals. 
Big picture. While weight is important, it’s not the only important aspect of health. Weighing yourself every day shouldn’t become an obsessive exercise in working toward unrealistic or unhealthy weight goals. Rather, it should be a tool that helps us work toward sensible and healthy weight goals that we can maintain over time. A healthy weight should be one part of an overall healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet, regular exercise, not smoking, and other healthy behaviors.

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