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Can weighing yourself every day prevent weight gain?

New research tests a novel strategy for preventing holiday weight gain and proposes a psychological mechanism that explains why the strategy may work.

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Research shows that on average, people gain between 0.4 and 1 kilogram (kg) of weight per year. Although this may be a small amount, persistent weight gain can lead to obesity over time. Most of us are familiar with the so-called holiday weight gain. During Ramadan and summers, adults tend to gain 0.4–1.5 kg, on average.

Read more: Can you lose weight by cutting out carbs?

Now, research appearing in the journal ‘Obesity’ suggests that weighing ourselves every day could be an effective way to prevent weight gain. Jamie Cooper, Ph.D., who is an associate professor in the Department of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Georgia in Athens, led the new research.

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Studying a new weight loss strategy

For their study, Cooper and colleagues recruited 111 adults who were 18–65 years old. The participants weighed themselves with varying degrees of frequency between mid-November 2017 and early January 2018. The researchers asked the participants to complete three visits: one just before the holiday season, another one immediately after, and the third one 14 weeks after the intervention.

Cooper and team also asked the participants to use a Likert scale to assess the frequency with which they weighed themselves. Study co-author Michelle van Dellen, who is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Georgia, explains the psychological mechanisms that might be at play behind these results.

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“People are really sensitive to discrepancies or differences between their current selves and their standard or goal,” van Dellen says. “When they see that discrepancy, it tends to lead to behavioural change. Daily self-weighing ends up doing that for people in a really clear way.”

The authors are not sure whether daily self-weighing without the graphical representation would have the same effect. “[R]eplication in larger studies with more diverse participants would help to determine the generalizability of this approach for weight gain prevention,” comments Dr. Susan Yanovski, an obesity researcher at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

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“Vacations and holidays are probably the two times of year people are most susceptible to weight gain in a very short period of time,” lead author Cooper concludes. “The holidays can actually have a big impact on someone’s long-term health.”

At the end of the study period, those who weighed themselves every day and got a graphical representation of their weight changes either maintained the same weight they had at baseline or lost weight. This tells us that conscious weight-watching is more effective and key to weight loss.

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