The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published a study in their April 2016 edition entitled "Association between self-weighing and percent weight change: mediation effects of adherence to energy intake and expenditure goals" that analyzed weight change over 18mo in participants who were instructed to weigh themselves every other day. The participants used electronic scales at home that recorded their weighing history for adherence, and the study found that the participants who stuck with their weighing plan better stuck with their diet/exercise plan and tended to lose weight.
At the heart of regular self-weighing as a weight-management strategy is Albert Bandura's social cognitive theory of self-regulation. This theory explains behavior change as a continual interaction between cognition or personal factors like motivation, one's behaviors, and the environment.
In this study, participants who engaged in the behavior of weighing saw numbers on the scale drop--especially in the first 6mo of the study. This likely affected their personal cognitions--they probably felt more capable and more motivated (higher "self-efficacy") to keep up their nutrition and exercise behaviors.
Self-weighing as self-regulation sounds like a good idea. Bandura points out that high-quality self-monitoring needs to be accurate, done regularly, have close proximity (or be easy), and be informative. Weighing fits most of these criteria. It's fast & simple, it can be done regularly, and it gives you something concrete to measure accurately.
Our environment overwhelmingly supports using the scale to inform us of our health status. We're a society obsessed with weight, so many people feel like their weight equates with "progress" or "success" or a "problem". We attribute so much of our health status to the number on the scale that self-weighing seems like an obvious way to evaluate our health behaviors.
The problem is, as I've written about before, your weight is actually a rather arbitrary number in the big picture of your health. Self-weighing fails to be informative.
Moreover, weight goals aren't the best goals to have, when you're looking to change your nutrition and exercise habits, because our society has an ingrained belief that dieting is the way to change the number on the scale. While tracking weight can tell you something about your energy balance and if you might be consuming more or less energy than you need, our usual tendency to "correct" a weight is to implement diet rules, such as restricting quantity & avoiding "bad" or "forbidden" foods. We look for dieting quick-fixes, because in the short run, weight can be changed quickly.
Self-monitoring is good. It's a necessary activity for turning new positive health behaviors into habits. Eventually, with enough regularity, positive health behaviors become second nature. You don't need to check in with yourself. It's wonderful when healthy living is so easy!
But nutrition changes can be difficult at first, and reminders that also serve to encourage you are excellent aids for your goals. Ideally, work first with a dietitian like me to help you assess where change is needed and develop some healthy goals. Dietitians can also help you become your own coach through developing self-monitoring practices. Here are 3 self-monitoring ideas:
1. Write your behavior goals and post them where you'll see them often. Goals that aren't weight-centered don't need a scale to measure progress. Maybe you want to exercise 45min 3x/week. Maybe you want to include a high-protein food at every breakfast. Whatever your goal is, seeing it in your daily environment, like as a recurring calendar reminder on your computer or as a post-it note on your fridge or steering wheel. Adding in an encouraging note, such as a motivating factor, is a great idea.
2. Keep track of progress. A journal, a calendar, an app--even stickers on a chart. If you routinely keep track of something you want to change, you're more likely to remember to follow through the next time, and the next. Want to stop eating late night snacks when you're already full? Reduce sugar-sweetened beverages to <4 drinks/week? Workout 250min/wk? Keep track!! You'll see your progress (encouraging), and you'll also notice when you're falling off your goal behaviors early, to give you plenty of time to problem-solve and come up with ways to make the desired behavior easier or, if necessary, set a different goal.
3. Use social support. Ever tried training for a marathon on your own? HARD! And lonely! Some health goals can be just as challenging. Whatever your health goal is, there is probably someone who can support you--and online friends and even apps count. Want to workout more often? Join a group. Planning to eat more vegetables? Tell your family that they can help. Trying to practice daily progressive muscle relaxation to reduce stress? I've just found there's an app to remind me, keep track for me, and give me encouraging support. Other people can serve as encouraging reminders or model behavior you want to follow. Use them as part of your environment to to help you self-monitor, and move along those healthy behaviors into easy habits that are just party of your healthy lifestyle.