Healthy eating plan? Check. Exercise routine? Check. You've got a goal in mind, and you have everything you need to start your weight-loss journey. But there's one more thing to consider: How will you track your progress?
When your aim is to shed pounds, using a home scale on the daily may seem like a no-brainer. But the truth is, this tool might not be the best measure for everyone. For some, a scale might help keep them on track; but for others, it might spark an unhealthy obsession that focuses too much on a number and disregards other key health factors.
Whether or not to use a scale is a personal decision, but it's worth considering the pros and cons before adding one to your bathroom. Here, we'll break down the ways it might help or hurt.
The Pros of Using a Scale
1. It Keeps You Accountable
Weighing in often may aid weight loss and weight management by helping to remind you of your goals. Indeed, according to a November 2018 study in Circulation that monitored more than 1,000 people for a year, those who weighed in daily lost more weight than those who weighed themselves weekly or did not hop on the scale at all.
"Regardless of the goal you set, weighing in often helps you achieve that goal because it increases your accountability to it," Kristian Flores, CSCS, a fitness coach based in New York City, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "In fact, a September 2014 review in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare showed that fitness apps that require frequent weigh-ins were tied with more positive weight-loss results."
Keeping your weight-loss goals top-of-mind is key to achieving them, says Flores. So if the scale helps you do that, it can be a great addition to your arsenal.
"Daily or frequent weigh-ins in the morning can be a great motivational tool. By adding it into a morning routine, you're re-confirming on a daily basis your commitment to your goal and you'll know how to set the tone for the day — whether you need to keep up the good habits or make immediate corrections to what's not working," Flores says.
2. Smart Scales Can Help You See the Bigger Picture
"With the advent of smart scales, it is now possible to track other measures of health besides weight, such as your body composition," says Flores. Why is that a good thing? While it can be demotivating to hit a plateau while trying to lose weight (aka the scale hits a certain number and stops budging), it can be very motivating to see that, although you aren't losing weight, your body composition is changing in a positive way. "If you are exercising as part of your weight-loss program, adding muscle and increasing bone density is a good thing," says Flores.
In fact, if you start a new fitness program that builds muscle, such as a HIIT class, you might even see the numbers on the scale climb a bit, even though you look physically leaner and feel more toned and strong. If you're tracking your body composition along with your weight, you'll know that you're actually making great progress toward your goal. "Scales such as this one by Withings connect with your smartphone and help you get a deeper understanding of how your efforts are impacting your body," Flores says. So, if you do want a scale, it might be worth it to spring for a fancier model that allows you to take a more holistic approach to your weight-loss journey.
How Using a Scale Might Backfire
1. It Can Be Discouraging
"A lot of people do daily weigh-ins in the morning soon after wakeup, which is when it's recommended, but if the outcome is not good, it can set a negative mood for the rest of the day," says Flores.
Staying positive is key to helping you stay motivated, so if stepping onto the scale causes you to lose confidence, then you probably shouldn't be weighing yourself daily. Indeed, if you're feeling down, you'll likely end up making poorer dietary choices, which can undermine your efforts, says Flores.
What's more: If the scale stresses you out, it can prompt a release in the hormone cortisol, which encourages your body to store fat and can make it harder to shed those pounds.
2. It Could Lead to Unhealthy Behaviors
If you're too laser-focused on the number on the scale, it might lead to obsessive patterns with weighing yourself or other unhealthy behaviors, such as restricting food to drop that extra pound or indulging too heavily because you lost a pound. "Your weight can fluctuate a lot, even in a single day, and that fluctuation can lead to someone prematurely rewarding or punishing themselves, which is also not a good thing," says Flores. If you notice this pattern in your behavior, focusing on other outcomes and results (like decreased body fat) and listening to your body's hunger cues may be the healthier approach, Flores notes.
Plus, losing weight the healthy way is about more than just, well, the weight. "If your ultimate goal is to be healthier, focusing on weight is definitely not the best approach. Weight should never be the only determining factor of how 'healthy' someone is," says Melainie Rogers, a certified eating disorder registered dietitian and founder and CEO of the BALANCE eating disorder treatment center in New York City. "When on the quest to be healthier, focusing on eating good foods and moving our bodies in ways that keep us energized and honing in on our hunger and fullness cues are much more useful measures than the number on the scale," she says.