Should you weigh yourself every day? Once a week? Not at all? Advice about weighing can be confusing.
Some experts say weighing should be kept to a minimum so we don't get obsessed about it; others say weighing daily can keep us from losing awareness so we don't cheat; and still others tell us to judge our weight by how our clothes fit, not the scale.
Most dieters believe that the more you weigh yourself, the more motivated you'll be and the faster you'll lose weight. But when the number on the scale is our primary focus, there's less attention paid to the behaviors that result in weight loss.
With so much focus on weight, a bad day on the scale can make us want to give up and avoid weighing in — or even give up the diet and exercise behaviors that promote weight loss altogether. The truth is that less rigidity about weighing in leads to more success with weight management.
Viewing weighing in as a time to find out whether you're a success or a failure is always a problem. Weighing in is only an opportunity to get information. It's not even the most important information you need.
If it were possible to get reliable and accurate information about the amount of fat you've lost, that would be useful. But household scales aren't that sophisticated. Still, it's possible to use a household scale in ways that make weighing productive.
Your weight varies because of many factors: how much you've eaten, the time of day you weigh, how much water you may be retaining or how much muscle mass you may have gained or lost.
There are several factors that can help determine your best weighing schedule:
The mind isn't going to want to do anything that's uncomfortable. So if you see the scale as your personal judge, the mind will resist. It's important to approach the scale unemotionally. A scale is simply a tool, not a test. If you approach the scale with rules, such as "I must lose weight today," you're setting yourself up to fail.
You might say, "My weight is the same as yesterday. I've been losing, and I'm doing well with activity and nutrition. I'm going in the right direction."
Or, "The scale shows my weight as 2 pounds higher than yesterday. I'm still doing well with my behaviors, so it must be something other than fat gain. I'll keep doing my job and let my body do its job."
This may also be true: "I've been gaining weight consistently the past couple of weeks. I'm still exercising, and my nutrition is good. However, I've been eating out more. My body's reflecting what I'm doing. I'll cut back on eating out."
All three examples show how weigh-ins can be used as tools, rather than as determiners of success or failure.
However fast or slow your weight loss is, there's a logical reason. Rather than getting frustrated at the number on the scale, use that number to help figure out whether your behaviors are on the right track.
Think of yourself as your body's teammate. As long as you're doing your part, your body will do its part, too — but on its schedule, not yours. Weight-loss deadlines make little sense. Relax and do the work. The rewards will come.
Your goals should be about behavior, not numbers on the scale. Goals dealing with activity level, nutrition and portion control deal more directly with fat loss than any number. Besides, it's best to stay away from trying to guess what your "right" weight should be. Everyone is different physiologically, and it's next to impossible to forecast what the best weight is for someone.
How often should you weigh? Once you have a realistic attitude about the scale, you can choose to weigh daily, weekly, monthly or not at all. Discover what works for you.
Lavinia Rodriguez is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Psychological Barriers to Weight Management."