How Often Should You Weigh Yourself, If at All?

It's not a one-size-fits-all answer.

If you have a scale at home, you can weigh yourself anytime, but how often should you weigh yourself anyway? What does that number really tell you about your health?

In short, how often you weigh yourself depends on factors like your weight management goals, what your healthcare provider recommends, and if doing so takes a toll on your mental health.

To better understand the complexity of this question, Health turned to research and experts to find out how often to check your weight.

What Does Your Weight Tell You?

The number you see on the scale is the sum of your lean body mass—muscle, organs, bones, and fluid like water and blood—and fat mass (also referred to as adipose tissue).

"Your weight is simply a representation of the relationship of your body to gravity. On another planet, you'd weigh something else entirely," said Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., a dietitian in Mercer Island, WA, and a national nutrition consultant. "It tells you nothing about how healthy you are if you're pretty or any other moral assumptions we assign to the number."

What To Know About Body Mass Index (BMI)

Body mass index (BMI) is a biased and outdated metric that uses weight and height to make assumptions about body fat and, by extension, your health. This metric is flawed in many ways and does not factor in your body composition, ethnicity, sex, race, and age. Despite its flaws, the medical community still uses BMI because it's an inexpensive and quick way to analyze health data.

Some doctors may consider a higher BMI to indicate a higher risk for diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems, and certain cancers.

But BMI has its drawbacks and may not accurately predict health. Your BMI—and weight, for that matter—doesn't consider the percentage of lean mass to fat mass (aka, your body fat percentage), which can be an indicator of health. It also doesn't consider where your fat is stored in your body, which seems to influence your disease risk.

Just because your BMI is in the "normal" weight category doesn't mean you don't have any risk for diseases. It doesn't factor in things like your genetics or pre-existing medical conditions.

Body Composition Matters

Body fat analyzers, such as skinfold calipers or air displacement plethysmography (where your body fat percentage is measured while you're in a computerized, egg-shaped chamber), could tell you your body fat percentage. A scale can't do this on its own.

The more muscle you have, the higher your lean body mass, which equates to a lower body fat percentage. The more fat you have compared to your lean mass, the higher your body fat percentage. A study analyzing data on more than 50,000 adults aged 40 years or older found that as body fat percentage increases, so does the risk for mortality.

But even though your weight alone won't tell you your body fat percentage or overall health risk, research has shown that knowing your weight can help you engage in healthier behavior. Weighing yourself daily may lead you to engage in more weight control habits, like cutting down on sugary foods, eliminating excess snacking, and eating out less.

How Often Should You Weigh Yourself?

Weighing yourself daily is not a one-size-fits-all decision. "For [one] person, checking your body weight daily might be a good thing. Or a different person can stay motivated by checking once a week. Yet someone else could find weigh-ins are self-destructive," Dr. Kleiner cautioned.

"As your weight increases, you gain not only fat but also muscle mass to support the added fat. About 20% to 35% of excess weight is lean tissue, through the addition of muscle and bone mass," Donald Hensrud, MD, associate professor of nutrition and preventative medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, told Health.

"You don't need to lose the muscle you've gained, so weighing what you did in high school (or whatever arbitrary time point) isn't realistic or helpful," added Dr. Hensrud.

If Weight Loss Is Your Goal

If you're embarking on a journey to improve your health, figure out whether weight loss should even be a part of that journey. "You can improve your health through nutrition and exercise without losing an ounce. If that's the case, you don't need to weigh yourself at all," said Dr. Kleiner.

If Weight Maintenance Is Your Goal

"If weight loss is something you desire, understand it's a long-term process. You'll see the scale go up and down, and only you can decide if weighing yourself will help or hurt your efforts," added Dr. Kleiner.

Whether your goal is weight loss or maintenance, regular weighing might be beneficial. Weighing yourself daily appears to be effective at preventing age-related weight gain and correlates with losing weight and keeping it off.

How Weighing Yourself Can Effect Your Mental Health

A study showed that more frequent self-weighing was associated with poorer self-esteem and a negative impact on body evaluation, such as body image and body dissatisfaction. Some individuals may experience greater depression and anxiety if they weigh themselves often.

Self-weighing may also be negatively associated with developing and exacerbating disordered eating thoughts and behaviors. Although weekly weighing is often part of the treatment for eating disorders, data suggest even that frequency might prompt a moderately negative reaction.

It's best to consult your healthcare provider if you have concerns or questions about the frequency at which you weigh yourself or its effect on you.

How To Safely Weigh Yourself Daily

If you like the feedback weighing gives you, it doesn't negatively affect your mood or mental health, and your healthcare provider hasn't instructed you otherwise, weighing daily is likely best, Mike T. Nelson, PhD, a Minnesota-based exercise physiologist and national fitness and nutrition educator, told Health.

"The problem with weighing less frequently is it puts a lot of pressure on one measurement. Some people will starve themselves the day before or do something screwy to try to make their weight lower," Dr. Nelson said.

As for when you should weigh yourself, Dr. Nelson said to do it first thing in the morning after going to the bathroom. "Log it and go about your day. Then review the data once a week with an app that averages the highs and lows to show how your weight is trending over time."

What Causes Your Weight To Fluctuate?

If you are someone who weighs yourself on a more regular basis, you might notice your weight goes up and down, even when you're not doing anything to purposefully lose or gain weight. It's normal for your weight to fluctuate both throughout the day and as you age.

These are the most common reasons why weight fluctuates:

  • Excess sodium. Salt causes your body to retain water, especially if you're not used to eating a high amount.
  • Carbohydrates. When we eat carbs, the energy we don't use right away is stored as glycogen in our muscles. Each gram of glycogen carries three grams of water. This is why if you go on a low-carb diet, you'll lose a lot of water weight, not fat, in the first few weeks.
  • Fiber. Dr. Kleiner encouraged eating your veggies. If you've recently upped your vegetable consumption or switched to a more plant-based diet, you're likely eating more fiber. You can experience temporary constipation, which may make your weight go up.
  • Hormones. It's not your period itself that causes weight gain. Hormonal changes during that time might cause you to crave and eat more sweet or salty foods than usual, and extra calories can lead to weight gain. It could also be from the retention of water weight during that time.
  • Stomach contents. Many people forget that undigested food can cause weight to increase, explained Dr. Nelson. If you ate late in the evening or are weighing yourself at a different time of day, the amount of food in your gut can make a difference in your weight.

Dr. Nelson also added that travel, alcohol, muscle soreness, poor sleep, and stress can cause temporary changes in weight. If you weigh yourself often, you can keep track of these factors and anticipate the weight fluctuations they might bring.

There are also times your weight might drop overnight or during the week. Losses are most often caused by sickness that includes vomiting or diarrhea, or temporary dehydration. Dr. Nelson also explained that when some people are highly stressed, they can't eat, and their weight will drop until the stress abates.

Fluctuations in weight might also be due to underlying medical problems, something regular weighing might help you better pick up on. For example, out-of-the-blue weight gain can be caused by things like thyroid problems, heart failure, kidney disease, medication, and hormonal imbalance.

Unexplained weight loss is defined as either losing at least 10 pounds or losing more than 5% of your body weight over a period of six to 12 months. This can also signal a host of medical problems, ranging from inflammatory bowel disease to cancer. Consult your healthcare provider if you are gaining or losing weight and can't explain why.

What Are Other Ways To Track Your Health?

Again, weight alone won't tell you much about your overall health. The following are other ways you can track your health at home that, together, can give you a more complete picture:

  • Blood pressure: Normal blood pressure for most adults is a systolic pressure of less than 120 and a diastolic pressure of less than 80. Dr. Nelson advised getting an inexpensive blood pressure monitor to take readings yourself. High blood pressure is a metabolic risk factor that can raise your risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetes and stroke, so monitoring is key.
  • Waist circumference: Excessive abdominal fat can increase your risk for heart disease, obesity-related conditions, and other diseases. People assigned female at birth are at higher risk if their waist circumference is more than 35 inches. For people assigned male at birth, it's 40 inches.
  • Waist-to-hip ratio: The measurement can zero in on how much of your visceral fat (aka, the fat stored deep in the belly, wrapped around the organs) is distributed in your midsection. Central obesity can lead to mortality and disease risk, and the waist-to-hip ratio can shed light on that risk. To get this measurement, divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference. For all genders, a waist-to-hip ratio of 1.0 or higher is considered "at-risk" for undesirable health consequences.
  • Sleep: Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night. Getting less than that on a regular basis has been linked with poor health, including a higher prevalence of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and depression. Dr. Nelson advised keeping track of when you go to bed and when you wake up.
  • Mental health: Taking care of your mental well-being is as important as your physical health. Trying a relaxing activity, staying connected, exercising regularly, eating healthful meals on a regular basis, staying hydrated, and practicing gratitude are all ways you can practice self-care. "I tell people, even if you don't lose a pound, if you're more active and you're eating better, your health (physical and mental) is going to improve," said Dr. Hensrud.

A Quick Review

You might think weighing yourself everyday with the goal of weight loss or maintenance or tracking your health might seem like a good thing to do. But before you get into the habit, consider the pros and cons, and talk with your healthcare provider.

It's important to know that many things can cause your weight to fluctuate on a daily basis. There are also other ways to track your weight and health that are more informative than just a number on a scale.

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Sources
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