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August 06, 2017

Study links daily check-ins to weight loss, but does the scale tell the whole story?

Is the scale a friend or foe in weight loss?

A new study from researchers at Penn and Drexel University found that female college-age students who weighed themselves regularly -- averaging a daily basis -- saw a greater drop in body mass index (BMI) and body fat percentage, while those who didn’t weigh themselves daily saw, on average, no BMI declination.

Penn Medicine News reported that the BMI for the women who self-weighed daily saw a BMI decrease of about .5 units by the end of their first year.

The study is the latest piece to a long-running debate running throughout both the scientific health and the fitness and wellness communities about the role the scale and daily weigh-ins make in helping people achieve their weight loss goals.

Advocates of the scale cite this and similar studies that link daily scale checking to weight loss progress. Diane Rosenbaum, an author on the study and psychologist at Penn, said the behavior can be useful.

“Daily self-weighing only adds a few extra minutes to someone’s morning routine, but it has the potential to help individuals stay on track with health goals, which is another reason it could offer a lot of utility for folks looking to watch their weight,” she said.

“It gives you more opportunities to see the impact of your behaviors on your weight, and helps you to identify when you may need to make adjustments sooner rather than later.”

Conversely, of course, the scale could have the potential to discourage people who may be gaining weight as the replace fat with muscle -- that is the big point of debate among many fitness leaders outside of the science community.

“One of the things that people critique about using BMI is that it can sometimes be confusing to interpret in people who are high in muscle mass,” Rosenbaum told Penn Medicine News. Rosenbaum and other experts have noted that body fat percentage can be an even better marker of body progress, which is why Penn and Drexel used that measurement in the study as well.

“If we look at body fat specifically, we can say a lot more concretely that the changes we are seeing are related to gaining body fat, as opposed to any other type of weight gain or loss. And that’s useful because we know that excess body fat is one of the things that can be a predictor of future health problems.”

Researchers aren’t thrilled with the number of people who advocate for swearing against the scale as online trainers and wellness communities throw so many new dieting ideas into the ether. As more research begins to observe the role of self-weighing, however, more and more experts are pointing toward its benefits.

“My training is in health and clinical psychology, so my clinical recommendations come from a research-based perspective,” said Jena Shaw Tronieri, director of Clinical Services at Penn’s Center for Weight and Eating Disorders.

“Most research suggests a relationship between regular self-weighing and better weight loss or weight loss maintenance, though further studies are needed to determine that one actually causes the other.”

Check out the full report from Penn Medicine News here.

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