If you’re trying to manage your weight, getting into the habit of stepping onto the scale regularly is key. And at a glance, it’s simple enough: Step on, wait for the beep and move on with your life.
But making sure you’re getting consistently accurate readings and a clear picture of your weight can be trickier than you might think.
After all, you have to decide which scale to use, when to weigh yourself, how often, what to wear…the list goes on. Should you weigh yourself with your shoes on, like you do at some doctors’ offices, or strip down to nothing before you get on the scale? Is it better to weigh every day or only once a week?
Here we take a look at some of the basics of getting an accurate sense of your weight, along with how some of the simplest things can so easily throw off your numbers.
See related: How to get an accurate blood pressure measurement
What to wear when weighing yourself
To get the most accurate sense of your weight, consider stripping down to as little clothing as possible. Going nude is ideal, but if you’d rather not, just try to stay consistent with the amount of clothing you’re wearing when you weigh yourself. For example, you wouldn’t want to step onto the scale in your underwear one day, then weigh fresh out of the shower the next, then weigh in a sweater, jeans and slippers.
That’s because clothing can add around two pounds or more to your weight, according to a study from the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center. Researchers went through the trouble of testing the average weight clothing added when participants weighed themselves and found that clothes added an average weight of around 1.8 pounds among women and around 2.6 pounds among men. That’s not even accounting for the weight of shoes, which can easily add another 2 or 3 pounds.
This means you could see a huge swing in your weight from one day to the next just based on how much or little you’re wearing. And if you’re inconsistent with both what you wear and how often you weigh yourself, you can easily get a very inaccurate sense of where your weight stands over time. After all, if you only weigh yourself once every few weeks, sometimes in your underwear, sometimes in your shoes and everyday clothes, you could see your weight jump up and down by over 5 pounds.
As such, the easiest way to stay consistent is to weigh yourself without any clothes on at all. This way, your body weight is the sole target of measurement. If you take a shower or bath in the morning, consider weighing yourself first thing before you hop in.
That said, the USDA study found only minor differences in clothing weight between different clothing types and outdoor temperatures, so the question is less about what you wear and more about finding consistency in how much you wear when you step onto the scale.
When to weigh yourself
As with what you wear when you weigh yourself, deciding what time of day to weigh yourself is all about consistency. Mornings will likely be your best bet, but the key is to pick a time of day and stick to it.
Your weight will fluctuate throughout the day based on what you’ve eaten, how much water you’ve had to drink, how you slept and a number of other factors. Indeed, you could see your weight rise or fall by 5 pounds or more over the course of the day. So if you want an accurate sense of how your weight is changing over time, you’ll need to be sure you’re always weighing yourself at roughly the same time of day.
Weighing yourself first thing in the morning as part of a daily or weekly routine is no doubt the safest route. The main reason for this is that your body takes on a large amount of water weight over the course of the day, so you’ll often be at your “truest” (and lightest) weight first thing in the morning, when you’ve had all night to digest and process your food.
Leaving the accuracy of your weight aside, weighing yourself first thing in the morning, before you’ve eaten anything, could also help you start off your day on the right foot. Seeing where your weight stands, whether it’s in line with your expectations or not, could give you that extra bit of motivation you need to make healthy food choices or fit some exercise into your day.
How often to weigh yourself
As for how frequently you should be stepping on the scale, the answer is a bit more complicated. While research points to daily weigh-ins having a clear positive impact on weight loss, you may want to weigh a bit less frequently depending on your relationship to your weight and the scale in general.
You may feel a lot of anxiety when it comes to weighing yourself, and checking your weight frequently may make you obsess over it in an unhealthy way or even fall into negative mindsets and give up trying to manage it entirely.
Then again, completely avoiding the scale isn’t going to do you any favors.
If the scale causes anxiety, aim for at least once a week and keep in mind that changing habits and weight loss is often a slow, incremental process.
If you want to give yourself the best chance of losing weight, though, a number of research studies point to daily weigh-ins as more effective than weekly weigh-ins.
One study from researchers at the University of North Carolina found that weighing daily was even more effective than only weighing a few times per week. The reserachers concluded that “Weighing every day led to greater adoption of weight control behaviors and produced greater weight loss compared to weighing most days of the week.”
Another study found that over 12 months, people who weighed themselves daily lost significantly more weight than those who either did not weigh themselves at all or only weighed themselves weekly. Indeed, the latter two groups had no significant weight loss.
Much of these peoples’ success may be attributed to their establishing the habit of paying attention to their weight on a daily basis, which could influence all kinds of lifestyle choices and help create a positive loop of healthy choices and better weight control.
As psychologist and director of behavioral services at St. Luke’s Health System Humphreys Diabetes Center in Boise, Idaho told American Heart Association News: “That’s an action we call self-monitoring, which is an evidence-based strategy that we use with all kinds of behavior change…Tracking your behavior gives people some accountability, it can create some natural feedback, and it can serve as a source of motivation. They see, ‘Gosh, if I really follow my plan, I start to see some changes.'”
To give yourself the best chance of success, whether your goal is weight loss or maintenance, accept that weight can fluctuate from day to day and even hour to hour and try to establish a pattern of paying attention to it — not obsessing over it.
Other tips to keep in mind
Along with being consistent about what you’re wearing and when and how often you weigh yourself, there are a few other basic steps you can take to ensure you’re getting the most accurate weight possible. Here are a few final tips to keep in mind:
- Put your scale on a hard, flat surface. If you use your scale on a soft surface like a carpeted floor or an uneven surface like tile, you will get inconsistent readings.
- Stand still and center your weight. Try not to shift around when weighing yourself, as this can throw off your numbers.
- Weigh after going to the bathroom. Having a full bladder or bowels can definitely change your weight, sometimes by as much as a pound.