Daily or weekly, how often should you weigh yourself?

With an array of mental, physical and environmental factors affecting body weight, stepping on the scales is just one way of keeping track of progress, experts say

Weighing yourself remains the most popular way to track weight loss or gain. Getty Images
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In this time of peak health and fitness, we’re constantly being bombarded with news and information on latest developments, diets and exercise trends.

From YouTube workout videos and social media fitness influencers to traditional and holistic medical advice, there’s an array of platforms and channels from which to access information or find inspiration for different body types and lifestyles.

At the core of most health messaging, however, the basics remain the same.

Many people continue to track body weight as an indicator of health. Whether trying to lose weight or bulk up, the numbers on the scale have remained the most popular way of assessing body changes.

“We weigh ourselves to monitor changes in body composition, assess health status and track progress towards goals,” says Nur Al Abrach, clinical nutritionist at Nabta Health. “It’s advisable when done moderately and under professional guidance, especially for individuals managing conditions like obesity or undernutrition.

“Regular weigh-ins provide feedback on progress, aiding motivation and adjustment of strategies. Weekly weigh-ins are generally recommended to prevent obsession and promote a balanced approach to weight management under professional guidance.”

While some diet programmes suggest keeping track of weight on a daily basis to track fluctuations, others say once a week gives a better overview. There are also some who suggest not weighing yourself at all, chucking out the scales and using markers such as body measurements or the fit of clothing to track progress instead.

So, how often should you weigh yourself?

The importance of weight fluctuations

One of the most important things to consider when trying to change your weight is how much it fluctuates, not only on a day-to-day basis, but sometimes hourly.

Weight is not only dependent on calories in versus calories out, but is also affected by sweating, exercise and other environmental, physical and emotional factors.

“Weight can fluctuate quickly or slowly,” says Dr Donald Hensrud, associate professor of preventive medicine and nutrition at Mayo Clinic. “When it fluctuates quickly – hourly or daily – it is usually due to fluid changes because changes in body fat and lean tissue do not occur that rapidly. If someone is in hot weather and/or exercising, they can lose quite a bit of weight through sweating or when exercising, using the body’s stores of glycogen.”

Glycogen is a form of glucose and is how carbohydrates are stored in the body, in the muscles and liver. Glycogen contains a lot of water and is used by the body as a quick energy reserve.

“When used, glycogen releases water,” says Hensrud. “Conversely, if someone eats a lot of food, especially salty food, and drinks a lot of water, they may gain some body water weight and/or glycogen relatively quickly.”

Along with food intake and hydration, stress levels and hormones can play a big part in weight fluctuations, the latter especially affecting women with weight changes caused by water retention and change in appetite. In this instance, escalating numbers on the scale are due to an increase in body weight, but not fat.

“Hormonal changes such as the menstrual cycle can affect water retention and eventually shows as weight gain,” says Sushma Ghag, clinical dietitian at Aster Hospital, Mankhool.

“The average adult’s weight fluctuates up to five to six pounds per day [2.5kg-2.7kg].”

Is it water weight or fat weight?

While the number on a scale offers a snapshot of weight at any given time, it cannot differentiate between water retention and body fat.

“Measuring body fat percentage can be more informative than just body weight,” says Ghag. “There are various methods to measure body fat percentage, like bio-electrical impedance scale, skin fold callipers and Dexa scan. A decrease in body fat percentage is a good indicator of a healthy body composition.”

If the goal is weight loss, fat loss should be tracked over a longer time period than water loss.

“It’s important to recognise the difference between weight loss and fat loss, which takes longer to gain and lose,” says Sarah Lindsay, cofounder of Roar Fitness. “Everyone's weight fluctuations are different and generally the bigger the person and the more muscle mass the more potential for greater disparity. My body weight will fluctuate by 2kg daily depending on the time of day, what and how much I have eaten and drunk, if I have travelled and if I have exercised, especially in high heat.”

What other ways can you track changes to your body?

In addition to or instead of stepping on the scales, there are many other ways to track changes in body shape that don’t focus on weight. One of the most popular methods is to take measurements of body parts such as waist, hip, chest, arms and thighs to see if there has been loss or gain.

“Taking pre and post-diet photos can help you to visually track changes in your body shape and appearance,” says Ghag. “Fitness levels and overall stamina are good indicators of a healthy body too.”

Trying on smaller-sized clothes or digging out items from your wardrobe that no longer fit and trying them on each week is a great way to check progression, along with being aware of energy levels, sleep quality and mood.

“The only way to track your body weight is to weigh yourself but there are far more important health and fitness progress markers to note,” says Lindsay. “Such as body composition: is your muscle-to-fat ratio improving? Strength: are you lifting heavier weights? Recovery: is your recovery between sets or sessions getting faster? And most importantly, how do you feel?”

How often should you weigh yourself?

The answer will vary depending on the individual, their goals and the way in which weight tracking affects their mental health.

“Constantly weighing oneself may result in individuals feeling unhappy or disappointed when they do not see the number they expect on the scale,” says Ammarah Ashraf, clinical psychologist at Nabta Health. “Constantly exposing oneself to such disappointment can also lead to developing unhealthy habits such as skipping meals, following crash diets that can impact one’s nutrition requirements and disordered eating habits just to see the numbers on the scale move.”

She adds: “Some of the signs that it has become obsessive could be experiencing anxiety around weighing, developing extreme reactions to scale readings and developing a preoccupation with weight.”

If the goal is weight loss, experts recommend a slow and steady approach to make effective and sustainable changes, with the loss of between one to two pounds per week considered average. This approach lends itself to daily or weekly weigh-ins.

“There is some controversy about this in the medical literature,” says Hensrud. “To track true changes in weight, not just changes in fluid status that affects weight, many people recommend weighing perhaps weekly and looking at the trend over time. This is generally what most medical professionals recommend.”

Individuals should take note of weight changes over time to adjust their diet or exercise routine to achieve goals.

“If you can weigh yourself without it having a negative impact on your mental health then potentially twice a day, morning and night for consistency, can give some useful information,” says Lindsay. “The problem with weighing yourself irregularly is that it can be a snapshot of a particularly high or low reading which can be misleading and change behaviours unnecessarily.”

Adds Hensrud: “However often someone weighs themselves, looking at trends over time, such as over weeks, will be a more accurate reflection of true changes in body fat and lean tissue, and not just fluid shifts.”

Updated: April 25, 2024, 9:50 AM