Key to keeping off those extra holiday pounds? Step on a scale each day, study finds

ATHENS, Ga. — Everybody loves a good stocking stuffer for Christmas, but if you’re trying to avoid feeling stuffed yourself come January 2nd, a recent study has a novel suggestion for keeping off holiday pounds. Researchers say that taking a few minutes each day to step on the scale may be all it takes to keeping off the extra weight this holiday season.

For the study, which was conducted at the University of Georgia, an experimental group weighed themselves everyday for 14 weeks that started before the holiday season in November and ended after all the celebrations typically stop. Participants used university scales that also provided graphical information on weight fluctuations and targets. Meanwhile, a control group also took part in the research during the same time frame period, but these participants were not asked to weigh themselves each day.

By the end of the research period, all of the participants in the self-weighing experimental group had successfully avoided gaining weight over the holidays, with some even managing to shed some pounds. Conversely, participants in the control group gained weight.

Researchers speculate that constantly being exposed to their own weight fluctuations, as well as being provided with a visual target weight each day, incentivized the experimental group participants to stay dedicated to their diets.

“Maybe they exercise a little bit more the next day (after seeing a weight increase) or they watch what they’re eating more carefully,” comments study author Jamie Cooper, a UGA associate professor in the department of foods and nutrition, in a release. “The subjects self-select how they’re going to modify their behavior, which can be effective because we know that interventions are not one-size-fits-all.”

Besides being instructed to do their best not to gain weight and weigh themselves each day, participants in the experimental group weren’t given any further instructions on how to go about avoiding weight gain. All in all, across both experimental conditions, 111 adults between the ages of 18-65 took part in the research.

According to co-author Michelle vanDellen, an associate psychology professor at UGA, these results further validate the theory that people become especially motivated when they are faced with concrete evidence of changes in their body, appearance, performance, etc.

“People are really sensitive to discrepancies or differences between their current selves and their standard or goal,” she explains. “When they see that discrepancy, it tends to lead to behavioral change. Daily self-weighing ends up doing that for people in a really clear way.”

While it’s likely that this strategy can prove effective during any time of the year, the research team wanted to focus on the holiday season; a time notorious for encouraging overindulgence and frequent eating. For reference, the average American gains at least a pound or two each and every holiday season. While that may not sound too bad, these annual incremental weight gains can add up over the years and ultimately lead to obesity if the extra pounds aren’t shed during warmer months.

“Vacations and holidays are probably the two times of year people are most susceptible to weight gain in a very short period of time,” Cooper says. “The holidays can actually have a big impact on someone’s long-term health.”

Moving forward, Cooper would like further research to determine if self-weighing without the graphical feedback can produce largely the same results. Regardless, though, the study’s authors believe their findings validate the theory that simply stepping on a scale each day can go a long way toward sparking real behavioral and dietary change.

“It works really well in the context of people’s busy lives,” vanDellen concludes. “The idea that people might already have all the resources they need is really appealing.”

The study is published in the scientific journal Obesity.