Your Daily Scale Check Can Help Prevent Holiday Weight Gain

Let’s face the cold, hard facts for a moment. During the holiday season, Americans put on weight. Sure, not every American, but enough so that the average American gains between 4 and 7 pounds. Forget stocking stuffers, it seems like we’re the ones getting stuffed!

I wrote about this phenomenon, as well as some ways to enjoy the holidays without gaining a bunch of weight in another piece. The article is here: “How to Enjoy the Holidays Without Looking Like Santa’s Stunt Double.” If you prefer, the podcast version can be found here.

Now, one study says that one weapon in the fight against the “Seasonal Seven” may be a simple habit: weighing yourself daily. The study was coordinated by The Obesity Society and published in the June 2019 issue of the journal Obesity.

The study findings line up with an earlier study on the same topic. That study found that those who weigh themselves daily over a period of 12 months lost the most weight when compared to those who did not weigh themselves or were less consistent.

For The Obesity Society study, 111 adults aged 18 to 65 took part. Over a period which began in November 2017 and ended in January 2018, one group was told to weigh themselves daily, while another did not perform daily self weigh-ins. The weigh-in group used scales that provided additional information about weight fluctuations and targets.

The daily weigh-in group was instructed to try to maintain their baseline weight throughout the holiday season. However, no instructions or guidelines on HOW to do that were offered. The daily weigh-in group were left on their own to choose how to modify their behavior, whether by diet or by additional activity. Control group participants were given no instruction at all.

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Not surprisingly, the participants who weighed themselves daily and got graphical feedback, along with behavior modification, maintained or lost weight over the 14 week period. The control group? Not so lucky. Without feedback, guidance or behavior modification, they fell victim to the egg nog, rich foods and general jolly fatness of the season.

“Maybe they exercise a little bit more the next day (after seeing a weight increase) or they watch what they are eating more carefully,” said study author Jamie Cooper, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “The subjects self-select how they are going to modify their behavior, which can be effective because we know that interventions are not one-size-fits-all.”

Michelle vanDellen, an associate professor in the University of Georgia Department of Psychology and second author on the paper, said the findings support discrepancy theories of self-regulation.

“People are really sensitive to discrepancies or differences between their current selves and their standard or goal,” she said. “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.”

One of the problems with holiday weight gain is that it tends to stick around long after the joy and fun of the season has passed. Holiday cheer, indeed. This, of course, contributes to overall weight gain, impacting the health of the holiday gainer. Those who are overweight, obese or who struggle with weight management are the most at risk, according to Cooper. But even those who exercise regularly are not necessarily protected from holiday weight gain.

Let’s be clear about this. Holiday weight gain is an existential threat. Or at least a giant pain in the behind.

Cooper and company noted that it would be helpful to perform more research to see if just the act of weighing in daily is the key or if the graphical feedback provided by the scales used influenced the daily weigh-in group and affected the outcome.

Susan Yanovski, MD, an obesity researcher at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases who was not involved in the study, added that “replication in larger studies with more diverse participants would help to determine the generalizability of this approach for weight gain prevention.”

“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 concluded. “The holidays can actually have a big impact on someone’s long-term health.”

The holidays can also have a profound impact on your waistline and your wallet. I’m not sure what kind of research can be done on that last one. Should you weigh yourself daily to avoid holiday weight gain? It’s not going to hurt. It’s one more weapon in the war on the “Seasonal Seven.”

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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Journal Reference – Sepideh Kaviani, Michelle vanDellen, Jamie A. Cooper. Daily Self‐Weighing to Prevent Holiday‐Associated Weight Gain in Adults. Obesity, 2019

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