That time of year is upon us again—when parties, big family meals, and other holiday get-togethers spell the potential for weight gain. Studies have linked the holiday season (mid-November through December) with weight gain ranging from 1 to 3.5 pounds, on average. That may not sound like too much, but unless you reverse the upward trend after the holidays, accumulation of even small amounts of weight can lead to “creeping obesity” over the years.
We want you to enjoy the holidays, complete with the splurges you may desire. But if you want to have your cake and literally eat it too—and not gain weight—there’s a simple behavioral modification technique that might well help, as a study in Obesity recently reported: Weigh yourself every morning.
Regular self-weighing has been shown to help people lose weight and is a hallmark of Weight Watchers. The National Weight Control Registry, which tracks people who have successfully lost and kept weight off, considers it a particularly effective strategy for maintaining long-term weight loss.
In the first study to look at self-weighing specifically over the holiday period, researchers at the University of Georgia, Athens, assigned 111 adults (of all body weights) to either a daily self-weighing group (using a Wi-Fi scale, first thing in the morning after going to the bathroom, that provides graphical feedback on weight fluctuations and stores the information) or a control group (no weighing), beginning the week before Thanksgiving and ending New Year’s Day, with a 14-week follow-up.
The control group gained 6 to 7 pounds, on average, over the holidays (more than previous studies have found). Though they lost much of that over the next 14 weeks (especially the men), their end weight was still nearly 2 pounds higher, on average, than at the start. In contrast, though the self-weighing group had small (and expected) fluctuations in weight during the holiday season, they had no overall weight change from baseline to the end of the holidays or at follow-up.
It’s not that daily self-weighing “completely protect[s] against holiday weight gain; rather, it prompts individuals to compensate for increases in weight,” the researchers noted. According to the social cognitive theory of self-regulation, getting immediate feedback (in this case, of weight fluctuations) can motivate future behavior (to eat less that day).
Some study limitations: Because participants had to be accountable and knew their scale readings were being seen by the investigators, it’s not known if the outcome would be the same in real life. Thus, if you decide to try this tactic over the holidays, it may be a good idea not only to keep track of your daily results but also to share them with someone. It’s not known, either, if less-frequent weighing (say, every other day or even weekly) would be as effective.