Weighty Matters

I've long had a minor obsession with weights and measures. As a kid, I loved fussing with the balances in science class. I also found the those manual scales in the doctor's office fascinating. In fact, I thrilled inside when I finally got to take one for a spin at the gym years later. In the kitchen, I've fallen for the digital food scale. I weigh portions to match nutrition labels when I'm counting calories, and I park my work bowl on the thing for measuring ingredients when I'm baking -- it saves on dishes!

It's in the bathroom, though, that I have tucked away the most important scale in the house. Every morning, I step on it to see how I'm doing at losing or maintaining my weight. Why? A firm grasp of where the scale points is one of the best tools in your weight-loss arsenal. To keep that toolbox stocked, you must weigh yourself regularly.

Periodic weigh-ins, with the results tracked over time, keeps you focused on your goals, reminding you to stick to your plan so you can continue to see progress. Plus, your weight is a key factor in determining your level of health risk. Once you have your stats, you can calculate your body-mass index, a number that's used to estimate your likelihood of suffering weight-related problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Know your height and weight already? Visit the CDC's web site to calculate your BMI now. If you want to learn more about this measurement and how it's calculated, check out their About BMI for Adults section. The BMI is not a perfect measure of your cardiac risk, so you should definitely also pay attention to your waist size. Still, it is an easy stat to measure and track, which is what's important for keeping yourself on track toward a healthy weight.

One question most people new to regular weight checks have is, "How often should I step on the scale?" A daily weight measure is the best option for people focused on losing weight and keeping it off. Checking so often reminds you every day of your goal. Plus, you'll learn to recognize what a normal weight fluctuation is for you when you start seeing yourself go down and up a little from day to day, which will come in handy when you reach the maintenance phase of your plan. Finally, studies have found that people who have lost weight and kept it off successfully tend to be daily weight-checkers.

It's true that the conventional wisdom on measuring weight is to do so only once a week. Everyone is different, so I won't argue if you say it works for you. The advantage of a weekly system is that you'll be able to note an overall trend upward or downward with each weigh in. However, I find I worry way too much about what the scale will say if I put off the task more than a day, to the point where it will either cause me undue stress (bad for an emotional eater) or make me avoid the check. It's counterproductive to be afraid of the scale.

Once you start your regular weigh-ins, you also should start tracking your stats. You need progress you can see to keep your spirits up and your determination to change your lifestyle strong. Also, tracking will keep you honest, making plateaus -- and your need to re-evaluate how you've been eating lately -- obvious.

Your system could be as simple as keeping a notebook near your scale for jotting down the date and weight right away. If you're a creative type and want a big motivator, then design a big graph on chart paper to mark up, something that will provide a lovely visual of your downward trend. The geekier among us (hello, friends!) might make use of spreadsheets, calorie-counting software, or weight-loss web sites to track progress. If you're conscientious, figure out and note your BMI at least once a week as well.

Here are a couple of tips for getting the best results from weigh-ins, now that you're dying to get started: First, invest in a digital scale for your home. Dial-based scales certainly are cheaper and have a certain kitsch value, but you'll find their annoyance factor far . . . outweighs . . . their merits. They're both hard to calibrate and to read from a distance since that needle seems to move depending on how you hold your head. Such imprecision is no good for someone trying to measure a change of only a pound or two per week.

Second, always weigh yourself at the same time each day. Your weight not only displays minor fluctuations from day to day but also from hour to hour. Your numbers will vary depending on how much eating you've done, what sort of clothes you're wearing, and so on. To maintain consistency, pick one time of day and stick with it. Doing so also helps you remember to weigh in by associating the check with a daily routine. I always weigh myself right after getting out of bed, but hopping on the scale right before bed or shower time could work, too.

It might not be fun to weigh yourself at first (unless you share my secret passion for statistics), but eventually your weigh-in just might become your favorite routine of the day when you start to see encouraging results!

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