Researchers at the University of Georgia have shown that a simple intervention – daily self-weighing – can help people avoid holiday weight gain.
Participants in a 14-week UGA study who weighed themselves daily on scales that also provided graphical feedback showing their weight fluctuations managed to maintain or lose weight during and after the holiday season, while a control group gained weight.
Researchers speculate that participants’ constant exposure to weight fluctuations – along with being able to see a target or goal weight line (their baseline weight) – motivated behavioral change that led to weight maintenance, or in the case of overweight subjects, weight loss.
“Maybe they exercise a little bit more the next day, after seeing a weight increase, or they watch what they’re eating more carefully,” says study author Dr. Jamie Cooper, an associate professor in the department of foods and nutrition within the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “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.”
How was the Study Conducted?
After determining their baseline weight prior to the holidays, participants in an intervention group were told to try not to gain weight above that number, but with no additional instructions as to how to accomplish this goal.
Participants in the control group were given no instructions. A total of 111 adults between the ages of 18 and 65 participated in the study.
Michelle vanDellen, an associate professor in the UGA Department of Psychology and second author on the paper, says 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 says. “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.”
Daily self-weighing also has been shown to be effective in preventing weight gain in college freshmen in previous research, but researchers wanted to apply it to another historically dangerous time for weight gain.
As far as the notion that daily weighing is not a healthy practice, Cooper tells dLife more and more research is emerging that supports self-weighing more frequently than once a week, such as daily self-weighing.
“There are a number of other studies that have shown the benefits of daily self-weighing outside of the holidays as well,” Cooper says. “Studies have shown that daily or frequent self-weighing can help with weight loss, weight loss maintenance, and prevent freshman weight gain.”
When asked whether daily weighing could make youth more weight conscious then they need to be, Cooper comments their study was in adults. “I can only comment on the success of our intervention in a healthy adult population,” she adds. “Those individuals with a history of disordered eating, eating disorders, or other concerns for unhealthy behavior practices may not be a suitable population for this type of practice.”
With the average American reportedly gaining a pound or two a year, overeating during the holiday season has been identified as a likely contributor to small weight gains that add up over time and can lead to obesity.
“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.”
Cooper indicates future research may investigate if daily self-weighing alone – without the graphical feedback – is the driving force behind the behavioral changes that led to weight maintenance.
The fact that subjects knew researchers would be accessing their daily weight data also could have contributed to behavioral change, she says.
What seems clear is the intervention is effective, largely because of its simplicity and adaptability.
“It works really well in the context of people’s busy lives,” vanDellen says. “The idea that people might already have all the resources they need is really appealing.”
The research has been published in the journal, Obesity.
Feature image: Associate professor Jamie Cooper shows graduate student Liana Rodrigues how to take height and weight of a subject for clinical health measures with undergraduate Allison Jones in Cooper’s clinical lab in Dawson Hall. Credit: Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA.
The University of Georgia.
- The University of Georgia. Daily self-weighing can prevent holiday weight gain. EurekAlert! (2019, May 23). Retrieved: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-05/uog-dsc052319.php