Do this every day, and you may lose 20 pounds in 6 months

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When's the last time you weighed yourself? If you can't remember or you don't even own a scale, read on to find out how weighing in may help you peel off pounds.

According to a first-of-its-kind study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers from Duke University Obesity Prevention Program and the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill reported that those who weighed themselves daily lost about three times as much weight and body fat, compared to those who were less diligent about stepping on the scale.

The six-month study included 47 overweight men and women who were randomly assigned to the "intervention" group, which included the use of electronic scales that were networked to the researchers' computer network. All 47 subjects were instructed to weigh in daily and were given some basic advice about healthy eating and exercise behaviors to promote steady weight loss (i.e., increase water consumption, walk more, eat fewer snacks, enjoy more fruits/veggies). Using objective data from the subjects' e-scales, the researchers could objectively track the frequency of weigh-ins as well as the subjects' weights.

Results? Compliance to frequent weigh-ins was very high, with 75 percent of the subjects weighed in at least six days a week. Those who weighed in daily (51 percent of all subjects) lost an average of 20 pounds, compared to an average of 7 pounds lost among those who weighed themselves an average of five days per week. Subjects who weighed themselves daily were also more likely to report following through on recommended diet and lifestyle behaviors.

According to one of the study's authors, Dr. Deborah Tate, director of the Weight Research Program at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, "Daily weighing helps with self-regulation and directly linking eating and activity behaviors with weight. You can quickly see very small daily changes in weight of 0.1 or 0.2 lbs. that tell you whether your current eating and activity are enough to help you lose weight or if you need to do more." This study adds to previous studies that also reported that those who weigh themselves more frequently lose more weight and are less likely to gain weight over time.

However, many dietitians don't recommend frequent weigh-ins for fear that their clients will be discouraged if the number increases or obsessed with the scale. However, according to Tate: "We conducted two other studies – both included overweight and obese adults without eating disorders -- and both studies showed that beginning to weigh daily was not harmful in terms of eating disorder or depressive symptoms."

Other dietitians are against traditional scales because they can't account for body composition. "I don't recommend using the scale at all," says registered dietitian Stephanie Mull of the George Washington University Weight Management and Human Performance Lab in Ashburn, Virginia. "We have many clients who see little changes in overall weight, but have significant reductions in body fat. That is why we use dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry or InBody assessment to accurately measure fat and lean tissue of our clients."

Bottom line: If you like setting goals and can use the number on the scale as objective data (without judging or attaching negative emotions to the number), I recommend trying frequent weigh-ins. If you're in the market for a new scale, consider a scale with bioelectric impedance so you can see changes in percent body fat. Other ways to help determine if you're losing body fat is to measure your waist circumference every three weeks; if you're losing inches from your waistline, you're reducing body fat. You may just be surprised to find out how this simple daily habit can help improve your diet.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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