Removing the number from the scale: the importance of weight trends vs numbers for weight loss
Breah Smith & Renato Romani
Globally, the number of individuals who are considered obese (body mass index (BMI) ≥ 30) compared to individuals of healthy weight (BMI < 25) has reached dramatic proportions. Because of this, obesity has become a top public health priority. In just over three decades, 1980 to 2014, the prevalence of obesity in the world doubled. As of 2016, 13% of the adult population (over 650 million) worldwide was obese and 39% (over 1.9 billion) was overweight.1
The United States (US) continues to lead the world as the most overweight and obese nation.2 70% of adults are either overweight or obese and 18.5% of children are obese.3 Many diseases that were previously diagnosed only in adults are now emerging within children who are overweight and obese4. Being overweight or obese greatly increases the chances of negative health implications. The risks of obesity can include: metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular diseases (heart disease), musculoskeletal disorders, type II diabetes, some cancers (including breast and colon), and even premature death.3,4
Statement of the Problem
Nearly half of all Americans are attempting to lose weight, and 2/3 of those trying to lose weight are overweight or obese.5 In fact, there is a decrease in the number of people trying to lose weight, which is primarily due to repeated failures. Experts have observed and stated that many who are overweight or obese have tried and failed so frequently that they have failed to try any more.6
There are countless reasons as to why people do not succeed at losing weight, but psychological factors are among the many. Stepping onto a bathroom scale often yields an increased heart rate; the scale makes people anxious. Anxiety is so common that there is a phobia named after it: Gravitophobia.7 This irrational fear occurs within people primarily because people do not like to see their weight fluctuate, this is especially true if they are working hard (eating healthier, watching their portions, and exercising) to lose weight. There are countless articles on the subject “why does my weight fluctuate so much?”, there are a lot of misunderstandings and misguidance when it comes to weight fluctuation. Seeing weight fluctuations instead of seeing an overall weight loss trend can be so deterring that people end their diets or exercise program because they believe it is not helping them reach their goal.
Psychology plays a major role when losing weight; specifically, the distress and discomfort people feel before they weigh themselves. There is so much distress surrounding the scale that numerous studies have studied the impact of people’s psychological well-being when stepping on the scale for weight loss purposes.8,9,10 One study observed perceptions and responses to individual’s weight data and their weight fluctuation, it was noted that individuals had an emotional experience when stepping on a scale and saw numbers they did not expect. It was also noted that the numbers on the scale would drive most people ‘batty’, and that most people had an overreaction to fluctuations.11 Although this was in a study, many people can relate to these reactions; becoming overly sad when the number is higher than expected or overly happy when the number is lower than expected.
Recent studies have monitored groups of people who self-weigh daily against groups who don’t; results show that those who self-weigh daily not only lose weight but sustain the weight loss. Self-weighing daily has shown to be an effective self-monitoring tool to help lose weight and prevent weight gain.12,13,14 Although difficult, self-weighing helps people connect how certain behaviors and food choices affect their data.
Self-weighing has been found to be an effective way to lose and maintain weight, however, when people see their weight fluctuate it generates enough frustration to make people give up. People are frustrated with scales because of the unproductive way to track weight pound by pound. Studies have indicated that subjects in the weighing daily showed a deterioration in mood in terms of increases in both anxiety and depression, and lowered self-esteem.15 For some people, stepping on the scale triggers lots of negative self-talk and uncomfortable emotions. People are frustrated with scales because of the unproductive way to track weight pound by pound.11
Physiological Concept - add more
Understanding the physiology behind weight and weight loss is important to understand why body weight fluctuates. To allow one number to represent an individual’s weight is difficult because body weight fluctuates throughout the entire day, it has even been described as an outdated method that hasn’t been changed for over 100 years.11
Insert picture/graph showing weight fluctuations.
Weight fluctuation is influenced by many factors. These factors include, but are not limited to: the amount of water, sodium, carbohydrates, overall food intake, your stress/cortisol, if you strength trained, the amount of sleep you had the day before. This reason alone makes dieters extremely anxious and frustrated when it comes to stepping on the scale. Seeing a single number daily IS frustrating, because people fluctuate from 1% to 2% of their bodyweight daily (what is the correct range?, citation needed). Knowing this, you may see it is clear to view body weight as a range, not a single number.
Daily weighing will allow you to see your bodyweight’s average over the course of the week. If you only weighed in once a week, you may only see your ‘high’ or ‘low’ weight, and not know your true trend. However, seeing a single number every day is not important. What is important is your bodyweight’s overall trend over a course of a few weeks, not the day-to-day number.
We now understand when people self-weigh daily, they start to connect how certain behaviors and food choices affect their data. We also know that daily self-weighing is proven to be an effective way to lose weight. Those who are successful at losing weight (and sustaining the weight loss) weighed themselves daily (along with tracking their food intake and exercising).12,13,14,16 However, the weight fluctuation that people see generates enough frustration and people give up because they feel they are not making progress.11 Weight (bathroom) scales use a numerical estimate for a person’s weight, which has been unchanged for over 100 years.11
To overcome these psychological barriers, sinque uses individuals’ weight trend, instead of single numbers. Sinque learns everyone’s natural weight fluctuation pattern using our algorithm that was engineered with the help of medical science. When individuals use sinque weight monitors, they do not see their numbers, but rather, they see their weight trend over the past few weeks, as well as their future trend (link algorithm paper). Sinque allows people to continue to self-monitor, to understand and connect their behaviors with their weight trend, but not become overwhelmed by the day-to-day fluctuations.
1. World Health Organization (WHO). (2015). Obestiy and overweight factsheet. Retrieved from
2. OECD (2017), OECD Health Statistics 2017 (Forthcoming in June 2017).
3. CDC (2017), Obesity and Overweight. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm
4. Yanovski, J. A. (2015). Pediatric obesity: An introduction. Appetite, 93, 3–12. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.03.028
5. CDC, National Center for Health Statistics (2018), Attempts to Lose Weight Among Adults in the United States, 2013-2016.
6. Snook, K. R., Hansen, A. R., Duke, C. H., Finch, K. C., Hackney, A. A., & Zhang, J. (2017). Change in percentages of adults with overweight or obesity trying to lose weight, 1988-2014. Jama, 317(9), 971-973.
7. Freedhoff, Yoni (2011). Gravitophobia: The Irrational Fear of Your Bathroom Scale. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/traumatic-dieting/201110/gravitophobia-the-irrational-fear-your-bathroom-scale
8. Mercurio, A., & Rima, B. (2011). Watching my weight: Self-weighing, body surveillance, and body dissatisfaction. Sex Roles, 65(1-2), 47-55. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11199-011-9980-x
9.Quick, V., Larson, N., Eisenberg, M. E., Hannan, P. J., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2012). Self-weighing behaviors in young adults: tipping the scale toward unhealthy eating behaviors?. Journal of Adolescent Health, 51(5), 468-474.
10. Klos, L. A., Esser, V. E., & Kessler, M. M. (2012). To weigh or not to weigh: the relationship between self-weighing behavior and body image among adults. Body Image, 9(4), 551-554.
11. Kay, M., & Morris, D. mc schraefel, and Julie A. Kientz.(2013). There’s No Such Thing as Gaining a Pound: Reconsidering the Bathroom Scale User Interface. In Proceedings of the ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp 2013) (pp. 401-410).
12. Pacanowski, C. R., Bertz, F., & Levitsky, D. A. (2014). Daily self-weighing to control body weight in adults: a critical review of the literature. SAGE open, 4(4), 2158244014556992.
13. Pacanowski, C. R., & Levitsky, D. A. (2015). Frequent self-weighing and visual feedback for weight loss in overweight adults. Journal of obesity, 2015.
14. Helander, E. E., Vuorinen, A. L., Wansink, B., & Korhonen, I. K. (2014). Are breaks in daily self-weighing associated with weight gain?. PloS one, 9(11), e113164.
15. Ogden, J., & Whyman, C. (1997). The effect of repeated weighing on psychological state. European Eating Disorders Review: The Professional Journal of the Eating Disorders Association, 5(2), 121-130. http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/733632/1/Ogden%201997%20The%20effects%20of%20repeated%20weighing%20%20CATHWEIF.pdf
16. Wing, R. R., & Hill, J. O. (2001). Successful weight loss maintenance. Annual review of nutrition, 21(1), 323-341.