A new study looked at how a scale affected holiday weight gain.
The start of summer is here, and vacation plans await.
But if the only thing you want to bring home from your vacation is a souvenir that fits in your suitcase and not the “resort 15,” you may want to take one simple step while enjoying the trip: step on a scale.
Researchers from the University of Georgia reveal that people who weigh themselves daily during times when they may be more likely to indulge — the holidays and vacations, for example — will more successfully maintain their weight or even lose some compared to people who don’t dare step on the scales.
In the study, which was published this month in the journal Obesity, the researchers split 111 adults between the ages of 18 and 65 into two groups, with one group who was asked to weigh themselves daily.
As part of this intervention, the study’s authors asked the participants to try to maintain their starting weight through the study period, which ran from Thanksgiving to just after New Year’s Day. However, the researchers did not give them specific instructions on how to do that. Participants were free to pick, whether it was through exercise, cutting back on calories, or some other technique of their choice.
The control group, neither weighed daily nor were given any instructions about their weight.
At the end of the intervention and after a 14-week follow-up period, the participants who weighed daily were able to maintain or even lose weight. The control group, on the other hand, gained weight.
“People are really sensitive to discrepancies or differences between their current selves and their standard or goal,” Michelle vanDellen, PhD, an associate professor in the University of Georgia in the department of psychology’s behavioral and brain sciences program and one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “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.”
Research suggests adults often gain between
This type of weight gain can be cumulative, rarely coming off but frequently going on. Over the course of years and decades, that “creeping obesity” increases a person’s risk for weight-related health conditions, like type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
And while a vacation is typically a week or two at most, the winter holiday season stretches for several months. This means over a year there is a serious potential for the scale to sneak upward.
“Since the likelihood of indiscretions is higher on vacation, any way to increase accountability, i.e. making you think twice before eating that third cookie before bed since you know you need to step on the scale the next morning, is a good thing,” said Dr. Charlie Seltzer, a physician board-certified in obesity medicine based in Philadelphia, told Healthline. “That being said, it is important to understand that interscale variability is high, so it is not helpful to try to compare your weight on your home scale to your hotel scale.”
Seltzer is not affiliated with the study,
Seltzer notes you also need to account for some factors that are inherent with travel, things that can make the number on the scale creep higher even if you’ve not gained weight.
“Flying often causes major water retention, which can impact the scale. So, with that in mind, use the scale on vacation as a means to increase accountability, exercise damage control, and to keep your head in the game,” he said.
For other experts, the impulse to weigh daily may actually be more problematic than gaining a few extra ounces from that frozen margarita.
“When we think about health, it’s important to consider all factors that impact our wellness, including our mental health,” Crystal C. Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, a registered dietitian and maternal health expert at Crystal Karges Nutrition, told Healthline. “When someone feels obligated to weigh themselves daily, this can create underlying stress and anxiety that literally sucks the joy out of life. If you’re going on vacation, I totally recommend ditching the scale so you can be fully present and actually enjoy your time.”
A middle-ground approach may be the path that will let you enjoy your vacation and keep you from worrying about the weight gain that’s possible with a bit of holiday splurging.
“Obsessing over a few pounds puts us at risk for a restrictive mindset that further leads to an unsustainable ‘all or nothing’ lifestyle,” Rachel Fine, MS, RD, CSSD, CDN, a registered dietitian and owner of To The Pointe Nutrition, a nutrition counseling firm in New York City, told Healthline.
But the worry over putting on even a little weight can be difficult to overcome, precisely because once weight is on, it’s hard to get off. Perhaps then, Fine says, the best way to enjoy yourself and your vacation without constantly checking the scale’s moving hand is to approach vacation more judiciously.
Fine says she encourages people to avoid the “let it all go” mindset while on vacation.
“It’s common to indulge more than usual on vacation, usually as a result of being exposed to new experiences,” Fine said. “These behaviors need not be measured by body weight whether on vacation or not on vacation. Rather, mindful eating behaviors, whether you’re home or on vacation, enable you to enjoy your time measured through subjective experiences, rather than through objective body weight.”
If you’re actively trying to lose weight or maintain it, you may already be in the habit of weighing more often than not. Continuing the habit while you’re away from home for a little R&R might help you keep the scale’s movement in check.
But if it will zap the joy of the vacation you’ve been dreaming of since your holiday break ended in the winter, skip the scale check-in and just eat more mindfully. Splurge where it’s worth it, but don’t go overboard at every meal on every day.