Time for a Holiday – Step on the Scales Please

For some people, this might not sound like much of a holiday. People frequently gain weight when they’re on a holiday. But a new study in Obesity suggests that preventing this might not be terribly complicated. Just step on the scales, please. Every day.

Paying Attention Works

At least in the short term, this study tells us that paying attention works for preventing weight gain. Sepideh Kaviani, Michelle vanDellen, and Jamie Cooper did a randomized controlled study during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday period. The treatment group weighed themselves daily on WiFi scales. Plus they got graphical feedback of their weight. The control group did not.

The study was blinded. Kinda. Researchers told participants that it was all about “how the holidays affect health.” However, it’s safe to say that the self-weighing group had more of a clue that weight had something to do with it.

Nonetheless, the results were pretty clear. With self-weighing, people didn’t gain weight. Without it, they did. The effect was strongest in folks with obesity or excess weight.

A Simple Solution?

This study is interesting because lots of people regret gaining weight on a holiday. The solution seems simple. Pay attention.

But put this in the context of a longer-term study of self-weighing recently published in PLOS Medicine. For preventing weight regain, self-weighing was completely ineffective. So what are we to think?


We have two suggestions. First and foremost, what’s sometimes helpful is not always helpful. Self-weighing can help some people in some situations. In other situations, it might not help. And in fact, for folks with eating disorders, self-weighing can be quite harmful. One size never fits all.

Second, you might think of this study as a confirmation of the Hawthorne effect. When people are paying attention to you, you change what you’re doing. Without a doubt, subjects in the self-weighing group knew that someone was observing their weight. So we’re not surprised that they didn’t gain weight while being watched.

Step on the scales to keep from gaining weight? That’s up to you. It might help or it might not be the right thing to do. It all depends.

Click here for the study and here for a discussion of the potentially harmful effects of self-weighing.

Detecto, photograph © Kevin Duffy / flickr

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One Response to “Time for a Holiday – Step on the Scales Please”

  1. May 25, 2019 at 6:35 am, Mary-jo said:

    Accountability for folks who are within a few pounds of their fighting weight is a much different dynamic than those who are dealing with long-term obesity. In any case, no one should ever be made to feel guilty that they are doing or not doing what is best to control their weight.