Office of Research

Keynote speaker says “step on a scale every day to control your weight”

Published April 30, 2014
Bathroom scale

URBANA, Ill. - If you have a hard time losing weight or maintaining your weight, researcher David Levitsky says that stepping on the scale every morning could be the key to success. In fact, he went so far as to say that “weighing is the only way to control weight.” Levitsky is a professor of nutritional sciences and psychology at Cornell University and was the keynote speaker at the 2014 Illinois Nutritional Sciences Graduate Student Association Nutrition Symposium on Wednesday, April 23 at the University of Illinois.

Levitsky said that lots of diets work to help people lose weight, but maintaining weight is the key.

“You brush your teeth every day and use birth control consistently,” Levitsky said. “You should also step on the scale every day. That daily feedback gives individuals the opportunity to make small changes in their lives and get their weight back on track.”

In his keynote address, Levitsky described numerous studies that he has conducted that encourage daily weighing. One of his first studies on the subject at Cornell looked at the “freshman 15” trend that leads college freshman, faced with all-you-can-eat dining hall privileges, to gain about 15 pounds in their first year. Levitsky conducted a two-year study at Cornell using an experimental group of freshmen that stepped on the scale every day and a control group of freshman who did not weigh themselves daily. The control group gained weight and the self-weighing group lost or maintained their weight. He said that he has replicated that project twice with the same results and is currently conducting a four-year version.  

“After that first study, we asked the experimental group ‘What did you do when you saw a weight gain on the scale?’ Some said that they ate less the next day, eliminated snacking, or exercised more.  The point is that they each chose an individualized method to control their own weight,” Levitsky said.

Another one of Levitsky’s pet peeves is that popular diet replacement-meal products are “small, expensive drinks.” He conducted a study using 200- to 250-calorie packaged food items such as a Kashi protein bar or a Chef Boyardee pasta entrée and was able to show similar weight control or loss without having to spend money on special shakes that promote weight loss.

For an adolescence obesity prevention program in Huntsville, Ala., Levitsky conducted a study that incorporated his theory of self-weighing with a control group of 30 children and a group of 30 overweight and obese children. After nine months, the children who weighed themselves lost weight and their BMI also went down. “It’s the information they receive from the number on the scale every day combined with the fact that a higher number becomes a negative primer,” he said.

Levitsky presented troubling data showing that Americans continue to gain weight after adolescence and level off at about age 40.  “It’s possible to reverse the epidemic of obesity,” he said. “Weigh to control weight.”