How often should you weigh yourself if you're trying to lose weight? A couple of weeks ago I received some news from the USA National Weight Control Registry, who store data about people who lose weight and manage to keep it off (can't be many of those in the USA, going by the stats but there we go), saying that a weekly weigh helps in the task.
That's more or less the advice I always doled out back in the day when I was editing a magazine called Slimmer, and it's also the advice I've followed myself in recent years when attempting to slim down. It most certainly worked for me three years or so ago when I lost 22lbs for the Saga Diet Challenge.
But now, according to new research, again from the USA, the weekly weigh-in isn't enough. No, we need to weigh ourselves every day. Dieters monitored over six months lost more weight and found calorie-cutting easier if they stepped on the scales daily.
Well I can't argue with the results of the trial, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Well, maybe I can.
Maybe the dieters lost more weight simply because they were being followed by the researchers. It's well known that if you're being observed, you tend to do better with weight loss and maintenance than if you are not – that's one reason slimming clubs have such a good success rate.
I am still inclined to think that a weekly weigh is the best compromise. For one thing, a lot of us still have bathroom scales that aren't incredibly accurate. They aren't going to be much use in recording a few ounces gone – so you step on today and it says you're 11 stone 5lb, and you try hard not to overeat, and tomorrow you step on and it still says you're 11 stone 5 lbs. So you feel a bit deflated and eat that choc chip cookie.
Yet you probably have lost a few ounces – it's just that the scales aren't clever enough to tell you. At least with a weekly weigh-in, they can cope.
Also, I believe that many people will over-obsess if they think they have to weigh themselves every day (and happen to possess state of the art scales that can record a 10-gram weight loss or gain, and can also tell what you had for breakfast). And will get depressed and lose motivation if the scales don't tell them what they want to hear. The thing is, every day of our lives is not the same, and weight can fluctuate a little for various reasons – time of the month for pre-menopausal women, for one, and having a nice lunch out with the girls, is another.
Lastly, and this is particularly relevant as one gets older, there is no huge hurry to lose weight madly quickly. For many of us (and this certainly worked for me), 2lbs loss a month is just fine. It's still nearly two stone in a year. What's wrong with that? Especially as, when you get older, your metabolic rate tends to be slower than that of a young person, so losing weight rapidly is tough. And a 2lb a month weight loss, or ½ a lb a week, is NOT going to show on my scales if I weigh on a daily basis, for sure.
So please don't take the new advice too literally. Yes, the scales are good up to a point. But don't let them get you down or encourage you to get a bit paranoid. Oh, and you can also do the waistband test. If it feels a bit looser – you're doing fine. Or even look in the mirror. You know your body better than the scales do, that's my advice!
Oh, and by the way – Annie Lennox. I've always loved her and her fantastic voice but maybe not so much when she speaks rubbish about faddy eating.
Her latest thing, along with quite a few other people from what I can gather, is avoiding red fruits and vegetables. Because they contain more sugar than other fruits and vegetables, so it goes.
While it is true that red peppers have a tiny bit more sugar than green peppers, they have no more sugar than yellow peppers and contain 11 times more beta-carotene and 1.5 times more vitamin C. While it is true that tomatoes contain sugar, they are also packed with super nutrients such as vitamin C and anti-oxidants which may help protect us from disease. They are also nice and low in calories, one average tomato being 22 calories and with a very small 3g of sugar. Red cabbage? One of the best things you can eat on so many levels.
The point is that sugar that is a natural part of the food is not classed as 'bad for you'; in the UK it's called an intrinsic sugar, and because it's a part of the cell structure, it has a very different effect in your body than a pack of red boiled sweets. It's fine!
Please ignore this silly fad. There are so very many foods you could cut back on for a much better outcome. You know, things like white bread, cakes, biscuits, pastry, alcohol, pizza.
Ate last night:
A meal with quite a lot of red in it – including tomatoes and tomato sauce. A retro chilli con carne.
I made it using lean beef, finely cubed, lots of onions and garlic, some homemade tomato sauce from the freezer, some beef gravy left over from a roast at the weekend, chillies from the freezer, green and red peppers, smoked paprika and red kidney beans. You can use mixed beans if you like – sometimes I put pinto beans in.
The secret to a good chilli is to have not just heat but also depth of flavour from a really good tomato sauce and the stock.
I served it topped with reduced-fat sour cream, which always makes chilli even nicer, ripe avocado, which is essential and completely healthful, and plenty of fresh coriander. I did have a bit of naughty white rice with it, but never mind. I'm not weighing myself tomorrow, and it was only a small portion.