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Stepping on the scale daily helps people lose weight more effectively — but your food should be weighed, too. Here's why.

So, you're trying to shed a few pounds — or maybe a lot? You're in good company! Though data shows that 71.6 percent of Americans over 20 are overweight (yes, really) and nearly 40 percent are obese, nearly half are actively trying to do something about it. 

Research shows that they don't always go about it in the most scientific way, however. Besides exercising more and eating less, people attempt to lose weight by eating boosting their intake of fruits, vegetables, and salads, drinking lots of water, eating less junk and fast food, a very general "changing their eating habits", cutting down on sugary foods and sweets, consuming low-calorie meals, and reducing their carbs and fats. Quite a few people report that they skip meals to lose weight, too. 

Among all the things American "wannabe losers" say they do as they attempt to shed their extra pounds, there's one rather obvious thing missing from this data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — counting calories. Even if you think you're eating less, and even if you take steps to adopt healthier eating habits, you may not lose much weight. 

Weight Loss: Why it's important to count your calories 

There's no shortage of rather extreme weight loss programs, but the secret to successfully losing weight and maintaining a new, healthy, weight is rather simple — burning more calories than you consume during the weight loss stage, and not consuming more calories than you burn during the maintenance stage. 

Though it's not quite this simple — as your body composition, metabolism, and other factors play a role in weight loss too — it takes a calorie deficit of approximately 3500 calories to lose around a pound of body weight. Healthy weight loss that lasts is gradual, and creating a daily calorie deficit of about 500 calories a day is perhaps the simplest recipe for weight loss. This model will cause you to lose a pound or two per week, without actually limiting your food choices or requiring you to go on a health- and soul-destroying crash diet.

Here's the thing: Numerous studies have shown that people routinely eat more than they think they do, with data from the UK showing that people who are simply "guesstimating" their calorie intake may in fact get between 598 and 3,671 more daily calories than they thought they were!

So, if you want to lose weight by following a "calories in, calories out" weight loss approach rather than a strict meal plan, you absolutely need to be counting your daily calories. 

You can, of course, use an app for that — tell a program like MyFitnessPal or Cron-o-meter approximately how many cups of spinach, chocolate, or peanut butter you had, and it will certainly give you a ballpark idea of how many calories that just cost you. User error is a factor here, though; if you think those five cups of whatever you just ate were only two cups, your weight loss app can't help you out. These kinds of errors are common, and they won't do your weight loss results any favors. 

You step on the scale, but so should your food: Why you should get a food scale

A food scale is an important tool for people who take counting calories seriously, as it offers you very precise insights into how much you're actually eating. Research shows that weighing your food with a food scale is near the top of the list of things people who successfully lose weight and maintain their new weights do. Did you know that 15.9 percent of those who weigh their food reach their weight loss goals, vs only 6.7 percent of those who don't? You do now.

We're not saying that you can't achieve your goal weight without a food scale, but getting one is certainly going to help things along, as you may be surprised at what you've been missing and make the needed changes to set you up for success. Want to give it a go? Follow these simple steps:

  • Buy your food scale. They're cheap, small, and won't take up much space in your kitchen. 
  • Make sure you're signed up for a calorie-tracking app, which can be really useful if you don't want to add up all the calories yourself, and that you actually add everything you eat. 
  • Weigh all your food, going through each item individually rather than as a whole meal if possible. Apply this to everything you eat at home, from meals to snacks, and don't skip anything. (The good thing about this is that it will give you pause before you decide to eat something, perhaps making you think twice about that high-calorie chocolate, cake, or cheese!)
  • If you're eating out — which you should probably try to keep to a minimum if you're aiming for weight loss — you may not be able to weigh your meal. In this case, your calorie-counting app may have the meal listed, or you could make an exception in this case and simply estimate what you ate.

After a while, the habit of weighing most of your food will teach you portion control and help you learn how many calories you're getting through your common food choices, in turn allowing you to get used to a new pattern of eating that will better serve your health.

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