We humans are strange animals, trying to better ourselves through self-improving goals even when they are difficult to accomplish. A simple visual may be the trick needed to help us into the end zone, a recent Cornell study finds. When it comes to dieting, frequent weigh-ins combined with tracking the results on a chart helped participants lose the pounds and keep them off — a technique that works especially well for men.

To begin the study, Dr. David Levitsky, professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell and senior author of the paper, and Carly R. Pacanowski, a doctoral student, separated 162 participants into two groups and then requested those in the first group lose one percent of their weight in any manner they wished. Participants decided either to reduce portion sizes, to stop snacking, or to skip meals, as they pleased.

However, a few unusual demands were made of these hopeful dieters.

Using the Scale

First, these participants had to use the Caloric Titration Method, in which they weighed themselves and tracked their results on a chart. This method was intended to provide visual feedback of their efforts and achievements. Second, after these participants had maintained their original weight loss for 10 days, the researchers requested they meet a new target: lose another one percent of their total weight. Again and again over a period of two years, the researchers requested participants in this group lose weight, maintain the loss, then start again — until they reached the goal of losing a full 10 percent of their starting body weight.

Meanwhile, for participants in the control group, the researchers simply requested they lose weight however they pleased during the first year. Then, during the second year, the researchers initiated the same Caloric Titration Method program for this group as they had for their peers.

How did the two groups do?

Only six participants overall achieved the full 10 percent weight loss following the study method. That said, on average, participants lost only about two to three percent of their starting body weight. Importantly, those who dropped the pounds during their first year maintained the loss throughout the second year.

The technique worked best for men. Though women lost some weight, they shed far less pounds than men overall.

The researchers believe plainly seeing the lost pounds on both a scale and a chart provides the visual feedback necessary to reinforce positive dieting behaviors. Apparently, visual feedback appears to motivate men more strongly than women.

Source: Pacanowski CR, Levitsky DA. Frequent Self-Weighing and Visual Feedback for Weight Loss in Overweight Adults. Journal of Obesity. 2015.