May 5, 2017

Bathroom Scale Buying Guide

old timey scale

Whew, your taxes are finally done and it's made your wallet a little slimmer. In fact, you know exactly how much slimmer because it says so on the 1040 form. Now how about you. When was the last time you weighed yourself? Maybe it's been a while? Yeah? That's how I was. I went a good few years before I hopped on the scale and boy was I in for a surprise! I had gained a LOT of weight.

But why had I waited so long to weigh myself? I mean why wasn't it just a simple automatic thing in the morning? And when did I get to this weight? Was it that extra burrito I ate late week? That was it, I'm sure of it. I didn't really need it, but they offered a better deal if you ordered the platter. I mean, what was I going to do, waste money? No.

The new bathroom scales are sleek, modern electronic devices with features galore. Let's take a look.

Features

bathroom scale lcd display

Show Us the Pretty

Scales are supposed to give you information and if they're hard to read then they become useless. The old timey scales were all analog. They had these dials with numbers that would line up with an arrow to tell you the weight. They were sometimes hard to read and weren't very exact. You knew your weight within +/- 30 pounds.

Today's displays are all electronic. They're big and bright, making them easy to read. That's good for you, but also for any nosy peepers who like to look at your weight. There's also much more information being displayed than ever before. Your weight is displayed to the tenths of pounds. You can almost see it inching up with each tic-tac you eat.

Furthermore, they'll cycle through displays of all the other stats they've learned about you since you stepped on. They'll show you your BMI (Body Mass Index), fat percentage, body water percentage and muscle mass percentage.

Call Me Maybe

Old scales didn't talk to anything else. They knew how to keep a secret. Modern ones are all chatty-kathy like and may talk over Bluetooth, BLE1 or even wifi. This makes sharing data with your smartphone really easy.

Bluetooth is designed for small distances so your smartphone must be within 15-20 feet. Also it must be running an app to communicate with the scale. If you don't have your phone with you, some scales will retain a small number of previous weighings. They will then sync up the data when you do have your phone around.

Wifi connectivity can be better than bluetooth but it is much more difficult to set up. At the time of writing this, we weren't aware of any wifi scales that auto shamed you by posting to facebook, but I can't imagine that is too far away. Also, you don't have to worry yet about the scale communicating with your smart fridge to lock you out, in case you've gained a few extra pounds.2

The best part about your scale communicating with your phone is that the app will generally show graphs of your different stats. It's much easier to plan healthy choices when you can see the correlation between the Thanksgiving bingefest and that extra 5 pounds you put on. Some of the apps will also sync their data with iOS Healthkit, making it even easier to tie exercise and eating with weight gain/loss.

balance high accuracy digital body fat scale

Digital Bluetooth Body Fat Scales

Pros
  • Big, easy to read display
  • Quick and easy to measure body fat using electrical impedance
  • Lots of stats: BMI, body fat, lean mass, water weight, bone mass
Cons
  • Body fat not as accurate as using body fat calipers
  • Batteries required
View price history

Measuring Big Bones

Older scales only told you your weight. But modern ones will tell you a number of things about you - maybe even more than you wanted to know.

Given your height, a scale can determine your BMI3. BMI was developed in the 1830's and has recently come under some fire for not being accurate. For example, many high performance athletes are considered overweight using the BMI index. That's because BMI doesn't give you a good estimate of your fat percentage, it doesn't factor in your gender and doesn't look at your waist size. Many people may be labelled as healthy by BMI, but have drastically different body fat percentage than others with the same BMI index. In general, BMI may be better than not having any information, but it's a close call. A BMI index telling you you're healthy, when you clearly have visible belly fat, might lull you into a false sense of complacency, even though you have a larger risk of stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

You must be thinking, there's got to be a better way to know about fat. What about trying to measure it more directly? Measuring fat is a difficult task. The best way to measure it would be to drill core samples from your body at various points .... you might see the obvious problem with that method.

The best least-invasive ways of measuring fat are:

  • electrical impedance4
    A small electric current is sent through the skin. The resistance is used to calculate the fat percentage.
  • body calipers
    Calipers are used to pinch folds of skin in various places. The measurements translate into fat percentage.
  • water displacement
    Submerge a body in a tub and see how much water is displaced. Using the volume of the body and the weight, you can calculate the density and use it to approximate the fat percentage.

Most modern scales will use electrical impedance to measure fat percentage. It's not as accurate as water displacement, but then it doesn't require filling your bathtub each morning to take a reading.

body fat caliper

Body Fat Calipers

Pros
  • More accurate at measuring body fat than BMI or electrical impedance
  • Small and inexpensive
  • No batteries
Cons
  • Have to take multiple measurements on the body
  • Some math required
View price history

Other Things to Consider

  • Weight Range
    Most scales will work up to 300 pounds, but some can go higher. Make sure to check if you think you might hit a limit.
  • Multi-user
    If you've got more than youself in the home, it's handy to have a scale which can keep track of individual profiles.
  • Appearance
    Ugly things tend to get shoved in a corner and forgotten. Find a scale that is visually pleasing so you keep it in a highly visible area where it is accessible to be used each day.

weight gurus smart scale

Smart Body Fat Scales

Pros
  • Big, easy to read display
  • Quick and easy to measure body fat using electrical impedance
  • Lots of stats: BMI, body fat, lean mass, water weight, bone mass
  • Multi-user
Cons
  • Body fat not as accurate as using body fat calipers
  • Batteries required
View price history

Summary

A modern digital scale can make it easy to track your weight daily. Connected ones can sync with your smartphone, enabling you to see your progress over time. Using multiple stats like weight, body fat percentage, water weight and muscle mass, you can tailor your regimen to what works for you and your body type.

A pair of body fat calipers can help add more accuracy to your body fat measurements. These are a nice addition when you're ready to take your training to the next level.

We're not there yet, but future scales will correlate your weight with the number of cat videos you're watching on the Internet. It's an exciting future.


  1. Bluetooth Low Energy - uses less power and results in a longer battery life.

  2. That is a great idea which I'm now going to patent. Maybe I'll make it so it'll lock you out, but ... if you buy special glutton mode passes in my app, it'll let you in. Oohhh, I'm totally going to be rich off this idea. Then I can eat as much as I want, until my fridge locks me out.

  3. Body Mass Index - a measure of your fat percentage calculated from your height and weight.

  4. Should not be used by people with a pacemaker, another similar medical electronic implant or pregnant.