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How Body Fat Percentage Scales Helped Me Lose My Weight - Consistent vs Accurate - You Can Too - It Really Does Work!

Updated on January 9, 2011
(Picture by Jorge Rodriguez)
(Picture by Jorge Rodriguez)

Body Fat Percentage Scales and Weight Loss

Let me ask you a question - Will having a set of scales cause you to lose weight? What if it measured your body fat? Would your answer change? Now, if we change the word "cause" to "help", would your answer change? If your goal is healthy weight, then a body fat percentage scale can be an incredible tool for taking off the pounds. Why? Let me tell you:

Fat is bad... not exactly true. Too much fat is bad. You need some to be healthy. My wife is so adorable, she says I'm not fat, just a little overweight. Bless her heart. But by body fat percentage, I qualify as obese. (Maybe I just carry it well?) There are things we all know about obesity, or even being just a bit overweight, and things maybe we don't know. For instance, it's linked with high blood pressure. Diabetes... heart disease... arthritis. But hitting closer to home, for me at least, it can cause sleep apnea and ... here's a real winner... sleepiness during the day! Okay, not really a catchy name. There might be a better, doctor-sounding latin phrase for it. But that's a HUGE deal personally. Having suffered from apnea for years, I've been aware that when my body is fit, my apnea gets better. The other, though, answers a problem that's really bothered me. When you're about to turn 50 (yeah, those youthful good looks deserted me long ago) you expect a certain amount of wear and tear. Overpowering urge to sleep in the middle of the afternoon? Heck, I'm nearly fifty, it's natural! Or the other standby... Gee, you must be depressed about something, hmm? Maybe it's neither, maybe I'm just... overweight.

You should know, apnea and day sleepiness are not as common as the other symptoms of obesity. But they both fit me like a glove. A plus-size glove, but still.

Do my cheeks look fat?
Do my cheeks look fat?

What do you mean, "Not Accurate?"

Now, about those scales.  While most scales have a pretty tolerable accuracy for weight, the same cannot be said about body fat percentages.  Some never guess the same number twice in a row.  Most are consistent, but not exactly accurate.  They use bioelectrical impedance analysis.  Call it BIA.  You stand barefoot on the scale, and it sends electricity into you.  Sounds bad, but you can't feel anything at all, unless you're packing gadgets in your body that might react poorly.  A pacemaker, for instance.  If you have anything surgically implanted and aren't sure, check with your doctor before using a body-fat scale.  If you're pregnant, that's also a risk factor.  

The scale times how long it takes for the jolt to go from one foot to the other.  Muscle lets it through pretty fast.  Fat and bone slow it down.  Based on your height, age, and weight, it then calculates your fat-to-muscle percentage.  Some scales will also tell you how well (or not) hydrated you are, your bone mass, muscle percentage, and even an estimate of how many calories you should take in per day.  There's a model by Tanita that runs on solar power.  Okay, how many people have an outdoor, open ceiling bathroom?  I admit, some have windows, but very few let in enough direct light to power anything.  At least one scale on the market will wirelessly send your data to twitter for you.  That's a bit TMI for me, though.

Did you notice up above, there's a sentence about these scales rarely being accurate for body fat?  It's true.  Some are more accurate than others.  Some improve the tech by adding retractable handles.  Most go from foot to foot, meaning they measure your bottom half, then estimate the top half.  A bit sloppy, but it works.  The retractable handles allow a full-body measurement.  Even these aren't perfect, but generally they're an improvement.

He says it... weigh 3 times, then average out

Consistency - A Winning Strategy for Losing Weight

The thought to take home, though, is this - It's not accuracy, it's consistency.  All of the other methods that exist have their troubles.  Body calipers can have as much as a 50% error margin (according to Good Housekeeping), and they're easy to make mistakes with.  The water immersion method?  Hmm, I want to climb into a rig that's going to dunk me completely underwater.  Oh, and empty my lungs completely while we're at it?  Sure, no problem... more like the water torture method.  The newest thing is the bod-pod.  Comfortable, easy to use, non-invasive... and it can cost as much as a small house.  Not many pods in my neighborhood.  The list continues.  What makes the body-fat scales great is availabilty and consistency.  Price range is from $35 up to around $180.  You can buy them locally in many areas.

As long as you get the same result for the same amount of body fat, you can maintain a measurable record of progress.  This is the heart of managing your healthy weight.  Set a goal (don't go nuts- you really do need some fat) and track your progress.  If you're just 'winging' it, it's very hard to know how you're doing, and winging it is the main reason I let myself get so overweight.  Some say that you should not weigh yourself daily.  That it's discouraging when you're looking for a big change.  In some cases, maybe so, but not in every case.  My main use is to monitor daily, and use that data to build a visible record.  Gaining, losing, or holding steady.  It lets me know if I'm on the right track, or need to modify my plan.  (Or at least stick to the plan.)  

However often you check, try to check at the same time, under the same conditions.  If you've eaten, had more to drink, less to drink, just woke up, read War and Peace (You know better than that, right?)... the point is, any variables can cause your results to vary.  I like to weigh first thing in the morning, before I've eaten or had anything to drink.

By the way, most body fat scales come with an "Athlete" mode.  If you are a serious exerciser with serious hours each week, this mode might be for you.  Before using it, though, make sure you honestly qualify. It will seriously underestimate your bodyfat if you're not a true hardcore athlete type.

Click to see full-size chart
Click to see full-size chart

A Tool To Stay On Track

Keep in mind, I'm not saying that only Brand X body fat scale will work.  Pick any one you want, just make sure it has some reviews that rate it as consistent.  If you find one in the store and don't have a chance to research, try it out.  Step on, step off, several times.  Make sure it shows the same result each time.  Don't want to weigh daily?  Choose what works for you.  I like daily, because I'm tempted to eat... chocolate.  Or potato chips... or any other bad stuff, on a daily basis.  It motivates me to stay on track.  And that's why I rate it as an active tool for reducing weight.  It keeps me honest with myself.


(And if you're curious about my current condition - I'm trying an exercise program for the next three months, combined with healthy eating.  Look to see a hub about it sometime in June.)

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