Weighing Your Options When Choosing a Scale


My old bathroom scale broke the other day and I was faced with the challenging task of having to buy a new one. I thought the process would be easy at first until I actually got online. After years of using an old analog dial scale, I hadn’t really realized how the options for measuring your weight had exploded recently. I had a look through some of the different types available and wanted to share my thoughts on the process with you in hopes that it might help you get a scale that fits your needs.

Why You Should Have A Scale

I’ve talked to people of different persuasions about whether you should even have a scale in your home. Some think having a home scale can make you neurotic about checking your weight. This party advocates using a scale at the gym or other facility so that you can still keep periodic tabs on your weight without falling into the trap of checking too often. On the other hand, having a scale in your home makes checking your weight convenient so that you’ll actually do it. These advocates say that if the bathroom is too much of a constant reminder, put the scale away somewhere you don’t see it until you need it. Having it handy empowers you to collect data on your progress as you move towards your weight loss goals and to take charge of knowing where you stand when it comes to your weight.

Analog Versus Digital Scales

The first split you’ll see when buying is whether or not to go digital. The cheapest scales are generally those without electronics, but you can find some inexpensive digital options as well. The analog scales work by using a spring. When you stand on the scale, you compress a big spring inside the scale. How much that spring moves pushes a pointer that determines the readout. The benefit of these scales is that they generally last forever and do one thing well. The problem with these scales is that they can be inaccurate and may have to be recalibrated periodically. They can also be tough to read and the angle you look from may change your reading. That means you may not notice a half-pound of weight loss as easily as you would on a digital scale. Digital scales give you a quick and accurate readout, but generally don’t last as long as its old-fashioned counterparts.

Check the Weight Limit

While you probably haven’t thought about the weight limit on your scale, it’s important to have a sense of what it is before you buy it to avoid any mishaps. This is especially the case if you’re close to 350 pounds since many scales top out around that number. Aside from the danger of breaking the scale (many are made with glass), the larger issue is that readings will start to become inaccurate as you approach the upper limit of the scale. You should leave yourself at least 20 to 30 pounds of leeway just to be sure you’re getting the right read. A lot of scales are available at higher weight limits; you just have to be looking for them.

Body Composition Measurements

This is a big selling point that I’ve seen on many digital scales. As electricity moves through different materials, it encounters different levels of resistance. Metal and water both allow easy passage, which is why they’re known as conductors, whereas plastic blocks most electrical movement, which is why it’s called an insulator. Your body is also made up of different components that resist electrical movement to different degrees. Some are conductors and some are insulators.

Muscle conducts electricity more easily than fat does, in part because it carries more water. That means that a person with more muscle would conduct electricity better than a person with more fat as long as everything else is the same. The scale works by shooting tiny amounts of electricity through your feet and measuring how much resistance that electricity meets. The higher the resistance, the more fat there probably is.

The problem with this is that it’s not very accurate. While the amount of muscle and fat can change your resistance, so can your dehydration status. If you’re more dehydrated, you tend to conduct electricity less well, making it seem like you have more fat than you really do. Thick calluses on your feet can also block some of that electricity, again increasing your apparent fat percentage. The last time you ate or exercised can also have an effect. Several studies have shown that different body composition scales will give different readings for the same person, indicating that they’re only partly measuring what they say they are.

The bigger problem is this: ideal body fat percentage isn’t a hard number. The recommended ranges can vary based on age, gender, and level of fitness among other things. We also know that where you carry fat is arguably more important than how much fat you have. Carrying your weight in your midsection is much more concerning than fat that sits in other areas of your body.

Get consistency by measuring yourself at the same time of day wearing the same thing and having just done the same things. Right after you get up in the morning is probably best since you won’t have eaten and your hydration will be similar from morning to morning. Ignore the exact number and focus more on watching it trend down over time.

Memory, Weight Trending, and Smartphone Functions

A lot of scales have a memory function that will store previous weights so that you don’t have to and don’t forget. Some will even save those weights and trend them so that you can focus more on what’s been happening overall as opposed to getting hung up on the specifics day to day. Some scales even connect to your smartphone so that you can store the weights on an app and those measurements with other data you might be collecting, like how much you’re exercising or what you’re eating. That gives you the opportunity to get a more holistic picture of what’s going on than a single daily weight can give.

The caveat? You have to actually think you’ll use those functions. If you’re not a big tech person, these added features might not appeal to you. If you’re buying a scale that pairs with an app, be sure to try the app out first to make sure it’s something you’ll actually use.

Check Out Reviews

If you have your eye on a fancy scale in a department store, try and check out reviews for it before you get it. You want to try and get a sense of whether the scale is worth the money you’re going to be paying for it. Look to make sure the features noted on the box are easy to use and that the scale is going to last.
The most important part of buying a scale is to keep in mind what you’re going to be using it for. There are a lot of added features out there, but at the end of the day it’s most important just to get your weight.