There are several different ways to measure and evaluate the amount of fat in your body. Measurement can be conducted in a clinical setting, through technology like BodPod, DEXA scanning or hydrostatic underwater weighing. Those who want a more convenient route can also do it at home by using a body fat scale.
How Do Body Fat Scales Work and Are They Accurate?
Body fat scales work by using a technology called bioelectrical impedance analysis. A small, imperceptible electrical current is sent through one foot, up the leg and then down the other leg. Fat is a poor electrical conductor when compared to other tissues like muscle, so the more resistance the electrical current encounters, the higher the fat volume.
A Consumer Reports study of body fat scales estimated that the scales were accurate by up to 80% of the time. Other studies found that different scales yield varying readings and that these frequently differ from standard protocols of fat measurement. The scales tend to be less accurate for elderly people, children, highly trained athletes, and those with osteoporosis. However, it has been noted that in spite of the inaccuracies, the scales can still be used to monitor progress if you standardize the way you perform each test. This means consistently testing your body fat percentage under the same conditions.
Don’t have time to read the whole article? Here are the top 5 best body fat scales:
- Weight Gurus Bluetooth Smart Connected Body Fat Scale
- Fitbit Aria WiFi Smart Scale
- Yunmai HQ Smart Scale
- Omron Body Composition Monitor with Scale
- Tanita BC558 Ironman Segmental Body Composition Monitor
How to Choose the Best Scale
There is an army of body fat scales on the market today, with each one claiming to be the best. In order to help you make the correct choice, try to consider the following:
Display: this should be clear and big enough to read when standing on the scale. Look for a scale with an accompanying mobile app for more convenient viewing. The displayed data should be easy to understand and should remain on the screen long enough for you to read. Look for a scale that allows you to redisplay the data without having to weigh yourself again.
Controls/Instructions: these must be clearly labeled and easy to use. The instructions in programming the scale must be straightforward. Ideally, there should be useful diagrams and advice on how to interpret the results.
User profiles: the profile refers to saved sets of individual information; there should be enough of these for all family members who will routinely use the scale. Choose the scale with the right profile for you. If your kids are going to use it, make sure it can be calibrated for children. The same thing applies if you are an athlete with over ten hours of strenuous exercise a week.
Weight only: there are instances when you simply want the scale to function like a typical weighing scale and only display your weight. Look for a scale with a ‘weight only’ default setting.
Value: you don’t need to break the bank, but don’t cheap out either because results show that accuracy is often correlated with the price of the body fat analyzer.
Additional features: many models display other relevant details like body mass index (BMI) as well as body composition information (i.e. bone mass, muscle mass and water content). Some scales also display goals based on personal information (age, sex, height). Examples of such goals are ideal weight and daily calorie intake.
The Top 5 Best Body Fat Scales
Pairing the machine with the companion app is fairly effortless. iOS users should have no trouble, but for Android 6.0 users make sure your location is turned on in order to link the scale to the app. This is not mentioned in the instructions.
After the scale is connected to the app, you setup your profile, and transferring data is simple from there. All you have to do is turn on Bluetooth, pair, and step on the scale. The scale will automatically transfer your information to the app privately.
Our measurements were consistent for weight and body fat, although some other customers have stated that the scale doesn’t zero out properly unless you first put some weight on it, step off, and then step back on for a second reading. This appears to be isolated to a small number of users though.
The app, which can be downloaded from both iTunes and Google Play, is easy to use. Entries in the Weight Gurus app can be saved, deleted or transferred to other services like Fitbit or Google Fit. Attractive graphs are available within the app to help track progress over time, in addition to the many fitness tracking features available in the other compatible services. Some users report issues with Fitbit compatibility, but it seems this has been resolved by an update to the app.
Overall, this is a very attractive and accurate scale with a feature set that dwarfs most others in this price range. Our testing showed consistent results, and the multiple different fitness tracking apps make it extremely easy to monitor progress and spot potential outliers or bad readings and remove them from the data set. Combine that with excellent customer service, and you have yourself a winner.
The weighing process takes no more than five seconds which is better than most, but it can be finicky. In our testing the results are consistent over time, but there are a number of things that can throw it off. A couple of things to keep an eye on: 1) the surface its on; 2) your distribution of weight (must be perfectly centered); 3) how much water you've consumed that day and when; 4) if you are wearing any metallic jewelry.
To get the most accurate readings be sure the scale is on a hard flat surface, your weight is perfectly centered with your feet lined up on the sensors, and any metal jewelry is removed. As with all BIA scales, you should weight yourself at the same time of day every day, preferably on an empty stomach. If you drink a lot of water before weighing, this can throw off the reading. All these variables remaining constant, we received mostly accurate readings over time with this scale.
The best part about Fitbit tracking is that even if you get an inaccurate reading from time to time, the data is all stored online and outliers can be removed to maintain a consistent trend. At the end of the day, it’s the long term trend that matters the most and not day to day fluctuations. Aria automatically syncs to your Fitbit dashboard at each weigh-in making it very easy to stay on track and keep yourself motivated.
On a whole, this is a very well designed scale with a nice feature set, but ease of use and the Fitbit fitness tracking apps are where it excels. While it is relatively expensive compared to competing scales, this is still a good value for those who value simplicity.
You needn’t tap the scale to use it like some others. You step on, and in a few seconds you’ll be provided with the measurements. Your measurements can then be synced to the smartphone app via bluetooth, although this is sometimes easier said than done. Some users report issues with the bluetooth connectivity.
Concurrently, the app could use some enhancements. There are numerous grammatical errors, making it painfully clear that this is a foreign product that was not properly translated to English. It also does not connect to any other fitness tracking apps like Fitbit or Apple Health.
One key concern among many buyers is security. Some more tech savvy users discovered that the app had access to a wide range of sensitive information on the phone, including call logs and photos. The concerns were heard and the app has since been updated.
In terms of accuracy, this scale is middle of the pack in our testing. Readings appear mostly accurate but can fluctuate from day to day. Weight readings are consistent, but most others contain a significant margin of error. Still, this is an attractive scale with a good feature set for this mid-range price.
The fact that this scale takes readings from both the hands and the feet eliminates some of the inaccuracies that occur with feet only measurements, since some people carry more fat in different parts of the body.This scale is very directionally accurate (it can track small changes in body fat up or down), but there are no options for configuring your specific body type, and it uses assumptions based on your age and gender to do the calculations. This means some users, particularly those with less common body types, may see inaccurate results depending on a number of factors. Unfortunately, you cannot change the settings to accommodate for this. This body composition monitor is really meant for fitness athletes who need a high degree of accuracy when tracking body fat changes.
In our testing, after the initial setup is complete this scale provides very consistent results over time. There are some limitations as always, but it is one of the more accurate body fat scales on the market today. That said, the price is also quite a bit higher than many other scales, especially considering it does not have bluetooth connectivity or a mobile app to help track progress. This makes it a good fit for athletes or fitness competitors, but possibly not for more casual users.
The readings are at the same accuracy level you’d get at a professional fitness center, making it a good scale for professional fitness athletes. Nonetheless, amateurs might not value this level of accuracy considering the high price tag.
Like other Tanita body composition monitors, it uses Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA), which is acknowledged as one of the most accessible and reliable methods of screening body fat. The difference between this device and some of the lower cost scales on the market is the ability to measure different segments of the body independently. Typically body fat scales only take readings from the feet, which can lead to inaccurate results depending on a number of factors. That is not the case with the Tanita BC-558.
Overall, this is one of the most accurate body composition monitors you can buy and is best suited for professionals or those who are willing to spend 10x for that accuracy. For recreational users your money may be better spent on a lower cost scale that offers features like bluetooth connectivity and fitness tracking.
Here’s How a Regular Weighing Scale Can Mislead You
Clothes, photos and mirrors don’t lie, but neither do fat calipers. The weighing scale can turn out as your worst enemy because it can mislead you and kill your motivation. Let’s look at the following examples:
Carbohydrates and water: carbohydrates bind to water, so eating less carbs will help you lose weigh through water loss. This is the reason why you lose a lot of weight on a diet such as Atkins during the first two weeks. You are losing mostly water. Increasing your carbohydrate intake will help you gain weight again through water retention.
Muscle gain and fat loss: you will gain muscle mass while losing unwanted fat when you do strength training. But on the weighing scale it will appear like you are not making any progress because your body-weight remains the same. Monitor your body fat percentage using a caliper and you will notice that your body fat is gradually going down.
What Are Some Common Problems of Bad Scales?
A bad scale not only hurts your pocket, it may also have a negative effect on your health especially if it is dishing out inaccurate measurements or readings. Here are some of the common problems of bad scales:
- More sensitive to changes and movement. This means you need to stand correctly and right smack on the middle just to get an accurate reading.
- Frequent calibration is required. This means adjusting the reading by a knob or slider so the reading isn’t above or below zero.
- If the scale is electric, a blown fuse is often the problem. If there is no display on the screen, this is likely the issue.
- If your scale is battery operated, the terminals may be bent or not making sufficient contact with the battery.
- Bad scales are often the result of poor craftsmanship or substandard manufacturing procedures. Always go for scales from reputable brands; you may end up spending a bit more but you are more likely to get the best value for your hard-earned buck.
What is the Ideal Body Fat Percentage?
Body fat percentage (BFP) refers to the percentage of fat the body contains. It can be obtained by dividing your total mass of fat by your total body mass. Body fat percentage is a measure of your fitness level because it is the only body measurement that directly calculates your relative body composition without considering your height or weight.
Epidemiologically, the body fat percentage of an individual varies according to age and sex. There are different theoretical approaches with regard to the relationships between body fat percentage, athletic capacity, health, among others. Consequently, different authorities have developed different recommendations for ideal body fat percentages.
Losing Weight vs. Losing Fat
People seem to use weight loss and fat loss interchangeably, but there is actually a world of difference between losing weight and losing fat. Let’s begin by defining each term.
Weight Loss – this is what you are doing when you see smaller figures on the scale. However, when you lower your body weight, you are essentially lowering the combined weight of your bones, muscles, organs, body fat, etc.
Fat Loss – this refers to lowering the amount of fat in your body. Healthy goals are losing 10 percent body fat for males and 15 percent for females.
Losing weight should never be your goal. Instead, you must always aim to lose fat. Bear in mind that every time you lose weight, you lose a little bit of everything, including fluids, muscle and even organ size. Majority of your weight loss must come from fat and not the other important stuff.
The problem with weight loss is that it can be unreliable, so stop weighing yourself! Your body-weight can fluctuate on a daily basis because it is influenced by fat loss/gain, muscle loss/gain, water loss/retention, and your stomach/bowel/bladder content. Hence, you don’t have a clear idea of what is really going on. Weight loss is also irrelevant because two individuals with the same height can weight exactly the same. However, they may look different because one has lower body fat compared to the other.
BMI provides a measure that can be used to compare the adiposity of people of varying heights and weights. While it typically increases in direct proportion to adiposity, due to differences in body composition, other body fat indicators yield more accurate result. For instance, people with larger bones or greater muscle mass will have higher BMIs. Therefore, BMI is a useful indicator of overall fitness for a large group of individuals, but a poor indicator of personal health.
Losing Body Fat Through Diet
Diet is the key to that slim figure you’ve always dreamed of, and by choosing the right food and consuming it in sensible proportions you are guaranteed to lose body fat. In order to shed excess weight and keep it from coming back, concentrate on making certain dietary choices which you can maintain for life. However, this does not necessarily mean foregoing your favorite foods – you can fit occasional treats into your meal plan.
- Consume less calories than what your body needs to burn for energy. You will lose about 1 pound of body fat for every 3,500 caloric deficit you create. Calorie intake varies widely, but for moderately active individuals, dieticians from Harvard Medical School suggest multiplying your weight by 15 to calculate daily expenditure. So if you weigh 155 pounds, you are likely burning 2,325 calories daily and will lose approximately 1 pound each week by consuming 1,825 calories per day.
- Go for whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates. Based on a study published in 2010 in “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” this switch can reduce visceral fat in your belly by up to ten percent. Try to refrain from eating breads, pastas, tortillas and other food stuff made with white flour, and choose those made with brown rice, whole wheat, spelt and quinoa instead.
- Substitute monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats for saturated and trans fats, which are likely to cause weight gain. Saturated fats mostly come from animal products like meat, butter and cheese, while trans fats are found in baked goods and processed snack foods sometimes labeled as ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.’ For healthy unsaturated fats, choose avocados, canola oil, nuts and olives.
- For every meal, try to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables that are high in dietary fiber but low in calories. Fiber slows down digestion so you feel full a lot longer and you don’t crave for more food.
- Avoid diet sodas. Based on a review published in 2010 in the “Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine,” diet sodas have been linked to weight gain because they contain artificial sweeteners, which can trigger sugar cravings and tease you to seek out unhealthy foods. Drink plain water instead, and if you need a bit of flavor, simply add a few drops of lemon or lime.
Health Reasons for Losing Body Fat
Aside from improved appearance, experts note that losing 5 to 10 percent of your body fat offers several health benefits including the following:
A Healthier Weight. Excess body fat tends to put more strain on the heart and puts you at higher risk of health problems like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and cardiac arrest. Research has shown that for most people, losing 5 percent of body fat is enough to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and also help in lowering blood pressure. Maintaining your ideal weight can result in improved body image and greater self-esteem while also being healthy on the inside.
A Boost in Energy Level. Bear in mind that the more fat you have, the faster you get exhausted and feel the need for an energy boost. After a healthy fat-loss plan, your body will become more energy efficient so you feel much better through the course of the day. In addition, you get to save money since you won’t be needing to buy energy drinks.
Less Stress. Exercise is an excellent way to relieve stress. Combine it with a fat-loss plan that is focused on sensible eating and fitness, not just fads that tend to go out of style in a couple of years. This means you simply need to put in the work and not deal with all the confusion caused by conflicting information and consistently changing diet and fitness trends.
Better sleep and improved brain function. Fat loss through exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. It can also improve brain function through improved blood circulation and more efficient delivery of essential nutrients needed by brain cells. Moreover, if you exercise regularly, you will feel the need to rest, thereby making it more likely to experience better sleep.
Better Cardio Conditioning. Excess body weight will hold you back from the weights room and engaging in sports and fitness activities, such as a hike with friends and family. You’ll need energy to play an entire game and go the distance. It’s more likely that you will get tired easily and therefore quit faster when you are carrying around excess weight than you would otherwise if you have less body fat.
Improved Strength and Endurance. The less excess body fat you have, the more repetitions you can perform with heavier weight to continue building muscle and increasing both strength and endurance. The more body fat you carry around, the weaker you’ll feel and the faster you get tired. Consequently, you will only be able to complete less work; you may not even be able to do enough repetitions of certain exercises to achieve an optimal training stimulus to develop muscle mass and strength. This means the time you spend in the weights room is not as effective and worthwhile as it could have been if you were leaner.
Losing only 5 percent of your body fat may not sound much but it could mean that you are on your way to dropping dress size and looking better and feeling more energetic. Aside from the health benefits mentioned above, it has also been proven that weight loss can improve blood sugar control, mobility and breathing, while reducing aches and pains, the need for regular medication, and the risk of sudden death from cardiac disease, stroke or certain types of cancers.
People who have lost 5 to 10 percent of their body fat report significant improvements in quality of life which indicates that weight loss will also have a huge impact on emotional health. When it comes to weight loss, many tend to be hard on themselves and won’t be happy until they lose three or four times the necessary amount to start seeing a difference. However, it is very important to be realistic about your weight loss goals and the amount of time needed to achieve them. Do not ignore small losses as these are very important and should motivate you to lose more weight.
Other Ways to Measure Body Fat
A quick Google search will show dozens of ways to measure body fat ranging from the simple and quick to the incredibly detailed. Such techniques can help in setting baseline values for body composition and certain goals. However, the variations in techniques entail a fluctuation in accuracy. One technique may nail down your body fat percentage to within a few decimals, while others tend to leave a huge discrepancy. Here are five of the best techniques for measuring body fat.
- Skinfold Calipers – This is probably the most accessible technique for measuring body fat. A skin fold evaluation can be performed in three, four or seven sites, which typically include the arm, chest, abdominals and thigh. The technician pinches the skin and then uses a caliper to measure the thickness of the skin fold. The technician then uses a formula to calculate body fat percentage.
- Bioelectrical Impedance – This has been previously mentioned. Bioelectrical impedance scales range from a scale with electrodes under each foot to a scale with handholds and additional electrodes. Regardless of the device used, they work by sending electrical impulses through the lower part of the body and then measuring how fast those impulses return. The rationale behind this technique is that lean tissue conducts electrical impulses faster than fatty tissue. Hence, a quicker response time is associated with a leaner physique and lower body fat percentage.
- Hydrostatic Weighing – This is also known as underwater weighing. It compares the normal bodyweight of the subject to his/her bodyweight while fully submerged. Using the two measurements and the density of water, technicians can accurately calculate the subject’s density. The resulting figure is then used to estimate body fat percentage.
- DEXA (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) – This is considered as the gold standard for measuring body fat percentage. A DEXA scan exposes the subject to X-ray beams of varying intensities to measure bone mineral density as well as body fat percentage. The subject lies on a table while a machine arm passes over the entire body while emitting both high and low-energy X-ray beams. The technician can obtain readings for bone mineral density and fat mass by measuring the absorption of each beam into different parts of the body.
- Air-Displacement Plethysmography – This is actually similar to hydrostatic weighing. The subject sits in a small machine (like a Bod Pod) and the amount of air displaced is measured. The technician can then determine body density and compute body fat percentage.