Don’t let a scale make you pound foolish

The Washington PostApril 15, 2013 

When most people set out to buy a bathroom scale, it is with one objective in mind: to measure how much they weigh. But faced with store shelves or a digital marketplace overflowing with options, choosing the right scale can be a daunting task.

Do you go with the body-fat calculator or the one that will talk to you in Spanish? The solar-powered unit or one in a fabulous print? Or do you forgo modern touches completely and go the old-fashioned route, opting for a trusty analog dial?

Here are some tips to help make that decision a little less, er, weighty:

•  Analog scales are the simplest way to measure weight. Also called mechanical scales, they operate on a spring mechanism that doesn’t require batteries, and generally feature large foot platforms and easy-to-read dials. They’re widely available in stores including Bed, Bath and Beyond and Ikea. On the downside, they don’t offer bells and whistles such as body-fat calculations; reviews show accuracy can also be an issue.

•  Digital scales that measure only body weight are similar to analog scales in terms of simplicity, with increased accuracy. They are battery-operated and easy to find in stores and online, and some models have memory capabilities that can store as many as 10 previous weight readings.

•  High-tech scales dig deeper into the body composition story than analog or basic digital scales. Many models calculate body fat percentage using a small electrical pulse that distinguishes between fat and muscle tissue. (Scales don’t offer the most precise body fat measurements but can be useful for tracking the percentage change between weigh-ins.) Others, such as Withings’ Wireless Scale ($100) and Smart Body Analyzer ($150), can use WiFi or Bluetooth to sync to your smartphone or tablet, instantly updating digital weight and BMI charts. Talking scales, such as Royal Tel-Weight’s bilingual scale ($70), are useful for the visually impaired.

•  High-capacity scales provide an alternative option for people weighing more than a “standard” scale can accommodate. Most scales max out at 300 to 350 pounds, but EatSmart’s extra-wide bath scale ($37) can hold up to 440 pounds. Medical scales can hold significantly more – some accommodate up to 800 pounds – but they can cost several hundred or even thousands of dollars.

•  Design-minded scales can be matched to the look of your bathroom. Conair makes a digital scale using sustainably grown teakwood panels ($95), while Beurer offers mirrored ($70) and bedazzled ($39) options. Escali’s bamboo digital scale ($50) is solar-powered (by natural or artificial lighting).

•  Go scale-free. Whether you’re trying to lose or gain weight, there are alternative ways to track body composition changes. Progress pictures (before and after photos), body measurements (waist and hip circumference) and clothing size changes are easy DIY methods. Body fat can also be measured using calipers or a Bod Pod chamber.

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