How Do Scales Measure Body Fat

To one degree or the other, we are all concerned about how we look. This body image rides a lot on how overweight or underweight we think we are.

Fitness- Fitfam– is the constant trend these days, and people see body fat as an anathema.

How exactly do body fat scales work? They work with the help of the underfoot sensors that use bioelectrical impedance. When you get on the device, a tiny electrical current travels up one of your legs and across your pelvis to measure the resistance it encounters from body fat along the way. The sensors register this resistance level the current encountered even as it travels back down through your other leg to complete its circuit.

Generally, greater body resistance indicates a higher body fat percentage because fat is denser than muscle and makes it more difficult for a current to run through.

This BIA method calculates an estimate of your total body water because fat has less water than muscles. Therefore, total body water calculation is used to estimate how fat-free your body mass is. The technology pinpoints your fat mass by comparing your body water level to your body weight.

Some body fat scales have built-in technology which relays this information to your Smartphone, smartwatch or some other fitness app you have. You get your reading immediately in living HD colour.

Types of Body Fat Scales

Body fat scales are high tech scales. High tech scales are just one type of scales. Before high tech scales, there were basic analogue and digital scales.

Analogue scales are also known as mechanical scales. They are those scales that offer foot platforms and legible dials, which operate by a spring mechanism without any need for batteries.

Digital Scales are similar to analogue scales in their simplicity.  They are battery-operated. Some models come with memory-reading functions that memorise up to 10 previous readings.

High-tech scales go beyond both the analogue and digital scales to probe body composition in more details. As I said, body fat scales belong in this category. They use the Body Impedance Analysis (BIA) method to distinguish between fat and muscle mass. Some of these models sync to your Smartphone using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth by which they instantly update you with your Body-Mass-Index (BMI) charts and digital weight.

There are also high tech models that favour the visually impaired.

Generally, any other type of scale falls under one of the above categories.

How Do Scales Measure Body Fat

The pros and cons of body fat scales

One obvious benefit of the body fat scales is that it allows you to measure your body fat right in the comfort of your home. You do not have to make the arduous trip to the gym or clinic.

These scales cannot be your sole method to measure body fat because they leave you with more questions than answers. A body fat device will tell you your overall body fat percentage. However, it won’t specify the areas on your body where you have this dangerous fat. Therefore, they do not solve your problem.

Doctors tell us that fat stored around the midsection increases the risks of heart diseases. If the scale cannot pinpoint the problem spot, what good does it do you? What does knowing your body fat percentage help you achieve if you are trying to shed fat?

The BIA technology is quick and impressive and, perhaps, this is why accuracy is compromised. If you were to hop on a body fat scale right after a meal, your result would be sharply inaccurate. Your water level would have risen, and the device will erroneously give you a low fat-mass reading.

Are scales that measure body fat accurate?

As I already began to say, the short answer is no. These scales are far from accurate because they more or less measure how fat your legs are. The current goes up one leg and down the other, and that’s it. What happens to the rest of your body?

The BIA technology these scales use can be misleading because it assesses fat-mass based on hydration levels. We already showed you how inaccurate that could be in certain conditions. For example, after a meal or after a workout session, especially with strength training workouts, hydration levels can be all over the place. After lunch, you may temporarily have more body water while having a high fat-mass while following a high-intensity workout; the reverse may be the case.

It’s just all shades of inaccurate.

Furthermore, the scales disregards physiological factors like the fact like age, the height, bone mass, or the fact that women generally have more body fat than men.

What is a good body fat percentage?

According to research, men aged between 20-40 years who have less than 8% body fat have too little fat.  Those men with 8-19% fat mass are said to be within the healthy range. For women in the same age group, too-little-fat is any level below 21% and, healthy is between 21-33%.

A key factor to note is that there is no unified optimum body fat percentage for everybody. Age, ethnicity, height, exercises regimen and several other factors can determine it and cause it to fluctuate. However, the range presented in the research is safe to use. As long as you stay within that percentile, you have no reason to worry.

How do you accurately measure body fat percentage?

Now that we have established that body fat scales are not reliable, let us examine the more reliable options for measuring body fat percentage.

Callipers: The Callipers method is considered more accurate than body fat scales. The technique is also known as the ‘pinch test’. However, because it requires a need for expertise, results can fluctuate. That, therefore, leaves a margin for error. Also, callipers only measure subcutaneous fat.

The Bod Pod: It seems to be that the more reliable the method, the more complicated and costly it gets. The Bod Pod machine is like something out of a Star Wars scene. It is the go-to method for professional athletes and sports teams for analysing body fat.The Bod Pod works by measuring the volume of air you displace within it. It runs the air through a complex mathematical equation estimating things like your fat, your resting metabolic rate and lean muscle mass.

This air displacement method has some margin for error in that it uses an equation based on estimates. Another drawback with this method is that it can take time to do, and you will have to go to a unique facility to have it done for you.

Hydrostatic Weighing: Jump into a swimming pool, grab a seat and get into a position that fully immerses you. That is how this weighing method works. But that’s not all. While submerged, you must expel as much air as possible and then keep very still while the machine weighs you.As you can imagine, dunking yourself, exhaling and staying still takes some time to get used to before you can finally get it right. But when you do get it right, you can be confident about the result it gives you. This test method is generally considered the gold standard for measuring body fat in terms of accuracy.

InBody: This method involves standing on a metal platform and grabbing two handles for about a minute. The Inbody machine doesn’t only show you your body fat percentage measurements. It tells you the body areas your fat is stored and where you have an extensive collection of water which can sometimes be a symptom of inflammation or injury. The machine also measures your BMR, RMR and strength of each of your limbs.

Thus, the Inbody machine combines the convenience of a body fat BIA device with the accuracy of hydrostatic weighing, and you can say it is the best of both worlds. The downside of this method is that the machines are expensive and are not that commonplace, but if you search, you will eventually find one not that far from you.

How can I lose body fat quickly?

Start Resistance Training: Lifting weights help you develop fitness and burn fat quickly.

Change your drinks: This contributes immensely to weight loss.

A protein-rich diet goes a long way: This will cut down appetite and build muscle mass.

Get a little more sleep: This militates against weight gain.

Do Cardio:  Cardio reduces the circumference of the waist.

Drink Coffee: Caffeine is a fat-burning ingredient

Add probiotics to your diet: Try adding some probiotic-rich foods like kombucha, kimchi, kefir and sauerkrauts to your menus.

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                                  About the Author Dale Barrett

                                  I've always been a bit of a health nut. Lifting weights since I was 16 and managed to achieve a PB of 190kg doing a deadlift. I've also tried multiple food plans, of which for me I think I have felt my best when not restricting myself to one way of thinking.