Name: Elizabeth Millard
Goal: Get my body composition on track
Although it's not a phrase I like using, I have long been what's known as "skinny fat." Because the number on the scale has stayed around 115 pounds, I’ve ignored some of the signs that my body composition — body fat and muscle mass percentage — is heading in a less-than-ideal direction. Specifically, my thighs and arms have shrunk, while my belly has inflated, especially since I hit my late forties.
Lately, that number on the scale has been fluctuating, too (likely due in part to bingeing on snacks while sheltering in place amid COVID-19). I realized it was time to make some changes for several reasons, from wanting my pants to fit comfortably again to reducing what I know are major health risks associated with abdominal fat.
But I've struggled with motivation over the past year, and especially while staying home more. Even becoming a certified personal trainer last year didn't inspire me to shift into better habits like eating healthier, exercising regularly, and getting more sleep — which have all been associated with better body composition. For example, a study published in Medicina in November 2018 found that poor sleep quality was linked with higher fat mass in sedentary middle-aged adults. So when I had the opportunity to try Withings body composition scale, I saw it as a chance to see if data could drive my motivation.
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What Is the Withings Body Composition Wi-Fi Scale?
Unlike a standard scale that records only body weight, the Withings scale provides additional data such as muscle and fat mass. More and more research suggests these are the numbers that matter. For example, a study published in April 2016 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that people with low body mass index (BMI) but high body fat percentage — defined in this study as greater than 38 percent fat for women and 36 percent for men — had greater risk of frailty and cardiovascular issues, and subsequently, a shorter life span.
When fat collects in the abdomen — a common issue for women my age who are careening toward menopause — it's even tougher on the heart, according to a study published in March 2018 in the Journal of the American Heart Association. That research also noted it's slightly more dangerous for women to have a larger waist-to-hip ratio than men, but both sexes are negatively affected by this body composition.
Being on the thinner side runs on both sides of my family, but so does heart disease, and both my parents had heart attacks, so knowing my starting point with fat and muscle was important. The Withings Body Plus scale, which costs $99, not only provides that data but also recorded my weight over time. The scale syncs with the Withings Health Mate app (available for free on Google Play and on the App Store) to record my daily steps and compare that count to the previous day. Withings notes that its system is compatible with more than 100 health and fitness apps, including MyFitnessPal, Apple Health, and Google Fit. Also, interestingly, the Withings scale has a daily local weather forecast.
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Here’s What Happened When I Tried It
I decided to see if using the Withings scale for one month would make any difference, even a small one, in improving my body composition. After downloading the Health Mate app and pairing it with the scale — an extremely easy process — I stepped on and got my info. Turns out, the quarantine snacks had done some damage. I was at 132 pounds and 32 percent fat mass.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the recommended body fat for women my age is about 20 to 30 percent — for men, it's between 16 to 27 percent, depending on age — so this insight was a reality check. I'd known from my ever-tightening pants and feeling of bloat that I'd been heading in the wrong direction, but these numbers helped me see how far down that road I'd actually traveled. And this new info did exactly what I'd hoped: It gave me a starting point and a way to track my progress.
I put down the quarantine snacks (well, finished them, anyway) and set some realistic goals based on these numbers. The app allows you to to set a weight and a daily step goal, not a body fat percentage number, so I chose a weight goal of 125 for the month. But I also set a mental goal as well, of reaching under 30 percent fat mass.
At first, my intention outstripped my motivation. As in the past, I wasn't sure how to start. So I began by making small changes to my eating, like not having dessert after every meal (or, sometimes, as a meal itself). That gave me a modest amount of confidence to keep integrating more good habits, which is how I began using the app's "reminders" feature.
For example, for a week I set a reminder to go for an after-dinner walk every day. That helped me create a new habit that stuck. Another great one was a reminder to hydrate, which may also be helpful for weight loss — a study published in the March 2016 Frontiers in Nutrition suggests an association between the two. I know there are apps created just for logging water, but having this reminder feature bundled into the Heart Mate app made it more integrated with my overall health tracking.
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Three Things I Liked About the Withings Body Composition Scale
In addition to the scale providing a good amount of basic data about my body composition, these are the things I appreciated most:
- The app and scale were easy to set up. I don't usually love downloading yet another app, especially for health tracking, but Health Mate is easy to use and has more functionality than I realized when I began using it. Pairing with the scale was a snap, as was inputting my info.
- The reminders feature helped me develop new healthy habits. Although I didn't think these would make much difference, they gave me the nudge I needed to start a couple of important good habits, especially drinking more water and getting more activity. For example, the daily walks turned into a three-times-per-week strength-training program.
- The scale design is sleek and sexy. There are a lot of ugly scales in the world, but this isn't one of them. The understated design, with two black bands that intersect at a brushed silver dot, appealed to me on a visual level, making me feel like I was at a swanky spa. This feature was a big plus for getting past the initial weigh-in dread.
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Three Things I Disliked About the Withings Body Composition Scale
Because the scale and the app are fairly straightforward, there wasn't much to dislike about them. I wanted data, and to do some tracking, and the scale and app provided that. But there were a few minor cons:
- The scale and app don’t provide the same info across the board. The scale and app don’t offer the same types of information, which was inconvenient. While both display fat mass percentage, only the app supplies the muscle mass percentage and only the scale supplies the muscle mass in pounds.
- I wasn’t able to sync the scale and app with my existing activity tracker. I have a Fitbit HR that, given the pace of technology, is probably outdated by now even though I bought it a year ago. I would have liked to sync the Fitbit data — such as step count, sleep, and heart rate — with the other info in the Health Mate app. But those capabilities come only with the Withings activity tracker (retail at $179.95), which is similar to Fitbit in terms of activity and heart rate info it collects, and you wear it on your wrist as well.
- Despite being pretty to look at, the scale surface smudged easily. A small thing that ended up bothering me more than I thought it would. The surface of the scale is glass with a black background, so any type of smears or smudges from my feet showed up. This is just a minor pet peeve, though — it didn't affect its functionality or overall performance.
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My Final Thoughts
I suspected that knowing my body composition would be helpful for creating the push I needed to make some lifestyle changes, and I was right. After a month, I met my goals nearly exactly, and I'm now at 126 pounds and 28 percent body fat (down from 132 pounds and 32 percent body fat) with improved muscle mass as well.
But the takeaway for me isn't that I hit those numbers. Instead, the scale — and most of all, the app that pairs with it — provided not only data but a sense of accountability and momentum. I think a regular scale, even one that had fat mass and muscle mass data, wouldn't have been as effective because they wouldn't come with the app features like trend reporting and reminders.
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Other Ways I Manage My Body Composition
Since I write about health and cover topics like fitness and nutrition, I'm well aware of everything I should be doing. But like many people, I can definitely feel when the gap widens between intent and action. I think setting up just a couple of good habits — even just having a little more water, for example — can create a ripple effect toward other changes that can help improve my body composition, like eating more vegetables, de-stressing regularly, and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. I plan on continuing to use the scale and the app as a way to keep my health front and center, even if the numbers stay the same from this point on.