Review: Embarrass yourself thin with the Withings Body Scale
These days it seems there are only two things that will motivate Americans to lose weight – Money, and Embarrassment. Money (as in a reality TV show) or Embarrassment (like wanting to look good at a wedding or class reunion for people you haven’t seen in 20 years). Well, I’m happy to say I am not quite fat enough for someone to actually pay to watch me lose weight, so I decided to try the embarrassment thing. Unfortunately, being a geek with no friends, I had no upcoming social engagements or planned run-ins with high-school nemesis’ to motivate me, but what I DID have is nearly 1000 nameless Twitter followers who I figured I could count on to make fun of me if I didn’t lose weight. And that’s where Withings’ new WiFi/Twitter enabled Body Fat Scale comes in. After all, what could be more motivational than knowing that my current weight was about to be broadcast to the entire interweb?!
The Withings scale comes in a very Apple-like packaging – in fact I was tempted to use it to send out fake iTablet unboxing pictures back when I first got it (this was pre-iPad of course).
On the surface the Withings scale is simply a nice looking digital scale, but it has a couple cool things that set it apart from the competition. First, it uses Bioelectric Impedance Analysis (BIA) to calculate your Body Mass (both fat and lean mass). Basically it sends an electric current through your body (via your bare feet) to somehow get a rough idea (and by rough, I mean rough) of you current BMI. In my tests, my body fat numbers would vary wildly from day to day (sometimes as much as 3 pounds either way), but over the course of a couple weeks you could see a definite downward trend.
The Withings comes with 4 feet pads, a USB cable (for initial setup) and yes, batteries are included.
But the second, and more importantly, GEEKIER feature of the Withings scale is that it uploads your weight and body mass readings to the Withings website. There it keeps track of each weigh-in for you, plots out various graphs showing your progress (or lack there of), and allows you to share that information with others in a variety of ways. It really is amazing how seeing a graph of your current weight loss can really inspire you to keep at it (assuming you are seeing something other than a flat line or, heaven forbid, and UPward trend…)
The Withings site lets you graph your progress in various areas, as well as set up new users, and control privacy settings.
The Withings site is laid out very intuitively, and it offers some pretty nice features as well. First, you can set your goals, both for end weight, and fat/lean mass. So for instance, I initially weighed in at 201.8 pounds, which is not awesome, but not horrible for a 6′ 3″ male either. But I decided I wanted to be 185 for the purposes of testing the scale, so I entered that in as my goal weight. While the 201.8 lbs may not have been so bad, the scale ALSO told me I had a BMI of 25.4, with 35.1 lbs of fat. The scale shows you an approximate range of where you should be for your height and age, and I was just to the far side of the range, so I set a separate body fat goal of 22 lbs, somewhere in the middle of the range. Since it was still about 28 degrees outside and snowing when the scale arrived, my initial plan was to do a strict Atkins’-esque meat-only diet to shed some quick pounds, and then add in exercise once the weather warmed up. I figured the body fat goal might be a good motivator as the dieting eventually tapered off and I began exercising more and hopefully some of my weight turned from fat to muscle. Well, that was the plan, anyway.
Setting goals is easy, just drag the sliders around
When you first unbox your Withings scale, you’ll need to get it on your home’s wireless network, which was pretty simple. I had a little trouble initially connecting to my Airport Extreme base station, but I was able to get it onto my Verizon FiOS router no problem (I had a similar problem with my Epson printer, so something must be set up wrong on my Airport). But once logged on, you can create an account on the Withings website, and attach your scale to the account. Next you create your user profile (enter you age, height, and what you think you weigh, for starters) and then do your initial weigh in. The scale should show you the nickname you created online, and then take your first reading and upload it. Two things to remember here are: Always take your future weigh-ins naked and at the same time of day (to help give a more accurate graph as your weight flucuates throughout the day) and do not do your weigh-ins AFTER a shower, as the extra water on you may throw off some of the body mass calculations.
Aside from a kg/Lbs swithc on the bottom, there are no controls on the Withings Body Scale
The scale supports keeping track of up to 8 different user profiles, although the setup instructions are a little fuzzy on the creation of additional accounts. Basically you create the users on the website first, then have the people weigh in. If their weight is close to that of another person using the scale (for example, you weigh 150 lbs, and someone else weighs 170 lbs) the scale will display both names, one on the left, one on the right, and you need to lean towards the one that is you. Once set up, the scale seems to somehow be able to keep track of who’s who though, which is nice. Another nice feature of the website is that you can give each user different permissions, so if for example your wife doesn’t want you seeing how much she weighs, you can set up her profile to be private, with her own username and password, and you would not have access to her data. Each user has different privacy/sharing settings that can be changed as well (more on that in the “Embarrassment” section).
But one of the coolest features of the Withings scale, and the reason I am even writing about it in the first place, is that it comes with a free iPhone/iPod touch application you can download which puts all of your fitness data in the palm of your hand. Once set up, you do not really need to access the Withings website at all. After each weighing, the scale uploads your data to the Withings servers, and then the app receives a push notification of a new weight weigh in, displayed with a numerical red badge, like an SMS message does. When held vertically, the app lets you scroll through your past weigh-ins and check your stats, and when turned sideways the app displays a graph of your various statistics over time. You navigate with pinch/zoom controls, and you can scroll along as well. Tap a measurement to get more data on it. You can also delete any weigh-ins that you’d like, either to smooth out the graph or if you just had a really bad weekend (I know the Super Bowl sort of threw me off by about 3 pounds for a couple of days). Personally I found the ability to have the graph easily accessible was actually a great motivator, and would sometimes provide me with the extra bit of will power to not eat 6 Hershey bars that day. Even just seeing the little red badge on the icon on my home screen a couple times a day reminded me I was trying to be good.
You don’t HAVE to share your weight on Twitter, but I figure if you’re looking for motivation, go all out.
While all this technology is awesome, what REALLY sets the Withings scale apart from other scales is the ability (for those brave enough) to set the scale to broadcast your weight-loss progress to your friends and family via Twitter – either daily, weekly, or after each weigh-in. There is currently no Facebook integration, but if Facebook is more your scene, you can still post your weight to Facebook by setting up a Twitter account and linking it so your Tweets are sent to Facebook as status updates. This is completely optional, but for a tech geek like me, I think it’s brilliant. You can personalize the message that is sent out somewhat, but the resulting message will always post your current weight and how many pounds you have left to reach your goal. I like to think of this as the new-age way to get the embarrassment motivation of weekly Weight Watchers meetings, but perhaps even more so, as I think those weigh-ins are only between you and the director, where here, EVERYONE you know will know how much you weigh. Obviously for some of you the thought will be terrifying, but that is exactly the point (and hey, you don’t HAVE to post your weight, it’s just there as an optional motivator).
In addition to Twitter, you can also link the Withing’s data to your Google Health or Microsoft HealthVault accounts, or simply make the information available to the web in general.
iPhone app in vertical view
I must say I am thrilled with the Withings scale, but there are a couple minor issues I feel I should mention. First, the Withings scale, which is apparently more accurate than my old dial model, added 6 pounds to what I THOUGHT I weighed, so that sucked.
I actually knew my old scale wasn’t entirely accurate from comparing it to various doctor visits over the years, but still, to start out a weight loss routine thinking you weigh 195 and then find you’re starting out over 201 pounds was setting me back before I started.
But OK, being accurate is not really an minus. But one thing I DID notice in accuracy was that the scale seemed to take weigh-in readings almost TOO quickly. Sometimes the weight on the display would be fluctuating by as much as a pound and then suddenly the scale would lock on, and upload the data. If I got off the scale, and then stepped back on again, this time steadying myself more quickly, I would usually get a different reading by sometimes as much as a pound. I eventually became quite good at quickly balancing my weight between feet, but it still seems fast. Most experts will tell you not to weigh yourself every day, and these fluctuations are probably one of the reasons, but I feel that if the scale would wait 2 more seconds before setting its reading in stone, it might be more consistent.
iPhone app in horizontal view. As you can see, while the body fat graph (yellow) flucuates wildly on a daily basis, over time a downward trend can be seen. Thank God.
Something a bit more serious to keep in mind is that due to the way the Withings Scale takes its readings (Bioelectric Impedance Analysis) those people with pacemakers should NOT use the scale. Also, as nice-looking as the scale is, it is really hard to keep looking clean. I’ve never had a scale I needed to Windex before, but its glass-like surface certainly shows water drops or tooth paste spit more than my old scale, so unless you have a large bathroom with a special out-of-the-way place for the scale, you are going to be careful, and I recommend keeping it away from the toilet and frat house bathrooms in general.
Now, aside from those minor issues, the only really question is whether or not you are brave enough to use the social embarrassment features of the Withings. I really can’t think of too many women I know who would actually be willing to broadcast their weight. I suppose if you were some really hot chick who weighed 105 pounds and wanted to BRAG to your friends it could be useful, but even reasonably fit women tend to be pretty self-conscious about letting people know their weight. I suppose it all depends what point you are at in your weight loss battle, and how desperate you are for motivation. I personally expected it to be a big motivator, but quite frankly I was a little disappointed at the reaction I got from the Twitter world. Based on running a website, I knew my readers are for the most part super critical, sarcastic assholes (like me) and I expected a TON of crude remarks after each automated tweet. Instead what few reactions I got were of the supportive, nurturing kind, and who wants that? I eventually had to change my message to add the line “Call me a fat-ass or something! I need the motivation!” to get some people to bash me.
The Withings Body Scale is the tech geek’s best friend in the war on flab. While I initially thought that setting the scale to automatically post my weight to Twitter would be the motivating force in my weight loss, as I went along I found that simply weighing myself daily, looking at the online graphs, and using the iPhone app to check in every once in a while were really all the motivation I needed. Quite frankly stepping on that scale, and then knowing that within a few seconds my iPhone was going to have a new entry in its graph was so geeky it actually made weighing myself fun, and something to look forward to. As of writing this article, I am down about 12 pounds – 3 stubborn pounds shy of my goal – but now that the weather has finally started to warm up, hopefully those last few pounds will met away with the snow.
At $159 the Withings is certainly not the cheapest digital scale you can buy, but if you are serious about tracking your weight loss, or even just monitoring your health and looking for an easy way to post your weight and body mass stats to various online health sites such as Google Health, the Withings Body Scale is an excellent tool for the tech savvy health nut.
Pros: Relatively easy to set up, can monitor up to 8 people’s weight, automatically uploads data to the Withings website where you can chart progress and set goals, free iPhone app lets you monitor your weight loss and find inspiration while away from the computer, optional ability to post your weight to Twitter to help your friends motivate you, is just plain geeky fun to use!
Cons: Hard to keep clean, not recommended for people with pacemakers, takes the reading a bit too fast, I’m not sure how many people will actually use the “social embarrassment” aspects of the device