Data is very important to my diet plan.
Of course, data-tracking and bio-hacking is second nature to many people with diabetes. We are constantly inundated with numbers—blood sugar readings, A1C, insulin dosages, carbohydrate ratios—and the better we understand all of these numbers, the better our management of the condition gets.
We’ve been thinking a lot about weight in particular at ASweetLife lately. The connection between obesity and Type 2 diabetes is acknowledged by all, and weight management is also a swiftly growing problem in the Type 1 community, contributing to insulin resistance and diabetes complications even despite tight blood sugar control. Weight, fat % and body composition are all well worth paying attention to.
As far as I’m concerned, anything that will help optimize my insulin sensitivity is probably worth doing, and that’s why I’ve lately set myself some new weight loss goals. And so I was very excited to receive a new Withings Body+ smart scale.
The Body+ is both Bluetooth and (unlike many of its competitors) Wi-Fi enabled, which allows it to sync up with the Withings “Health Mate” smartphone app whether or not your phone is nearby. I step onto the scale and it instantly beams my weight to the app, where I can easily access all of my prior weigh-ins, nicely organized in attractive graphs. That’s just the start of the features, but for me, it’s all I needed to love the product:
This is an extraordinary improvement over my embarrassing old method, laboriously entering weights in a Google Drive spreadsheet:
It’s a miracle I stuck with that for more than a few days. But every successful diet I’ve gone on has been built on a foundation of consistent weight measurement and tracking. Many dieters have probably already heard the advice to not step onto the scale every single day. The argument is that the unpredictable daily weight fluctuations are simply too discouraging, and that instead you should weigh yourself only once or twice a week. This has never made sense to me: I always want more data and feedback, not less. I step on my scale every day.
The Body+ goes beyond mere weight, of course. It measures your whole body composition: fat, muscle, water and bone percentages. How accurate is it? The literature even claims that the scale can compensate for slight variations in the earth’s gravitational pull depending on your location!
The scale displays a ton of information every time you step onto it. After showing you your weight, it will show you your fat, water, bone and muscle masses, and even a weather report via the Wi-Fi connection. At first I was amused by this last feature, and my family even teased me about it: “Dad, how cold will it be today? Go step on the scale!” But I was surprised by how much I appreciated this feature. Who wouldn’t want the forecast right before getting dressed in the morning? It probably got me onto the scale a few times that I might have otherwise forgotten.
My favorite display is the trend line that shows up immediately after your weight does. It shows both the difference from the last reading and a simple line graph of the last seven or eight weigh-ins. This puts the last day’s (potentially flukey) weight change into the perspective of your larger weight loss trend. Gaining 1.2 pounds today isn’t so distressing if you can see an otherwise downward sloping curve over the past week.
The scale’s fat measurement works like others in its class—it sends an electric current up one leg and measures it when it returns down the other. The amount of fat in your body changes the speed with which the signal travels.
One quirk of this technique is that the scale is mostly looking at fat in your lower body, which of course may be dissimilar to the fat percentage in your top half. I tend to carry excess weight around the middle – exactly where it shouldn’t be – and have leaner legs. Perhaps this is related to my favorite form of exercise, hiking with a backpack full of cheese. Regardless, this may account for the fact that my fat percentage readings were lower than I expected them to be after comparing myself with a simple visual guide.
Is a body fat scale a reliable way to measure body fat? Opinions differ, but ultimately accuracy is less important than precision. The Body+ was precise. My fat percentage measurements were self-consistent and the reported changes were plausible, and I feel satisfied that it was reliably measuring real fat losses and gains. Ideally I would have used corroborating evidence of some type—calipers or even a dunk tank—but I can report that my results were happily free of the randomness that seems to plague many other body fat scales. (A friend of mine recently bought a competing scale, and the body fat readings were so obviously ridiculous that he immediately stopped using the feature.) I’m confident in using the scale as a way to evaluate the effectiveness of my diet and changes in my body composition.
The Body+ also use bio-impedance to measure the muscle, bone and water in your body. Bone mass isn’t likely to change, although the app does caution users to pay attention to long-term trends in bone mass. Water mass can potentially help explain minor weight fluctuations. Muscle mass is perhaps the most relevant metric for people with diabetes, as it is known that strength training improves insulin sensitivity.
I spent most of the month on the trendy OMAD diet, which resulted in fairly significant calorie restriction despite a basically gluttonous menu (I enjoyed my experience, and may write about this diet in greater detail in the future). I also hit the gym a couple times a week, usually a 2-3 mile jog followed by simple barbell weightlifting, nothing too intense, with extra sessions of walking and hiking as often as possible.
Here are the results: I lost 4.8 pounds in the month of December. My body fat % declined 1.1%, and my muscle mass increased 1%. Sharp-eyed readers will note that my weight was at its lowest immediately before Christmas when, yes, I halted the diet and enjoyed some traditional overindulgence to finish off the year. What weight I did lose was undoubtedly mostly due to caloric restriction. Diet is far more important than exercise for weight loss, after all.
For those tracking their diet and/or exercise, the Health Mate app also partners with many other popular programs (MyFitnessPal, Weight Watchers, etc.) in an effort to serve as a hub for all of your health information.
For me, the ease of having all of my data at my fingertips with essentially no effort made the Withings Body+ scale an easy winner. Knowing that I’ll weigh myself tomorrow is a persistent encouragement to make better eating and exercise choices today, and ignoring the gentle accountability of a morning weigh-in can be an awfully slippery slope.
Some claim that “obsessively weighing, or checking body fat, every day will likely make someone miserable.” My experience is the opposite. Just like with my blood sugar readings, the more information I have, the more confident and in control I feel.
*Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.
The author received a Withings smart scale for review. Opinions are his own.