I never thought the $99.95 Withings Body Smart would become the most contentious device in my home. In retrospect, perhaps I should have. Everybody in my life has an opinion about this scale and whether it even belongs in my bathroom. The irony is, most days, it doesn’t tell me how much I weigh.
That’s by design. What drew me to the Body Smart is its Eyes-Closed Mode, which hides any number or graph from your sight. In its place, you get smiley faces, happy animations, and if you so choose, the weather and local air quality index. All your metrics — including body composition — are still recorded in the Withings app, but you can choose if and when you look at them.
It seems counterintuitive. Scales, smart or otherwise, have one job: to tell you how much something weighs. But like many people, I have a fraught relationship with my bathroom scale. Before this review, I was ready to toss my $45 Eufy smart scale because I never used it. But then my doctor suggested I lose five pounds of body fat, and I was curious to see whether Eyes-Closed Mode would make the process more tolerable.
So that’s what I’ve been up to these past three months — and whatever I expected to happen or however I thought I’d feel, it wasn’t this.
Like half of the global population, I, too, have struggled with my weight. I put on 50 pounds in 2015 despite no changes to my diet or activity levels. For two years, no diet or exercise regimen made a difference. Finally, I got diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which can cause weight gain while also making it harder to lose weight. Armed with a diagnosis and treatment plan, I’ve been busting my butt ever since to “get back to normal.” (Funny story, this is how I got started testing fitness trackers and smartwatches.) By 2021, I’d managed to lose 42 pounds — before putting back on 15 pounds last year after my mom died.
A crotchety doctor and review opportunity is as good a reason as any to get back on track. But before embarking, my doctor was very specific about losing five pounds of fat, not necessarily weight. If I could turn it into muscle, even better. Body recomposition — or turning fat into muscle — is no cakewalk, especially if you have a hormonal disorder. Considering the cards are stacked against me, a smart scale and its fancy bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) theoretically ought to help someone like me keep better track of whether a particular plan is having the intended effect.
Functionally, there’s little difference between the majority of smart scales on the market. They all tell you how much you weigh, estimate your body composition, and digitally record your data within an app. So I couldn’t help but chuckle when I unboxed the Body Smart. It looked nearly identical to my Eufy scale. So much so, my spouse was unaware I’d swapped it out until they first stepped on the scale about a week after setup.
That said, there are differences in the algorithms they use, build quality, companion app, and the metrics tracked. The extra $55 for the Body Smart got me four weight sensors instead of two, heart rate measurements, daily weather and air quality index readings, Wi-Fi compatibility, and a snazzier color LCD screen. The only spec where the Eufy beats out the Body Smart is that it can detect up to 16 different people compared to the Body Smart’s eight. Battery-wise, the Body Smart runs on four AAA batteries, and I still have 80 percent left after three months of regular use.
Oh, and the Body Smart has an optional Withings Plus subscription for $9.95 a month or $99.95 annually. That gets you coaching, video workouts, and recipes, but it’s not at all necessary to view your metrics.
For this experiment, I figured I should try using the Body Smart without Eyes-Closed Mode to see how it felt to use the device normally. That means each time I stepped on the scale, I saw my numerical weight and graphs indicating trends or whether I was in the healthy range for body fat, muscle, water, and bone density percentages. I also tested the Body Smart against other consumer BIA devices: my Eufy scale, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro’s BIA feature, and Tempo’s new body scan feature. (The latter works similarly to Amazon’s method for its defunct Halo trackers by rendering a 3D scan of your body.)
As far as accuracy, both scales were within one- or two-tenths of a pound. My bone mass, visceral fat (the “bad” kind of fat), and water percentages were also within a few percentage points of each other. Where I really saw a huge difference was in my muscle and body fat mass — the exact thing I was trying to measure! On average, Eufy said my body fat percentage was about 40–42 percent while my muscle mass was 55–56 percent. Conversely, Withings said my body fat percentage ranged between 32 and 34 percent, while my muscle mass was between 65 and 67 percent. The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro (and later, the Watch 6) said I was between 38–43 percent body fat, while the Tempo said I was 30–31 percent body fat.
That’s a pretty wide range! Especially since Withings reports my average weight has remained stable within a three-pound window. All my testing was done under the same circumstances to minimize inaccuracies, but as I mention in the sidebar, BIA isn’t an especially accurate or reliable form of body composition analysis. What’s more important was that Withings delivered consistent results time after time.
But even with all this context, viewing these numbers and graphs did a whammy on my confidence and mental health. So after using the Body Smart normally for two weeks, I was very ready to dive into Eyes-Closed Mode.
A smart scale that records but doesn’t show you your weight isn’t new. It was a feature on the QardioBase 2, which I tested a few years ago. But I’m not the same person I was then. Now feels about the right time to note that before my PCOS journey, I struggled with lifelong disordered eating and body dysmorphia. When I reviewed the QardioBase 2, I was in the thick of disordered eating habits, so its version of Eyes-Closed Mode didn’t help a lick. I’ve made a lot of progress since then, but I’m still wary of scales as a whole — even though I know it could be a helpful tool for my ultimate goals. So ostensibly, Withings’ Eyes-Closed Mode is a feature that ought to suit someone like me. I wanted to take this as an opportunity to not only gauge my physical progress but also my mental progress.
It did not go how I expected, but I learned a lot.
With Eyes-Closed Mode on, you never see a single graph or numerical value related to your body. It’s a smiley face, a happy animation (stars, balloons, etc.), the weather forecast, and the AQI of your neighborhood. At first, I had the urge to whip out the Withings app to see my score. Over time, I was able to forget about it for days — knowing that the data was recorded for a time when I could evaluate it with the right mindset.
Immediately, I noticed how much quieter my brain was without endless pep talks about why a plateau or my weight fluctuating wasn’t an automatic sign of failure. I was able to focus on the weather forecast. It sounds stupid, but I came to enjoy it. It distracted me enough that I could plan my run or what outfit I’d wear that day. Fun things. Once New York City became engulfed in wildfire smoke, I gained an appreciation for the AQI readout. I now know that, most days, New York City hovers between low and moderate air quality.
It’s also a much faster experience. When I had all the graphs enabled, waiting for each one to pop up felt like a chore. It encouraged me to dwell on the metrics longer. With this, you’re only absorbing three data points — and most of them don’t have to do with you.
But you have to face the music eventually, and that’s where Eyes-Closed Mode became frustrating.
On the one hand, the Withings app tries to paint a more holistic picture of your health and fitness. It focuses on your trends rather than individual data points. If you measure yourself multiple times, it presents the average for that day. There’s a ton of educational material to read to give context. It can be annoying if you’re looking for a full history of measurements, but honestly, that might be a good thing because you focus on the big picture. It also uses gentler colors when depicting unhealthy and healthy ranges for your metrics. Again, this might sound silly, but many health apps depict unhealthy zones in bright red, and it feels awful.
The Withings app tries to paint a more holistic picture of your health and fitness
However, if you enable integrations, you may unintentionally end up seeing your weight in other health and fitness apps. For example, I tested Lumen and a few other health gadgets at the same time. Most will ask you to input your demographic data (age, height, weight, sex, etc.) at setup. Several asked me to regularly confirm my weight or would just automatically pull in the data. You can disable the latter in permissions, but I’m human. I forgot and was treated to some unpleasant surprises. But my point is you can’t really escape your weight since so many algorithms use it to give you health insights.
Essentially, this feature helped when I was on the scale, but it didn’t stop intrusive thoughts from creeping in later. That was humbling. Though I’ve made a lot of progress in healing my relationship with body image and weight, I still felt the occasional urge to obsess over the numbers. I didn’t let it get to a dangerous point, but it’s sobering to realize an earlier version of myself probably would’ve spiraled. I’m still processing the impact that this experience has had on my mental health and probably will be for a while. But right now, I wouldn’t say it was wholly negative. Technically, I succeeded in losing 0.5 percent body fat and gaining 0.5 percent muscle. It just wasn’t the panacea I’d been hoping for.
A step in the right direction
I relayed this whole experience to a friend of mine. She’s an avid practitioner of Olympic weightlifting who has also struggled with disordered eating. I asked what she thought about this feature and whether she’d ever consider using it to track her gains. We had a long and frank discussion about the role body fat and weight play in fitness culture, society’s obsession with thinness, and the struggle of wanting to measure progress but not at the expense of mental health.
In other words, her answer was an emphatic no.
I surveyed roughly 10 other friends and family about the Body Smart, its Eyes-Closed feature, and smart scales in general. While this is not representative of the general population, I figured I’d get at least one positive response. Some were curious like me, others were dismissive, but none were enthusiastic. All were at least a little wary. It broke my heart when my perfectly healthy 9-year-old cousin overheard one conversation and asked if a smart scale would help her lose weight.
I wanted to review this product from this particular perspective because nothing about how I felt is unique. Sixty-two percent of female athletes and 33 percent of male athletes struggle with disordered eating. A 2023 meta-analysis found that, globally, 22 percent of children have disordered eating. A University of North Carolina survey found that 75 percent of US women have disordered eating or symptoms consistent with eating disorders.
The statistics indicate that everyone knows of at least one person who is or has struggled with disordered eating. And yet, tech companies often treat this as an afterthought when designing fitness tracking features. I frequently ask companies whether they consider people with disordered eating or eating disorders when designing their products. They generally tell me yes, but in my lived experience, the onus is on consumers to “make the best choice for themselves.” To that, I say the Body Smart is an example of providing an alternative way to engage with data. The Aura Strap 2 was another gadget that added valuable context to body composition. Neither was perfect, but both prove that it’s possible for companies to do better.
I can only speak to my experience, but I don’t blame the Body Smart for the complicated feelings it stirred up. This is a well-made, accessible product. I fully believe that, if used correctly, it could be a useful health-tracking tool. I’m impressed that Withings’ app design acknowledges people like me exist. That it puts in the effort to contextualize your data. If you’re looking for a smart scale, this one hits a good balance of cost, features, and thoughtfulness.
Out of curiosity, I reverted to the scale’s normal mode this past week. It was a bad time, and I’ve switched back to Eyes-Closed Mode. I can’t avoid my numbers forever, and I don’t intend to — but I am grateful that I can take a break.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge