Home Scale vs. Doctor Scale: Which Is More Accurate?

It's happened to all of us—that triumphant moment when you weigh yourself at home and see that the scale is finally reflecting all of your hard work. But then at a doctor's appointment a day or two later, you see that an extra five or 10 pounds have snuck into the "official" weigh-in, despite the fact that you haven't strayed from your healthy eating and exercise regimen. In addition to trumping your prior excitement, this unwelcome surprise goes on your permanent medical record, making it tougher to discount than the numbers on your bathroom scale. What gives?

Doctor Scale vs. Home Scale: Consistency is Key

It's not a foregone conclusion that the scale at your doctor's office is more accurate than your home scale. If it seems less forgiving, the likely reason lies in inconsistency from one weigh-in to the next, rather than in the equipment itself.
"If using a scale as your metric of loss or gain, the most important thing is to maintain consistency," says weight loss therapist Dr. Candice Seti. "That means using the same scale, at the same time of day, wearing the same type of clothing. There can be a lot of discrepancies from one weigh-in to the next, so measuring yourself on one scale midday and another in the evening could show a massive difference that’s not necessarily accurate."
Most people on weight-loss journeys have very specific routines for tracking their body mass. For instance, you might weigh yourself first thing every Wednesday morning before breakfast, wearing only your birthday suit. But at the doctor's office, you may not be able to shed every last stitch of clothing or postpone eating.
"Weighing yourself, without clothing, in the morning before you've eaten is likely to be more accurate than with clothes on at various times of day at the doctor's office," says Dr. Caroline Apovian, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at the Boston Medical Center.

Other Reasons for Weight Variations

It's normal for weight to fluctuate throughout the day for a variety of reasons, resulting in scale discrepancies. A higher reading during your checkup could be due to many factors outside your control. "Some weight fluctuations are to be expected from things like eating salty foods, monthly hormonal fluctuations, strength training and weight of clothing," says Dr. Apovian.
ICEDEMETER often sees her weight travel within an eight-pound range within a single day, which is why she relies less on daily scale sessions and more on the long-term trend over many weeks.
"This morning, I weighed 153.8 pounds, a whopping 6.4 pounds more than four weeks ago," she shared in a SparkPeople post. "If I only weighed [myself] once per month and didn't know the quirks of my own body, then I could very well go into a panic. But I know that I did a huge hike on Friday, then sat in the truck out in some farm fields all day Saturday and all day Sunday, it has been very hot and very humid, I have had to take a large number of antihistamines, and I let myself get a bit dehydrated on Sunday—all of which cause my body to retain fluid as well as cause some constipation, and so the scale reading is way up. [My weight] will be down again in another day or so as my body adjusts."

5 Tips for Ensuring Scale Accuracy

  1. Try before you buy. When shopping for a scale, Dr. Apovian suggests bringing along a hand weight or bag of rice to test its accuracy.
  2. Recalibrate as needed: "If you suspect your scale may not be accurate, recalibrate it and check it against a hand weight," Dr. Apovian recommends. Calibration is the process of resetting the scale to the correct zero weight. Read the manufacturer's instructions thoroughly before recalibrating.
  3. Place it on a hard, level surface. Weighing yourself on softer flooring, such as carpet, vinyl or linoleum, can compromise the reading. Ideally, it's best to place your scale on a hard surface like concrete, hardwood or ceramic tile.
  4. Stand still and centered. During weigh-ins, stand in the center of the scale and keep both feet flat. Avoid shifting your weight from one foot to the other.
  5. Compare scales. If you're skeptical about your home scale's reading, try stepping on a scale at the gym or a friend's house at the same time and under the same conditions, then compare the results.
Above all, don't let the home vs. doctor dilemma take up too much of your mental energy. Remember, as SparkPeople Community Leader SLIMMERKIWI points out, weight is only one small gauge of success. "Others include the quality of your sleep, condition of your skin and hair, how your clothes fit, energy levels, fitness levels and blood pressure results if they were problematic to start with," she says.
If you have a love-hate-but-mostly-hate relationship with the scale, consider some new ways to gauge your progress, such as taking measurements, monitoring your overall health and paying attention to how your clothes fit. It's great to have a goal weight on the horizon, but it's equally important to learn to embrace every number along the way.