Getting the Real Stats on Fat (& Muscle & Bone) with a DEXA Scan
When it comes to getting fit, as the saying goes, “What gets measured, gets managed.” So if you want to manage to burn that fat covering your six pack, you better measure it. And a scale won’t cut it—mostly because it doesn’t differentiate between muscle and fat. In fact, I’ve got a new saying for you: “If you’re on a scale, you’re gonna fail.”
But if scales are use-less, what is use-full?
A DEXA scan.
What’s A DEXA Scan?
A DEXA scan an x-ray-like scan of your body that accurately measures how much of your body weight is made up of fat, muscle, and bone. Not only that, but it breaks this data down by body part so you can get into the real nitty gritty of finding what to work on to and tracking progress.
To give you a better look at what DEXA scans are all about, here’s a literal inside look at Kim and me (i.e. our DEXA scan results from this week.)
After a summer of throwing rocks, underwater training, fasting, and more, Kim and I were curious to know if it was actually having a physical effect on our bodies. It was time to pay a visit to Peter from Bodycomp Imaging and get our Dexa Scans.
We’d gone in a couple years ago and were curious to see what had changed. In particular, Kim had been complaining I was “wasting away” ever since I started eating only one meal a day. And, as for herself, she was worried she was getting fat because the dastardly scale was telling her she’d gained about eight pounds.
The DEXA scans would put those doubts to rest.
Kim’s DEXA Scan
Heavier = Fatter or Fitter?
Kim was relieved to discover that most of her weight gain was lean muscle, not fat. Her overall body fat percentage was only very slightly higher than before (from 22.9% to 23.3%, which is in the lower 2% of her age group). Nothing to worry about at all.
Some Bones to Pick
The only slight concern (and it’s very slight) came from Kim’s bone density. While it had increased since her last scan thanks to incorporating weight training into her routine, it was still low enough to possibly put her higher risk of fractures as she aged.
Kim’s Next Steps
Based on her DEXA scan results, Kim set two goals.
- Tone her legs. While her body fat levels are very healthy, her legs are disproportionally the fattest part of her body. She hopes to improve on that by adding more plyometric leg exercises to her routine.
- Continue to improve bone density. By continuing to do weight bearing exercises, her bone density will continue to rise. Also, helping her cause will be a whole lot of sunshine-derived vitamin D from our upcoming three week trip to Kenya and indefinite move to South America.
Chris’ DEXA Scan
No Sugar and No Breakfast or Lunch = No Muscle?
At the time of my last DEXA scan, I was fiendishly eating many meals and snacks a day and had a huge sweet tooth. Since then, I had cut down significantly, mostly eating only once a day and only letting my sweet tooth out of its cage once a week. What effects did these changes have on my body?
The biggest change was that I’d lost 3.3 pounds of lean mass in my stomach. This, Peter and I suspected, is not muscle loss but simply less stuff in my stomach—less food in my stomach and less energy in my liver (in the form of glycogen), which the DEXA scan counts as lean mass.
On the bright side, my belly fat (which was already low in the first place) did go down 10%.
An Infrequently Big (Enough?) Eater
Even Peter seemed surprised that I hadn’t lost more muscle from eating only once per day. Based on the DEXA scan results and my active lifestyle, I’d have to eat over 3,000 calories a day to maintain my muscle mass. That’s a lot of calories to devour in one meal!
Chris’ Next Steps
- Measure my meals. I’m curious to see if I truly am eating 3,000+ calories in my daily meal and whether I’m getting the right balance of macronutrients. While my one-meal-a-day routine hasn’t affected my body composition, maybe I can identify potential macronutrient changes I can make that might help me get stronger instead of simply stay the same.
- Strengthen my left leg. Due to a slight left knee injury I suffered over a year ago, my right leg has become disproportionally bigger than my left. I’m going to consciously work towards correcting that.
What Might Your DEXA Scan Reveal?
No matter what your fitness level or goals may be, consider getting a DEXA scan. From our experience, seeing the data has been an awesome way to identify specific focus areas and motive us to improve on them.
This is especially true if you’re planning a life change—be it a different diet, fitness routine, or environment. Get a DEXA scan before and after to measure the true impact.
And if you’re in the Vancouver area, we can’t recommend Bodycomp Imaging more highly. Peter, the owner, is a super energetic, friendly, and knowledgable guy. Not only will you get your scan, but he’ll dive into the data with you and give you a in-depth consultation on what steps to take to achieve your goals. He’s very popular, with a two week wait list, so book early.
Meanwhile, get rid of that useless scale of yours.