Weight. We all know that weight is just a number… that in addition to not telling us anything about a person’s worth or talents or soul or beauty or likelihood of landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, it also doesn’t tell us all that much about their health.
But I’ve been writing for a while about thinking about trying (notice how this sentence is worded…) to lose a little weight because doing so is likely to help me race faster — less weight to haul around, less energy needed. Of course I don’t want to lose my muscle in the process; I’d want the weight to come from fat. I’ve posed some ideas about how to execute this “plan,” but it’s all been sort of esoteric, with no concrete goals and, more importantly, no data. Until now! (I know this is exactly how I intro’d my last post; this is my new set-up for all my blogs. JK.)
This morning, I had my first DEXA body scan at Composition ID!
What is Composition ID and what is a DEXA scan?
Composition ID is a company founded in 2014 in DC by Tiffany Harlan. The office is currently at the MINT Gym in Dupont Circle/Adams Morgan but they are going to be moving to a standalone office in Shaw in the next few months. Oh, and there’s a scanvan. Apart from body composition measurement, Composition ID also offers other physical analyses like VO2 Max and resting metabolic rate (RMR) testing.
Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA or DXA) uses a low-dose x-ray to measure fat mass, lean mass, and bone mineral content within the body. It is the most accurate method available for measuring body fat, and unlike other methods, it provides regional analysis of your body showing how much lean mass and fat mass your arms, legs, trunk, android, and gynoid regions have.
The measurement takes about six minutes. You just lie on a comfy mat while the scanner goes down your (fully clothed) body. The process is easy and completely painless. After the scan, Tiffany walks through the results and answers questions.
What is the cost of a DEXA scan to determine body fat percentage?
I assume that pricing and promotions are subject to change, but right now a single DEXA scan is $129. There are several package options that make determining your body fat percentage less expensive on a per-scan basis. I opted for the 30-day challenge option, which is two scans in a 30-day period for $159 (basically $80/scan). As a bonus, if you lose two percent total body fat percentage, you’ll get 50 percent off your third scan! Talk about motivation!
OK, so was it cool?
UM YES. SO COOL. And you get pages and pages of data and images to check out. I’ll just go through a few fun charts.
First, the basics. The machine measures your total weight (mine’s higher than normal right now, but I’m blaming the carb-loading). Then it divides that weight based on the source: fat, lean weight (water, organs, muscles), and bone mineral content (BMC). It also reports what percentage of your tissue (that’s fat plus lean weight) is fat. Mine is 30.1 percent of my tissue (excludes bones), or 28.9 percent of my total mass. According to the American Council on Exercise, I am in the “average” range but, needless to say, there is room for improvement.
The Composition ID results go deeper than the total percentages, looking at the makeup of specific regions of your body. As we’ve often heard, junk in the trunk (gynoid) isn’t as big of a deal than junk in the mid-section (android). Tiffany told me that a ratio below 1:1 is good, while a ratio above 1:1 can signal some health risks.
There is also data on the limbs and comparisons of the left and right sides. Here’s just one of the charts showing this more specific data.
This is all really interesting but I think will be even MORE interesting to workout and eat for a month with the goal of reducing my body fat percentage and then to see if I have made any progress. (Of course I’ll post an update after.) Ideally, I’d like to lose 2 percent total body fat by my next check in, and I’d love to eventually get down to that “fitness” range. Tiffany advised that people see the best results from cleaning up their diets, rather that working out a ton more, and that is consistent with my own experience and a lot of articles I’ve read. Here are my next steps:
- Have a “clean” recovery after the Asheville Marathon. This doesn’t mean that I won’t enjoy some treats after my race. But often after a marathon I eat things for silly reasons — I feel like I deserve them, or I feel like I should be eating everything even if I’m not hungry. This time, I’m going to try to follow my body’s lead. Of course I’ll have some food at the race finish, but I’m not going to mindlessly shove food into my face. Sometimes I eat way too much the day of the race –when I’m really not that hungry — but my body is really asking for nutrients the day after. I’m going to try to anticipate this better.
- Avoid the evening binge. Y’all know what I’m talking about. Eat dinner. Be done.
- Lift heavy weights. This will be in tandem with the feedback I got from the UVA Speed Clinic about strengthening my core and glutes for better running form. More lean tissue = lower body fat percentage + more calorie burning in a static state. I’m aiming to do this at least twice per week for the next four weeks.
- Orangetheory. The solution for everything. Especially now that it is nicer out and I have no excuses for staying in bed in the morning, I am going to aim for three times per week for the next four weeks.
- Keeping on the no-to-low booze bandwagon. I just don’t really need it. I will have a few sips of Vinebox here and there.
- Drink more water. Enough said.
- Indulge in Sweetgreen, sleep, decaf coffee, walks outside, the company of good friends, playtime with the dog, foam rolling. These treats > sweets.
- Less oil. No Meat Athlete is one of my favorite blogs and podcasts. It’s founder Matt Frazier has been on a big no-oil kick, and although I’m not about to join him, I will consider reducing my oil intake. Naturally occurring oil in whole foods like nuts is fine — it comes with important protein and other nutrients. But plain oil doesn’t have a ton going for it, health-wise. This seems like a good place to swap out less-valuable calories for muscle-supporting ones.
Has anyone else ever had their body composition measured using DEXA or another method? What do you think? Any tips for reducing body fat while maintaining muscle?
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