Twenty-eight days ago, I did my first DEXA scan with Composition ID, a body fat composition testing company here in DC. Since then, I’ve made a few tweaks with the aim of reducing my body fat percentage and lowering my total weight, outcomes that I am hopeful will improve my marathon times. Today, I went in for my second scan… Just like the first time, it was super easy and painless, and Tiffany even provided all my results in a nice email attachment. But anyway, the results… drum-roll please…
At my March 10 scan, my weight was 148.6 lbs, and my tissue fat percentage (the percentage of total tissue, not total weight, that is fat) was 30.1.
At my April 7 scan (that was today), my weight was 146.4 lbs, and my tissue fat percentage was… 30.2. Total body fat percentage remained steady at 28.9, and bone mineral content didn’t change: it’s still 6.1 lbs.
Hmm… so let’s break that down.
The good: I lost 2.2 lbs! I think my weight at the first scan was a little inflated because it was right before the Asheville Marathon, so I’d been fueling up a bit more than usual. I usually do weigh closer to 144-146, so I’m very glad to be back in that range.
Of those 2.2 lbs, I lost 0.6 lbs. of fat. Yay! All of that fat loss was in my trunk and android regions, so basically, my mid-section. Great! My android fat percentage decreased from 28.1 to 26.7, and my andriod-to-gynoid ratio, which compares hip/butt fat to stomach fat decreased to 0.71. Adios, spare tire. My gynoid (hip/butt) fat percentage was basically the same as my first scan.
But wait, you might be saying… my tissue fat percentage went up by 0.1! That’s because in addition to losing 0.6 lbs of fat, I also lost 1.6 lbs. of lean tissue weight (which includes muscle, glycogen, water, organs — basically everything except fat and bone). That weight loss was spread between my arms , trunk , and legs. Losing muscle in my legs and core is not ideal for improving my running time, and that’s the exact reason why weight loss doesn’t tell you the full story. (But I should note that it’s possible that I had more water in my body during my first scan; DEXA does not differentiate between water and muscle, so when looking at such tiny variations, stored water can make a difference.)
Looking Back: Successful Changes
I can’t link my fat loss to any one change I made during the past 28 days, but here are a few changes I made that I think contributed to it.
- New Smoothie. I’ve tweaked my usual smoothie recipe to reduce the sugar/carbs and increase the protein. The result is that I feel more free to enjoy fruit later in the day, when my body is hankering for something sweet. Here’s what my morning smoothie now contains: 1 scoop of Vega One Chocolate All-in-One Powder, 1/2 scoop Vega Protein and Greens Vanilla Powder, a very big sprinkle of Bell Plantation’s PB2 peanut butter powder, a few raw almonds, water, and ice. I’ve nixed the almond milk and half banana that I used to put in. I don’t notice a material change in the taste or texture of the smoothie.
- Less Night Snacking. This one’s straight-forward. I don’t need popcorn every night. Even if it’s air-popped (it always is). I’ve been working on eating dinner and then being done. It’s gone well except for those situations where my routine gets jostled around (see below).
- Sweetgreen. This wasn’t a huge change, because I’ve been eating Sweetgreen like a maniac for the past year. But this challenge pushed me to choose Sweetgreen over other lunch options even more often than usual. And I never regretted it. I’m planning to keep this up. (For those who are curious, I usually get a Hummus Tahina or a vegan Spicy Sabzi with all kale, added sunflower seeds, and cashew dressing instead of what normally comes with it.)
- Whole Nuts. I mentioned in my first Composition ID post that I’m trying to cut back on oil, and instead get fats from whole sources such as avocados and nuts. I ate a fair number of nuts before this challenge but am integrating more types of raw nuts — cashews, walnuts, almonds — into my diet. They are incredibly satisfying. I’ve found that I like nuts best when eaten with something, like an apple or blueberries and Greek yogurt. Then I don’t mindlessly snack on 500 calories of nuts, which is shockingly easy to do.
- New Movements. Over the past 28 days, I’ve been doing a lot of walking in my zero-drop shoes, went to a fun Crossfit class with my husband, swam when my legs didn’t feel up for running, and did some intense gardening. I also hit up a few CorePower yoga classes, especially Sculpt. I can’t tie any one of these activities to specific changes in my body, but they felt good at the time and are things I hope to continue to explore.
Looking Back: Challenges
- Routine Interruptions. This was my biggest challenge, and probably a challenge for most people who have health and fitness goals. My week would be going great, food and workout-wise, and then BAM, I’d have a work event, family event, or trip to the emergency dog vet that messed with my routine. I did a pretty good job keeping up with workouts while traveling (for instance, my run in Charlottesville and Crossfit while traveling for Easter), but my clean eating really suffered when I magically found myself presented with Cheez-Its, Easter candy, big brunches, almond croissants, and other assorted baked goods.
- Sleep. For the past couple weeks in particular, I’ve felt really tired. I was so tired this past weekend that I had to skip my planned 10 mile run and instead took a nap. This week, I cancelled some Orangetheory classes after a few unexpected events bumped back my bedtime. Sleep is really important for recovery, fat loss, and muscle growth, so it needs to be a priority. But ideally I’d find the time for both sleep and my workouts.
- Strength Training. Tiffany explained that muscle loss can result from not doing enough lifting and strength training, or from not properly fueling the body to preserve muscle. In my case, I think strength training has been on the back burner — I took almost two weeks off after my marathon and haven’t picked up as much strength work as I had hoped. For me, strength work includes heavy lifting at the gym (heavy deadlifts, squats, kettlebells, etc.), plus the lower weight and bodyweight moves at OTF, pilates, and CorePower. It is important for my to integrate these into my routines.
I’d ultimately love to get my body fat percentage down to 25 and my weight down to 135 (a weight range I’ve been in before and felt good). For those numbers to be a reality, I would need to lose about 10 lbs of pure fat (resulting in 32.5 lbs. of body fat), without losing muscle. A tough balance, but I am hopeful that with the following steps, I can slowly get there:
- Plan ahead for travel, work events, family events, etc. Pack appropriate snacks if necessary, and keep the eye on the prize. Cheez-Its aren’t that great.
- Focus on how good I feel when I have a salad or other whole-food meals.
- Use more of my CSA veggies, replacing less satisfying foods with fresh vegetables.
- Prioritize strength training, and don’t be afraid or too lazy to use the big bar at the gym and pile on the weight. At the UVA Speed Clinic, for instance, Max told me to deadlift at least my body weight.
- Aim to get in bed by 10 pm.
- Keep at it with my Orangetheory, CorePower, long runs, and any other fun workout opportunities that cross my path.
- Encourage movement during The Other 23 Hours, especially gardening, floor sitting and other natural movements, and walking in my zero drop shoes. Maybe a little hiking too?
I’m planning on getting a third scan with Composition ID, but I’m going to wait more than 30 days. The 30-day period was good for a first test, but I think it was hard to expect to see change with my small-steps approach. If I had been crash dieting for a month, sure, I might have seen a bigger difference, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Tiffany recommended coming back within 12 weeks, so I am going to aim for that. I’d love to be down to 140 lbs and 28 percent tissue fat by then. (And as a reminder, I’m training for the Vermont City Marathon, which is in about 7 weeks.)
Are you curious about your body composition, or do you think all this data can make us too focused on numbers? Do you have any tips for decreasing body fat while maintaining muscle mass? Have you done a DEXA scan? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!