Slow Carb Body Composition with DEXA

dexa-1So I just left the doctor’s office where I had gotten a DEXA scan. If that sounds scary, it really isn’t. The DEXA scan is simply one of the methods that the 4-Hour Body recommends for determining your body composition, i.e. figuring out what percentage of your body is fat versus muscle. I had previously tried the handheld body composition scanner, the one you can get from Amazon and a million other places. Not surprisingly, I found it just to be all over the place. In the Four Hour Body Diet book, Tim Ferriss says that those handheld scanners can be wildly inaccurate, and can be thrown off by what you drink, the time of day, and many other factors. That’s exactly what I was finding with that device. For me to stay true to this diet and feel like I’m making progress, I want to know that I’ve got accurate numbers that I can rely on to tell the true story about where I’m progressing and where I might not be progressing.

You Can’t Get It On Amazon, But It Is Easy

I decided to go to the DEXA scan at a local physician’s office. Unfortunately this isn’t a thing that you can get at home or off Amazon: you’re going to need to do a Google search for your area to find a place that offers them. A lot of universities have them, and some weight loss centers have them. I was surprised to find out that the DEXA machine was actually originally designed to be a bone density scanning machine. Besides helping out dieters like myself, hospitals also use them to diagnose osteoporosis and other bone disorders. Obviously, one of the other things this device can do is measure body and muscle composition. This means that the DEXA scan allows me to see my total body mass as a sum of my bone density, fat, and muscle.

This morning while I was preparing for my first DEXA scan, I had a normal morning: I ate my breakfast, and drank some water. There was really nothing that I needed to do to prepare other than show up. When I got there, I needed to remove any kind of jewelry, meaning my ring and my watch. That way they could have a complete scan that was uninterrupted from the equipment’s perspective.

What the DEXA Scan Was Like

The scan started with me lying on a type of table with a scanner attached overhead. I was in a gown, but luckily they let me wear my underwear. They then positioned me on the table in a specific way. The reason why it needs to be a specific way is because the next time I come in, I want it to be easy to compare the results. The actual scan involved the overhead scanner gliding across the top of my body from my feet to my head, then coming back down over the middle of my body, and then going to the side of my body. It passed over me 3 times to get the scan. I didn’t feel anything; It’s kind of like an X-ray. The guy said that it’s 1/10th the radioactivity of what a chest X-ray would be, which is a pretty harmless dose. It’s like being out in the sun for a day. Very little, very noninvasive in terms of radiation.

The scan took only about 5 minutes, and was really easy and painless. The guy that ran the scan was really good about talking me through what the scan was going to do and even listed some of the benefits of using this for body composition, as well as some of the areas in which it might not work so well. When you go to see someone about a scan, make sure you have them walk you through what it is and what it will do. Maybe you won’t be as lucky as I was and get someone who’s going to go through all the detail, but it sure is helpful if they do.

Interpreting my DEXA Scan Data

dexa-2At the end of the scan, I got to see a picture image of my skeleton, which was pretty cool because I’ve never seen one. We all see skeletons all the time in pictures, Halloween decorations, and what not, but getting to see a complete head to toe picture of my skeleton was pretty cool. There wasn’t anything particularly unique about my skeleton, though, which I guess is a good thing.
The DEXA image naturally also shows where you muscle and fat is. You can see the darkest and most dense part is bone on the image to the left. Then from attached to the bone you see muscle. The lightest area is fat, which shows up yellowish orange on my image. The software then analyzes that image to come up with a body composition. I was surprised to learn that I got to see the body composition of each part of my body: right and left arm, right and left leg, your torso and crotch area, and then your head. Each one of those sections I get to see what amount of muscle is there, what amount of bone is there, and what amount of fat is there. Another unexpected thing is that you get to confirm any kind of dominance you have in terms of your handedness: you might have less fat and more muscle in your dominant arm, which is the case with my right.

dexa-4My overall body fat percentage was 32.3%. According to a lot of scales, that makes me obese, which wasn’t nice to hear. However, I’ve got a great opportunity here to watch that number change over the next 30 days before I go for my next scan and see how it might change in different areas: in my arms, in my legs, and in the trunk area. The scan was $79 if I went once, but $99 for two, and since that’s a great deal that’s what I did. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on where you go. A word of warning: this is not typically covered by insurance. It’s totally elective, even though this could probably help a lot of people out in the pursuit of their health, and reduce overall health and medical issues.

Hydration Matters (A Lot)

One area of potential inconsistency with this that was told to me by the operator of the equipment is that when it comes to these scans, it’s important to show up to the scan with a consistent level of hydration. This morning I had a 10 ounce glass of water when I woke up, followed by a 4-Hour Body compliant green smoothie, which was probably an additional 16 ounces. Then I had probably another 20 ounces of water since I showed up to my appointment. The reason why the hydration level is important is because the more hydrated you are, the most water in your body that is a lot of times stored in muscle. The more hydrated you are, the bigger your muscles will appear and the bigger your numbers will appear in the scan. If you show up one time super hydrated, your muscles will show that they’re big. Then if you show up dehydrated the next time, the muscle mass will be smaller and therefore can get thrown off. Hydration only has that type of effect on muscle. It doesn’t have an effect with fat because fat doesn’t store water, only muscles do. That’s just something to keep in mind for next time.

I’m pretty pumped now that I’ve got these numbers because I now have a baseline to draw from. The day I got the scan, I was about 5 days into consistently following the Slow-Carb Diet. Maybe I would have seen different numbers if I got the numbers 5 days ago, but I now have basically 30 days to work my butt off and just remain consistent both in 4-Hour Body and my exercise habits. We’ll see where those numbers go.

For me, that’s important because I want to make sure that I’m making progress. At some point during each day, I find myself questioning whether what I’m doing is right and whether it’s working. It’s usually in the evening when I’m done for the day, changing out of the clothes I wore that day into some pajamas, and I’m seeing my midsection just as big as ever and wondering if what I’m doing exercise and nutrition-wise is actually making a difference. I’ve committed to following this, though. I want to be one of the stories that people get to read that found success with this because it’s important for me.

Okay, so that’s the story of my first DEXA scan. I hope that was useful to some of you out there. If you’re going to be doing a DEXA scan or have questions about mine, leave some questions or comments in the comments section, and let’s keep the conversation going. Good luck to you.

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