Early in the summer I noticed a new local business popping up on my instagram feed. A company called Body Measure, they were getting ready to open their facility offering DEXA scans (amongst other exciting services!) to the public.
Many of you are probably wondering what on earth a DEXA scan is, and I’m glad you asked!
DEXA scans are the gold standard when it comes to measuring body composition. It uses a very low-level X-Ray (called Dual- X-Ray Absorptiometry) to differentiate between muscle mass, body fat, and bone mineral density. NO other method of body composition is as accurate or reliable as a DEXA scan.
I was super excited to find out that there was a company offering DEXA scans to the public in my city. Prior to Body Measure opening here in Winnipeg you had to basically be part of a research study to have access to this type of technology!
Before they launched their services to the public, Body Measure was offering a “sneak peek” to local fitness professionals, so I jumped at the chance to have my own body composition analyzed.
This is what happened…
First, let me take a step back to where the story really begins
Prior to getting my first DEXA scan in July, I was definitely in a bit of a lifestyle rut. As hard as it is for me to admit that I do believe it can happen to anyone, even someone like myself who spends her life helping OTHER people out of their lifestyle ruts! There were a few things going on in my life that contributed to this blah feeling I was having. I had just completed my WORST half marathon ever a few weeks before (pulling both hamstrings two days before the race is not conducive to busting down PRs), and I was feeling kinda aimless. I was also undergoing some big transitions with work and putting in mega-long hours so, my workouts were getting missed more often than I’d like. I definitely wasn’t consistently getting my 10,000 steps every day. At the same time I was very likely still eating like I was training for a half marathon (if we’re being totally honest), despite my calorie burn probably being a heck of a lot lower than I was aware of.
So, when I got my DEXA scan results I was not particularly surprised by the numbers, but I didn’t feel so good about them either. “This isn’t me” I thought. “I should be the fittest person I know!”
The problem is, you can’t hide from a DEXA scan, they’re the gold standard! You can step on your bathroom scale and say to yourself “well its just a little water retention, or I’ve definitely gained some muscle, that’s why I’ve put on a few pounds”, or “this scale is just a little inaccurate” but with DEXA, it’s a cold, hard look in the mirror.
So, I decided to use this unfortunate event as an opportunity. I’m very goal oriented, and I love numbers and data. When presented with this particular piece of data that I was feeling really bummed about, I decided to become my own client and go through the process myself of what I have my clients do.
A quick side note: The purpose of this article is to share my personal experiences and give you some insight into how as a nutrition and fitness professional I manage to find a better balance in my life. It’s meant to encourage you not to necessarily copy what I’ve done, but to reflect on your current habits like I did and find what works for YOU. I’m sharing my journey and experiences as a way to combat much of the fad diet and extreme measures many people take in order to lose weight, a voice of common-sense amongst clickbait headlines and biohacking. What I hope I can demonstrate for you here is that healthy eating does include ALL foods (including carbs!) and that you don’t have to take an all-or-nothing approach to nutrition in order to see changes. Yes, I ate gluten, and yes, I ate fruit, and yes I ate dairy, and yes I ate meat, drank alcohol in moderation, and YES I ATE CAKE ON MY BIRTHDAY! Much of the nutrition content we see online is all about attention grabbing headlines and taking everything to the most extreme level possible in order to have more people paying attention to what we’re doing. Crazy stories make people click, share, and talk, and if the goal is simply page views, it’s a method that is tried and true. The “boring” nutrition advice about balance, moderation, and common-sense isn’t sexy, and certainly doesn’t generate the same buzz as someone who’s committed to eating nothing but bacon for a month. But- the simple stuff works! That’s why these same sound bytes of “eat your fruits and vegetables” just won’t go away- it’s because they’re actually true!
So, as you read through my story, think of this less as a “perfect recipe for weight loss” and more of an antithesis to all the wacky fads and biohacking junk that’s flooding your timeline.
So, what are my top strategies for helping clients figure out how to go about making a lifestyle change?
Step 1: I took a good, hard, realistic look at my habits. Weight and body composition changes are all about energy balance. I was eating too much, and not exercising enough. It’s a pretty common experience in our processed food-rich, screen-time obsessed world, and balancing calorie input and outputs is really challenging in that type of environment. We have such ready access to high calorie foods and sugar-filled beverages 24/7, constantly being advertised to us by the food industry that we need to have strategies to avoid overeating. People with sedentary jobs have the added struggle of trying to fit in enough activity to keep them fit and healthy.
In my practice I incorporate some mindful eating strategies into almost every nutrition plan I create. Some of my clients feel mindful eating is the best solution for them to improve their relationship with food and stop overeating because they’re simply paying more attention to what their bodies are telling them in terms of hunger, satiety, and emotions. Others might feel that mindful eating certainly has it’s benefits, but are more into the numbers and data and like to have some specific eating targets to aim for (whether thats grams per day of macros, calories, or measuring portions)
Personally, I’m a numbers and data gal and I like using an app to track my eating habits. Those who don’t find calorie counting beneficial or realistic for them I still encourage to keep a pen and paper mindful eating journal. The reality is that things that get tracked get done, so no matter your goal or your approach keeping some sort of record is absolutely key for success.
When I first began practicing mindful eating for myself, I recognized that one of my biggest triggers for non-hunger eating was being tired. Leading up to my first DEXA scan I was working up to 12 hour days (almost exclusively sitting unfortunately!), and would get home late in the evening completely exhausted. I could easily eat two full servings of dinner without my fullness cues kicking in. Some things like work hours are tough to change, but if recognize those barriers and create a plan to overcome them, we’re much more likely to be successful vs always being reactive about our nutrition or activity.
If mindful eating sounds like something you need to be on board with, check out my article here
Step 2: I Created an action plan with clear goals
Into my healthy eating plan I also decided to incorporate some of my nutrigenomic data from the DNA test I had done some time ago through Nutrigenomix. I wanted to put some of that information to use and see realistic it was to follow, and how it might affect my progress.
Overall, my DNA test suggested a dietary pattern that limits saturated and total fats, incorporates more whole grains, and limits salt. I am a fast metabolizer of caffeine so I’d likely see performance advantages with a little caffeine boost before a workout. I’m also not a ‘responder’ to a high protein diet, so there’s no benefit for me in upping my protein foods. I also have a typical metabolic rate, so I could assume the calculated calorie requirements I worked out for myself would be pretty accurate.
For more on Nutrigenomic testing and what it can tell you about your best diet, click here
My overall nutrition goals looked like this:
- About 1900 calories per day (depending on my workouts)
- And my macronutrient distribution looked like this:
- 55-60% carbohydrates (with an emphasis on whole grains and high fibre choices)
- 25-30% total fat (with an emphasis on unsaturated fats rather than saturated)
- 15-20% protein (from both plant and animal sources)
I also wanted to eat at least 25 grams of fibre every day. Added sugars and fats were limited so as to stay within my total calorie goal for the day.
I know some people are probably going to lose their minds over my macronutrient distribution, because it’s on the higher end for carbohydrates. But it’s important to remember something: This is MY story, not yours! My activity level and genetic information guided the creation of my plan. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition, and how I personally eat may or may not be appropriate for you. Just because I use this pattern does not mean I’d tell a client to do this either. That’s what being a good Dietitian is all about! If you want to read more of my thoughts on low-carb diets click here
Step 3: I Ramped up my workouts and re-committed to my fitness goals.
For me, this was absolutely my #1 priority. I had to re-commit to the level of fitness I was used to (and thought I was at in my head!) So, I increased my daily step goal from 10,000 to 12,000 began adding more HIIT training to my weekly routine, something I had gotten away from doing in the recent months. We also were very fortunate to have a camping trip planned almost every weekend over the summer, and had absolutely gorgeous weather for doing long day hikes on the weekends.
Step 4: I balanced my ins and outs.
To figure out if I was hitting my targets each day I synced up my Fitbit and My Fitness Pal apps, so the exercise data from Fitbit would transfer into My Fitness Pal. I was then able to get daily and weekly reports on my overall calorie intake, how my workouts were going, and if I was on track with my macronutrients. Overall I wanted to eat just a little less than I was burning each day (approximately 10-20% less). They key is to create a small, sustainable calorie deficit that over time leads to changes, rather than slash a huge chunk of calories from your days trying to lose as much weight as quickly as possible. That never ends the way we might think it’s going to!
Only slightly reducing your calorie intake also means you can follow a more “flexible” way of eating that does include the odd dessert, takeout meal, or drink. This goes a long way toward helping you keep up your new habits for the long term!
So, after 3 months of dedication to my plan, what was the result?
Overall I was able to consistently achieve my nutrition and fitness goals over the course of my little experiment. Nutritionally speaking, there were obviously a few special occasions here and there where I went over my calorie goal (wedding season and all!), but with a few changes to some of my choices (like having fewer drinks in an evening, or not bringing snack foods on camping trips!) I still managed to have a fantastic and fun summer! In terms of workouts, there was only one day over those three months that I did not achieve my 12,000 step goal.
In terms of how much work it was, I spend about 1-1.5 hours exercising every day, with an additional 15-20 minutes to keep track of eating data. Some days it was challenging to set aside the time to get it all in, but if you consider that on average we spend about 40 hours per week in front of our TVs, it’s a small price to pay for better health!
And my DEXA scan definitely reflected all the changes I had made- here are a few highlights:
1. An overall reduction in body fat of 3.2%.
2. Total weight loss of 10.9lbs, including 9.1lbs of body fat, most of which was from my trunk/core area.
3. A 3.5% improvement in bone mineral density (likely from doing all that HIIT training!)
4. A 13.9% decrease in my visceral fat (the fat that is stored deep in the abdomen surrounding your vital organs). My result was actually very good on my first test as well, but even better on my second scan. Bonus!
4. My lean mass was overall maintained/improved. My arms both showed an increase in muscle mass/decrease in fat mass, my legs showed a similar muscle mass, but a significant reduction in body fat, while my trunk showed the most change, about a 4lb fat mass loss from that area.
Shouldn’t I be disappointed I lost some muscle along the way?
Many people start eating a more nutritious diet and increase their activity hoping to see both a big fat loss and increase in muscle mass. Unfortunately this is very hard to do! The reason why is because in order to decrease body fat we need to be in a calorie deficit, eating a little less than we burn. In order to build a lot of muscle mass we need to eat a little extra, in order to give the body the energy it needs to build new muscle tissue. So, most of the time when we are seeing a decrease in weight, it’s a combination of fat mass and muscle mass. Keeping up with regular strength training however can go a long way in helping to preserve your muscle mass as you go!
So, in a short period of time (only 12 weeks) I was able to see significant improvements in many aspects of my body composition. In terms of my fitness parameters I also managed to reduce my resting heart rate (a good indicator of cardiovascular fitness) by about 4 beats per minute. All I had to do was commit to my goals, and keep it simple!
Obviously I found getting a DEXA scan incredibly insightful and useful when it came to making lifestyle changes of my own, but I wanted to ask the owners of Body Measure, Erica and Melina why they thought DEXA scans were so valuable, enough that they wanted to bring this technology to the public. Here’s what they had to say:
- DEXA scans are unique in that they can look at your visceral fat stores (the fat that sits deep inside the abdomen surrounding the internal organs) There is absolutely no other way of looking at this type of fat other than getting a DEXA Scan. Even people who don’t appear overweight can have excess amounts of visceral fat, which is a huge risk for the development of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
- DEXA scans also measure your bone mineral density. They feel that women especially should have a DEXA scan done in order to look at how strong their bones are. We hit peak bone density in our mid to late 20’s, and then from there can lose about 1% per year until menopause. During menopause that rate can actually double and cause a weakening of the bones and osteoporosis. It’s critical to know if your bone density is low so you can start making changes now to keep your bones healthy and strong!
- We know a bathroom scale may not tell the whole story when it comes to weight and body composition. A DEXA scan gives you accurate and reliable information about not just how much weight you have, but it’s distribution too. This makes DEXA scans a great tool for tracking progress for anyone trying to live a healthier or fitter lifestyle.
- Having the knowledge and awareness of your personal health data can also help boost the motivation needed to make meaningful changes.
So, what now?
I certainly have a few new goals now after meeting with the Body Measure team again. The first of which is to start putting some serious work into gaining more muscle mass in my core. I also plan to continue to do my upper body HIIT workouts twice per week since they really worked at putting some more muscle on my upper body. The third is to get back into a little bit of heavier lifting on my legs. I didn’t lose much muscle mass in that area, but I didn’t see much of a gain either. So, I might try swapping one HIIT workout per week for a day of heavier lower body lifting.
The one thing I do know is that I will definitely be back in another 12 weeks to check on my progress at Body Measure!
Are you stuck in a lifestyle rut? Here are some of my tips for finding consistency in new healthier habits
1. Write down the goals you want to achieve, and the specific things you plan to do each day to achieve those goals.
2. Find a way to track your completion of the tasks you set out for yourself. Whether it’s a habit tracking app, or a sheet of paper, or writing it on your calendar, things that get tracked get done!
3. Don’t miss twice. If you want to make lasting changes to your habits and routine you need to commit to doing them consistently. This usually means planning ahead in some way, whether it’s with a meal plan, or scheduling in your weekly workouts in advance. Sometimes life truly gets in the way and you may need to skip a workout or grab a meal on the go. But don’t miss two days in a row, or completely fall off the wagon with your eating after one missed day. Re-focus and re-commit to get back on track tomorrow.
4. When you hit a bump in the road, don’t stop! Simply pick yourself back up and carry on. Were there days when I went a little over my calorie goal? Absolutely! Did that make me give up? Absolutely not! It’s important when making lifestyle changes to keep the big picture in mind, not get too caught up in the specifics. As long as you’re having more good days than bad, you’ll see improvements. First and foremost, be kind to yourself! It’s important to not beat yourself up when things don’t go as planned.
As always, I’m here to help! Contact me today if you’re ready to optimize your health and fitness, and start on the path to a healthier life.
For more on personalized nutrition and how nutrigenomic testing can help you find your best diet click here
If you’re ready to book your very own DEXA scan and take control of your health, check out www.bodymeasure.ca! You can also check them out on Instagram @bodymeasure.ca
Thanks again to Melina and Erica at Body Measure for their partnership in creating this article!