I have visited Peter from Bodycomp Imaging in Downtown Vancouver twice to obtain my body composition. This is done via a DXA scan which is a whole body scan that provides an accurate reading of your fat percentage, muscle mass, and bone density. It also shows any muscle asymmetries and where fat is distributed within the body. Based on your specific results, the detailed report calculates what your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is and how many calories you need to consume to maintain, lose and gain weight.
The image above shows my DXA scan from March 2017 (left) and January 2019 (right). I know what you’re thinking, I’m a handsome devil! However, I was disappointed – how did I gain fat and lose muscle?! As you can see from the table below, I gained 8.6 lbs of fat and lost 3.6 lbs of muscle during this time.
If I had only weighed myself on the scales, I would have only noticed a net increase in body weight of 5.2 lbs, which doesn’t paint such a bad picture. This is why you cannot solely rely on the scales when tracking changes in your body composition. We all have been taught to talk about “weight loss” when actually weight loss and fat loss are two different things. My figures show that my body weight increased from 185.6 lbs to 190.8 lbs across the above-mentioned period. The increase in 5.2 lbs could be mere fluctuation day by day, water retention or not having a pre-breakfast numero duo. However, the reason for the change in my case is much worse as I lost lean muscle tissue and gained a significant amount of fat.
My body fat as a percentage increased from 17.4% to 21.4%. My basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the rate at which the body uses energy while at rest to keep vital functions going such as breathing and keeping warm, decreased from an average of 1872 calories per day to 1840 calories per day, even though I’m heavier. This shows you cannot estimate your calorie needs based on total body mass alone. The calculation needs to look at your lean body mass which is your total body mass minus your fat mass.
Something that I found very shocking was when Peter and I calculated that over this time period, my calorie intake was more than my calorie expenditure by only 50 calories on average per day. This means that if I had eaten just 50 calories less per day or burned off 50 calories more per day through exercise, I would not have ended up gaining nearly 9 lbs of fat. I’ll save you the math but this calculation is based on 1lb of fat being approximately 3500 calories. What do 50 calories look like? A small glass of milk, ½ a tablespoon of peanut butter or one small egg. In terms of exercise, this is 3 minutes of rowing, biking or running. These small habits will add up like compound interest. If I kept up with this then by the time I’m 40 I will be in a much worse position.
What’s funny about this is, that during that time I actually had the goal of decreasing my body fat to 14%, but my progress pictures showed me moving further away from this goal.
So what happened? The simple answer is, that life happened. Health and fitness is an ongoing journey with plenty of ups and downs. I have been nursing a shoulder injury since 2017 and it has impacted my training, limiting what I can and cannot do. I also proudly received a promotion at my job and with a bigger title came bigger responsibilities that made a huge shift in my priorities. A combination of all of this resulted in me having less time to take care of myself, which impacted my mental health. Not being able to train to the intensity I wanted to made me feel depressed, which added to the anxiety I have been dealing with over the last few years. Due to this, I stopped tracking my calories and would choose convenience over healthy eating. I’m very all or nothing – when I’m training hard, my diet can be on point but when I’m struggling to train the way I want to, then it’s easy for me to revert to an unhealthy diet. As some of you may be able to relate, the anxiety and depression became exhausting and it made everything including small tasks very overwhelming.
I am pleased to say by working hard and making myself a priority on the things above, I am slowly improving my mental health. My training is back on track and healthy choices are becoming the ‘norm’ once again.
The purpose of this post is to show you that we’re all human and there are always going to be bumps in the road. The challenge is not to beat ourselves up about it. All or nothing doesn’t always need to be the way to approach things (easier said than done, clearly). For example, you can just have one cookie without eating the entire pack. Enjoy the damn cookie and then get yourself back on track. It’s easy to say “well today is ruined so I’ll just go to town on this entire tub of ice cream”. Play the long game and learn from these roadblocks.
What did I learn? I have learned that I personally work better when tracking certain metrics. I enjoy tracking my calories and macros, I enjoy tracking my workouts and taking progress pictures and measurements. When all of these things are being done then I feel in control of my health and fitness and I find it much easier to adhere to my training and nutrition program.
Although I haven’t been back for another DXA scan, I have been training and eating better consistently and feel like I’m back on track. Currently, I am eating at a calorie deficit of 350 calories per day. Based on my latest DXA scan my BMR is around 1840 and because my activity level is ‘moderate’ my caloric needs are 2851 which I have reduced to 2500 per day. My weight as of 1st May 2019 is around 186 lbs and I look and feel leaner.
Eating well and exercising does not start tomorrow or next Monday, it’s ongoing, so get yourself back on track and join me in playing the long game for a sustainably healthy lifestyle.