Be your own catalyst: my 18-month body comp scans
I think one of the first questions people ask when they want to change their bodies is: how long is it going to take? The time it takes to mold the human figure is probably one of the main things that keeps people from ever trying. Weight loss and muscle growth is a slow process, and sometimes it might feel like you’re working more than you’re being rewarded. But there’s so much more to the human body than appearances.
Every positive choice we make for our health can be a catalyst for all these little things happening inside, on a cellular level. Small changes really do add up overtime and have the power to completely revolutionize the way our body works. The mirror, though satisfying, isn’t the only way we can validate our progress. With today’s advances in technology, there’s an entire industry dedicated to the study of nutritional health and how we can take hold of our own physiology.
After 18 months of dedicated diet and exercise changes, I decided to get a closer look at my body composition. I’d been weight training 5-6 times a week, drinking over a gallon of water, tracking my macros, and sticking to a vitamin/supplement regimen with rigorous commitment, and it was time to see what I’d really built. I also wanted to be able to look back years from now and see concrete proof of my progress. Our reflection is fleeting, but the numbers don’t lie.
I signed up for a Bod Pod scan and a MedGem test. The Bod Pod uses an air displacement plethysmograph to determine your body density, both fat mass and lean mass, according to YBefit. A MedGem is a handheld device that measures your body’s oxygen consumption to determine your resting metabolic rate.
Before we get into the results, let’s take a look back at where I started. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any kind of scans done in the beginning so I don’t know exactly what those numbers were, but I can give you a ballpark idea. I was about 25 pounds over my comfort zone, which makes a big difference on my 5’3 frame. I hadn’t exercised for probably a good 3 to 4 years. I ate what a wanted when I wanted and got winded walking up a flight of stairs. I barely ate vegetables and survived mostly on dense, high-sugar carbs. If I had to guess, I was probably in the 25 to 30 percent body fat range. I had absolutely zero muscle mass so I’m sure my lean mass numbers were on the low side.
When it comes to metabolism, my concern was the damage I had done through months of dieting. I was in a pretty serious caloric deficit for about 3 to 4 months. I knew that my metabolism took a hit because no matter how much I changed my food intake, after a while the scale stopped moving. This weightloss plateau was an indication that my metabolism had slowed down drastically. I had to gradually add calories back in over weeks and months to get things back to normal.
For the Bod Pod, you sit in an airtight, egg-shaped pod for about 5 or 10 minutes. You can only wear skin tight clothing, like spandex shorts and sports bras. You also tie up your hair in a swim cap and take off all jewelry. They have to make sure that there isn’t any loose fabric that will throw off the calculations. For the most accurate results, you aren’t supposed to eat, drink or exercise for 2 hours before your scan.
The MedGem is quick and easy. The hardest part is the 4 hours of no food, water or exercise beforehand. For the procedure, they place a plug over your nostrils so that you can only breathe out of your mouth. Then they give you a small handheld device with a mouthpiece to breathe into. The device measures your respiration 6 different times and then gives you the average. Through these numbers, researchers are able to estimate how many calories your body burns in a day if you are completely sedentary.
What’s fascinating is, this base metabolic rate isn’t just about your weight. We automatically think about energy from food and maintaining muscle tissue, but actually a large portion of this expenditure is from your organs doing what they do best. Heart, liver and kidney function takes up a huge chunk of this number and is actually the main variation between men and women, according to Fit Folk.
Now, don’t nail down your BMR and think these are the only calories you’re allowed to eat. Your BMR is what your body is burning when you’re doing absolutely nothing. But for most of us working folks, we don’t have the luxury of being a couch potato day in and day out. In addition to these calories, you can tack on another 200-300 for exercise based on your activity level.
Before I started my scans, I wanted a baseline of the average female for comparison.
Female body fat ranges are broken down into 6 categories:
Ultra lean: 13-18%
Overweight: Over 30%
The average muscle mass for women is about 30% of total body weight, which for me would be about 40 pounds.
A healthy BMR for women is about 1400 calories, with 1000-1200 being the low end through dieting phases.
The MedGem isn’t the only way to estimate these calories. Experts have relied on the REE test for years and many women find this calculation to be more accurate. It uses the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation.
Women: REE = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) – 161
This method estimated my calories to about 1535.
The Bod Pod determined that I was 19% body fat with about 105 pounds of lean body mass.
The weight of the female skeleton is about 10-12% of total body weight. Your organs are about 25%. So subtracting all that out I have around 60-65 pounds of muscle mass.
The MedGem calculated my sedentary BMR as 1390 calories.
Of course I’m proud of my fat and muscle numbers, but I’m almost more proud of my metabolism. Fat and muscle calculations show my discipline and work ethic, but my metabolism shows my level of self care and willingness to heal. Dieting can do a number on our bodies both mentally and physically, creating damage that is hard to undo. But it’s not permanent, so long as you are willing to create positive change.
This is what I was able to accomplish in just 18 months. In these 18 months, I got skinny, got hungry and made myself smaller than I ever have. Also in those 18 months, I got my curves back and got stronger than I ever thought I could be. If this journey was mapped out on a chart, it would be far from linear. Notice, I didn’t mention my total body weight because it’s so irrelevant. It’s not the lowest or highest it’s ever been. It has constantly evolved with my body composition and has stopped reflecting any of the things that really matter to me. The scale is only as powerful as you allow it to be.
From the starting line, those 18 months can seem like an eternity. But in the grand scheme of life, it’s the blink of an eye. What is 18 months of progress compared to the years or decades you’ve spent in a body that makes you unhappy? It’s nothing and yet, it’s everything. On the outside, sure I look better and my clothes fit differently. But look at the huge wave of change I created inside my body. I not only achieved a healthy level of fitness, but I was able to reach a little higher. And I’m just an everyday person. I’m not a coach with a six-pack at the gym. I’m not an instagram star with ridiculous genetics. I’m not on any PED’s or enhancements. I’m just like you. And that’s how I know the overwhelming power you are able to create in yourself. I know what you are able to achieve. It’s time that you believe it too.
Body Composition Resources: