The summer is near but your bones are still big? 😉 It’s time to face the big fat truth about your body and get that body fat of yours measured. Confused with the significantly varying body fat percentage numbers I got from Fitbit Aria digital scale, a personal trainer who did the measurements with a calliper and a picture from the Internet showing women with different percentage of body fat, I discovered BodySpec that claims to provide the most accurate body fat measurement available to date. So I gave it a shot to find out what I’m made of.
BodySpec is a mobile ‘fitness knowledge lab’ that provides a series of tests including DXA Scan (DXA stands for dual x-ray absorptiometry) that I took that accurately measures fat tissue, muscle mass & bone density with weak x-ray beams to detect the composition of each square inch of the body.
The 10 minute test is available at BodySpec mobile labs traveling across the country that have medical-grade machine used by hospitals, universities, and professional athletic facilities. Once you make an appointment at the nearby location, you will complete an online form and show up for your test. It’s recommended that you wear comfortable gym clothes and remove any metal from your body including earrings, bracelets, and even a bra with underwires if you are wearing one as it might make an impact on the test results.
If you’ve ever done MRI you will find the process very similar – you need to lay down and keep still while the scanner is hovering over your body and moving slowly analysing it inch by inch. The big difference however is that the test lasts 10 minutes only and it uses weak x-rays to do the job. Unlike the traditional x-ray scanners, DXA scanner uses a very low amount of radiation equivalent to 4% of the natural background radiation you would get every day, just going about your daily routine. One would have to do 100 DXA scans to get the same amount of radiation as you would get on a plane flight from NY to LA.
To the excitement of the geek in me, the test results provided a deep dive into what my body is made of, including lean mass, fat and bones and its distribution around certain areas, as well the average numbers for women my age. Most importantly DXA scan tells you what amount of fat is stored in your organs. While we focus our attention and effort on combatting the excess fat under our skin that is usually harmless, the fat located in our belly and between our organs (so called visceral fat) is what can lead to various health issues (it’s closely linked with cardiovascular disease and diabetes) needs to be addressed with a balanced diet in the first place. DXA is the only technology that is able to measure and quantify an individual’s visceral fat.
The results are presented in a form of a report with visuals and charts and once the test is completed BodySpec fitness expert spends about 10 minutes talking you through the results and explaining what all these numbers mean.
What should you pay attention to in your results?
For those who do DXA scan for the first time it is recommended that you pay attention to the following parameters:
- Your overall body fat percentage – this is a general metric that you can base your goals on. For example, you may be interested in cutting body fat to get to a specific body fat percentage goal, or alternatively, gaining lean muscle;
- Your visceral fat levels – if you have high amounts of visceral fat, you’ll know that you need to focus on either cleaning up your diet, or introducing some high-intensity interval training to target this visceral fat;
- Your bone strength – building bone strength is a gradual process. If your bone strength is low compared to others like you, you may want to consider adding strength and resistance training to your workouts, or monitoring your calcium and vitamin D intake/levels. Ensuring that you have strong bones now will greatly reduce the risk of fractures later on in life.
Repeat scanners should pay attention to how their body has changed over the course of the time between their current scan and their last scan.
- Did your body do what you wanted it to? If you were focused on cutting fat, was most of your tissue loss fat? Or was a lot of it composed of lean? This may tell you that you might not have eaten enough or correctly to fuel your workouts.
- Similarly, if you were hoping to gain lean, where did those changes happen? If you were focused on a specific region (say, your arms), you’ll be able to tell by how much lean gain happened in your arms whether your workout was effective.
BodySpec generally advise their clients to wait around 2-3 months between scans, unless you are doing something very drastic and want immediate feedback on how your body is responding to it. But for most clients who are making more gradual changes to their lifestyles, 2-3 months will allow the body to respond meaningfully to those changes, and for those results to show up on the scan.
So, now that you have all these numbers, what’s next? And how are you supposed to use the data?
Needless to say, having received my body fat measurement I decided to immediately switch to chicken and steamed broccoli nutrition. 🙂 Joking aside, the data provided in the report can be used to inform your nutrition and fitness decisions, whether guided by a personal trainer or not.
It’s important to note though that weight has been one of the most confusing subjects for me with many conflicting reports and statements bombarding my mind from press, social media and friends and family. We are obsessed with out weight thinking that weight is a good indicator of health. Losing 5 lbs of fat and 5 lbs of muscle are very different – however, they both show up the same on a scale. Paying attention to the body composition gives one much more meaningful insights into what is actually going on in the body – particularly in response to the nutrition or exercise plans. Whether one’s goal is to cut fat or gain muscle, measuring the body composition allows one to assess their progress in a way that simply watching the weight can’t.
BodySpec has 4 co-founders – Jason, Elaine and her husband Roy, and Bryce. When Jason and Bryce were at the Air Force Academy together as undergrads and played soccer and football, they both used the DXA scanner at the Academy for their training (there are DXA scanners at large facilities for professional athletics; the US Olympic Training Center also has one, but it’s generally hard to find one open to the public.) When they moved away from the Academy, they couldn’t find one anywhere, to their surprise. Knowing both how expensive the equipment is but also how applicable the information from the test is, they came up with the idea for BodySpec – putting the scanner on a truck so that they can get more people to use the scan, and thus be able to offer the scan at a much more affordable cost.
Bryce and Elaine launched BodySpec as essentially their Master’s Thesis at UCLA Anderson, with Jason and Roy heavily involved. Bryce then had to go back to the Air Force after UCLA Anderson, but Jason separated from the Air Force to help out with the company. Since then, Jason, Roy, and Elaine have run BodySpec full time. Since the launch of the first truck in January 2014, BodySpec now has 3 trucks and a store in West LA.