Client Perspective: 10 Fitness Lessons from 10 DEXA Body Scans

Client Perspective: 10 Fitness Lessons from 10 DEXA Body Scans

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Ryan Pfister, a CompositionID client in Washington, DC, documented his body composition journey from May 2017 to October 2018. Follow along to see his transformation and find out what he learned while tracking his progress with 10 DEXA scans.

This post was originally published on Ryan’s Medium page. Thanks for letting us showcase your journey, Ryan! 

10 Fitness Lessons from 10 DEXA Body Scans

Since May 2017, I’ve gotten 10 DEXA scans of my body to monitor my fitness progress. Here’s what I’ve learned from each one.

Prep for Scan 1: Time to get started. I don’t think I’m cut, but I don’t think I’m that out of shape either. Let’s see what DEXA says.

What I learned: Ugh, my body fat percentage is really high. Time to start burning fat!

Prep for Scan 2, 25 days later: Let’s try 16/8 intermittent fasting with lots of walking but no lifting. I actually became an on-foot Postmates delivery person on my walk home from work just to add more walking. Some days I would fast beyond 16/8 (e.g. skipping dinner).

What I learned: Wooo! I lost 15 pounds of weight! I can lose weight! But ugh, look at all that muscle I lost. I’m going to be skinny fat at this rate. Need to do something to keep that muscle!

Prep for Scan 3, 18 days later: OK, no more skipping dinner and let’s try doing lots of push-ups and pull-ups.

What I learned: Ugh, still losing muscle along with my fat. Need to stop fasting until I can learn how to preserve muscle.

Prep for Scan 4, 29 days later: Let’s stop fasting but do some pull ups and pushups while I figure out what to do next.

What I learned: Ugh, more fat came back than muscle. Need to figure out a new theory. Maybe I was doing the fast over too long a period. Maybe I need to do a concentrated fast over two days.

Prep for Scan 5, 2 days later: Ok, I haven’t eaten for the past 60 hours. Hurry up and get this scan done so I can EAT!

What I learned: OH COME ON! SCREW YOU FASTING! THIS IS THE NAIL IN THE COFFIN. IT DOES NOT WORK. Time to eat healthy and get serious about weight lifting to get that muscle back.

Prep for Scan 6, 40 days later: I’m all in on StrongLifts. Workout 3 times a week. I am CRUSHING those weights. 5 pounds up every time. Eating 3 squares a day, trying to stay low carb.

What I learned: YESSSSSS! GAINS GAINS GAINS! Oh yeah, I have a plan now. Sticking with this! (In hindsight, I think I had a huge advantage here gaining back muscle that I had so recently lost.)

Prep for Scan 7, 93 days later: Keep on lifting and eating!

What I learned: Oh yeah! Look at those muscle gains! But wait…6 pounds of fat back too??? Ugh. This is hard!

Prep for Scan 8, 54 days later: Let’s try a “cutting phase.” Eat less food but keep lifting. Over the holidays.

What I learned: Argggggggh the muscle went away again! Maybe it was because I was travelling over the holidays and missed some workouts. Maybe I didn’t diet right. Who knows? Ugh, I give up. Screw you DEXA.

Prep for Scan 9, 244 days later: Ok, 8 months later I’m finally back to try again. Over the summer I read Eat Stop Eat, the bible of 5/2 fasting, and I’m ready to put it to the test. For 6 weeks, I did StrongLifts religiously 3 times a week and fasted for 24 hours every third day (which is actually slightly more aggressive than he recommends). Here goes…

What I learned: …holy crap. It WORKED. 4+ pounds of fat lost, barely and muscle lost. OK, but let’s see what happens next time. I’ve been here before…

Prep for Scan 10, 32 days later: Lazier version of the above. Twice a week, did reverse pyramid training (less time than Strong Lifts) and didn’t eat for 24 hours. I basically had two fitness willpower days and the rest of the days I did whatever I wanted. After such a lazy month I’m hoping just to stay steady on my stats.

What I learned: WOW. It’s still working! Down in fat, up in muscle! DEXA, how could I have ever hated you?? Let’s never fight again.

What my results look like in the mirror:

Front at start of scans: May 7, 2017

Front after scan 10: October 26, 2018

Side at start of scans: May 7, 2017

Side after scan 10: October 26, 2018

My personal conclusions:

These may vary from person to person but they work for me.

While I’m dieting I need to be 100% disciplined about working out. I don’t have to work out all the time, but I need to remind my body to keep my muscles in close proximity to when I’m in caloric reduction. As I learned over and over above, my body will eat into my muscles if I’m not working out.

I need to do a full body workout, preferably with heavy weights. Just doing some pull ups and push ups every day wasn’t enough.

Regular DEXAing was hugely helpful. It helped me know what was working and what wasn’t. Also, knowing I had a scan coming up was a big motivator to stay on track.

  • I think this is great! However, the evidence, in my opinion, points in a slightly different direction than the subject suggests. I gathered the following:

    1. “Dieting” and starving yourself, while sometimes effective in temporary weigh loss, is often not the most effective strategy for overall health and well-being.
    2. Drastic changes and adjustments in both dieting and exercise are often not sustainable and do not lead to sustainable changes.
    3. Regularly working out and incorporating resistance training positively impacts muscle mass.
    4. Fueling properly is necessary for healthy muscle mass gain.
    5. Walking regularly has a positive impact on fat mass.
    6. Regular DEXA scans provide you with useful information for measuring success.

    Instead of long periods of abstaining from food, a balanced diet with regular resistance training supplemented with regular walking will achieve long-term sustainable results.

    I understand that intermittent fasting is an eating strategy that is accepted and has proven benefits. However, I would argue that it is more effective to get all your ducks in a row (exercise regularly, eat the “right” foods, eating the right amounts of foods for your lifestyle) before attempting something like intermittent fasting.

    It is also important to understand what your ideal body composition looks like. There was a time when I was approximately 15-lbs heavier. At this time in my life, I had more muscle mass than was sustainable for the duration of my life. I was lifting heavy regularly and often force feeding myself to get the necessary fuel to sustain it. That was not sustainable in the long term. If your body is carrying about extra fat mass (or muscle mass), then it will need muscle mass to support it. It’s like wearing a 15 or 20 pound weight vest everyday. Shedding that “weight vest” will allow your body to naturally shed the muscle mass that was required to support that extra weight.

    I don’t think there is a perfect answer, just some thoughts I wanted to share.

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