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What I Learned in 6 Minutes From a DEXA Scan

 6 minutes… That’s the amount of time it takes to get your real lean muscle mass, percentage body fat, bone density, body shape, and an array of other useful measurements about yourself. We can of course guesstimate some of these things but they are ONLY rough estimates compared to what a DXA (formerly DEXA) scan can do.

I walked into Composition ID in Arlington, Virginia this morning only having a rough idea of what to expect. I wanted a confirmation that my 3-year ketogenic journey was setting me on the right path. I knew that a DEXA scan could detect subcutaneous fat (under the skin) and visceral fat (around the organs). Outside of my basic vital measurements, I haven’t done any major tests on myself since starting keto.

Time flies…I’ve lost about 8 pounds since starting the ketogenic diet. At 6’4″ and 190 pounds in the beginning, I didn’t have much to lose anyway. 

From a health risk standpoint, I’ve been concerned about possible visceral fat accumulation. Visceral fat is known to be dangerous. 

It’s not THAT uncommon for a thin person to have a low amount of overall body fat but to have a high amount of visceral fat near the organs. 

So, What’s the Verdict?dexa scan total body composition results

I got the info I needed. It turns out… 3 years into keto…It doesn’t look like I am becoming the “Michelin Man” from the inside out. On the contrary, I’m at 11.7% body fat, 157.6 lb lean body mass, and my visceral adipose tissue is .18 lbs… So I’d say that keto has been treating me pretty well!

The average % body fat for a 30-year-old male looks to be about 25 – 35%.

A visceral fat reading of 1–2lbs or higher is a cause for concern [*]. It’s nice to see that keto isn’t putting all that coconut oil I’ve been wolfing down around my organs.

Rafi, the owner of that Composition ID, walked over the results with me after the scan. This was incredibly helpful. You get 6 pages of data afterward, so it really helps to have someone knowledgeable point out the important things.

The scan returns a heck of a lot more information…More than I was expecting. And, I have to be honest, all the info you get back on those six pages is pretty cool!

So, let’s break down what is included in the scan. From my perspective, I would classify the results into 3 separate categories for your body which are your percent body fat, body weight distribution, and Bone Mineral Density. Let’s look at my results.

Download My Scan Results 

Taking a Look at My Results

1. Percent Body Fat

DEXA shows the fat distribution in each of 5 different areas of your body as well as your overall percent body fat.

DEXA Scan Body Fat Locations:

  1. Arms
  2. Legs
  3. Trunk
  4. Android (Abs)
  5. Gynoid (Hips)

I actually had the smallest percentage of fat around my abs somehow (which is good because that is the highest disease risk area). The highest fat areas were my legs (12.6%), Trunk (10.8%), Gynoid(hips) (10.7%), arms (9.7%), followed by abs (8.6%).

Rafi pointed out that traditional percent body fat tests often report your results as being lower than what they actually are. These rely on the person using the caliper to accurately place it on the body. This is more difficult than you might think and requires a lot of practice. Even the best caliper tests get you to within plus or minus 3.5% of what you ACTUALLY are. [*]

2. Body Weight Distribution

DEXA breaks down where your mass is located on your body and how much lean mass vs how many pounds of fat you are carrying.

Before getting this scan, I assumed my lean body mass to be 147 lb as reported by a few different LBM calculators. The scan actually showed that this was about 10 pounds too low. I’m actually at 157.6 lbs lean mass…interesting! So, the calculators are close, but 10 pounds is enough to make a difference with calculating my macros.

I did NOT expect to find out about the symmetry of my body and the weight distribution of the left and right sides. The scan can detect if you have a greater weight on one side versus the other. It does it for both lean mass and overall body mass. DEXA found that my right side had slightly more total mass than my left (1.4 lbs more).

dexa scan lean mass balance results

My difference in lean mass was much smaller – only .1 lb difference between left and right sides. Rafi said this was a negligible number. If your lean mass is far apart, then this could mean a couple different things.

  • You are recovering from an injury.
  • There is an underlying medical condition that is causing the imbalance.
  • You could be at a higher likelihood to experience an injury.

If you a find that your right arm weighs more than your left arm due to injury, you could use that information to assess you overall recovery. 

3. Bone Mineral Density (BMD and BMC)

dexa scan bmd results vrooman

DEXA shows your bone density (BMD) in g/cm2. A reading above –1 (yes negative 1) is the goal. I was at positive 1.3 so the bones checked out okay.

The scan also returns your Bone Mineral Content (BMC) in pounds. My reading was 7.2lbs which might easily be mistaken for the weight of the skeleton, but this is actually the weight of the minerals found within your bones such as calcium and phosphorus. A higher number means stronger bones.

In case you’re wondering how much your skeleton weighs, it’s about 15% of your body weight. [*]

That’s Nice Chris… How Does This Scan Actually Benefit You?

  1. I have my REAL numbers, not guesstimates, nor numbers from an inaccurate tool like a caliper. My macros need updating!
  2. DEXA reports that I am healthy! (from at least a body composition perspective) I am confident to keep rollin with keto… 
  3. I have a goal to track. I’ve been in a caloric surplus as of last week. I can now use this baseline scan to check progress against my goal of adding 10 pounds of lean mass. 

How YOU Can Use DEXA to Track Your Own Fitness Goals

If you have a goal in mind that involves your body composition, DEXA can be very helpful for tracking those goals. Most (if not all) the data points are meant to be tracked over a period of time. My only regret is that I don’t have a starting point for myself from when I began keto. This would be a great reference. Looks like I’ll have to go back for another scan in a few months :-).

Great Reasons to Use DEXA

  • Tracking percentage body fat on keto during weight loss.
  • Tracking lean body mass as you lose weight or put on weight.
    • You DON’T want to lose lean mass during weight loss. 
    • You DON’T want to add fat while trying to gain lean mass. 
  • Tracking the weight of muscles on each side of the body to build balance.
  • Tracking Bone Mineral Density (DEXA is used for diagnosing osteoporosis) [*]

Setting a new weight loss goal for your new year’s resolution?

DEXA may help keep you accountable and give you a baseline to measure against at the end of the year. The scan doesn’t lie. A scale DOES lie when you are putting on muscle weight at the same time.

Are DEXA Scans Accurate?

Studies seem to show that DEXA scans are accurate for recording both bone density measurements (BMD) and body fat measurements. [*] [*] [*]

You want to keep your scans as consistent as possible. The food in your stomach, as well as the water you drink, can alter the results of the scan. I wouldn’t go drinking a gallon of water before your scan. An intense workout would likely throw off the results too. [*]

How Can I Sign Up for a DEXA/DXA Scan?

Check out www.dexascan.com to find a scanning location near you. I had mine done at Composition ID near Washington D.C. and I would recommend them if you are in the D.C. area.

The cost is going to vary depending on where you get the test done. I’m seeing that most of the scans are anywhere from $45 to $150 (US Dollars).

Are There Health Concerns with DEXA Scans? 

Pregnant women should be cautious about getting a DEXA scan since any amount of radiation can be considered harmful. [*]

DEXA scans use a VERY low dose of radiation compared to other testing machines such as CT scans or X-Ray images.

“The amount of radiation used is extremely small—less than one-tenth the dose of a standard chest x-ray, and less than a day’s exposure to natural radiation.”  – Radiologyinfo.org [*]

Compared to a CT scan, DEXA is about 1/10,000 the dose of radiation. That’s comparable to 3 hours of radiation from our natural environment. [*]

What the Process Looks Like

I wish I would have taken a few photographs or videos of the machine. My scan was very similar to Dr. Larry’s experience. I was in and out of Composition ID in less than an hour.  

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