When it comes to getting fit, as the saying goes, “What gets measured, gets managed.”
So if you want to manage to burn that fat covering your six-pack, you better measure it. And a scale won’t cut it because it doesn’t differentiate between muscle and fat. In fact, I’ve got a new saying for you:
“If you’re on a scale, you’re gonna fail.”
But if scales are use-less, what is use-full?
A DEXA scan.
In this post, we’ll explain what a DEXA scan is, quickly answer common questions about DEXA scans, and share our results so you can see how it might help you achieve your fitness goals.
What’s A DEXA Scan?
A dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan is a low-radiation x-ray that accurately measures how much of your body weight is made up of fat, muscle, and bone.
Not only does it tell you your total body fat, muscle, and bone, it breaks it down by body part. This enables you to get into the real nitty-gritty of finding what to work on to and then track your progress.
DEXA Scan Quick FAQ
Why get a DEXA scan?
A kick in the butt.
Most of us think we’re fitter and healthier than we really are. The hard facts of a DEXA scan will reveal the hard truth.
A pat on the back.
If you’ve been working hard to burn fat, you might not lose weight because of muscle gains and bone density improvements. A scale or BMI test can’t distinguish between these changes, but a DEXA scan can.
DEXA scans can reveal issues that you might not be aware of (like bone density in Kim’s case) that you can proactively address before they become serious problems.
Are DEXA scans harmful?
Only to your ego.
The radiation levels of a DEXA scan are lower than what you’re exposed to on a 5-hour flight.
How much do DEXA scans cost?
Anywhere from $50 to $150, depending on how many scans you pay for, your country, and the level of expertise of the person who will administer the scan.
We’d recommend buying at least two DEXA scans so you can compare results over time and ensuring you book with someone who will be able to explain your results to you and come up with an action plan.
How do you prepare for a DEXA scan?
Unlike X-rays, you don’t need to fast before a DEXA scan, but it’s best to go on a reasonably empty stomach every time to be consistent.
Wear comfortable clothing without zippers and buttons or ask your DEXA scan center if they provide scrubs.
How long does it take?
A DEXA scan appointment will only take about thirty minutes.
The scan itself only takes a few minutes. You lie as still as you can as the C-shaped machine goes up and down.
The technician will take a few minutes to prepare the data then will spend 15 to 20 minutes explaining the results to you and talking about what to do about them.
DEXA Scan Results
Kim and I got our first DEXA scans a couple years ago. Since then we’d changed our fitness, diet, and lifestyle routines. Had our bodies’ composition changed, too?
Kim had been complaining I was “wasting away” ever since I got into fasting and eating only one or two meals a day. And, as for herself, she was worried she was getting fat because the dastardly scale was telling her she’d gained about eight pounds.
We returned to see Peter from Bodycomp Imaging in Vancouver to put those doubts to rest.
Kim’s DEXA Scan
Heavier = Fatter or Fitter?
Kim was relieved to discover that most of her weight gain was lean muscle, not fat. Her overall body fat percentage was only very slightly higher than before (from 22.9% to 23.3%, which is in the lower 2% of her age group). Nothing to worry about at all.
Some Bones to Pick
The only slight concern (and it’s very slight) came from Kim’s bone density.
While it had increased since her last scan thanks to incorporating weight training into her routine, it was still low enough to possibly put her higher risk of fractures as she aged.
Kim’s Next Steps
Based on her DEXA scan results, Kim set two goals.
- Tone her legs. While her body fat levels are very healthy, her legs are disproportionally the fattest part of her body. She hopes to improve on that by adding more plyometric leg exercises to her routine.
- Continue to improve bone density. By continuing to do weight-bearing exercises, her bone density will continue to rise. Also, helping her cause will be a whole lot of sunshine-derived vitamin D from our upcoming three week trip to Kenya and indefinite move to South America.
Click here to see Kim’s complete DEXA scan results
Chris’ DEXA Scan
No Sugar and No Breakfast or Lunch = No Muscle?
At the time of my last DEXA scan, I was fiendishly eating many meals and snacks a day and had a huge sweet tooth. Since then, I had cut down significantly, mostly eating only once a day and only letting my sweet tooth out of its cage once a week. What effects did these changes have on my body?
The biggest change was that I’d lost 3.3 pounds of lean mass in my stomach. This, Peter and I suspected, is not muscle loss but simply less stuff in my stomach—less food in my stomach and less energy in my liver (in the form of glycogen), which the DEXA scan counts as lean mass.
On the bright side, my belly fat (which was already low in the first place) did go down 10%.
An Infrequently Big (Enough?) Eater
Even Peter seemed surprised that I hadn’t lost more muscle from eating only once per day. Based on the DEXA scan results and my active lifestyle, I’d have to eat over 3,000 calories a day to maintain my muscle mass. That’s a lot of calories to devour in one meal!
Chris’ Next Steps
- Measure my meals. I’m curious to see if I truly am eating 3,000+ calories in my daily meal and whether I’m getting the right balance of macronutrients. While my one-meal-a-day routine hasn’t affected my body composition, maybe I can identify potential macronutrient changes I can make that might help me get stronger instead of simply stay the same.
- Strengthen my left leg. Due to a slight left knee injury I suffered over a year ago, my right leg has become disproportionally bigger than my left. I’m going to consciously work towards correcting that.
Click here to see Chris’ complete DEXA scan results
What Might Your DEXA Scan Reveal?
No matter what your fitness level or goals may be—fat loss, muscle gain, bone strengthening, bod composition—consider getting a DEXA scan.
From our experience, seeing the data has been an awesome way to identify specific focus areas and motive us to improve on them. This is especially true if you’re planning a life change—be it a different diet, fitness routine, or environment. Get a DEXA scan before and after to measure the true impact.
And get rid of that useless scale of yours.
Target Your Weaknesses
Because your life’s only as strong as its weakest point.
Take the free Comfort Zone Assessment — 20 multiple-choice-questions to:
- Measure your comfort zone’s overall fitness level.
- Identify which area(s) need your attention.
- Prescribe life-improving interventions.
Where to Get a DEXA Scan in Vancouver
If you’re in the Vancouver area, we can’t recommend Bodycomp Imaging more highly. Peter, the owner, is a super energetic, friendly, and knowledgable guy. Not only will you get your scan, but he’ll dive into the data with you and give you an in-depth consultation on what steps to take to achieve your goals. He’s very popular, with a two-week waitlist, so book early.
Find the DEXA Scanner Nearest You
If you don’t live in Vancouver, find the DEXA scanner nearest us at the appropriately-titled DEXAScan.com.
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About the author
I'm Chris. Grinding for conventional super success was exhausting, so I zagged. Now, my life's getting better and better—and part of that involves pushing you to work toward the same.
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6 responses to “How a DEXA Body Fat, Muscle, and Bone Scan Can Help You Get Fit”
Thanks for this post. For the relatively low price of this Dexa scan, and the sheer amount of my friends in Vancouver who are either personal trainers, or involved in fitness or weight loss, I only recently found out that even a Dexa exists. There seems to be no reason that myself and my friends might be forking over thousands of dollars for personal trainers, gym memberships, weight-loss cleanse products….and haven’t even bothered to consider anyway of measuring if we are actually dropping fat (not weight) or adding muscle. Which leads me to believe that the weight-loss products are not actually decreasing fat, but mostly only kg’s of weight in the form of water, glycogen, muscle…and not “burning fat”…. it seems with getting scans like this – there’s no place to hide… either fat% is decreasing or not.. and no room for diet BS that says you can burn kg’s of fat in a matter of a few weeks…
I was wondering if maybe you know if the amount of calories that you are burning according to the Dexa Scan include your workouts or without them?
This is awesome, thanks for doing it. I wish there was one near me. My weight is plateaued and I am not sure if I am slowly adding muscle and just making no progress. I would also love to have a baseline for future reference.
I noticed you did them two years apart. Can you do them more frequently, or is that not safe? About how much is it?
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