What Your Body Composition Test Isn’t Telling You: A DEXA Scan Review

DEXA Scan Body Composition Testing

Disclosure: I received this test free of charge in exchange for my blog review and community education. All opinions, test results, photos, and content are my own. Huge thank you to the Mandis Agency and Iowa Ortho for their generosity and support of this blog!

Body composition testing—I know you’ve heard of it. Chances are you’ve probably gotten yours tested at some point in your life, whether it was using water displacement for sports in high school, a bio-impedance scale at your gym, or caliper testing at home or with your doctor. There are MANY options to choose from when you want to test your body composition and all are beneficial. The most common approach I see in the fitness world is either calipers or bio-impedance scales. Calipers, unless used by a trained professional, can result in significant differences between tests (not to mention, who wants to pinch their skin to measure their body fat? Talk about making you feel bad about yourself…). Bio-impedance scales (BIA) are certainly easier and can give you a general idea of body fat percentage (BF%), lean muscle mass, hydration status, etc. However, the BIA is heavily dependent on time of day, hydration, and electrolyte status to name a few confounds. So how can you accurately and reliably measure your body’s make up? Enter: The DEXA Scan.

What is it? Will it hurt? What’s the procedure like?

Dexa Scan table

The DEXA scan (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) was originally developed in the 1980s to measure bone density in the aging population. Now, in addition to bone density, it is used to measure subcutaneous and visceral adipose tissue (surface layer body fat and fat around internal organs, respectively) and lean muscle mass distribution. It is the gold standard in body composition testing. Why? Well, for one, it’s the most reproducible body composition test out there. Also, hydration, electrolytes, proximity to a workout, etc. have no bearing on the results. (Insert raise-the-roof emoji here… and cry-laughing emoji… k, side bar: there need to be emojis for bloggers.) Not to mention, unlike a bio-impedance scale that will give you an overall reading of body composition, a DEXA scan tells you exactly where you’re holding fatty tissue and muscle, down to each arm, leg, and foot.

Dexa Scan

Now, let me assure you, although these images look like they’re very medically-oriented, the DEXA scan does not hurt, and you don’t have to do anything other than lie still on a table. The orthopedic clinic I went to had me undress and wear one of those oh-so-stylish hospital gowns (insert cry-laughing emoji again, haha). They also taped my feet together to keep my legs from rotating outward (pretty sure that’s common practice for the scans). After that, you lie on the table and it slowly glides you back and forth under the scanner. It’s not noisy at all and you cannot feel anything other than the table moving. It’s a painless procedure that lasts all of 4 minutes. Note, though, that lying still means no talking either. I definitely tried to have a conversation with the nurse while this was going on and she promptly shut me up. HAH.

The Results (and yes, these are mine).

DEXA Scan Results

Above is the full report you receive once the scan is done. In the spirit of full transparency, I wanted to post my individual report here instead of the generic sample report from Jane Doe. I always keep it honest on the blog, and this is my way of showing you all you don’t need to be ashamed of your body, whatever your numbers are. Yep, I’ve definitely gained some weight in recent years (upwards of 20lbs). I used to be somewhat ashamed of that, but honestly, I’m really not concerned with it anymore. I’m more interested in how my body functions and feels. That said, let’s look at this more in depth.

Body Images and Composition Chart

Below are a zoomed in look at the images of my body and the composition results chart. The images, as you can see, are of the different types of mass (left) and ratio of fat to area of the body (right). In the left image, you can visually understand your body composition. No bio-impedance scale, water displacement tank, or caliper can do that! (For reference, blue = bone; red = muscle; yellow = fat.)

DEXA Body Images

Now here’s the interesting part. This chart gives you the exact distribution of fat, lean muscle, and bone mineral content (BMC) per body area. So cool! So, for example, my left arm has 2.20lb of fat and 5.51lb of combined lean muscle and bone. The fat percentile columns are a comparison of your body to “young normal range” (YN—a large group of 20-30 year olds), and age-matched (AM—people your specific age). The lower the number, the better (for reference, they go from 1-100).

DEXA Body Composition Results

The other chart pictured in the first full image is a list of different fat ratios throughout my body. These are important because certain ratios can indicate a higher risk for obesity, increased risk for cardiovascular disease, and other health complications. For example, % Fat Trunk / % Fat Legs is a ratio of how much adipose tissue you have in your trunk (abdomen, back, chest) versus your legs. The ideal ratio for women is below 0.8, and below 1.0 for men. The higher the ratio, the higher percentage of fat you likely hold in your trunk, which can be a risk factor for certain heart and pulmonary conditions.

The Takeaways and Cost

So what does one make of all this? It’s a lot of information thrown at you all at once! I’ll admit, even though I understood some of it on my own, without a professional explanation, I wouldn’t have been able to make sense of the more detailed results. The main take-home point here is to use this as a tool to reliably measure your body composition across time. I’d suggest getting multiple scans done—once as a baseline measure, and then again maybe a few months into a new fitness routine or healthier way of eating to track your progress.

The cost of this test will depend on where you are and what clinic/orthopedic facility you go to. For those local to Iowa, Iowa Ortho does the DEXA scan for $39.99. Insurance does not usually cover them, so they are typically an out of pocket expense, but are very affordable. For more info, and to check your local DEXA provider, go to their website here.

Readers: chat with me! Have you heard of a DEXA scan before? Have you ever had one done? If not, are you interested in doing one? Do you track your body composition in other ways? How’s your Monday going?

Quick & Easy Peanut Butter Banana Greek Yogurt Bowl

Popping in real quick this morning to bring you a delicious yogurt bowl recipe I made yesterday for breakfast.  I usually have some version of this breakfast bowl practically every morning (along with an english muffin), but this one turned out so good, I had to share.  It packs a nutritional punch with 30 grams of protein thanks to 2 cups of Dannon Oikos Triple Zero Greek yogurt, and has lots of healthy fats thanks to Teddie Natural Peanut Butter.  It's pretty low in sugar, too (each yogurt has 7g), and can be modified any way you choose.  As if that's not good enough, it's ready in literally 2 minutes (and if you're really hungry, eaten in less than that).  Y.U.M.

Quick & Easy Peanut Butter Banana Greek Yogurt Bowl

I highly recommend this for breakfast (especially if you've got a sweet tooth in the morning) because with it's high protein content, this bowl will keep you satiated for longer than, say, that bowl of cereal.  It certainly makes a great snack, too, or dessert if you add in some cocoa powder.  Keep reading for the recipe, and make sure to pin it to that breakfast Pinterest board for a go-to meal when you're in a hurry.

Quick & Easy Peanut Butter Banana Greek Yogurt Bowl | In Fitness and In Health

Quick & Easy Peanut Butter Banana Greek Yogurt Bowl

Quick & Easy Peanut Butter Banana Greek Yogurt Bowl

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 5.3-oz cups Dannon Oikos Triple Zero banana Greek yogurt 
  • 1 fresh banana, sliced
  • 2 spoonfuls natural no-salt-added peanut butter (I use Teddie Organic)
  • handful of granola (flavor of choice)
  • unsweetened coconut flakes

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Scoop yogurt into a bowl
  • Top with sliced banana, peanut butter, granola, and coconut flakes
  • Enjoy!

Next time I'm probably going to add some unsweetened cocoa powder and chocolate protein powder for a chocolate kick and to add a bit more protein.  Other additions I'd like to try: chia seeds, honey, strawberries, blueberries, flavored peanut butter... the list is endless!

Readers: chat with me!  What's your go-to breakfast on a busy morning?  Are you a fan of Greek yogurt?  If so, what's your favorite?  Are you a savory or sweet breakfast type?  Have you jumped on the smoothie/yogurt/breakfast bowl bandwagon yet?

5 Healthy Swaps to Get You Ready for Summer

The weather is getting warmer!  (Finally, it's almost May...)  Which means that summer is right around the corner.  Check in with yourself.  Now that the year is almost a third of the way through, how are your healthy habits stacking up against what you vowed to do at the beginning of the year?  If you've stuck with your plan and are making this year THE year, props. to. you.  Seriously.  It's not easy!  But if you've gotten off track, or need a little boost, take this as a reminder to get back in the groove.  If you need a push in the right direction, here are 5 super simple healthy swaps you can make RIGHT NOW to jump start your healthy living and get you ready for summer.

5 Healthy Swaps to Get You Ready for Summer

1 | Juice for Water

Warmer weather calls for even more hydration than the colder months.  It also means that juices of all kinds are stocked to the max at grocery stores and restaurants (think lemonade, cranberry juice, and fruit punch).  Most of these juices have TONS of added sugar, which can lead to dehydration among many other health hazards, so swap out the sugary sips for a nice glass of H2O.  If you're one for soda in the summer, grab a seltzer instead - you still get the carbonation with no additional calories.

2 | Added Sugar for Fruit Infusions

I know this is a popular one, but it's for good reason!  Add some lemon, watermelon (so good), strawberries, or limes to your water for a flavor boost.  Like sweetened iced tea?  Try adding some fruit to that as well!  Strawberries in black iced tea are delicious!  Cut back on the added sugar in your drinks, and you might just feel less bloated and a bit more refreshed.  Who doesn't want that in the summer?

3 | Fried for Baked (or Grilled)

Alright, I know you know fried foods aren't great for you.  But I'm not just talking about the drive-thru french fries or bucket of fried chicken.  I'm talking more along the lines of the potato chips at backyard barbecues, or the fish 'n' chips at the boathouse.  Picnics, outdoor parties, waterfront restaurants, you name it, you're bound to find some type of fried food at these places.  When you encounter them, try to opt for the baked version.  Baked chips are pretty delicious, and they definitely satisfy the salt craving.  In my opinion, baked potato wedges are just as good as fries (as long as you get them super crispy!).  If fried chicken or fish is what's on the menu, ask for it grilled instead.  Just about every restaurant can accommodate that request.

4 | Mayo for Greek Yogurt

Also common among the backyard parties and family gatherings is your classic potato or egg salad.  These are usually made with tons and tons of mayonnaise to get that creamy consistency.  A great substitution for mayo is greek yogurt.  You get a lot more added protein which will keep you satiated longer, and if you opt for the nonfat version, you'll be cutting the large amount of fat from the mayo entirely.  Another great option for smaller mayo substitutions is avocado.  Talk about an added flavor punch and lots of healthy fats!

5 | Indoors for Outdoors

This one is my favorite of the 5 swaps (maybe in addition to the fruit-infused water).  Everyone loves being outside in the summer, but a lot of us work inside during the day.  If you can, try to take a walk outside during your day, or make it a point to get some fresh air on a break.  The warm sunshine will do wonders for your mood, and there's nothing like a nice walk outside to reinvigorate your spirits.  The activity will do wonders for your productivity as well.  And hey, with the way this spring has been lately (at least in the northeast), we have to take advantage of all the sun (and warmth) we can get!

Readers: chat with me!  What healthy swaps are you making right now?  Any that are listed here?  What would you add to this list?  Are you excited for summer?  How have you been staying active?