You’re Fatter Than You Think

…at least I am anyway. After years of living in the blissful land of inaccurate skin fold calipers, I found out that Texas A&M has student rate on DEXA scans ($55). So I decided to get a truly accurate picture of my % body fat and was shocked at the results.

First for those that aren’t aware, the DEXA scan uses extremely low levels of radiation to determine your fat, muscle, skeletal, and water weight. How low? It’s around 1/40th of a typical chest x-ray, and the fact that the doctor sits next to you during the scan without a lead lined smock is pretty comforting. DEXA scans are currently the most accurate way to measure your body composition – better than traditional submersion methods or the “bod pod” (the 2nd most accurate). On top of that, you get a bone density measurement as a bonus. It goes without saying that calipers and “body impedance” scales are vastly behind any of the these methods.

Going into the test I felt pretty good. I have some room in my 32″ waist size pants and my caliper measurements put me at just 9.4% fat. Sure, I’m not yet the at the golden goal of 5%, but hey that’s why I’m training for an Ironman event.

DEXAscanThe shocking DEXA results? 17.1% fat!!!

Thankfully, Dr Martin was able to put a little salve on my wounded pride: DEXA scans are revealing much higher numbers than previous methods. A scan of 17% would have fallen in the 12-15% range using the former gold-standard submersion method. In fact, a study out of Texas A&M that tracked elite college athletes found female swimmers had an astonishing average of 22.2% body fat using the DEXA scanner. This is not to say those athletes have a bad body composition, but rather that our measures of “good” and “bad” levels of body fat were calibrated on a method (submersion) that was significantly under-reporting fat. So until the “conventional wisdom” and rules of thumb catch up to these more accurate measuring tools, prepare yourself mentally before undergoing a DEXA scan.

Now as with all methods, repeated measures with the same instrument will give the most comparable results.  Which is why I plan no revisiting the DEXA machine once or twice to track my progress towards becoming an Ironman.  Although I’m revising that goal of 5% to something more realistic like 12%.

4 Hour Body: 3 Months Later

Not Really Me

Not Me

About three months ago, I tried out a few of the suggestions in the book: The 4-Hour Body. I adopted the Slow Carb Diet, started photographing my food, took a couple of the suggested herbal supplements* and even a experimented with few of Tim’s exercise tips. While my experiment is still ongoing, I think enough time has passed to give some preliminary results.  ( *things like green tea extract not those other kind of supplements ;)

First I need to address some slippages on my part. Even though I started this project at the end of June, I had some personal events that derailed my motivation to adhere to the diet for about a month and kept me from the exercise program for a few weeks (which should hint at the ease of this new workout approach). I also did a poor job keeping up the food photo journal. I just couldn’t seem to remember to whip out the iphone and snag the pic when need. Not a big loss as “diet aid” in my opinion but it needed mentioning. Anyway, the results:

Even though I essentially did the slow carb diet for a month, then off a month, then on a month – I am down 8 lbs. Which isn’t bad as my goal is ten total. In real terms, I have gone from tight 34 inch pants to normal fit 32s. And this was with most weeks involving several cheat meals in addition to my cheat day. Yes this diet works.

However, more impressive for me are the strength gains that I’ve made while losing weight. As most athletes know, it is difficult to do both at the same time. So here are few of my gains in workout weigh and the associated 1 rep max estimate:

July 6th October 6th
Close-Grip Suppinated Pull-Down
(Machine Chin Up)

160 lb x 12

est max: 230 lb

260 x 11

est max: 360 lb

Machine Shoulder Press

90 lb x 12

est max: 130 lb

200 x 13

est max: 300 lb

Machine Slight Decline Bench

140 lb x 9

est max: 180 lb

210 x 16

est max: 360 lb

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I need to point out that my machine is a Bowflex and “Bowflex lbs” are not quite as difficult as free-weight lbs because of the bow-like resistance (which is much safer for maxing out without a spotter).  However, the relative increases are real: a 56% increase in my pull-downs and doubling my shoulder and bench strength.  That my new workout works is obvious, but I’m interested to see just how far the rabbit hole goes.  That is, can I continue these gains over the next 3 months?  We’ll soon see.  :)

Slow Carb Diet Experiment

So I have been looking for something new to get back down to my “fighting weight” and get ripped just in time for winter.  I recently discovered a new diet plan from Tim Ferriss called the Slow Carb Diet that takes the Lo Carb diet and adds back in beans.  Alright there is a touch more to it but that’s the gist.  Tim makes a good case for it in his book The 4-Hour Body.  20 lbs in 30 days didn’t sound too bad, so I thought I’d give it a whirl for 30 days and see how it stacked up.

Here’s the full Slow Carb plan:

  • Unprocessed Proteins:  Fish, Beef, Pork, Chicken… and Eggs (whites are best)
  • Beans: Black, Red, Kidney, Pinto, Soy… and Lentils
  • Veggies: All (go easy on corn)
  • No “white” carbs: bread, sugar, pasta, potatoes, anything fried, etc.
  • No Fruit.  Exception: small amounts of citrus juice in water or tea is encouraged.
  • No Dairy. Exception: low fat cottage cheese.
  • No Booze. Exception: up to two glasses of dry, red wine per night.

The twist: One day a week is your cheat day.  Anything in any amount is far game!

Sounds a little crazy but so far I have lost 3 pounds in the first week.  Which alone isn’t too impressive as it could be largely “water weight”, but that includes taking a 3 day road trip where I was only was “on plan” for breakfast (ie eggs & bacon).  So that is pretty good.  However the real test will be to see where I am at after week two.  The book has some other tricks with cinnamon and food photos but I don’t want to spoil it all.

Flickr FoodStream

So I am trying out a new idea dieting aid from The 4-Hour Body as part of my Slow Carb diet experiment.   The idea is similar to the written food journals popular with many trainers, however your smartphone’s camera replaces the old pen and paper method.  Add to that a photostream and voila the FoodStream™ was born.  I am personally using Instagram to make it happen as it is super simple, efficient at uploading, and offers some fun filters when your eggs look too dull.  Once setup, it was easy to get my latest photo from my iPhone to flickr to this site’s home page with just a few taps.

Research suggests that documenting your food will reduce your bad eating habits.  Swapping out jotting everything in a notebook for quick snaps just makes things easier.  Well almost.  I have found the hardest thing about starting a photo food journal is remembering to photograph your food.  It’s really not a natural thing to do.  But after a week, I am finally getting a hang of it.

Just so long as the occasional (often) mostly eaten plate counts too.  ;)


  • After two weeks, I still constantly forget to snap my food – at least until I’m done eating it.
  • When I’m up to it, I added the meal info to the empty plate pic title.
  • Instagram’s filters are fun but a few more would be even better.
  • I’m down 4 lbs!