25th January
written by LS Girl

DEXA scan to measure body fat: How fat am I?

It’s Tuesday, and I just got off the phone with a local provider of DXA – “DEXA” scans and RMR, Resting Metabolic Rate testing. After an informative conversation with the manager, I scheduled an appointment for tomorrow at 10 a.m.

“It should be done fasting, at least four hours without food, but make sure you drink water. Wear a tank top and shorts under your clothes so you can be comfortable, and you’ll want to try and wear about the same kind of clothes during your next scan,” she said.  (Nice upsell, by the way).

About the pricing; a single scan costs $150. My plan was to get one scan now, and then work to change my body fat percentage and go back in six to eight months and get another scan. As luck would have it, they have a “package” of 4 scans for $325. So, it made no sense to purchase two scans when you can get four for almost the same price. Smart way to structure the pricing, I thought.


Wednesday, the day of my Dexa Scan and RMR testing:

Officially, I’m closer to 51 years old than I am to 50. This isn’t super comforting, but it is pretty motivating. “I want to really get some muscle, and lose some fat,” I said during our conversation. “My actual weight isn’t bothering me, but I am what they call “skinny fat”, also known as ‘being Irish’ .”

Being half Irish may also explain why everything I can not easily identify in the kitchen, I label as “some kind of potato”. I once baked a delicious meal for my beau, which included some elegantly seasoned roasted potatoes.

“For some reason, the potatoes didn’t get very soft,” I said, as I presented his plate of delicious goodness.

“That’s because they’re flowers.”

Sadly, I had removed all of the flower bulbs from the basket over the fridge, tossed them in a rosemary olive oil and salt seasoning, and baked them because I thought they were potatoes. I’ve also thrown away perfectly good beets because a perfectly good beet looks like a very rotten potato. As you can surmise from this story, I know HOW to cook, I just don’t know WHAT I’m cooking.

Flower bulb roasting aside, the day of my DEXA scan to measure body fat was here, and I was very excited to find out if potatoes would be part of my future muscle-building plan.

Here is what the machine looks like that does the scanning:


dexa scan machine

I arrived on time, and was escorted to a room that had a machine like the one pictured above. The room had the type of cabinets that you find in most doctor’s examination rooms along with a stool on wheels and a side chair. It was warm and comfortable.

“Take off your jacket, and shoes. If you are wearing any jewelry, hair accessories, or anything metal, please take that off, also.” It was the same manager that I spoke with on the phone. She recalled several details of our conversation which was comforting. “Please sign here…” she handed me a pink smartphone with a liability statement for the x-ray scan, which I signed with my finger.

“Sit down, and then swing you feet up towards that end, and lay down with your head here.” After a little wiggling into place, she placed my hands with my palms facing my thighs and instructed me not to move or speak until the scanner had cleared my head, then I could talk, but not move.

The top portion of the machine scanned me in small increments, beginning at my head and moving section by section down towards my feet. The entire scan took a few minutes. “Ok! You’re done! It will print out a seven page report, and we will review that after your RMR test.  Please follow me into the other room.”

Right next door was a small room with a big TV mounted on the wall, an exercise bike, treadmill, and recliner type chair. “So, you’ll wear this heart monitor (she quickly wrapped it around my torso and zipped it into place) and you’ll sit in this chair and breathe naturally and steadily. A little foam clamp will go on your nose, and you’ll breathe into this mouth piece through your mouth for about fifteen minutes. I’ll turn on some videos about the process for you to watch while this is going on.”

She queued up the videos on YouTube. “These videos are free, you can watch them any time,” she commented as she arranged the mouth piece on the plastic accordion tubing and pressed some buttons on the machine it was all hooked up to. “Beep!” “Beep!” “Beep!”

“Please place the small clamp on your nose, and put the mouthpiece in your mouth and take several deep breathes.” I complied. “Now, breathe normally.” I slowed down my breathing to a normal rate. “If you need to swallow, pinch open the nose guard and remove the mouthpiece, but put it back as quickly as possible.” She placed a small monitor in my lap, that had something to do with the heart monitor.

The videos began playing and I continued breathing. Ten minutes into the test, the machine started beeping. After some examination, it turned out I am the opposite of a mouth breather and she had to restart the test again, but in about 15 minutes I had completed the test, successfully.

“Excellent! You did it and it came out perfect,” she reassured me.

We walked back into the DEXA scan room and she handed me the two sets of results. What happened next surprised me. Let me just say… what they really need is an intervention session afterwards with a crisis counselor because when you actually see your scan for the first time, it’s unnerving.

“This is you,” she said, as if revealing an alien creature never before seen by humans. I looked like a giant blob, in the basic shape of a human. My head looked like a Q-Tip. She began going over the numbers, and I became completely overwhelmed. This is real. Real data. No lies. No fudging. No “I look good in this sweater I must be healthy” shell games. Real numbers that make me, me.

“You scored great on the right side, left side balance. You are very balanced, meaning your right arm, torso, and leg are almost exactly the same size and makeup as your left.” She went on with the details… turns out, each of my arms contains about 3.5 pounds of muscle. My total lean mass is 37 pounds. This didn’t really mean anything to me at the time, as my head was spinning.

We reviewed the blob outline image. “The light yellow is fat, the orange is muscle and the white is bone.” I stared at the image, which was very, very yellow. Still, it was not completely registering in my mind.

“So, your bones! Let’s talk about your bones.” The manager flipped to the next page which had the blob image, and an image of just the bones. It looked the way you’d imagine: like a skeleton. “You’re just a little low on the bone density scale, just a tiny bit. It’s easy to change that number to a higher one with just a few basic adjustments like calcium and some strength training.”


bone scan dexa scanSee how my bones measure up in this chart


I felt a little better, because I was very concerned that my many years as a goth-chick waif had taken a toll on my bones. Which is ironic, because skeletons and bones are so popular among that crowd, you’d think there would be a plan to keep them healthy. Back when I was goth, there were almost no people in “the middle”. Most people were either rail thin, or large and imposing. You didn’t see regular average sized people very often.

My bones weigh 4.9 pounds.

“Your visceral fat is a little high, but not terrible. Again, with just some very basic changes you can boost up the bones and lose some visceral fat.” She continued turning the pages and reviewing the data. My emotions ebbed and flowed, in concert with the findings.

“Here is your lean tissue (muscle) and fat information.” I stared at the yellow blob image. As the numbers were explained to me, it was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears.

“So, you have 53.6 pounds of fat…”

Now, this might sound really good to you. I understand. It’s true that many people would kill to have only 53 pounds of fat strapped to their bones… My weight is about 125 pounds. I’m half fat. Half of me, is fat.  Ok, it’s about 40%, technically. I’m made up of 50 pounds of fat, 70 pounds of muscle and 5 pounds of bones.

I remembered my friend texting me a few months ago with something like, “I’m 27% body fat!” and thinking that was good, but not great. Now I think that 27% is f’ing incredible.

“You don’t want to lose weight, ok? You don’t. All you need to do is build up some muscle, and lose fat. Fat. Not weight. You really could stand to gain some weight, actually.” My ears were ringing, but I nodded and tried to understand, while “you’re half fat! you’re half fat! you’re half fat!” repeated in my head like a protest march at the capitol.

I was in the normal range. I’m in good shape; I could run away from a bear. I’m not overweight or underweight. It was the amount of fat that really blew my mind. After letting it sink in, and talking through many of the data points, my opinions of the information, and of myself began to level off and normalize. The ringing in my ears faded, and I began to breathe normally.

We moved on to the RMR “Resting Metabolic Rate Analysis”. The test showed that I’m a carb burner, and that fat is very hard for me to burn. In other words, if I ate only fat, or fatty foods, they would burn very, very, slowly in my body. Of course I’ll be trying this, to see what happens.

Next, it said that based on me, science, and my breathe: I should be eating about 1,400 – 1,500 calories a day and working out for around 30 minutes.  This is already exactly what I’m doing now, so that confused me a little. My “Resting Energy Expenditure” (the amount of calories needed to sustain life as a couch potato) is 1,210. Add in a hundred calories for every day life activities and about 150 for an average workout and you’ve got the 1,400 – 1,500 calorie range. This part of the appointment confused me. Luckily, the manager said to email her or call if I had any questions so I will be doing that.

In the end, and after reviewing the information on my own, I feel empowered, informed and prepared and I am very glad I did the scanning and testing.  I have real data now about exactly what makes me tick, and with the same amount of effort, making very few changes, I can increase the good stuff and decrease the bad.

Interesting thing I learned: Your bones weigh less than ten pounds. If you are a very tall man with dense bones you may tip the scales at 9 pounds. Most people, regardless of size, weight, or wrist measurement, have bones that weigh less than ten pounds.

I’ll be writing an update to this article as I progress on my journey… in the meantime, here is my Dexa scan.

Thank you for your time, and for reading this article! 🙂 If you had a scan or test like this, please share your experience in the comments! 

Learn more about DEXA scans and RMR testing by visiting: