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It is difficult to obtain an accurate body fat measurement, which can be particularly frustrating when dieting. The scale might not move, but progress can be made in other measures, such as waistline or muscle composition. Especially as the weather becomes warmer, many people are looking to get fit for the summer (when quarantines will hopefully be lifted).

Therefore, it is necessary to take a scientific approach to measure your weight loss capability as you count calories and hit the gym.

What is a DEXA scan?

One method of accurately measuring body fat involves a DEXA scan. A DEXA scan is, on a basic level, a bone density scan. This is a pain-free, non-invasive procedure that uses spectral imaging to reveal a person’s bone density.

Other data that can be gathered by the scan is skeletal maturity and, yes, body fat composition. In the UK, DEXA scans can be obtained fairly easily – convenient, considering they are the most accurate measure of fat and lean mass. They can also reveal visceral fat, a fat that surrounds the internal organs and can increase your chances of contracting diabetes or colon cancer.

What happens next

Once the scan is complete, clear data is then provided on your weight loss journey and the potential next steps that you will need to take. In addition to counting calories, you can learn which problem areas that you would need to focus on.

Follow up scans can then be done over the course of many months, each providing more data on your fitness and personal health and well being. For this reason, the beginning of your diet is typically the best time to have a DEXA scan done; it would allow you to take a snapshot of yourself at ‘ground zero,’ prior to the calorie counting.

And remember…

Most importantly, a scan can teach you that it is not necessarily weight you want to lose, but instead fat. Overall, a DEXA scan could be exactly what you need to kickstart your weight loss journey and become a healthier, happier you.

The amount of energy you burn each day, in calories, is known as your TDEE – your total daily energy expenditure.

It’s the sum of how many calories you burn at rest (known as your RMR) plus the number of calories you burn doing your daily activities, digesting food and other bodily functions when you’re not resting.

For you to maintain your weight and not increase body fat, your energy expenditure (TDEE) should be matched by the energy in the food and drink you consume. The number of calories in what you eat and drink is known as your ‘maintenance calories’.

Therefore, your maintenance calories and your TDEE are two very important numbers because, knowing them means you can work out what you can eat in order to lose body fat, maintain weight or gain muscle.

But they are just numbers. Or, rather, they are estimates or calculations of numbers. You DO NOT need to obsess over them and you don’t even need to know them, especially if your main goal is to lose body fat. Why? Because at the end of the day your body weight will show pretty conclusively if you are hitting your maintenance calories.

​​Consider this analogy, where your height is your maintenance calories and a bridge you walk under is your TDEE.

If you have been measured as 5’7″ tall but bang your head every time you walk under the bridge that declares a clearance of 5’9″ there is no point in re-measuring either the bridge or yourself – you are too tall for it! To walk under the bridge you need to duck down (reduce your calories), whatever the sign on the bridge (your calculated TDEE) says.

Forget about the numbers. Getting under the bridge is an empirical exercise. Either your height or the bridge clearance – or both – has been calculated incorrectly. You can’t change the height of the bridge but you can duck.

You need to consume less if you want to walk under the bridge!

​In the same vein, if you are putting on fat, you are eating more than your maintenance calories, regardless of whatever any formula or machine says it is or however many calories you think you are consuming every day (or how active you think you are). You need to reduce calorie intake until you stop putting on weight, and then duck down some more (go into a calorie deficit) so you start losing weight.

Many people come to Bodyscan wanting an accurate measure of their RMR and maintenance calories because “I’m eating less than maintenance and I’m still not losing weight.” Well, if you’re not losing weight you are NOT eating less than maintenance! Rather than try to make RMR/maintenance fit consumption, you need to change consumption to fit your TDEE!

If people see an increase in body fat fat when they “are in a calorie deficit” it’s because, pure and simple, they are NOT in a calorie deficit! This is because

a) they are eating more than they think they are
b) they are less active than they think they are
c) both of the above

Tracking calories is notoriously difficult and unreliable; on average people underreport their calorie intake by about 47% and over-reporting energy expenditure by about 50%.

It may well be easier to track what you currently eat and adjust from there.

Philip Chant
Director

To lose body fat, you must eat fewer calories than you burn. Adhering to a calorie deficit over time forces the body to burn stored body fat for energy. The theory stays the same regardless of age, so is it really true that fat loss gets harder the older you are?

In our experience, older people do tend to have a harder time shifting the excess kilos. First we will discuss why, and then we will explain how to solve the problem.

1) A decrease in Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)

As we age, we burn fewer calories. One reason for this is the decline in resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is the number of calories we burn at rest. This has been shown to fall linearly with age. The fewer calories we burn, the fewer calories we must eat to maintain our weight, and so adherence to a deficit becomes more challenging. 

2) Lifestyle changes 

Typically our lifestyles at 50+ are not the same as they were when we were 25. Our activity levels are far lower, and so our energy expenditures are also far lower. [1]

You’ve got to work harder to keep below maintenance

So how do we overcome these hurdles?

One way we can help prevent the RMR from declining is by maintaining muscle mass. One of the reasons our RMR falls as we age, is because skeletal muscle mass tends to decline as we get older [2].  There are other factors which contribute to the decrease in RMR (eg, a decrease in sodium-potassium pump activity) so some slowdown may be inevitable. However, by weight-training and preserving as much skeletal muscle mass as we can, we can mitigate as much as possible the decline in RMR and stop body fat increasing.

As for lifestyle, we simply need to keep as active as possible. More sitting around and less activity will lead to fat accumulation. Staying active will keep energy expenditure high, and thus make fat-loss easier. While we may lose speed and agility, walking, swimming, cycling and other low-impact activities are all good ways to burn calories. Better to move slowly than not at all.

To sum up, those who maintain the same activity level and who continue to weight train into older age, see just as good results. Take the example of Albert (results below), 66 years old, who in the space of 3 months lost over 6kg (a stone). Not only that, but the vast majority of it (5.1kg) was body fat; less than a kilo was lean mass. In our experience, people often lose 1kg of lean mass for every 3kg of fat, so not only has he done better than most, but he has done so at 66 years of age (our clients’ median age is 37). Age is just a number, don’t let it define your results.

Robert Webster
Bodyscan Consultant

Given the disruption to our daily routine and built-in habits, many are panicking about gaining body fat, losing muscle and the potential implications for our general health and well-being.

This is on top of the stress, anxiety and uncertainty we’re all experiencing. It’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed and find yourself mindlessly eating/snacking due to the monotony, boredom and stress of our current situation.

To help combat the constant fridge-raiding, here I give you some tangible tips on how to manage your nutrition, health, well-being and sanity!

1) Your Food Environment
This is the number one area that you have control over. The food you bring into your home matters. Surrounding yourself with highly palatable/junk-type food leads to overeating. Do not purchase foods that you cannot control yourself around, especially packets of things like crisps, biscuits and snacks – who can eat only one crisp?! Out of sight, out of mind. Instead, keep nutritious, filling foods in the house that you enjoy and satisfy you.

2) Mindless snacking
Try not to consume meals/snacks when distracted (eg, when watching TV) as this can increase your food and overall calorie intake.

3) Develop your cooking skills
With more time on our hands, lockdown is a great opportunity to hone your cooking skills and develop your recipe repertoire. Cooking homemade meals in bulk is an easy way for you to continue to consume nutritious meals and practise portion control, plus it’s a money-saver! 

4) Routine
Maintaining some routine can provide mental clarity and structure to your day. My clients and I have found this to be extremely beneficial. You can create a daily routine, or a weekly structure as a method to maintain some normality. I’d recommend including regular meal and bed/wake times, a set training/exercise schedule, and regular social interaction (e.g. video/phone chats).

5) Keeping active 
Walking or any formal cardio is an easy way to stay healthy, improve mood, enhance cognition, reduce anxiety and keep a lid on body fat. I strongly encourage adding in some form of weight bearing or resistance exercise (e.g. dumbbells or bodyweight) to maintain and/or gain muscle tissue. Pick an activity that you enjoy and focus on how great it makes you feel afterwards.

6) Exposure to light early in the day
Where possible, aim to get some natural light exposure earlier in the day to help regulate your biological clock or circadian rhythm.

7) Sleep
Sleep is one of the most important and perhaps underrated aspects of our lifestyle that plays a crucial role in our health. Sleep is restorative, and a lack of it can disrupt many systems in your body that protect you and keep you functioning at your best, including your immune system. Prioritise your sleep – this is the perfect opportunity to start creating healthy sleep habits.

8) Stay connected – mental health
During isolation it’s super important to stay connected. With modern technology, it’s easy to check-in with family, friends and loved ones. Reach out, communicate and ask if they’re okay or if there is anything you can do to help.

Stay positive and, for everyone’s sake, stay at home as much as possible!

Kevin Garde
Nutritionist and Bodyscan Consultant

With all the gyms closed, when it comes to muscle-building you’ll have an immediate advantage if you have a home gym or just a bench with some decent weights. I have had many clients (see them at the bottom of this blog on the website) who have made great progress at home.

​But without weights, muscle maintenance rather than muscle gain is probably the best most can hope for. If you’ve been used to training with heavy weights, then a step down to body weight will probably see some muscle loss. This is because many bodyweight exercises don’t provide enough resistance and it’s hard to work the full body effectively.

My favourite piece of home equipment is a suspension trainer (TRX, pic below). This is hugely versatile, takes up little room and allows anyone of any fitness level to get a very effective workout for the full body whether the goal is losing body fat or gaining muscle.

A pull-up bar (these can be installed in a door frame, as above) is another good buy, and both this and the TRX will serve you well long after lockdown is over.

FREQUENCY, SETS, etc

As the loads won’t be so heavy with bodyweight exercises, you’ll be able to recover quicker so you could definitely look to increase frequency and train every day. The higher frequency would help with being able to build muscle mass and improve strength. 

With any new routine, it does take the body a little time to adapt so initially you may still notice muscle soreness (DOMS) due to the new stimulus. This should subside after the first couple of workouts and you’ll then be able to push up the frequency. ​

Many people struggle to get into the good habit of motivating themselves to train from home and end up cutting their workouts short. ‘Little but often’ is the key here – if you’re feeling lazy or unmotivated, a 50-60 minute session may seem unappealing but most people could commit to 20-30 minutes pretty easily. 

With bodyweight exercises, I’d advise taking all your sets to the point of failure (where you physically can’t do any more) to ensure you’re challenging your body. Without the heavy loads, this is essential to still make the exercises effective, especially when it comes down to muscle and strength. 

You can also look to increase the total number of sets you do by 25%. Due to the lighter loading, you will be able to recover more easily. If you’ve got no equipment at all, here are some of the best bodyweight exercises you can do. Make sure you have good form on all of these.

Press-ups/push-ups – Great for working the chest, triceps and shoulder muscles. These can be done on your knees if full press ups are too challenging. Have a wider hand position to focus more on the chest or hands closer together to concentrate on the triceps and shoulders. Do three to four sets to failure.

Planks – Either a normal plank or side plank is a great exercise to challenge your deeper core muscles, helping with posture and overall strength. Hold for 45-60 seconds each time and do 2-3 sets.

Bulgarian Split Squat – Use a sofa, chair or step to elevate your back foot. Even with bodyweight, you’ll find these a great exercise to challenge your lower body strength and stability. To make these easier, keep both feet on the floor. To make them more challenging, slow down the tempo and don’t lock out at the top of the reps, only going two thirds of the way up or hold something in each hand to add weight, eg bottles of water.

Hip Thrusts – Use a firm sofa or chair to rest your upper back against. This is a great exercise for working your glutes and hamstrings. To make this harder, do this one leg at a time, with the other leg in the air. You can also place a weighted item on your lap to add resistance. 

Air squats – If you’re well trained, you’ll have to do plenty to be challenged so this may be a higher rep exercise but will still challenge your legs effectively.

Bench dips – Using a sturdy chair this is a great exercise to target the arms, specifically the triceps. 

Leg Raises/Crunches – Floor exercise which work your abdominal muscles are easy to perform for all levels of fitness and can help with posture, core strength and overall aesthetics if you can get your body fat levels low enough to see the muscle mass in your abdominal region. 

Some real results from home workouts

Here you can see James losing 12.3kg of body fat in seven months, training at home four times a week. James had one set of adjustable dumbbells and an adjustable bench for his home equipment. He did two workouts focusing on his upper body and two workouts focused on his legs and core every week.

All his workouts were focused on strength training, aiming for him to get stronger and increase the loads he was able to lift with the adjustable dumbbells. James did minimal cardio apart from walking 8000+ steps a day.

Laura, 54, managed to lose 8kg of fat in only eight weeks without using a gym or cutting carbs. She exercises mainly outdoors, playing tennis but did two resistance sessions per week, focused on bodyweight exercises and using dumbbells.

Matthew, 67, managed to completely change his body and lose a huge amount of fat in only 12 weeks. He did this using only a suspension trainer, one set of dumbbells and his own bodyweight. (And cutting calories, of course!)

Daniel lost body fat and built muscle mass in just five weeks, using only home equipment and juggling young children. Daniel used mainly a home barbell set with adjustable weights and a bench.

Archie Williams
Bodyscan Consultant