Well-Being Check: Dexa Scan, Nutrition, Sleep, and Meditation

I decided to take stock of my well-being and health routines now that we’re on the other side of a chaotic summer. I got my annual physical with blood work, got my teeth cleaned, and spent some time thinking about where I spend my mental energy like I wrote about here and here.

Then I was given the opportunity try something new. I had a full body scan done. The technology is called Dexa Scan (www.dexascan.com). Dexa Scan (from the website): “lets fitness enthusiasts, athletes, and dieters measure body composition. See exactly how much fat and muscle you have and where. Track your progress as you work through a new program.”

I had my scan done at a place called Composition ID in Arlington, VA. I learned the office has clients from The Washington Capitols and area D1 colleges. The scanning process was quick and non-intrusive, using a low dose of x-ray to see right through your clothes. I got my report within 10 minutes of walking in the place, and the associate did a great job walking me through my results.

The verdict? Well, I’ve gained back some weight over the past year or so. I currently weight 179 pounds, about 14 pounds heavier than I was at my lowest a year and a half ago, and 10 pounds heavier than I’d like to be. Here’s my overview:


My 179 pounds is broken down as follows: 32 pounds of fat, 8 pounds of bone, and 139 pounds lean tissue. 18% body fat is much higher than I would like (I remember being 11 or 12% in high school), but I’m still in the 5th percentile based on my age. The report shows you where you carry your fat. For me, it’s my hips, legs and trunk. Here’s a cool heat map image showing fat (red), lean mass (blue) and bone (white):


I also got a reading and learned about visceral adipose tissue, a fatty layer that surrounds your organs. Higher adipose tissue is correlated with all kinds of coronary disease, and at 1 pound, I am approaching the upper limit of what is considered the normal/dangerous line.

There was other data in my report, like my bone density, which is off the charts high. This explains why I sink like a stone in a swimming pool. The image of my skeleton freaked me out a bit.


Overall I found this to be a fun and helpful way to check in on my health. I highly recommend Dexa Scans for anyone who wants to have a data-based approach to weight-loss and fitness. Based on my report I think I’d like to try to lose 4-5 pounds of fat in the next 6 months, or probably 10 pounds overall at least, and then get scanned again. Here’s my plan.

Get some discipline back in my diet

Some years ago I wrote about how I became unhealthy and needed to lose a good deal of weight. Since then I also wrote this post about my personal nutrition rules, most of which I still believe to be true. And then there’s my all time favorite dieting post, this sarcastic tirade about losing weight being unpleasant.  I think I’ve done enough nutrition research to throw down with just about any dietitian or nutritionist. From 2008 to 2011 I lost about 30 pounds with a lower carb, whole food, Mediterranean style diet, but now I’ve gained back half of that in the past year because of a lack of discipline with my eating habits. Time to get back on track.

Sleep better

Sleep is the sleeper factor in weight loss (crickets, I know). If I’m not sleeping well, I’m not eating well and I’m less likely to exercise. The two biggest sleep problems we have right now are our kids and my overnight travel.

With four kids, including a 6 month old and a 2 year old, there’s about a 0% chance of sleeping through the night. My wife takes the brunt of this. She tries to let me sleep, but despite either of our best efforts we’ve both been basically zombies for the better part of 8 years. Hopefully we can get some better sleep training for the 2 youngest and catch up a bit in the coming months.

As for overnights, I’m going to do 52 nights with Marriott this year (concierge key next year, baby!), and probably about 65 overnights in all. I’m not complaining. I know plenty of people who travel double that amount for work, and I really don’t mind it. The problem is that overnights for me do mean sub-optimal sleep and unhealthy eating at restaurants. I know I can do a bit better with my sleeping and eating habits on the road, so that’ll be my focus.


I recently started using Sam Harris’s meditation app called Waking Up. This is not my first go at meditating. A few years ago I took a course on Transcendental Meditation. TM was just OK for me. I didn’t like the cult-like training, and mantra-meditation wasn’t the best fit. I also kept falling asleep every time I meditated. Ultimately I used TM for about 2 years before leaving it behind. I’ve also tried the apps Headspace and Calm. I still have Calm on my phone, but I only use it for the white noise tracks now.

Waking Up is different. There are several lessons and then a guided meditation for each day. The core meditation technique is called Mindfulness which you’ve no doubt heard of. Mindfulness is a catch-all meta-technique of various Buddhist traditions.

Harris’s gradually introduces meditation techniques to help you observe the breathe or your body or your mind or the very nature of consciousness. The meditations are 10 minutes long, and you feel great after each session.

I would call some of the concepts “advanced” or kind of far out there. For example, it’s possible some of you are not ready to contemplate whether or not you have a head, but some of the meditations require you to think about this.

So far I am really enjoying it. In addition to the meditation techniques, Harris has a gift for explaining popular concepts like gratitude and recognizing life is short. For $8/month I’ve personally gotten more in 20 days with Sam than I did with my $1,000 investment in TM training.

I started getting back into meditation not to lose weight per se, but to improve my overall well-being. There’s plenty of research that shows meditation is an effective antidote for stress and anxiety and there’s also plenty of research that shows how high stress and anxiety make maintaining a healthy weight even more difficult.

OK, that’s it for now. If I stick to my plan, I’ll give you all an update in 6 months. If not, I’ll use my mindfulness powers to enjoy every bite of every burger I eat between now and then and never speak of this again.