What’s in a number?

Yesterday I did something that I’ve been thinking about having done for a while. I went to the University of Westminster to have a BodPod analysis done. I first saw and heard about the BodPod at the GSK Human Performance Lab. It’s a highly accurate, non-intrusive, extremely rapid method of measuring body composition. It utilises a technique called air displacement plethysmography. Yeah, I can’t say that either, let alone understand what it means. But having done a bit of internet research it appears that it’s the ‘gold standard’ for accurate measurement of body composition.

For the last 18 months I’ve been measuring my body composition on a pair of Tanita41wGkKHG96L__SX425_ body fat analysers. For the first year or so they provided me with a really good picture of how I was progressing. I started off at 42% and at one point had got my measurement down to 29%. I know that it’s not a particularly accurate way to measure body composition but it’s allowed me to monitor trends very effectively.

But over the last six months or so I’ve noticed that the analyser is affected by all sorts of things. How hydrated I am, whether its warm or cold, the time of day etc and so I’ve started to lose faith a bit in the answers that it’s been giving me. I can measure myself at the same time of day two days in a row, under seemingly similar conditions and get results which are 2-3% apart – clearly not possible to lose or gain that much body fat in 24 hours.

So I started considering other ways to get an accurate measure of my body fat. It’s not that I really care too much about the actual number but I feel that I’ve lost my ‘marker’ of where I’m at and want to re-establish that to help me monitor progress.

The option that a lot of people consider to be very accurate is calipers. But they need to be used by someone that really knows what they’re doing, and the thought of a stranger squeezing my fat at several places over my body really didn’t appeal.

And then I came across the BodPod and found out that the University of Westminster had one. After umming and ahhing over the cost I decided that I was intrigued enough to pay to find out. So yesterday morning I went along to their clinic for my analysis.

20140815_100228The BodPod is a bit of a strange looking capsule. The door opens outwards and you sit inside on a platform. You have to wear tight fitting underwear or a swimsuit for the test and have your hair up in a swimming cap. I must have looked a treat.

After being weighed on a set of scales attached to the machine I was then asked to sit inside, keep still, breath normally and not talk. There were three sets of readings taken and in between each the door was opened to recalibrate the air inside.

It was actually pretty comfortable in the capsule, not as claustrophobic as it looks at all. There were a few beeps and I was aware of very small pressure changes but beyond that, and concentrating on sitting very still it wasn’t obvious that anything was going on.

After the third reading I got out of the pod for the moment of truth.

My body fat is 38%.

It was fair to say that I was gutted. I was expecting something in the low 30s. Jean Pierre the BodPod operator could see that I was a bit shocked and re-assured me that a lot of people who have been using body fat composition scales have higher readings on the BodPod. Even so I felt pretty deflated – 38% is excessive amounts of fat and there was me thinking that I was getting towards the ‘moderately lean’ category.

So I sulked for a bit and then posted about how I was feeling in the Extreme Inferno Facebook group. I had some absolutely lovely responses and it made me realise that although the number is higher than I’d hoped for that it really changes nothing.

It doesn’t take away from the progress that I’ve made over the last 18 months. It’s clear that I’ve lost a substantial amount of fat – I didn’t have a BodPod analysis done at the start, if I had done it would probably have been close to 50%.

It doesn’t change the fact that I’m not where I want to be yet. I knew that before I stepped into the machine. Knowing the actually number doesn’t change that at all.

What it does do is provide me with a baseline to measure against. One that I can trust to be accurate. Something that will provide me with re-newed focus and something to keep me totally motivated on losing that fat.

I am going to go back for another test in a few months time towards the end of the year. I intend for that number to have decreased significantly.

And to cheer me up I decided to focus not on my body fat number. But on a number that I’d achieved that morning. A new PB on a move called Arnold press – 10kg in each hand and I know I could do more.

10610638_10152170937861012_2023188936351421075_nI much prefer that kind of number!

5 thoughts

  1. This is cool. i did a blog post last year on different methods to measure body composition, but did not know about this one. Trying to find a DEXA scan was impossible.
    I found one at Tufts Med Ctr but you had to participate in a study and I did not qualify. I’ll have to look for one of these machines.

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