At two weeks post-partum, I look like I’ve lost all the baby weight — and stepping on the scale confirms that I am in fact within three pounds of my pre-pregnancy weight — but appearances and scales do not tell the whole story. The more important metric is the percentage of fat mass, and it was obvious (at least to me) that my six week hiatus from training has yielded a loss of muscle and gain of fat, despite the fact that my weight is completely within a normal range for me.
There are numerous ways to assess body composition, including skinfold calipers, bioelectrical impedance (“body fat” scales), hydrodensitometry (underwater weighing) and dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA or DXA) scanning. Of all available methods, DEXA scanning is the gold standard for accuracy and detail, and for the past three years, I have been undergoing regular DEXA scans to monitor my body composition, muscular symmetry and bone density.
Yesterday, I went to visit my friend Peter at Bodycomp Imaging for a scan to kick off my “lose the baby weight” challenge.I’d had a scan in October 2010, just a month prior to becoming pregnant (at which point I was in very good, but not peak, condition), so yesterday’s scan provided an excellent picture of the impact of my pregnancy on my body composition.
The results were… well, somewhat sobering, but I suppose that in the grand scheme of things I haven’t fared too poorly. Overall, I have gained 10.4 pounds of fat and lost nine pounds of muscle (hence why my overall mass has remained relatively unchanged). My body fat percentage has increased 6.4 percent, from 22.5 to 28.9. At this level, I am still well within the healthy range for females of my age group, but my own optimal body fat percentage (where I look, feel and perform best) is just under 20 percent. So, I have a bit of work to do over the next few months.
Interestingly, yesterday’s scan showed an increase in bone density, despite the fact that pregnancy tends to decrease women’s bone density due to mineral stores being allocated to support the growing baby. Peter told me that most women do not return to their pre-pregnancy bone density levels until a year post-partum. I have a feeling that my diet has been instrumental in preventing this loss.
My goal for the next six months is to lose 16 pounds of fat and gain 13 pounds of muscle, which would bring me down to about 20 percent body fat. Within three months, I would like to be back to my pre-pregnancy (October 2010) levels, and then I will spend the following three months really tweaking my diet and exercise routines to get myself back into peak condition.
Is this even possible? I honestly don’t know. I’m not entirely sure if my body will release all its excess stored fat while I am still breastfeeding. I may find that I plateau at a slightly higher body fat percentage until Oliver is no longer deriving the majority of his calories from breast milk. That said, I have heard that women experience a considerable spike in human growth hormone for several months post-partum, so this may be an unprecedented opportunity for me to gain lean mass.
Are my training goals realistic, given the demands of motherhood? I believe so, providing my schedule can accommodate five one-hour sessions most weeks. For now, I will be exercising in the evenings after J gets home from work, but I am actively looking for a suitable training facility with child minding so that I can do my workouts in the daytime instead.
As for my “lose the baby weight” challenge, here are the parameters under which I am working:
The challenge began yesterday and will end on February 27, 2012. For the purposes of this blog, I will post weekly updates on my diet and workout routines until the three month mark (November 28, 2011), and then monthly thereafter. I will also post photos and DEXA scan results at the end of months one, two, three and six.
To begin, I will ease back into training with three sessions per week, to be increased to five as soon as I feel capable of doing so (hopefully within two weeks; four at the latest).
I will be following a modified Paleo diet that — for the time being — includes some high-fat dairy (grass-fed butter, plain Greek yoghurt, cream, and occasional treats of whole milk or cheese). My rationale for this is that these particular dairy products will add some variety to my daily menu while providing a dense source of fat and calories, which I need for breastfeeding. These are also foods that require no preparation, which is very helpful to me at this point in time. I may reconsider this decision if my fat loss seems compromised.
I will endeavour to stick to my Paleo diet as much as possible; however, I recognize that there will be occasional cheat meals and treats when we eat out (especially during the month of September, since we will have family visiting from out of town).
Tomorrow I will post the PDF from my DEXA scan, as well as my “before” photos, and will talk about my first couple of post-natal workouts.
In the meantime, if any of my Vancouver-based readers are interested in booking a DEXA scan, Peter has generously offered a 10 percent discount to the readership of this blog. Just drop him a line at peter(at)bodycomp(dot)ca or call (778) 881-6142.
(Please note: I have not been compensated in any way for blogging about Bodycomp’s services.)