LOOKS (AND SCALES) CAN BE DECEIVING…

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.)

14 responses to “LOOKS (AND SCALES) CAN BE DECEIVING…

  1. I’m so inspired by this! I’m in due February, so I’m interested to follow your progress! I have no doubt it will help me get back on track.
    Oliver is so handsome! How are you feeling?

  2. I am interested in what your opinion of “don’t do much for 6 weeks after giving birth” is? I’ve heard it can be damaging the stomach muscles, but wondered if you found it falling into the category of the “140 heart rate” and “Eat the bread!”.

  3. Again, great information here on weight vs. fat and muscle comp vs. measuring tools.

    When I was an athlete we all had our body fat measured by bioelectrical impedence (this was back in 1999) and some of the athletes were in tears when they were told that they were at or over 25% body fat. I was doubtful at the time that the readings were accurate.

    My sister has been using DEXA scans in the last year and found the information quite motivating.

    Hmmm… doubtful there is a DEXA scan machine here on the island. Maybe I will look for one on one of my off island trips.

  4. I’m @racheljonat ‘s sister. Totally agree with the scale comment.

    I had a retest done and I’d only lost 3 lbs of scale weight over 5 months. But in reality, I’d lost 7.3 lbs of fat and gained 4.3 lbs of muscle. I’d lost a whole dress and feel great.

    My height and weight place me in the ‘overweight’ category on BMI yet my body fat is now 29% (healthy range). I’m wearing a size of clothing I normally wear when I am 10 lbs lighter on the scale. This is all due to crossfit and eating more protein.

    We’re so focused on this scale number that I think we’ve lost focus on what we’re looking for; health. There are plenty of people that have a healthy BMI number but an unhealthy body fat %.

    I go to Peter as well and highly recommend him. He has lots of helpful nutrition tips.

    Good luck with getting back to where you want to be!

  5. I have really been enjoying following your journey! I recently found out that I am pregnant and am planning to continue my paleo eating habits throughout my pregnancy (I have been eating paleo for several months). I have a random question: did following a paleo diet help to minimize/eliminate the foot/ankle swelling? Many of my friends who have been pregnant recently basically just ate whatever they felt like eating and ended up with horribly uncomfortable-looking swollen feet. Did you experience this?

  6. I discovered your blog when looking for paleo/crossfit pregnancy blogs. Your posts give me hope that I’ll be able to have a healthy pregnancy and postpartum recovery. Thanks for sharing! Good luck getting back into tip top shape. Sounds like you have a great plan!!

  7. Hi. I was just thinking…you mentioned having trouble finding a gym with chilcare facilities. I go to Crossfit Vancouver and live directly across the street. I’m aware that this may seem like a bit of an odd offer but I would be more than happy to take care of your son while you’re at Crossfit. I would be able to pop over some days and watch him at the gym while you did your workout. I just feel that you’ve taken so much time out to write this blog which I’m sure has been incredibly helpful to many women (myself included!) and I would love to be able to say thanks with a bit of my own time. I’m graduating from PTs tomorrow, which I’m really excited about and I would be really upset if I had to give it up because of scheduling difficulties with my children. Let me know. Also, I absolutely promise to not be offended in any way if you’d rather not do this.
    Susan.
    susanyoung420@btinternet.com

  8. I totally salute your focus and motivation. I just want to put in a vote for cutting yourself some slack. As I’m sure you’ve heard from other parents, predictable schedules and control over one’s time and energy are some of the first things to go when you’ve got a new little one.

  9. HI
    firstly, congrats on your gorgeous lil boy! What a cutie patootie.
    I’m a fitness lover too. Just gave birth via natural birth to my lil girl 2 weeks ago.
    I would like to start intensive exercising and was wondering if it is safe to start now? and what exercises can I do?
    I did long walks all the way to the day I gave birth.

    Thks!

    • Hi, I just happened to discover your blog and am finding it really informative. My baby is nine weeks old and I have been doing Crossfit for moms for about a month. I would like to try the Paleo diet but wondered if this will affect my milk while breasfeeding. Reading over your blog, I noticed that you modified your diet by eating some dairy products. Did you modify anything else? Did the lack of carbs affect your milk in anyway?
      Thanks for sharing all this wonderful information!! What an inspiration for all the mommys who are interested in getting back to their pre pregnancy weight!

      • Hi Sara,

        I haven’t had any issues with milk supply, and I don’t think strict Paleo or low-carb would cause any problems since the mother’s body will always prioritize the baby’s needs regardless of what she consumes or doesn’t consume. I also haven’t come across anything in my research that would indicate carbs in the diet are essential to the production of milk.

        I added some high-fat dairy to my diet while I was pregnant, mostly because it was an easy and dense source of calories, but I’ve since cut most of it out as I am finding it gives my little guy gas. I’m still using lots of butter, though, and having the occasional bit of plain Greek yoghurt. Neither of those things seem to be problematic.

        I think milk supply has a lot more to do with giving the baby unrestricted access to the breast than it does to do with which foods you eat. That said, you can’t go wrong packing yourself full of nutritionally-dense, high-calorie foods 🙂

  10. i just love your blog. i am also a fitness buff and currently 29 weeks pregnant. your advice about crossfit and heavy lifting have helped tremendously. Do you know anything about high impact exercises like running or box jumps causing permanent damage to ligaments in the pelvic area? A friend’s doctor warned her of this but I am not sure whether to believe it. Thanks!

    • Due to the effects of the hormone relaxin, pregnant women can indeed be more prone to ligament injuries; but a strong, fit woman who has been doing high-impact exercises before becoming pregnant is well equipped to continue doing them for as long as she still feels comfortable. The notion of ballistic exercises causing permanent damage to pelvic ligaments sounds like hyperbole to me.

      In my experience, while doctors and OBs are very skilled at what they do, they are not exercise physiology specialists, so they generally tend to disseminate the standard conventional recommendations for pregnancy exercise, which are based on the “average” woman, who is very different from the “fit” woman! 🙂

      I will say that I did not personally experience any issues with running (including trail running), box jumps, burpees, sprinting up and down stairs etc., which I did right up until the ninth month.

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