Earlier this week, I discussed how I ditched my scale for the betterment of my emotional health and sanity. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have mechanisms for tracking physical progress and health.
I majored in Economics. I love data. I need numbers. So what’s a number nerd to do when you take away a daily metric like weighing? Well, let’s talk about data. At a very high level, we can break it into two categories: qualitative and quantitative.
Qualitative data is what it sounds like – measured by qualities. Qualitative data includes the outcomes of a situation that you cannot measure, but you can observe. Quantitative data is what you can quantify, i.e. put numbers to. There are accessible methods for measuring quantitative data. Both types of data are important and helpful when discussing tracking of progress when it comes to health.
First, let’s look at the qualitative data that can be used (and that I use) to track how I’m doing health-wise. I like to think of qualitative data when it comes to health as “quality of life” data. How is my quality of life? The things I tend to look to to measure my quality of life are:
- Do I wake up feeling refreshed and energized?
- Is my energy steady throughout the day, or does it dip in the afternoon?
- Is my digestion comfortable, i.e. no nausea, bloating, or the ever-classy gas?
- Am I going #2. (I really wish there was a way to talk about health without going to the poo topic, but thus far I just don’t see a way).
- Do I fall asleep easily?
- Do I wake up in the middle of the night craving sugar?
- Am I cranky or generally happy?
If one of those things above is off or not what I want it to be, I can generally trace it back to something. Did I eat something I typically don’t? Did I stay up too late mindlessly reading about people’s dogs, babies and other nonsense of Facebook? Have I eaten enough fat that day? Have I eaten enough period that day?
This “quality of life” data is im-port-ant. It requires for you to listen to your body and take note of when you feel something not quite right, or downright wrong. If there is one single goal of pursuing a healthy lifestyle, isn’t it to improve our quality of life; to live longer, happier, more fulfilled lives? I think there is tremendous value in listening to your body, and perhaps picking a handful of things (like my list above) that you can use to keep tabs on your body and how you’re doing. This article provides an exhaustive list compiled by Whole9 of qualitative data points – check it out! 174,203 Ways to Measure Health (Besides the Scale)
But what about the numbers? How could you use some relevant metrics to measure progress that won’t turn you into a neurotic mess?
First, let me point out that weighing yourself frequently may not make you a neurotic mess like me. If that’s the case for you, righteous man. But that still doesn’t mean that scale weight is reliable. I recognize that for some people, scale weight might be the only viable option right now for measuring progress. If that’s the case, I say weigh on with your bad self.
- Put some quantitative measures to the qualitative data. Create a way to track your energy throughout the day, by ranking it on a scale from 1-5 at set points throughout the day. Or maybe rate your previous night’s sleep upon waking. Note anytime you feel digestive discomfort, then look back at your week and analyze how often is it happening. Try eliminating what you think is the culprit, and track again.
- Track your food intake and a quality of life metric. Another way to do this is to track what you eat throughout the day, then relate it to things like energy level and digestion. I am not hugely wild about tracking everything I eat all the time, since it tends to make me feel a little crazy. But I will do this from time to time to get an accurate picture of what I’m taking in, and I know some people really like this type of tracking.
- Body fat percentage. I delved into why scale weight is often misleading (including how I lost 7% body fat and not a single pound last year) earlier this week. I am much more a fan of using body fat percentage to track if weight loss is your goal. Because for most people, when you say you want to lose weight, you really want to lose fat. Most people don’t say “I want to lose a bunch of muscle and have no definition”. No, you want to lose the layer of fat that covers up your lean muscle. Measuring body fat gives a much more accurate picture of what you’re actually looking to lose. This article covers the 5 most common ways of measuring body fat. I highly recommend getting a pro method involved to ensure accuracy!
The above three are good, but they’re still not my favorite. I personally have come to love and rely on Poliquin BioSignature Modulation. I am not affiliated in any way to Poliquin or the BioSignature deal in any way. I just have found it so helpful that I want to endorse it to others. I first heard about BioSignature from this Robb Wolf podcast, and I looked up a practitioner in my area and scheduled an appointment. At the time I was eating a pretty clean paleo diet, but could not lean out for the life of me. I figured BioSignature was worth a try.
BioSignature assessments are administered by trained practitioners. The basic process is they measure your body fat at twelve different sites. Each site gives insight into a different element of your hormonal profile. You get an overall body fat percentage read, but you also get a very pointed depiction of what is actually happening in your body. You are generally not equally big everywhere, and it is a shame to ignore where your body is storing fat.
When I did my first BioSignature assessment, I learned that I was carrying fat in my love handles, stomach, and calves, which shows that my body was not managing blood sugar well, had jacked up cortisol, and my sleep sucked. Instead of haphazardly trying various things to improve my body composition, I was then able to prioritize my actions to address these most problematic hormonal imbalances. By regularly tracking those 12 sites, myself and my trainer were able to adapt my routine, my food, exercise, and supplementation to best address my personal issues. I don’t think BioSignature is a perfect science (because pretty much nothing is) but it was very helpful and enlightening for me.
Now that my focus is on health and not fat loss, I am still regularly having BioSignature assessments to address other hormonal issues. It turns out that my estrogen was pretty high, hence the estrogen detox protocol I’ve been doing this month. I am looking to ramp up my exercise next month, and will use BioSignature to monitor cortisol and mitigate over-training. Blood sugar management continues to be a difficulty for me, and I will continue to monitor that critical element of health through BioSignature.