Thursday, March 17, 2016

Loving and Leaving the Scale- managing weight by feel

How I’m leaving the Scale and Daily Weigh-In’s behind.

I am an inveterate weigher

I have a wifi enabled scale, and have been using it - near religiously - since i got it several years ago. Data, do i have data. And guilt.

Every morning. And fear to start the day.

First thing in the morning it’s been how i either feel good about myself (lost weight; didn’t gain weight) or use it as a Judgement of Failure (gained weight), and sets me on a path for how to change my food practices that day.

And that, my friends, is crazy. I’m a frickin’ certified strength and conditioning coach, nutrition coach, performance researcher. I publish research on just this stuff (eg no such thing as gaining a pound). I've participated in being coached around these principles. I KNOW that daily weigh ins cannot be used in this way. And yet, and yet.

Finally, last week when i was on the road and away from the scale for a week - and i confess, i was in france eating the best sourdough bread in the world after six months of zero bread. It was AMAZING. and i sorta finally had a break - a break through; a break down.

French pain au levain - or sourdough bread. mmm. opiods
I don’t know. But i thought: i’m eating all these processed carbs; my workouts this week are less intense; i must be putting on weight. I should be freaking out. I will freak out as soon as i go home and step on the scale. I really will. and then i’ll feel horrible. Like what i’m doing right now will fill me with shame. Bad bad person.

And so i thought: what if i don’t step on the scale?

Which thought lead to:

Why am i stepping on this scale?

I write and talk alot about how we should use any of these measurement tools to help us listen to our own body signals better.

We are WAY more sensitive systems than any trackers we can build and use, so why not use these measures to help us recover our senses?

So i thought: how do i take my own medicine here? how do i apply learning about listening to my body signals better by using the scale to support that sensitizing rather than as a rod to beat myself up with first thing in the morning?

Let’s do an experiment, me thinks. An experiment has an hypothesis, methods, presents data from these methods, then carries out analysis of the data, to see if the hypothesis has been disproven or proven.

Quick Overview of Approach. For a couple weeks or so, maybe longer, i’m thinking, how about trying to go by feel, and see what happens in terms of outcomes for which i care - getting stronger, leaner faster.

By feel, i mean, putting together feeling hungry vs too full; having a good sleep, a good workout and how this translates to adapting practices on the one hand and results like body fat% on the other at the end of the period. Can going by feel - really focussing on feel - let me learn how to do a better job of tuning my performance to feel better.

The hypothesis i’d like to test is that: by focussing on how i feel, and using measures in the background to assess how “feel” lines up with “measures”
  1. i’ll actually be able to get fat down
  2. i’ll feel better
  3. i may find an optimal way to conenct feeling with “reality” and that feeling to tuning, that will all be both more “tracker free” and better than “measure first” approach - in other words i’ll have evidence that i’ve been able to dial in “how i need to feel” against food/rest/movement etc to perform better - including being leaner, stronger, faster.
The null hypothesis would be: fat gain will only go up; i will fail in your leanness and strength progress aspirations without constant numerical monitoring.

The Method for This Experience

- every experiment needs a plan. Here’s how i’m measuring what i’m doing.

The Un-Scale: since the real push here is to get off the scale and its daily guilt trip, i’ve done this: i’ve put a hunk of gorilla tape over the number part of the scale window. I can see that a measurement is being taken, but i don’t see the measure. THis way, post experiment, i can look back on the “feeling” log and map what happens against that.

Other physical body measures: my main reality check will be a saturday tape measure up and skinfold caliper check in. By using 7 point caliper method against girth i’ll be able to see what my body seems to be doing. If lean mass goes up, and fat doesn’t move, weight will go up, girth will go up a bit - likely. If lean mass goes up as strength improves and fat burns up a bit, girth should go down a bit.

Girth measurements use weight so i won’t be doing the calculations at this point to give me a specific Body Fat Percentage measure, but i’ll have the data to put back in at the end of the study for that calculation. This is really good: data is there, but i won’t have to focus on it while going by feel.

Other Input Measures: Workout, Food, HRV, Time

Workouts: what i’m also tracking: my daily practice. I’m currently in another experiment of doing nothing but bodyweight progressions right now - building a base for things like hand stands, levers and the such like. Here’s a shout out to the german lads of CalisthenicsMovement for fantastic beginner and intermediate programs -and awesomely useful vids on youtube.

So, i’m logging my workouts using these specific protocols to measure progress. What is fascinating to me already is that in the past week that was my fifth week i think into these new protocols, it became a back off week. This week there is a BIG boost in performance. Very cool.

Food: all i’m doing with food tracking is taking pictures using my fave ap for this, diet snap: take a photo, that’s it. There’s no calorie counting - it’s here’s a record of what and how much you’re eating. Great.

HRV for Recovery: For the past few months i’ve been using the best phone based recovery measurementapp, HRV4Training by medium author Marco Altini(Great story of PhD’er and App builder.)
HRV stands for heart rate variability. It is a very reliable measure by which to assess fatigue - or really - how well have you recovered from the stress of the day before. Let’s say this again: how well you’ve recovered. That is an incredibly valuable measure against which to assess feel: how do you feel; does it align with this score. I’m making progress in terms of predicting what my waking score is feeling roughly to be. While the actual scores in my head may be a bit out, i’m rarely surprised about the direction, up or down from the day before.

How i use HRV: I already have killed my alarm clock. That is i sleep as much as i need and get up when i’m ready, so measuring sleep is not really something that is a big value add for me. All i need to know is how well recovered i am so i can rebalance as needed for the day ahead: above baseline, go go go; below base line - pending how much - either back off a bit (lighter workout for instance) or just rest (go for a walk).
This data can also be exported to a spreadsheet for review at the different periods for review in the study.

Calendar: A biggie in any experiment is also to understand what the heck was going on when. For instance, if i was on the road, does that explain shifts that may show up in weight data on a given day, but no bump in trend of weight overall? How does daily load affect recovery and progress that week, etc?
Wy do i want to know this? to connect back to feeling feel. And from this, to connect with some knowledge, skills and practice to TUNE IN better performance, reliably.

HowDoYouFeel tracking. Each day i’ll be tracking on my own how i feel on a lickert scale - better or worse than the day before in terms of body feel, energy, and anything else i can think of as relevant.
Active Engagement with Feel Checking Another part of this process is what in learning is called Active Learning: we engage with a process deliberately - reading a text, practicing a movement, whatever, with a specific intent. In this case, my specific intent is to ask at various points during the day is HowDoIFeel - in terms of energy, body, attention etc. Make a note that i’ll be able to connect back to any of the data captured.

THe goal of that connection is not just to see if i was right or wrong, but to see if i am building skills to tune in feeling better - better.

Checking In or Analysis: at different check points - the first one i’m thinking will be a month - i’ll be able to see what’s happening with the hypotheses.
I’ll be able to put all the data together - including the scale - to get the trends over time - and to coorelate these against particular food/workout/recovery practices.

Hopes: impact from outcomes

Best case scenario, after a month, if nothing else, i’ll have broken the Morning Madness of beating myself up about a number that is meaningless when trends are where it’s at.
What i am hoping of course is that i’ll have data to support the hypotheses listed above. What i may find is that the first check in may show if i’m not on target to confirm the hypotheses i may need to tune in awareness of a particular feeling better - and i may need some more data to help that. But my guess is that, at the very least, i’ll see i get better at tuning in performance - without a scale - over time.
That is - i’ll be able to use measures for a period to learn how to take care of myself - have confidence in that - without the measures.

A challenge here: i *know* about what the right things to feel and to do are. That’s the whole trainer thing - so i have the professional knowledge - and have also gone through coaching around the skills and practices to get to my happy body place. Previously, I’ve used the scale as a stick to re-inforce this knowledge even when i haven’t practiced the Things i Know Work - or worse, have demanded compliance when too stressed to work at that level. I’m hoping that this path may let me just be in my bod and find out what a real, happy place might be - to start to feel ok in the ebb and flow of seasons of our bodies.

Something potentially scary - these past few days alone of stepping on an un-scale without seeing the data - has been such a huge relief i really believe i must be on the right track: like the hitting oneself on the head - it feels so good when it stops.
Here’s to us all learning about how to tune in feeling great.

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