Biohacking Tip #7: Choosing Your Own Indicators of Well-Being

Your Own Indicators of Well-BeingIndicators are friendly signals.

That tell you if you’re on track.

Or if you might want to adjust course.

They communicate about the status of something you care about.

Like your health.

  • An outcome is a result.
  • An indicator gives you information about where you are in relation to achieving that result.

Choosing Your Own Indicators

People tend to default to just one or two standard indicators. Like the number on a scale.

If weight loss is the goal, you could also use the Body Mass Index. Or the circumference of your body parts.

They are all indicators. But how useful are they?

That depends!

They are all lagging indicators. They tell you what has happened after it happens.

Lagging indicators offer important information about results. But they lag.

If things aren’t going the way you want, you don’t find out until later.

They enable to you to ask ‘did it work?’ not ‘is it working?’

What you want is some leading indicators. Signals that will enable you to correct course before things go awry.

Leading indicators give you information about what you can expect to happen.

My Example: Stress & Weight

Yoga 5Stress is a major factor in weight regulation. For me.

Perhaps for a lot of people.

Recently I wrote about my struggles with obesity in Personalize Your Diet for Weight Loss.

Though I’m now at a healthy weight, I have to remain vigilant to keep it that way.

The connection between stress and weight gain is a complex one for me, with several nasty vortexes.

Here’s the pattern:

  1. Stress exacerbates my long-term issues with adrenal fatigue.
  2. Stress and adrenal fatigue provoke my compulsive relationship to food, which upsets the eating habits I want to maintain.
  3. My compulsive interactions with food evoke feelings of low-self worth.
  4. Feeling unworthy and compulsive about food spikes my stress, which puts me back at #1.
  5. Stress is known to increase blood sugar and negatively impact gut microflora, both of which can lead to weight gain.

So rather than using the number on the scale as an indicator, I measure stress.

My Indicators of Well-Being

  1. The size of the callous on the pad of my left thumb;
  2. My energy in the late afternoon; &
  3. The time it takes me to fall asleep at night.

When I’m stressed, I habitually scrape my middle fingernail across the pad of my left thumb. I just do.

And when my adrenals are overtaxed, I get incredibly, soul-crushingly exhausted in the late afternoons.

Similarly, stress negatively impacts my ability to fall asleep at night.

But if I can keep my energy fairly steady throughout the day, fall asleep quickly at night, and keep my thumb smooth, I know my stress is under control.

Then it’s as simple as eating well and moving regularly to keep my weight in a healthy range.

And it’s much easier to keep food and exercise on track when my stress is lower. The vortex reverses and begins to work with me.

Your Own Indicators of Well-Being-2Choosing Your Own Indicators

My indicators are designed for me.

For my goals, challenges and peculiar thumb-scraping habits.

I expect they’ll change over time.

But anyone can choose personalized indicators to use as an early warning & navigation system for sticking to a healing path.

How to Choose

As someone with several serious health conditions, Matthew is a complex case. When I asked him about his indicators of well-being, he immediately said “facial hair”.

And he’s right: his facial hair gets pretty unruly when he’s in rough shape.

But it’s not a reliable indicator.

Because he might feel crappy, but shave anyway. Or, even on a good day, decide to go for a backwoodsman look.

Though the orderliness in his facial hair is usually correlated with his well-being, it’s directly under his control.

After some thought, Matthew chose three:

  1. Snoring;
  2. Overall sleep time; &
  3. Bowel movements.

When he has increased levels of inflammation in his body, he snores. After the first couple of months on the Autoimmune Protocol, he now snores only if he has a flare, or after an attempt to reintroduce a food that his system isn’t ready for. It’s a signal of systemic inflammation.

Similarly, when his health is compromised, he has a difficult time staying asleep.

And, like many people with autoimmune conditions, he is focusing on improving the health of his gut. And what easier way to track the machinations of the intestinal system than with Agalee Jacobs’ excellent ‘poop chart‘?

Measurement for Health

I’m into measurement.

Really, that’s all biohacking is.

Setting a health goal, making a plan to achieve it, measuring progress and adjusting course based on the information gathered.

The right indicators support a systematic approach to health. Your own personalized navigation system for the healing journey.

9 thoughts on “Biohacking Tip #7: Choosing Your Own Indicators of Well-Being

  1. I have been reading you for quite a while and using your recipes to help my husband on his AIP diet we were on. I thought I would weigh in on your health indicators from my experience.

    Just before Thanksgiving I had to have emergency surgery (no insurance.) I was working a day job at a deli doing “light calisthenics” for 8 hours a day. I had lost 40 lbs in 8 months and felt great. I was also working a couple of evenings to help financially because during the majority of the year my husband had not been employed. We were still working on the debt pile from taking care of a deceased Alzheimer’s parent.

    Anyway, my husband got a job the first week in November and that was a relief from thinking we were going to go under financially until, in the second week, he thought he might be fired. That was the last straw for my system. Within 24 hours cancer had blocked my colon and I was in surgery. (My bowel habits had been absolutely perfect for years- not a hint of a problem.)

    I am now meeting people with cancer in the alternative treatment I am seeking. Their stories are invariably the same…they were healthy, hadn’t been sick, some were even athletes. No indicators. And stress piled on –all of a sudden- their bodies “broke.”

    The health practitioner I am being treated by advises his patients to do the ketogenic diet, which is beyond Paleo or AIP because the ratio of carbs to fats to proteins in more extreme- 12g carbs a day, usually. The idea is to starve the glucose eating cancer cells and switch the body to fat burning. Some of these people have been eating this diet strictly for years. Food will never or rarely be entertainment for them again.

    A great book about fighting cancer mentally is “You Can Beat The Odds,” written by Brenda Stockdale, the wife of our integrative MD. She works at a cancer center and does cognitive therapy. The book is full of stories about people who beat cancer. Besides the inspiring stories the two take-aways for me are the physiological effect of our thoughts on our immune systems and how deep breathing helps protect our bodies from the stress in our life. Also, how visualizing also helps us deal with stress. One great example is how our white blood cells have grooves on them that exactly fit neuropeptides produced in our brains. The neuropeptides even have locks that specifically fit the white blood cells’ grooves. Our emotions produce those neuropeptides and tell the white blood cells what to do. The kicker is that the white blood cells also produce neuropeptides that go to the brain. So there is an intimate two way relationship between our thoughts and our immune cells.

    I had really read about cancer in taking care of the elderly parent I mentioned, so I “knew” all this but I was so busy “surviving” financially I didn’t have time to take care of myself. I had no choice. And there were no indicators of what was ahead. And cancer happened.

    The great thing is that my husband is doing well in his work now. We have hope. Not the best ending, but a good one.

    • Thank you for weighing in, Mary. Stress is major contributor to disease and it sounds like you were under significant stress for some time. But often we don’t know where the limits are until we cross them. And very often illness occurs as a result of a tipping point in the system, The goal is to then choose indicators that will help you discern where the limits are before you tip over into disease, as a way to stay on the healing path. But we are complex systems living in complex systems, and our health is responding to precipitating events that can change our health status long after exposure to an initial trigger, as well as to exposures with long latency periods, that may manifest significantly after initial exposure, or as a result of a continued exposure over extended period. It’s not as simple as an observable cause with noticeable indicators. But if we can attune to our personal indicators, they can communicate important information.

  2. Two of my personal indicators are the vertical line between my brows: a sign that my liver is going out of whack, and the amount of brown in my now green, formerly dark brown eyes: a sign that my gut is out of whack. Tightening up the AIP, cutting out tea and adding milk thistle all help with both. Sleep ,of course, but I can never tell which comes first, the poor sleep or the inflammation.

  3. Great read! Very thought provoking and something we all need to think about including myself. Like you I need to measure my energy in the afternoon and how quickly I can fall asleep. But also need to look at the poop chart as well. Do you and your husband keep logs to track what is going on?

    • Hey, thanks for stopping by! Matthew keeps detailed records to help us to discern what is going on with his health, as his situation is quite complex and he still has undiagnosed symptoms that we are trying to figure out. I don’t log anything, but if one of my indicators starts going awry, I know I need to adjust course right away.

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