Saturday, September 30, 2023

Optimize for reducing friction, and data quality, but don't forget about identity.

 In the past couple of years, I have invested in both a FitBit Inspire 3, and a Polar Verity Sense heart rate monitor.   The purpose was to closely track heart rate during workouts so that I could stay in a prescribed zone during training.

What I found with these devices was that the data was OK, but keeping them charged, carrying them with me, wearing them, and wrangling the Android apps that go along with them was kind of a faff.   Over the last month I have found a real joy in leaving them at home, and just using the hand heart rate sensors on the treadmills that I use. 

Over the next couple of days I'm going to try to validate both the FitBit and the hand-sensors with the Polar monitor in order to make sure that the values I'm getting are accurate.  However, beyond that, I no longer see a need to continue to incorporate these devices into my routine.

This in essence is optimizing for 'friction' in the sense that by using the hand sensors I am taking a few steps out of my workout prep.  I can just throw on a pair of shorts, and hop on the treadmill.  I am no longer inhibited by whether the devices are charged, or functioning optimally.

One other factor though is the psychological, or effects on identity, of wearing a Fitbit constantly.  Wearing a Fitbit identifies me, as a heavy person, as someone who associates with people actively working towards health. Mine has a loud orange band, and I feel communicates my interest in fitness through style.  As a fashion accessory it communicates visually one of my main interests, and is therefor still valuable in that role.  

Inspire 3 underreports heart rate versus an ECG strap during running.
(The Quantified Scientist - YouTube Video)

I'm starting to suspect that the Fitbit's heart rate data isn't all that accurate.  This may be a flaw with mine, the way I'm wearing it, or even body hair at my wrist.  This raises a problem though, because I don't actively want to be surfacing misinformation about heart rate when I look at the accompanying app, or scroll through the display on the device.  The fashion/identity role is not worth polluting the metrics with bad data.  No data is better than bad data. dashboard modified to remove bad heart rate data.

I haven't quite reconciled these two roles, fashion/identity, and heart rate tracking, other than to potentially invest in yet another device that is both beautiful and also accurate.  Again though, if I were purely optimizing for reducing friction, I wouldn't wear a device at all.


I validated that 2 different Lifefitness treadmills and the Polar Verity Sense agree with each other and agree with my perceived exertion.   The Fitbit was consistently low, sometimes up to 20bpm low.  

Furthermore I realized I don't like the motion of checking the wrist while on a treadmill.  I would feel differently if I did more MAF work outdoors where checking the phone is slightly inconvenient although not terrible. 

Conclusion: optimize for friction, continue to use the hand sensors on the treadmills from the previous pattern.  They don't require any faff with charging, or having equipment with me.  Use the Polar Verity to validate when I think there is an issue or I want more continual tracking. 

Keep the Fitbit as a fashion accessory as long as I don't get sucked into checking it's erroneous  heart rate data. Use it as a step counter.   Unfortunately you can't turn off heart rate tracking altogether, and it looks like a piece of tape over the sensor would get in the way of charging. 

Friday, September 29, 2023

On HAES (Health at Every Size) -- Fitness as a Behavior not an Outcome

If health is an 'outcome', for example a pants size, we run into a problem with natural differences between people making access to that outcome uneven.  There is a lot of material on really unhealthy skinny people, people who smoke, people who do cocaine, people who's labs are way off...etc.  There is simultaneously a lot of good science about the heritability of weight problems.  There is also a strong link between poverty and obesity, I would argue a causal link.

Is there a difference between actual measures of health like V̇O2 max, and pants size? If I have a poor V̇O2 max is it immutable? Am I permanently in a class of people who are going to die younger, and have a shorter health-span?  The reality may be that due to genetics, or economics, or what county you live in, some specific metric of health may in fact be largely immutable.  

However, as a person with a poor V̇O2 max, starting to gently do aerobic training, can _vastly_ improve the situation for health and longevity, miles and miles and miles before the actual outcome (the V̇O2 max value itself) moves at all.  If I have to shop at the big and tall store, but I also really try to control my blood sugar with good nutrition and meal timing, I am in fact healthy  (or healthier), in the sense that I am doing what I can with the body I was born with.  I am miles and miles and miles healthier even before the scale starts to move.

This is health as a behavior, in the moment, working with the cards you have been dealt, doing your best, maintaining hope.  This is the argument for the concept of health regardless of size.

Where I acknowledge that Health at Every Size has gone off the rails -- and keep in mind I was deeply immersed in the originator of the movement, Lindo Bacon's work, as well as the work of Sandra Aamodt a few years ago -- is this idea that you are automatically healthy at every size.   

Let's prove this by looking at the extreme:  If you take a heavy person who smokes, and a heavy person who doesn't, one is healthy, for that specific metric of smoking or not smoking, and one is not.    Extend this logic to how you eat with the resources you have, and how you move within your abilities, and you can clearly see that there are healthy (or healthier) ways to be heavy, and unhealthy ways.  

The high order bit is that you can move the needle on your health, long before the needle on the scale moves.  I would even go so far as to say something as radical as you can embody health as a behavior, even if the scale doesn't move at all.

Monday, September 25, 2023

A problem with fitness on social media going forward (Semaglutide, SARMS, Testosterone, Truth in Labeling)

 Youtube requires a badge when a video represents advertising for a product.   They do this to comply with FCC rules about paid promotion, and that badging is useful for identifying who is being authentic, versus who is being (to put it uncharitably) a shill.

With the rise of Ozempic, Wegovy, and other Semaglutides, and the continued prevalence of exogenous Testosterone used for largely aesthetic purposes, we are going to have an analogous problem with fitness videos:

If someone is claiming to have an approach that works, but is secretly using Semaglutide or Testosterone, their content should come into question.   I am straightforward about the techniques that I use -- primarily carbohydrate reduction and exercise. The new substances (in the case of Semaglutide) and the old bro-science (in the case of 'T') represent a shortcut. 

Even if the only downside of Wegovy is the long-term cost, it is still worth labeling fitness content that is being achieved with exogenous compounds.  This problem is analogous to when a young person sees a ripped Hollywood performer and tries to attain that aesthetic -- often resulting in disordered eating, or the abuse of substances like SARMS.  These actors are a) working out with professionals each and every day leading up to a film, and b) are, in many cases, likely using exogenous compounds like Testosterone to achieve their results.

I want to know when someone is "natural", I want to know when someone is buying thousands of dollars in medication every month, and I certainly want to know when someone is using steroids or SARMS.  It is my belief that the truthiness or integrity of fitness content directly effects the health of their consumer.  If the expectations are unreasonable, and the methods are hidden, the result is bad health for the viewer.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Thinking, mindfulness, fitness, and nutrition.

My meditation teacher always encouraged us to frame thinking as "thinking was happening', rather than the more agency-centric, "I was thinking".   There is a quality of thoughts that is similar to the experience of other senses -- they come and go, as sounds or smells do, sometimes with rhyme and reason, but sometimes randomly. However, some thoughts, if not recognized as such, and if allowed to, can cause psychological pain.  Holding onto an argument long after it is over, or guilt, is not particularly pleasant and can do real damage.  

I like the phrase, "tail wagging the dog".   When I am sitting around angry, 'am I angry', or 'is anger happening'?

I always recommend that the takeaway from reading material from people talking _about_ meditation like that  should be to start or continue a regular mindfulness practice.  This prose, but unsupported by a practice, is of little value.

So, can I make a connection to nutrition?  Is hunger 'just happening' or is it a matter of willpower and self-control?  

The way I like to think of it, with a certain eye towards adaptability, and against rigidity, is to think of the willpower and self control going into the implementation of wise practices. With avoiding starch and sugar, or smart aerobic exercise, one builds capacity to handle the stuff we largely don't have agency over. What this does, like meditation for taming a monkey mind, is create a milieu in which hunger can be tamed, and which forward progress towards health can be achieved.

For this reason I don't like the idea of cutting calories or portion control, any more than I like the idea of just stopping thinking.  It isn't wise advice, it's a recipe for the problem getting worse, not better.  Better to be smarter about what we put energy into.

The meditation allows us to start noticing what is happening, and creates the conditions for a better psychological path through life, or at least a more conscious one.  The exercise and nutrition practices  create the conditions for managing when a bad food environment is happening, or when stress is happening...etc.  Rather than going straight for 'reduction', they represent a wiser approach.

So..  the beginning of meditation for me is coincident with coming to the place where I could lose weight.   I recommend it as something in the toolkit, and just generally. 

Sunday, September 10, 2023

How to cap off an evening or a meal.

--edit: On reflection, it's probably better to avoid snacking.  I acknowledge that a later-night snack can sometimes help people fall asleep, so if you are going to do it go for the lower carb stuff.  My weight loss seems to progress better when I don't eat late though. 

-- original post below:

TLDR?  --> Cup of decaf, or a couple of pieces of cheese!

I decided to stop fighting my usual urge to have some kind of snack later in the evening.  If you follow people like Jason Fung, this is a sacrilegious statement.  However, my feeling is that if you don't spike your insulin at 8pm, and you don't take on a monstrous amount of calories, there is little problem with scratching that snacking itch.

I was doing this pretty well in the winter and in the early Spring.  I would head down to Wawa (it's also nice to take a ride in the evening and get out of the house), and get 2 or 3 pieces of string cheese, and/or a smallish cup of decaf coffee.  However, as the seasons started to get warmer, Wawa started carrying little individual servings of strawberries and blueberries.  Up until that point, I had had to go to Whole Foods to get that, but now it was there all the time.  My weight loss stalled.

Dr Westman reportedly has a sign above his waiting room that says "fruit is nature's candy'.  I was in essence, eating candy every night before going to bed.

I'm reverting back to the previous pattern.  Rather than trying to clamp down entirely on having that snack, I'm going with what worked in the past and returning to the very low carb snack or coffee drink.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

"If you miss a session, it is truly missed, don't imagine that you can somehow make it up."

 This was another nugget of wisdom from my junior rowing days.  This philosophy, and a whole lot of peer support kept me showing up to practice even when I didn't want to.

I'm not in a no-pain-no-gain camp, and I fundamentally believe that you _can_ overtrain and hurt yourself.  Simultaneously however, I also recognize that there is (for me at least) a fair amount of fantom "I'm too tired", or "I don't wanna" energy in coming to train every day on my own.  Pushing through this (smartly) yields pretty good results.

I am a big fan of having someone else manage your training.  If you can't do that, program in breaks, and active recovery days, and be wise about when you feel overly sore, or overtaxed.  

There are probably some indicators of overtraining that you can legitimately pay attention to, and it's worth googling around for them.  However I also feel like experienced athletes (even over-the-hill, fat, old ones), should have a pretty good sense of what is a sane workout program, and what is overreaching.  The goal here isn't to hit it like a marine at bootcamp for 2 months, and then never go to the gym again, the goal is to be able to train on a regular basis, for life.

All of that being said, if you have the means to engage a trainer, or go to a regular, structured class, I highly recommend it.

If you 'handicapped' your MAF pace, how do you know when to go full bore?

MAF pace, or Maximum Aerobic Function, is a pace that both builds cardiovascular capacity, but is slow enough for low-risk-of-injury and high volume training.   The general formula is 180 minus your age, however Dr. Maffetone suggests 'handicapping' that value for a number of reasons like a recent illness, being overfat, or overtrained.

I am 45 years old, so the baseline for my pace is 180 - 45 or 135, however because I am overfat, and started largely sedentary, I subtracted 10 points for a target of 124-125.   Since I have been regularly training in this zone, I decided to de-handicap my pace by 5 points, and start to train around, but under 130bpm.

I did a workout at this pace yesterday, and just felt amazing.  I was bringing in more air, able to let go of the control a bit, and just kind of air out my walk.  I'm still not jogging due to the extra weight and a desire to protect my joints, but I can easily reach this pace by walking up an incline.