Friday, 27 December 2013

The Metric System

As we approach the New Year you might be thinking about New Year's resolutions. I love new years. Not for the champagne, kiss at midnight, watch the ball drop stuff (although that's not bad!). I love new years because it is a time of reflection on the year past and then a plan for the coming year. An opportunity to change things, to reinvent yourself, to build on the past year's successes or to choose a complete do over. This is a time of goals, hopes, and dare I say it, dreams.

Resolutions and dreams can be about almost anything. For many of us there is something on the list about health. We resolve to lose weight, exercise more, quit smoking, eat our greens or all of the above. There are many variations and the details can be general or incredibly specific. The question I pose today is how are you measuring your success? How are you checking the outcomes of your efforts to achieve better health?

We've all heard it….don't be a slave to the numbers. Weigh scales aren't an accurate reflection. Muscle weighs more than fat anyway. Keeping track of food intake? Maybe you're obsessive. No worse…disordered. Encouraging women (and now men too) to obsess about their weight and clothing size is a way of keeping them focussed on their appearance instead of using their brains or engaging in society. In other words the numbers don't work and if you keep track of things there is probably something wrong with you.

Well some of that may very well be true. But here's the thing. If we don't have some way of tracking success and measuring outcomes most of us start to slide. We think we are eating very well and in appropriate portions and then our nutrition app shows us we had dessert five times this week, last nights bowl of pasta marinara could have fed a family of four, and the thirty minute jog earned enough calories for an apple and some cheddar cheese not 16 slices of pizza.

Nobody wants to be obsessive. Most of us want to have a healthy attitude towards life and body and be a good role model for our children. All of us who are making an effort to achieve better health want to know if it is working.

So the key here is to "measure outcomes" instead of obsessing with the bathroom scales. And after many years of taking care of myself and of others I have learned that there is indeed a difference.

1. Change the numbers you look at. 

The scales are not an accurate measure of change. We do exchange fat for muscle and there can be significant changes without the weigh scales moving a single pound. When that happens it is easy to think that your efforts are pointless and to give up. 

Welcome to The Metric System. Metrics are a series of measurements collected by a professional fitness trainer. He or she will measure you with a measuring tape and skin fold callipers. The callipers measure the thickness of your skin fold and underlying fat layer in key locations. The trainer then calculates your percentage of lean mass and percentage of body fat. With serial measurements you can establish if your lean mass is increasing (more muscle), if your body fat is decreasing, and in which locations your body is changing. 

In the past 2 years I have been working with my own trainer and she collects metrics. After specific training and dietary changes in the past 6 months I have lost 5.5% body fat and gained 8 pounds of muscle. My body weight? Didn't change. In fact at first the scales went up a bit. If I hadn't had the metrics from my trainer I might have thought that all of my efforts were for nothing. Instead what I've learned is that my recent lifestyle changes have had a big impact. 

Anyone can have their metrics collected. It doesn't matter what age, size or fitness level you are. Make sure the person you see is qualified to both collect your metrics and provide you with counselling on how to make lifestyle changes to achieve your goals. Most fitness professionals provide this service for a fee others incorporate the cost into a bigger service plan for you depending on what you want or need. In Trent Hills I see Cait Lynch at Custom Fit (

2. Go outside of numbers and make health your goal. 

Instead of making your goals for this coming year to be a certain size or a particular number consider measurements of health. How do you feel? Do you have more energy? Is your mood good on more days than not? How many colds or infections did you get this year? Did you try new things? Are you having fun? 

This may sound a bit simplistic. But surely we can all recognize that feeling good and achieving health are the most important things. Many of us don't look like the images that are sold to us in magazines and on television. In most cases these standards or numbers are unachievable and it saddens me to see people breaking their hearts and souls trying to reach the unattainable. The measure has to be of how we feel and if we are healthy, in whichever way we choose to define that. 

I like to think about health as a resource. You take care of your body because being healthy gives you the energy and strength to move through your life. To enjoy what you do and to connect in meaningful ways with the people you choose to spend time with. Being healthy means that you are more independent. Being healthy means you are more free to live your life. Health is wealth. 

And if you think this is all a bit theoretical or flaky speak to someone who has battled a major illness in their life. They will tell you about how things change in an instant. They have to be dependent on others. They may not have energy to do things. They can become isolated and have difficulty maintaining their relationships. The number one thing people tell me in the clinic when they are battling an illness is that their goal is to be healthy again and "get back to their life". Don't wait to get ill to value this and make health your priority. 

3. To achieve goals track behaviours not decimal points.

The thing about numbers is they are easy to track right? You hop on the scale the number is "good" or "bad". If you are measuring health well just how do you do that? It's actually pretty easy. 

Once you have figured out your goals and figured out what you want to do to be more healthy simply track related behaviours. Track how many days in a row you eat 10 servings of fruit and vegetables. Record how many nights a week you are getting 8 hours of sleep. Put a tick mark on your calendar on every day that you exercise for 15 minutes or more and then see how many tick marks you have at the end of each month. Keep a mood record to see if you are having more good days than bad. 

The point is to measure your goals by looking at the behaviours that help to achieve them. I use a nutrition app for my phone. Last year instead or looking at calories and scale readings I decided to record how many days I could eat vegetables and fruit from all the colours in the rainbow and how many days a week I could consume 25 grams of fibre or more. It was actually fun and at first I was surprised by the results and had to shift what I was eating a bit. And I have to say I feel better for it. 

Thanks for reading Getting Healthy with NP Sam. Comments are welcome - please click the pencil icon below. Happy New Year to everyone - best wishes to you all for a healthy 2014. 

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