Measuring, Managing

“What gets measured gets managed” –Peter Drucker 

I start my day first by weighing in on my scale, checking body composition and measuring my waist. I pee on a ketone stick to see if I’m in ketosis. I consider this to be “closing the feedback loop”. 

It’s hard to do things that take multiple days, weeks, or months to accomplish. It’s harder still if you have no idea how you are progressing. If you are walking to some far off horizon but you have a blindfold on, you may make random progress, but it’s difficult to determine if your steps add up to anything, if you are walking towards your goal, in circles, or actively away from it. Measuring is a way to take off the blindfold.

What is “closing the feedback loop”? In Psycho-Cybernetics (which sounds like a distopian future planet of psychotic terminators, but is actually a helpful guide) Maxwell Maltz, a former plastic surgeon discusses an innate human “success mechanism” that works like this: you set your sights on a goal, then you take steps towards that goal. Sometimes you fail and other times you succeed. 

Early in the book, Maltz tells us: “Do not be afraid of making mistakes, or of temporary failures. All servo-mechanisms achieve a goal by negative feed-back, or by going forward, making mistakes and immediately correcting course.”

As an example, he uses the idea of a plane on autopilot. The pilot sets the course and the plane flies. The plane is flying off-course most of the time, but eventually the pilot lands the plane on time, at the intended destination. How? A series of small adjustments. So what does this have to do with weighing yourself? A plane flies by direction, veering slightly off-course, detecting that it’s slightly off-course, and then correcting itself over and over again. We can do the same thing. Measuring accomplishes these things:

  1. It allows us to determine what the effects of our choices are in aggregate. If I keep a food journal, I can see exactly what I ate and exactly what the effects are. Measuring both the intake and the outflow are important here.
  2. It allows us to then make a plan to adjust course. 
  3. Once we find out how we need to be on course, all we need to do is continue to replicate our success over and over again until we reach our destination or something changes.

For example, if I find that I am losing about 2 lbs per week on a certain calorie intake and exercise level, I should keep that calorie intake, macro breakdown and calorie level until it stops working, then adjust.

There’s an important caveat here: measuring daily introduces plenty of noise into the signal. As John Walker says in The Hacker’s Diet:

If the body consumed and disposed of these substances [food, water, air] on a rigid schedule, maintaining a precise balance at all times, weight would be consistent from day to day. But that is not the way of biological systems. A few salty potato chips are enough to cause the body to crave, drink, and retain a much larger amount of water to dilute the extra salt. The body’s internal water balance varies widely over the day and from day to day. Since water accounts for three quarters of everything that goes into and out of the rubber bag, it dominates all other components of weight on the scale.

So how do we solve the signal/noise problem? Graph over time and use a longer snapshot before making decisions.. The theory behind this was discussed at length in the Hacker’s Diet, which simplifies away the 2nd point, arguing for a simple calorie-balance model.

This changes your random seeming fluctuations with a sensible system, helping to separate signal from noise. 

Important note: using these kinds of systems will help you track yourself, but it won’t answer the question of why you eat too many calories and are gaining.  Saying that calories-in is greater than calories-out is tautologically true, but not always helpful. Beyond that, the number on the scale will go down if you are losing muscle, fat, bone mass, or water weight, so this isn’t the end of the story. I’ll talk more about nutrition, hormones, and training in subsequent articles. That is to say, this is the beginning of the story, not the end.

My last two weeks:

Track Yourself: – this is what I’m using currently. (Fitbit Aria integration – I can’t get it working though, WiThings integration) (free, no ads) (supports WiThings integration, no Fitbit Aria support)



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