• Ann Taylor

How intuitive are you about your health?

A year ago, I wrote an article for my mailing list newsletter about information overload and obsession with metrics. Here’s an edited version, repeated, because I’d like to encourage people to tune out gadgets and information overload, and tune in to their own intuitive sense of what healthy feels like.

As a society, we are overwhelmed, aren’t we, with too much information and misinformation. Chris Kresser writes here about health effects of too much time spent on the Internet (PIU aka “problematic internet usage” now recognized as a legitimate addiction, like alcohol, gambling and drugs). Apart from physical effects, there’s the issue of how we are influenced by the information we have access to – for better or worse.

In the health/nutrition/diet space, we are bamboozled by marketing claims, confused by food packaging and conflicting nutritional information that tries to influence our dietary choices, and easily misled by inanimate numbers that rate and rank our health status, and undermine our own intuitive sense of wellness. Think about the range of gadgets and tools that measure and track health markers, which can be very motivating for change, but can also create unhealthy obsessive behaviour – another addiction!

At the 2016 Digital Health Show in Sydney, I lined up in the queue of people wanting to have their health assessed by a machine called the SiSu health station. Apart from weighing you and measuring blood pressure and pulse rate, this uses bio-impedance to compute numbers that provide a (unreliable) measure of fat %, because it is sensitive to amount of body water i.e. how well hydrated you are: lower levels of hydration overestimates body fat.

Yes, I did a little mental fist-pump for a “very good” score that put me in the top 10% of my peer group, but it probably also helped that I’d been drinking water prior to that, and was probably quite well hydrated. I have a bio-impedance scale in my clinic, and which indicates I have more fat every morning than I do in the evenings. With clients who like to have their weight measured, I find this tool more useful for discussing how they can improve their cellular hydration for many health benefits, including improving fat metabolism.

Another body assessment station is the mPort, which is stationed in some Westfield shopping centres. It uses infrared to take thousands of measurements of your unclothed body, and computes body fat/muscle/bone etc. This would be more accurate than bioimpedance - and I did get a lower number for body fat% when I tried out the unit in Hornsby Westfield. There is no heart rate measurement, but your waist/hip ratio and height/waist ratio are used as markers of cardiovascular risk and you get to see a 3D avatar of your body shape. Don’t worry, it’s all very private!

The mPort is free to use, but a small monthly subscription cost ($2.95 per month) is payable to get the more comprehensive results that allow you to track body changes.

Understand however that devices that compute results from algorithms can produce misleading results when they can’t account for confounding factors i.e. variables that influence these measurements. Don’t get obsessed with the metrics! For me, mirror, tape measure and how tight my clothes feel tell me how my body composition is changing and my exercise tolerance tells me about my fitness. I know when I feel well, happy, energetic and productive – and don’t need a machine to tell me. How about you?