metabolism | mood & emotion
Tara Thiagarajan has been self-tracking for 22 years. She tracks things like her calories, nutrition, water, exercise, and sleep. In this video, she shares her personal dashboard connecting sleep, diet, water, and brain activity (EEG), showing the patterns of interconnections.
You know I’ve been a self-tracker for 22 years so I’m just wondering like why have I not been at the QS conference before because it’s been so cool.
So I’ve been tracking things like my calories, nutrition, water, exercise, sleep. All of these things that you know most people seem to track. And for example, with the intention now of basically being able to drive optimal levels in my metabolic system, my focus, my productivity, my mood and so on.
But when I started out with this I had a very different, you know when I first started it was a lot more about controlling. There’s all this research that this is good for you, that’s not good for you, you should do this, you should do that. You should eat this, you should not eat that. So a lot of it became you know, I have to do all the right things so that I can be as you know the best version of myself.
And as you can imagine, that I don’t know if some of you have this experience that when you start tracking and want to control all of that, that it can become a little bit sick and obsessive and you feel a little bit psychotic about being so focused on these numbers and having to meet certain numbers every day.
So what I decided to do was to say okay, you know what don’t be crazy. Relax a little. See what your own system, how your own system works. So the first part I’m going to talk about the metabolic part, where I basically said for 50 days I’m not going to exert and this comes down to the relationship between the you know mind and body and all of that. But at least in my perception that I’m not going to regulate anymore what I’m doing like by trying to impose a control on myself, and I’m going to do it – I’m just going to see what my body does for 50 days.
So in terms of my sleep, and that was hard to do because I’m going to sleep when I need to sleep and I’m going to wake up when I need to wake up and I’m going to see what happens. So what I found was that in fact, I have a pretty reasonably – I would say I don’t have any benchmark for it, but a pretty reasonable self-regulation mechanism.
So this is a distribution of my calorie intake over that 50 days, and you can see it’s a pretty nice you know, it fits pretty well with a good normal distribution it’s Gaussian. And on average I eat 1500 calories a day. There’s some spread this way, that way. Some days I’ve really overeaten and some days I’ve forgotten to eat, but overall it’s pretty regular.
Now one of the things that’s interesting was there’s obviously a lot of ups and downs. So when I look at how it tracks over the 50 days, you can see it goes up, goes down. And what I found was that like if you look on the right, that if I do a seven day moving average it’s still moving up and down. But if I do a 21 day moving average, what I find is it’s absolutely flat lined. And what that’s telling me is that you know, my body seems to regulate it’s intake on a something like a 21 day cycle. So if I don’t eat one day it’ll make up for it eventually, maybe not. You know but over the 21 days it’s going to keep itself pretty constant.
So I also did this for my sleep, and what I found was that my sleep regulates on a 14 day cycle, not a 21 days cycle. And that was also kind of interesting because it was like 6.75, I sleep you know 6.75 hours a night and it’s pretty flat. Although some days I you and this is not complete fully like let myself do whatever I want. There would be days when you know something would wake me up and I would end up not sleeping as much as I should have or something. So you can see a couple of four hour nights, but in general I wasn’t forcing myself into any paradigm.
So the question is then, you know can I control it, like is this a good mechanism of regulation, and what can I control of it and should I be trying to control it like I was for so many years.
So you know, I did a lot of different things. I was trying to look for relationships between different factors, and I’m just showing you the ones that really, but for me it became things I could hold onto and somethings I could change in my life.
So one of the things was between sleep and you know my need for sleep. So you know I am a bit obsessed with you know, how productive am I, what do I get done in the day, how much time do I have, all of this kind of thing and it sounds a little psycho sometimes, but some of the things that I can control.
So what I found was like when I don’t exercise at all, I’m going to sleep a little bit longer. But if I at least exercise, you know if I do exercise for an hour I will probably you know, likely to sleep about half an hour less that night. And beyond 90 minutes doesn’t give me much extra benefit.
But the big thing that came out of this is sugar. So I had actually stopped eating sugar for a while. You know everyone was telling me chill out you’re so obsessive and this is ridiculous and you know eat my birthday cake and stuff like that.
And what I found here was that you know my grams of sugar actually had a huge impact on how much I was going to sleep that night. And when I let it go I said okay fine, you know give me your piece of birthday cake I’m eating it, and those kinds of things happen I found that like when I was eating a lot of sugar I was actually, my body was like wanting to stay in bed for a little longer, and I was sleeping now sometimes for eight and a half hours. And because I don’t generally eat sugar, you know my regulation on my sleep is six and three quarter hours.
But when I let it go, you can see that you know, obviously I was changing the way my metabolism had to react to compensate for this. So I did feel kind of happy, and I was like you know what? I’m not so completely crazy to want to control some of these things.
But you know, like I said, I did a tone of analysis of all of this. And the things that I really wanted to work on were my productivity, and my mood and things like that.
And I’m a neuroscientist, so you know you would think that all this time I was saying, you know why am I not been tracking more mental measures, and I should be tracking mental measures. So over the last year, a couple of years I’ve really gone through a lot of you know iteration and what’s the best way to do that and how do I do that so that it’s easy. I think a lot of people have talked about here is it has to be easy, it has to be quick. And when it becomes confusing and it takes time and if it’s a difficult thing you don’t do it and also you don’t know how to analyze it afterwards.
So here- I kind of jumped ahead of myself, but maybe I’ll just go back and tell you about this slide quickly. It’s like you know, these metabolic changes that I think one thing that’s good is not just to control it but it’s over time now if I continue to look at these metrics that I can actually see how my metabolism is changing as I age. And if these moving averages are starting to move up or down, and if the distribution is widening or narrowing and that would also tip me off to things that maybe going wrong as I get older, you know that’s what I think came out of this exercise for me.
So now moving onto the mental aspect, so you know one thing is and I’m talking of all the stuff that I eat and what I consumed physically, but I’m not tracking what I consuming mentally and can I track now what I consume mentally.
So basically, here I have you know app – and I think I’m out of time. But I’ll just put it on here because I’m going to – I have an office hour tomorrow, so if you’re interested in this journey, it’s not an app that out there yet, but if people want to use it and test it I can set that up for you. But the idea is basically to look at you know to what I consume you know mentally and also look at how those things basically end up driving these things like productivity and mood and so forth.
So I will end on that, so thank you.