50,000 Observations Later
diet and weight loss | sleep
Thomas Blomseth Christiansen
To better understand his allergies and his overall health, Thomas began tracking a discrete phenomena, his sneezes. By plotting them over time and then exposing himself to other data like sleep, travel, and diet he’s been able to start to understand himself better. Watch his talk below to see what Thomas learned, and how he thinks about his process of continuous learning.
Hi I’m Thomas Christiansen and I’m a self-tracker and cofounder for Mime, which is a platform for data driven health coaching where we’re trying to help people find the underlying root causes of their health concerns and it comes out of our own experiences of doing self-tracking in these things.
In October 2011 I did some show and tell, one in New York and one on the West Coast in October about how I’ve been working with self-tracking and I kept on doing experiments self-tracking and so I have now more than 60,000 observations of my own condition and my daily living and that include the history of my meals, water intake, average measure of waistline. Other bodily functions like eliminations and stuff like that. And the question’s why did I do it, and that is because I didn’t really think I had got to the root of this and there was something about developing the method of doing these kinds of activities.
So I’ll take the que from my sneeze data. So this time I had 877 sneeze observation and 1968 sneezes recorded. And the good thing about sneezes is that they’re very discrete, easy to count, and I see sneezes are a signal from our body.
And when I do these observations I do the immediately after sneezing. And this is a heat map of all my sneezes of the three summers from 2011 to now. As you see most of the year there’s not much going on, and then there’s a particular date during the summer where there’s a lot of sneezing going on.
And this is a different way of looking at my sneezes is a cumulated graph where we start to the left with the first sneeze in May of 2011 was at a Quantified Self conference in Moniteau and then the last sneeze before the 1st October. And the nice thing about this is that the cumulative graph indicates how fast I produce these sneezes. So if it’s flat I don’t produce as many sneezes and if it’s very steep I produce a lot of sneezes in a short amount of time.
So what you see here are the three onsets of the pollen seasons where you see the kind of cliffs going up where I really start sneezing. This really takes place within small rate of time during the year, and one thing I thought if I had a cold and flu I might sneeze more, but this is actually a long cold and flu of in January 2012, and you see it didn’t contribute much; my sneezes comes from the pollen seasons.
Then if you look at it, the cliff in 2012 is much larger than the two other years and a good question is why, and first look at the numbers. In 2012 I sneezed 915 times during the pollen season, and that’s 46% of all the sneezes during those three summers.
So what was going on in 2012? You know in 2011 I told QS about how I kind of got handles on this problem and how things were really great or perhaps they weren’t so great at all. So from all my work I had an idea that something might have gone wrong with my diet during the summer of 2012 because that’s something I’ve been working with a lot. And I went back and looked at all my meal observations and I found that actually that diet during 2012 there was gluten which is called FODMAP which includes complex sugars, I ate more dairy, foods with histamine in.
So the experiment I did this summer was to try with that understanding and then eliminate these gluten, no FODMAP, no dairy. Minimize histamine, low on fats and very low on yeast which was one of the ideas that might cause trouble.
So one of the other indicators is like my sleep time, and each little dot is an observation of some sleep. So if you see sleep down at the bottom that means I’ve actually having to take naps during the day. And some days you see a series of sleep that means I was so fatigued I had to take several naps during the afternoon, and that happened during the summer of 2012.
This is the sleep timing for this summer, and the first part is during a road trip in the US and you have a time zone change where I go to my native country Denmark and I implement this diet and this lifestyle based on my findings and I get much more consistent sleep. And you can also see here I have a much more less for sleep during the night time. 2012 was just much more erratic when it comes to my sleep and it goes up and down.
So what I’ve been doing is to look at the body as a decision making system. Not only all kinds of decisions but what are the decisions going into for instance my body telling me that I need more sleep, and then going back and looking at what might the causes of that be.
What I’ve found is the body is so much on its internal guidance and it’s much reliant on its internal state in order to run its processes. So one of the big questions is what is the method by doing this? And we’ve been talking about personal science and I thought in some ways I’m not that interested in coming up with general solutions for other people; I want to improve my condition.
So one of the approaches is to try to find some discrete phenomena to track, and for instance sneezes are very discrete phenomena infact you can count them easily. Then at the same time as you’re working with this instead of just having one theory or model of what you doing at the same time, I’m trying to multiply competing models of what’s going on, so I might try several things at one time. And I’m using that to generate new hypothesis, new models. And then I used small interventions and try and ‘tickle’ the system to reveal more about itself so I can test those models up against each other.
And then I’m trying to maximize learning to paying attention to what’s going on, but also to the context because the context might tell you a lot that you’re not actually tracking. That might generate new things to track and then during this process and look at what’s constant in what you are experiencing, and what your tracking, and also what changes, like if you change your geographic setting. If you change diet, lifestyle, and stuff like that those are moments you can learn a lot. Then I also backtracked and tried to eliminate and minimize interventions.
So I don’t want a very restricted diet for the rest of my life, what I know now, I’ll go back and see if I can eliminate some of those interventions to make it easier. And then you rinse and repeat, and it’s an iterative process, where I’ve just found out in peeling the onion and I can continue peeling that onion for probably the rest of my life and have new findings along the road. It’s just a journey and the iteration part of it is very important.