This Week I Quit Not Weighing Myself
Yes, this has to be the most cumbersome title in this series. Or, as Homer Simpson might say, the most cumbersome title so far!
You might ask, Fernando don’t you really mean you started to weigh yourself, or aren’t you just trying to justify the cool new “internet of things” bathroom scales you just bought? Well, yes, I mean no, not really.
What I’ve done is give up a long standing habit, of not weighing myself, together with a bunch of justifications I’d carefully concocted over the years. And, as always happens in this series, the habits I was giving up had come weigh heavier on me (pun intended) than the new habits being established.
Why I Stopped weighing myself
During my mid twenties I put on a lot of weight. It’s common enough story. I was very fit and active in my teens. When I wasn’t playing competitive sports, I was cycling, skiing, sailboarding and surfing. Then injury, full time work, and the lure of fast food saw me no longer fitting into my “skinny teen” clothes!
Moving to London broke the pattern. I soon joined a gym and a combination of 3-4 workouts a week, together with not having a car and eating more carefully meant I was soon much healthier. At the time I though the most important measure for a guy was jean size and having loped 4 inches of my waist measurement felt great.
Then I went for a medical and while being weighed, the clinic’s nurse said, in a sternly disapproving voice, you are morbidly obese.
I was in shock. Talking to the doctor a few minutes later he said the nurse had read the chart wrong, my weight was correct for my weight and that BMI was probably not worth worrying about anyway. So, I went home, threw my scales in the bin and decided that from now on I would judge my weight based on how my clothes fit, and how I felt looking in the mirror every morning. For the most part, that served me well enough for the last 16 years.
What Changed My Mind
A few weeks ago I had a health scare. It was Monday, I was at the desk in my office, when I felt extremely short of breath. I got up to walk around. The tight feeling in my body wasn’t going away and I was struggling to calm down. It was an odd sensation. The closest experience I could compare it to was camping high in the Himalayas and waking up in the middle of the night robbed of breath. I was scared. I went to the doctor and my blood pressure was alarmingly high.
Thankfully, it wasn’t a heart attack. The doctor spent some time with me, then prescribed some Xanax and asked me to come back the next day.
The next morning I was back at the clinic for a series of tests and a general physical. By this stage my blood pressure was back down to normal. Though, as I glanced over at the scales during the physical I saw my weight was a little higher than I had guessed it would be, not a lot, but enough to surprise me. I knew the past few months have been relatively inactive. The record-breaking winter rains in Adelaide and the far longer than normal end of summer rains in Tokyo were my ready-made excuse for not walking, cycling or exercising as much as normal.
But, the number on those scales was a fact I couldn’t ignore.
On Friday I was back and as the doctor went over the various test results I was glad there was nothing wrong. My blood pressure was a little high but not like Monday. I was put on a 24 hour blood pressure test, a cuff on my arm and walkman-sized machine on my belt that took my blood pressure every half hour.
Saturday came and I made another tired visit to the clinic. The nurse joked with me about trying to sleep with the machine attached to my arm. Apparently I did well getting some interrupted sleep as many folk struggle to rest with the noise and interruption during the night.
The doctor said that while my weight was OK, it would help my long term health prospects if I lost 2-3 kilos. No surprise there. Given that, shouldn’t I be more actively monitoring my weight? Was there perhaps some wrong with my prideful “I don’t weigh myself” attitude?
Putting Data Behind The Problem
I already measure aspects of my health anyway, like steps taken and heart rate (more on that later). Why not add weight to dashboard? After all, I I already had an intuition I was over and making excuses about it.
So, a few seconds on Amazon and a Withings Body Cardio scale was on it’s way to me. The scale is solid nerdy goodness. It measures your weight (in metric or that other system), heart rate, water percentage, and something called pulse wave velocity, which apparently measures the health of your arterial system. All this pairs with an iOS app to give you a trend map of your body over time (it was easy to set up, but the scale needs a really good WiFi signal to work).
I felt relieved to be doing this. There’s something about data, when used well, that feels relaxing to me. It’s a cool, calm, call to action.
Deflating The Balloon
The data I did track was saying something. My normal resting heart rate is around 65 beats per minute. That’s been constant for a long time. But, in the days before that Monday and the week or so after, I couldn’t get a reading below the 77-83 range at any time of the day or night.
The Saturday conversation with the Doctor soon turned to stress and anxiety. He felt my physical symptoms might be related to my mental well being. While the small weight gain and lack of exercise didn’t help, there was something deeper that needed to be addressed. Later that day I was sitting in a Psychiatrist’s office.
It’s the start of a process that will probably take a few months. Although there have been a lot of good experiences, a lot of highs, in the past year, there’s no question things had been building up for me. I can see the evidence now. My weight was up. My spaces were less than well-organised. My sleeping pattern was even less regular than its typical irregularly. I was exercising less than usual. I wasn’t enjoying most of my routine activities as much as normal .
What had built up was partly worry about the future, as my daughter reaches her final years, as my wife and I think about how long we will stay in Japan, as my parents get older and as I wonder what to do in changing creative environment that doesn’t seem to always value the skills I’ve developed, it’s been a little overwhelming trying to keep things in perspective.
Long Term Effects
There’s also something I’ve seldom discussed, the way living next to a construction site in Singapore wore down my health. We found a great house when we moved to the city and settled pretty quickly. But, a few months in, the house across the street was knocked down and for the rest of our time there, we were subject to some relentless, often 7 day a week construction noise. Working from home became almost impossible during a time when work wasn’t going well for me anyway. I’ve often felt like living in Japan has been a process of undoing that damage and I know see there’s more that needs to be fixed.
It’s now a little over two weeks since that Monday panic attack. I’m feeling better, looser, than I have in months. My resting heart rate is back down to normal. I’ve pulled a lot of things out of my schedule and planned my days so I can finish what I start. My family have noticed that I’m calmer, more myself, and funny “like I used to be.”
In that context, putting away my pride away and get used to jumping on a little electronic device every day is a small price to pay.
This Week I Quit is a (mostly) weekly series where I try, in a personal way, to address the habit of overcommitment. Each week I quit something, it could be an app, a habit, a possession, a word, anything that had a hold on my attention. I explain why I made the choice to quit and what it was like. Last time I Quit Checking My Online Analytics and you can read all the posts in this series here.