Become health data literate to be one step ahead of a health crisis.
Final essay of The Gumption Method series.
Over the past month, I have been ironically in an overworking and unhealthy pattern that I know so well. Even as I teach you everything about health habits, I broke mine pretty badly this past week because I wanted to achieve a lot of things. I have achieved them all, but my health suffered, and today’s piece is about how data can help us bounce back and make that easier to do.
Get the gumption every Sunday.
Health data is like a sonar for your long term health vision
I hope I have prepared you well thus far for what I am about to teach you today.
Over the past month, I told you that we are swimming in the dark when it comes to our health and that we need a vision for it.
We spoke about how realizing that and doing inner work helps us understand what is dragging us down.
And then we covered how to start building our boat of habits that can help you float through your health journey.
Today I will share how data is the final component that will give you a long term edge when you inevitably fail at your habits and feel too overwhelmed to be your best self.
Data will help you when you are your shittiest self. That is why I teach it, and that is what drew me into digital health and health informatics.
How can data become part of our toolkit to keep us going when times get tough and all our habits and healthy routines fall apart?
Data is the world’s sharpest double edged sword
The truth is that there is only so much we can do for our mindset and our habits, when our collective health is ailing. Our society has evolved in a way that is unnatural to our humanity and bodies.
That’s why we will continue to fall on our faces with habits.
The world we live in acts as a turbulent tsunami that shuffles our boat’s point of sail and can either wreck us or violently push us towards one of the icebergs we talked about (Heart Disease, Cancer, Diabetes, and Alzheimers/Dementia).
So today, I present you with the crucial component of learning about your health data and how we can use it as a sonar to navigate the dark seas.
Data literacy is the final and most important piece of the toolkit I described in these essays so far.
Data is the atomic bomb of this day and age.
Giving health data to someone that does not understand it, is like giving nuclear energy to a little child. The result is an explosion that we can’t undo.
This happens when our anxious parts get too attached to the numbers, but we do not know how to see them in the bigger context and meaning.
We are addicted to numbers and progress, and we are trained to shame ourselves when the numbers are bad. This stops us from seeing the truth, even if it is right in front of us.
That is why the I wrote the last two essays first about knowing yourself and building long term habits. Only then are you ready to become health data literate. Otherwise data will hurt and further demotivate you.
I’ve spent my whole career in the field of data analytics since leaving medicine. I had no background in data when I started my traveling consultant life, but I was lucky enough to have worked with brilliant minds in the field of data science that taught me a lot over the past 10 years.
My interest in digital health and informatics was always about: How can we know if our health is on the right track?
I will share with you the basics of what to track and how track it today, so that you can build your own health sonar device.
Before I do, I want to make sure you understand one thing:
If you are lying to yourself, then your data will lie to you.
Data requires brutal honesty, and so I want to be brutally honest with you today.
In this past month of July when I dedicated myself to these four video essays about health, I snapped into my overachiever mode and fell off my habits bandwagon completely.
While I edited the last video about habits and motivation, I started falling into the old patterns that I was writing about. It felt like a self fulfilling prophecy of overworking and being unhealthy.
That person that I wrote about last time, as though he was someone in my past, has risen from the dead last week and reminded me of how alive he still is within me.
In order to accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish this month, I stopped exercising, prioritized work, lacked sleep, ate on the go and started smoking again.
This is the reason why I started making these videos, is to tell you that you will fail and that you need to build something to help you always be grounded in the bigger picture in these moments.
This sonar of data is what can help you see where you are going long before a crash. It is quite simple if you know what you are looking for.
My hope is that data and dashboards can save human lives. I believe they can, if we start using them in a way that makes sense to our own individual context.
The healthcare system collects data about your sickness, and it is getting smarter at predicting and curing it. However, they are not going to use their data analysts to make you life better. No way.
They are incentivized against taking any measures to keep you outside of the hospital. Let that sink in. No one cares about how well you live, hospitals just care about how long you stay alive after you have contracted a disease. That is what they will use their data power for.
So the truth of the matter is that you need to learn how to collect your own data and analyze it in a way that gives you foresight into what you are dealing with on a daily, monthly and yearly basis.
To have a meaningful sonar, you need to understand both yourself and data.
You need to be able to ask it questions like:
Am I getting enough sleep? How long can I go with this much little sleep?
How many days have I been smoking this month? Which parts of me or driving this increase/decrease in addiction?
Is the exercise that I do helping me manage diabetes long term?
Is the environment that I work in hurting my health?
Is the food that I eat giving me the nutrients that I need?
You have to steer away from others owning your data and claim that ownership for yourself.
That is my message to you, because once you own your data, you can steer your boat effectively.
This will give you sanity during your darkest hours.
First, map out your family history, inner world and genetic history.
This is a one time exercise that teaches a lot about yourself with little investment. Repeat every year or as needed.
Let’s start with the basics.
Your family history says a whole lot about you, and it is much more than what you tell a doctor on your first visit and never talk about it again.
There are both complex and simple ways to go about it, but the most important thing to remember is that your family history and inner dialogue are the most important pieces of data to tell you what you are up against.
The most simple and zero-cost method is to become your own health investigator.
1- Map our your external family genealogy
Go talk to family members that are still alive.
Ask them what health issues they had and ask them about other family members too.
Find the patterns by organizing that data and visualize it using a family tree or a genogram/pedigree chart such as the one below.
What disease keep reoccurring in your family?
2- Map our your inner world using IFS or Somatics
We talked about inner work before because that is your inner family of personas living inside of you. Some of them do not want you to be healthy because they have other agendas (such as overworking and achieving).
To gain control and persevere through your health setbacks you have to understand these parts of you, many of which hold shame that controls you and keeps you locked in addiction or an unhealthy lifestyle.
Find a health coach that can support you in understanding this inner world. I highly recommend Internal Family Systems and Somatics for this part.
Ultimately you want to have another chart for you inner world that looks like this:
3- Get genetic and microbiome tests.
If you are interested in learning more and spending money, then do a 23 and Me, Color genomics or a gut microbiome to dig deeper into what you you have inherited in your genes, what your gut flora is made up of and what problems you need to solve for. This could be once in a lifetime exercise/cost.
All of this mapping out prepares you to focus and save money on the second step, which is about getting regular labs that show you how your body is doing.
Second, do labs annually, quarterly, or monthly.
We’ve all had labs done before, we all understand their importance, but we all somehow accept the cryptic results.
As long as we are not in the red and the lab or doctor are not telling us that there is a problem, we go back to our regular habits…until there is one.
Let that sink in for a second.
Not being able to read labs is like not being able to read your financials while running a company.
A bigger problem beyond that is that labs only come in PDF versions which are very hard to analyze (read: impossible to analyze).
We need to solve for both problems of biomarker literacy and understanding.
I am on a mission to help people understand their lab results because they contain crucial information for navigating you through health:
Which disease icebergs is your boat getting closer to/ at risk of crashing into?
What actions do you need to focus on in the next quarter?
Are you getting closer to your health vision?
Answers to these questions become crucial during storms. This your only way of surviving the demands of society.
Here is a sample dashboard that I built for a client of mine who is trying to manage stress with a family history of heart failure and diabetes.
Here are the steps you need to build your health lab data sonar:
1- Get the labs you need to tackle what you have uncovered in your family history. The above list is a good start, but far from comprehensive. For a full list see links below.
2- Measure the labs that are related to family history problems on a quarterly basis, measure the ones that are not on an annual basis, and measure the ones that are both related and trending towards disease on a monthly or biweekly basis.
3- Collect all your results in one google drive for easy historical access.
4- Learn the difference between a “normal” lab test and an “optimal” result range. Remember that it is not binary.
Labs will only tell you something is off if you are in the red. However the yellow and orange states are far more important.
4- Learn a process that allows you to capture the lab PDFs into a google spreadsheet and create a visual way to represent it.
This can be a manual process that is time intensive or an automated process that has a steep learning curve. Either way it is worth the effort.
To understand your labs and be able to visualize them, it takes some time to learn.
This is what I want to teach you.
I will be breaking down all these parts in future essays and will get granular about each lab result, how to map that to your family tree and how to make sense of it all in a pain free way.
Third, track how you feel daily, weekly, or monthly.
Now that you have collected all the objective information you need for informed decisions, you are now ready for subjective data.
We tend to underplay how what we feel ties to our overall health.
We are so driven by numbers and KPIs and we have been trained to forget about our emotional health.
Energy goes where your thoughts flow, and by tracking your mood you are tracking a critical health component that no test or lab can do for you.
One way to do it is to simply ask yourself how you feel every single day and you can use an app like Insight Timer - which is also my favorite mediation app, or you can track it manually like with this excellent visual from wellella.com.
You can also start tracking subjective measures such as burnout or wellbeing over time using any validated survey.
Validated surveys are another topic that deserves its own essay and I will break that down to you someday.
Here are examples of other work I have done for clients to support them.
You can measure your burnout overall indicator such as this:
Or track your fulfillment at work with a wheel like this…
Or visualize your self-rated areas of wellbeing.
After you track it for a few months, you can start seeing trends like these:
As I mentioned this is infinite and needs to be tailored to your needs.
Then, and only then, are you ready to add other layers of data
There are many other things to track and refine our health sonar with. There include but are not limited to:
All kinds of freakin wearables to track vital data.
Microbiome and bacterial swabs to track gut health.
Specific genetic testing for cancers and other diseases.
Meditation minutes, fasting hours, or
whatever it is that you are into these days.
I will elaborate on these in the coming weeks and months.
For now, I wanted to help you prioritize so that you do not get overwhelmed by your own data.
That’s it folks, but more to come!
To summarize what we have covered on this four part essay on The Gumption Method for long term health gains.
First, create a health vision for yourself.
Second, explore you inner blockers and master your emotional health.
Third, start building habits that can sustain themselves beyond motivation.
Fourth, keep track of your data so that you can be reassured you are on the right path when all of the above falls apart.
Lastly if you find this blog helpful, please consider becoming a paid member to support myself and the Gumpcast team.
I’ll see you next Sunday,
National Human Genome Research Institute on Family History and geneaology
Full list of labs from Dr. Mark Hyman’s Function.health
Learn about optimal lab ranges on elevateme.ai
Fight burnout wheel of fulfillment
Christina Maslach’s Research on the 6 areas of fulfillment
The patient will see you now by Dr. Eric Topol for a full list of the different layers of human data we will be tracking.
Learn about how data improves health coaching conversations.