James Smith

Building a better future out of code

health

Early Warning System

I know that I don’t live a healthy lifestyle; I’ve known that for years. But, the consequences have always seemed a long way off.

The other day though, I got a kick up the arse. I went to the doctor about some new depression symptoms, and he did a blood test to check my general health at the same time.

When I called up for the results, the receptionist asked me to schedule another test in six months as I was “glucose intolerant”. This was a surprise to me, and the next day I managed to speak to the doctor for more information.

Basically, I’ve got persistently elevated blood glucose. I’m only just outside the normal range (HbA1c 6.2), which means it’s not type 2 diabetes yet, but I’m heading that way. It puts me in a category of risk much higher than normal; 50% risk of type 2 over the next 10 years, for instance.

Needless to say, I don’t want that to happen.

It was a shock, and made me consider my own mortality for a while, but this is a good thing. I’ve found this out at a point where I can properly do something about it. I know that the consequences are coming if I don’t act.

So, what to do? At this point it’s all lifestyle change, and I already know:

  • I’m vastly overweight
  • I don’t get enough exercise
  • My diet could be better.

Let’s look at those in turn.

Weight

We’ll start with the most obvious. I’m overweight, in fact well into obese. I weigh in the region of 120kg at the moment, with a BMI of 35.4. This is far too much. Apparently to get into a “normal” BMI bracket, I need to lose 35kg, to get down to 85. That’s almost a third of my body weight.

Now, I’m a big chap. I’m 185cm tall, but also I’m pretty broad and have a large ribcage. I know that BMI isn’t a good indicator in these situations, but I’ve not found anything else to give me a target so far. I’m hoping that our local wellbeing scheme can help me work out where I need to get to.

First step to losing this is that a couple of months ago, my wife and I started doing the FAST (or 5:2) diet. I don’t like diet fads, but as this one seems to be based on proper science (and I first heard of it on Horizon), I’m more inclined to have a go. It’s going OK so far, fasting two days a week, and some weight is coming off. We probably need to be stricter though to get the full benefit.

I’m tracking my weight using the Fitbit tools. They’re not great (I’d like a running average), but it does the job of data capture well enough. I really liked True Weight on the iPhone, but it doesn’t really integrate with anything else, which is a pain these days.

I keep considering getting a Fitbit Aria or Withings smart scale to make measurement easier, but putting a number in an app isn’t that hard, so I’ve not done it yet.

Exercise

This is the big one, really. To lose more weight and get my blood sugar down, I need more exercise. I cycle 7 minutes to the station a few times a week, which is better than nothing, but more is necessary.

I keep trying to start the Couch to 5k running scheme, but all the times I’ve done it my schedule has got pre-empted and I’ve never made it out of week 1. I’ve started again though, and this time will do my utmost to make it stick.

I’m using the NHS Choices couch to 5k app, which could be better for music playback, but it’s good at the training prompts, is free, and has no ads.

I’ve started using Strava to log these runs, and will log my station cycling as well, to get a complete picture of my exercise and what I need to add. It’s great that Strava integrates with Fitbit to include the exercise in that system automatically. If I need to double-enter any data, this won’t stick.

The social aspects of Strava are already feeling great. Each time I do a run, my cousin gives me kudos for it (despite my runs being pathetic in comparison to his). It feels like a support network, which is what I need.

Diet

The last aspect is improving my diet. I’d like to track all my calorie intake so I can keep it on track without excessive denial (which will cause failure), but calorie tracking apps are all terrible. How the hell do I know what the calories are in the home-made shepherds pie we had the other night? How do I know how much is one serving of skimmed milk, without measuring everything out with scales and a jug?

There doesn’t seem to be a light-touch calorie counting mechanism that I’ve found yet. This would help with regular diet, but also with tracking the fasting days intake.

Can someone please make something using AI and image recognition to give me a calorie count of a meal if I take a photo of it? That would be fab, thanks.

Genetics

I’ve ben wondering about getting a 23andme kit for years. This news has taken out the last obstacle for me, that of “do I really want to know” for the risk factors.

I now know I have a risk factor for one thing. Knowing more seems only sensible now, if I have to manage that knowledge anyway. I’ll get a kit on order soon after the next payday, I think.

Dashboarding

My plan is to integrate this data into a dashboard that I’ll display in the kitchen at home all the time. Making information visible helps me to manage it, so having a lifestyle dashboard seems sensible.

I’ve not found anything yet that does it yet in a way I like, so I suspect I’ll break out the Fitbit API and starting pulling data into a dashing board or something.

Meditation

I’m also trying to get a hold on stress and tension using meditation. Again, I’ve started these things before but never made them stick. I’m hoping that I can get properly going this time, with a combination of Headspace for regular meditation and Buddhify for more casual hits.

Better tools

I’m also thinking now about better tools; I mentioned the scales already. I have a Fitbit One, which is fine (and better now I’ve got a watch strap for it), but would I find this easier with something more recent? Would it help to get an Apple Watch, for instance? I’m quite interested in measuring my heart rate on a regular basis, for stress management if nothing else.

I want to find a nice open ecosystem for this stuff, but it doesn’t seem to exist. Hopefully I can forge my own using the APIs and my own code.

Schedule

One thing that will cause failure (and always has in the past) is fitting this into my life. Having kids, something always comes along that disrupts something. Even sticking to regular fast days is proving tricky. For that though, I’ve just got to sort it out; I can’t stop this time.

Suggestions

I need help here from anyone who’s been down this path before. There’s so much out there, but recommendations are always helpful. I ideally want an open, interoperating ecosystem of tools and devices to help me manage this lifestyle transition. It has to work easily and integrate with my already busy life in the simplest way possible. Bad UX will cause failure as well.

If you have anything to suggest, add in the comments below. I’m all ears.