28 February 2019

Back To Analog: Health Tracking

This is clearly a case where technology hindered instead of helped.

Well… sort of.

Diabetes is an illness which generates data.

A lot of data.

Most diabetics are instructed to test their glucose two to three times per day. I’m not most diabetics. I must test nine to ten times a day due refined carbohydrate sensitivity. One quarter of a slice of whole grain bread can elevate my glucose levels to a dangerous level. I literally live or die by glucometer readings.

Then there are the mandatory ninety-day blood tests.

CBC (Complete Blood Count), CMP (Complete Metabolic Panel), Lipid Panel, Microalbumin, Thyroid… and others. These tests generate more data points which must be monitored. A trend in the wrong direction means we need to change treatments to precent further complications.” Complications” can include blindness or loss of a limb.

Then, let’s add fitness metrics. Calories burned, heart rate, power output… all affect how much I can eat, when I can eat… and especially… what I can eat.

I have daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly data points which must be monitored.

This used to anger me to no end… but it is my reality. And with all realities… one can choose to accept them or deny them. Denial isn’t going to do anything to help so I’ve come to accept that I must manage my malfunctioning pancreas.

For the past three years, I’ve used numerous glucometers to track glucose levels. Insurance companies LOVE negotiating with glucometer and test strip manufacturers to obtain the lowest price… thus forcing patients to change brands each year. I’ve used multiple apps… both connected and unconnected to said glucometers.

I’ve used a fitness tracker to calculate physical activity. And I’ve used a diet tracking app for caloric intake.

Data, data, data…

And I’ve had no meaningful technological comprehensive view of the entirety of this data.

Glucose tracking apps are terrible at integrating food consumption. Dieting apps have absolutely no way to integrate glucose readings. Physical activity metrics don’t integrate well into any of them. Blood test results don’t fit into any system.

I do use a spreadsheet to track trends over time… but there is a need to rapid log necessary metrics throughout the day. Before the apps, there were paper-based diabetic tracking diaries. Most were okay. But there were deficiencies… especially when it came to the integration of fitness metrics.

As I’ve consciously attempted to reduce technology use, it dawned on me that the process of tracking daily health metrics was maddening. How many times was I reaching for my phone, tapping an app icon, scrolling and swiping my way to the correct place in order to enter data which I may or may not enter correctly because of my fat fingers? How many times did I reaching for my phone to go through the aforementioned maddening process and then became distracted by a notification in another app?

This is where Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal Method came in handy.

After some fiddling around in InDesign, I designed a page to fit into my Dayrunner which allows me to collect a single day’s worth of metrics in one view.

Behold…

This seems like a colossal waste of time and effort because the data isn’t in an electronic form… right? This seems like it will increase not decrease the amount of time and energy to track those health metrics… right?

Wrong.

There are still some technological tools I must use. I still track caloric intake in MyFitnessPal. I still use my Garmin fitness watch and Garmin cycling computer for caloric burn and other fitness metrics. I still use a glucometer because I’m not ready to be implanted with a CGM (continuous glucose monitor).

But those tools are used only for their purpose… to measure… not to interpret.

Once I have the data point, it is much faster to log the data using a pen and paper than it ever was via an app. It is also much easier to review the data, write down observations and plan for the next day. I’ve timed both processes.

There is an added, unexpected benefit. Analog logging forces me to slow down, stop and think about the data.

What does this data mean? What do I need to change?

When using apps, I never reviewed the data closely. By moving to an analog process, I slow down. I am deliberate. I am intentional in my decision-making.

As a result, I’ve been able to make four different decisions which has tightened glucose control. I’ve also been able to understand exactly how endurance cycling is affecting my glucose and make critical adjustments.

If a move to an analog process is helping me manage diabetes, then I wonder what other parts of our lives we can manage better by decreasing technology use and putting those tools to work in the correct ways.


analog health


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