The Role of ‘Quantifying’ in chronic illness: How far is too far?

I vividly remember in the not too distance past reading an article in the popular media about these people called ‘quantifiers’.  Apparently these ‘quantifiers’ monitored everything they could find about themselves, their steps, their hearts, whatever the latest gizmos and gadgets would offer them. But get this – these mad people actually met up in cafes, to talk about said quantifying.  I distinctly remember thinking, you weirdo freakoids – you do this shit for FUN!?!

I was imaging a combination of socks and sandals, twinned with the latest smart watches and the most advanced lyrca fabrics (sort of geek meets fashion active wear) ordering skinny, soy, decaf lattes and discussing everything from their poops to their mother-in-law’s steps.

Be careful thinking others are ‘crazies’

The moral of this story is, don’t judge – the last laugh will be on you.

Since then I have become a full blown quantifier, one that would make those guys of my imagination look like amateurs.  I have even created a database in SPSS (statistical analysis software used by universities and statisticians).  What do I keep in there? …. my heart rate variability (HRV), my steps, my alcohol units, food intake, symptoms, bowel motions, mood, day in my menstrual cycle, any treatment I had, meds I took, did I fast between meals, did I eat mindfully (usually not), and much more I shan’t tell you about just now.

Everyone has gone a bit crazy and it is changing their lives for better

The good news is I am not alone, everyone (well 69% of US adults) is doing it (quantifying I mean).   There are apps, devices, and toys galore.  Get this – 46% of them reckon they have changed their behavior because of this quantifying thing.

Well actually not everyone, not girls so much.  A survey on the topic by University of Melbourne in 2014 was 75% male.  It was small and it may have been the recruitment that focused on males, but well it does seem a bit more a bloke thing. It also seems more common in those that define themselves as super healthy (over two thirds of the study).

Then there is me, a girl, a sick girl and so serious about my quantities that I have built my own database because nothing off-the-shelf worked for me.

What have I learned?

Do I run statistical analysis on this stuff? I think we both know the answer to that.

What have I learnt? I drunk much more alcohol than I should have over the summer break (2.5 glasses a day average).   That I am more likely to eat food I should not eat later in my cycle.  Yay PMT is not just in my head, it is in my database too.  In other learnings; undergoing herbal or antibiotics treatments lowers my HRV temporarily.   Here is something cool, if my HRV is low in a morning I am more likely NOT to chew mindfully.

As for the totally random and meaningless: there is some relationship between the type of alcohol I drink and how well I fast between meals, maybe champagne gives me the munchies and red wine doesn’t?!?  There is also something that is close to significant* that indicates I am more likely to drink more if my symptoms are good.  Given there is NO – I repeat NO – relationship between alcohol consumption and symptoms the next day; maybe I should drink more when my symptoms are bad? Maybe I should drink in the morning?

Of course these are just correlations, this does not mean there is a cause and effect.  Also it is a sample size of one or is it a sample size of 109 days?  Ah statistics are funny.

I also would like to share that it is some of the qualitative data that are being more useful.  Qualitative data are descriptive i.e. words, comments, answer to open questions etc.  As opposed to the hard numbers which are quantitative.  Qualitative data has an important role in research also.   In my own wee research project on myself often the qualitative data, gives me what the quantitative just won’t or can’t.

Have I gone too far?

I’ll let you be the judge of that.  For me knowledge is power, and it does make me feel a bit more powerful.  Before this I was forever obsessing over each new symptoms, was it the eggs I didn’t chew yesterday, that stressful meeting?  Now my obsessing is more targeted and I waste less time on it, in the shower and toilet (which given I go around 30 times a day is many minutes) and queuing in the supermarket.  I spend less time in needless worry.  I will not deny – it is quite a commitment.

How far have you gone?

Go thoughtfully in the direction of your dreams

Yours as Ever,

The Well-being at work (nearly) Doctor.


*Significant – short for “statistically significant” which is the likelihood of a relationship between two (or more) things being caused by something other than random chance.

Reference – Quantifying Self Quantifiers (yes you read that correct).

Quantifying the Activities of Self-quantifiers: Summary of Survey Findings





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