Stop Obsessing Over the Numbers

Girl in white finding the solution.My friend, former co-competitor, business partner, and writing buddy Brad Kearns had been on a “Quantified Self” kick, tracking biomarkers, testing blood sugar and ketone levels, and staying abreast of all the various ways we can quantitatively check our progress. He’s months into a ketogenic experiment and had hoped to marry his subjective impressions to objective measurements to strengthen his intuition and improve his results.

Then, several weeks ago, it all changed. Using the same finger prick sample, he checked his fasting blood sugar using three separate devices. Same blood sample, three devices purporting to give accurate readings. You’d think the results would be similar, if not identical. They weren’t:


That’s not just a few points here or there. That disparity is well outside the standard deviation. The numbers can’t be trusted, because which one’s right? And if you can’t trust the numbers, what’s the point of gathering them?

Brad’s results were extraordinary, but making any conclusions from the measurement of an organism’s secretions, emissions, and fluids must be tempered with the fact that biology is chaotic. It isn’t clean, neat, and predictable. If you dig deep enough, it might be predictable, but we don’t yet have the technology capable of untangling it.

This isn’t just limited to over-the-counter glucose monitors either. 

Gut Biome Testing: The different gut biome sequencing services can produce different results. One person had about as contradictory a pair of results as you can get from the same sample. In another case, taking samples from different sections on the same poop gave different bacterial readings. Bacterial strains do not have uniform distribution throughout the turd.

Blood Testing: Each blood drop is different from the next. This is where services like Theranos ran afoul of reality—they claimed they could test individual drops of blood for dozens of biomarkers. That’s all well and good, but a single drop is not representative of the the rest of the blood.

Sleep Tracking: Commercial sleep tracking is notoriously inaccurate, overstimating sleep duration even comparing poorly to established medical devices for tracking sleep, like polysomnography (used in sleep studies) and actigraphs. They give a false sense of security. That’s dangerous. If you’re only sleeping 6 1/2 hours and feeling lousy, but the machine insists you’re getting a full 8 hours a night, and you trust it (it’s “objective” after all), you will jeopardize your health. 

Let’s say the numbers are even accurate. This is only a snapshot of one drop of blood in one minute in a living organism, so trying to discern the truth from a single blood test is like trying to understand the plot of Gone with the Wind by looking at a movie poster. Then, when you factor in how inaccurate the numbers can be from machine to machine or from lab to lab, it makes it even more ridiculous to try to craft any kind of lifestyle strategy based on them. 

Almost a decade ago, a routine visit to the doctor for a skin checkup almost got me placed on blood pressure meds. It was 140/100. I refused, opting to track my own blood pressure over the next week at home using a store-bought device. The results were stunning:

Across 50 readings, I never got the same numbers twice.

My highest was 133/92, taken after leaving the doctor’s office. My lowest was 102/66, that same night after dinner. So, I went from needing drugs and a low-salt diet to l0w-normal BP over the course of 24 hours.

At night, my BP settled in around 110/67 on average.

That cemented for me how ridiculous it is to determine someone’s long-term health trajectory based on a single reading. Blood pressure, as with any physiological biomarker, fluctuates for a reason. When you’re exercising, it’s high to help shuttle oxygen and nutrients around the body. Stress also heightens the need for oxygen and nutrients—so you can deal with whatever stressor ails you—and thus increases blood pressure. It’s helpful when required, bad in excess.

Then there was the time I tested at almost 17% body fat despite looking like this.

Even in that perfect world where every blood drop is identical to the next and every lab machine and OTC device are interchangeable, I’m just not sure if the objective measurements have any real use compared to the subjective measurements.

Do you have energy all day?

Do you wake up feeling refreshed?

Do you want to work out?

Can you make it to lunch without eating or complaining?

Are you productive?

Are you happy with your body composition?

These are the questions to ask. If you can answer affirmatively, what more do you want? I have trouble seeing how numbers on a device that may not even be accurate can improve on those subjective biomarkers.

Another danger of reliance on lab tests, not widely acknowledged, is that we lose touch with our bodies. When we have numbers for everything, why pay attention to something as inaccurate, imprecise, and subjective as “how I feel”?  After all, nobody bothers remembering phone numbers anymore. This will only worsen the more technology improves and accuracy increases. You’ll have robot doctors or implants hooked up to your smartphone analyzing your health using complex algorithms based on biomarkers that are 100% accurate. “Trust the AI,” they’ll say, and there’s some truth to that. Who are you to disregard a supercomputer with 1000x the brainpower of John von Neumann?

Call me a Luddite, but we lose something important in that scenario. Humans are the thinking and feeling animal. We ponder the meaning of life and possess intuitive powers. That’s what makes us so dominant—the ability to use executive functioning to harness and direct our more base urges and instincts. If we no longer have to feel and can rely on flawless biofeedback relayed by sensors and trackers, will we cease to be human?

I don’t know the answer to that. That’s a tough one.

For now, stop rejecting your birthright as intelligent animals. Hone your intuition rather than surrender it. Don’t enslave yourself to the numbers and lab results. That doesn’t mean ignore them outright—particularly if you have a serious condition that requires treatment. I’m not suggesting anyone skip out on their medical care. But there’s this to keep in mind: Quantification is a tool, it’s not the full answer.

You come first. What you say matters. At least for now, it’s often the best biofeedback we have.

To sum up:

  • Test results are often unreliable and inaccurate.
  • Different devices/labs produce different results.
  • Most tests are single snapshots in time and do not represent the natural fluctuations that occur in any biomarker.
  • Subjective evaluations are more useful than objective numbers (that may be inaccurate/unreliable).
  • Relying on a machine to tell you how you’re feeling may atrophy our ability to feel.

What do you think, folks? How do you weigh objective biomarkers against subjective evaluations of how you’re looking, feeling, and performing? What provides the most value to your life and health? Thanks for reading.


TAGS:  Big Pharma, Hype

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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70 thoughts on “Stop Obsessing Over the Numbers”

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  1. Speaking as someone who has been denied a CPAP three times because “Although you have significant sleep fragmentation and wake up feeling as though you can’t breathe, your O2 levels never go below 91%” I can totally agree with this article. I now use a used CPAP that I bought without anybody’s permission and I sleep better and have less daytime drowsiness, not to mention a decrease in required medication for arthritis pain and various other improvements in health. Maybe the best benefit was that I can now exercise more.

    Putting numbers before quality of life is just dumb and cruel. I had to spend months figuring out how to use the CPAP, finding the right setting for me (8.4), and being berated repeatedly on CPAP forums because I was doing so without a prescription. But look at the results. How can anyone support such a system of cruelty and secrecy that leads to such suffering?

    1. Meriel, many people still think physicians are gods, and that’s exactly how the physicians want to keep it. It’s called job and income security. If people were more willing to take responsibility for their own health, they would rarely need the services of a doctor. I’m glad you were able to acquire a CPAP on your own and that it’s helping you. As the article indicates, numbers seldom tell the whole story.

      1. Well, I’m not so sure the doctors are the culprits. I blame the insurers. They have been consistently trying to weasel out of paying for things and that’s their job, to help us pay for things by spreading the risk of illness out over a large enough population.

        The biggest proof of malfeasance is their destructive attack on national health care reform. You don’t get a better pool of risk than the entire country. So they must be simply interested in not paying.

        Another proof of their intent is the Clinical Practice Guidelines they publish for doctors to follow. They literally tell doctors how to treat you. So your doctor isn’t the one choosing your treatment anymore either.

        Finally the dirty muckraking around Pharmacy Practice Managers in Pharmacies shows how Pharmacies, Pharmaco’s and Insurers are all in bed together with the goal of driving prices up. This is all easily googled.

        The doctors are most benign of these influences. They’re acting as puppets, blaming them is like blaming the checkout girl at CVS Pharmacy. Medicine is broken and the only way we will fix it is if we out it for what it is: the quack hunters have become the quacks and con men. Pharmacos have immunized themselves against the kind of scrutiny that they deserve, and they did it by looking trustworthy to the government agencies that are supposed to protect people from con artists.

        While my body starves with hypoxia each night, and I’m being given drugs for various “conditions” they’re waiting for the payoff, when I get cancer or have a heart attack or stroke. As someone who also suffers from ME/CFS I understand this principle very well. The endpoint for most ME/CFS sufferers is Lymphoma. Well I’m not going to just wait around until it happens. Many of us are fighting back by preventing hypoxia and maintaining our metabolism as best we can, while keeping our blood from excessive clotting (because we are of course more inactive than most people, putting us at risk). Being proactive like this is often ridiculed as “paranoid” but I’m really sure that it isn’t.

        1. It’s not the insurers, Meriel. I live in Sweden, where the health care system works in a completely different way, and here too doctors – and even lesser healthcare staff – behave as though they possess the one single “correct” answer (even when they’ve quite clearly misdiagnosed something). It’s a horrible patriarchal attitude and I assume it comes about during their initial training and is then promulgated throughout the culture of the healthcare system. I’ve started complaining about this because I’m British and we complain about everything, but most people have a tendency to just accept it, sometimes with literally fatal results.

          1. Yep it’s the same in Germany. I”m Australian and I’m used to seeing healthcare as part of a team between me and the health provider. Here I have to basically request specific tests or medications, they won’t be offered otherwise.

      2. Sorry, I meant we are “less” active than most people.

        Sometimes I think there is some kind of automatic editing happening on web posts, but I guess that time I must have used the wrong word. My bad.

    2. Meriel, I did the same thing. After two sleep studies, my insurance company said my numbers “weren’t bad enough” to warrant any kind of help or intervention. I went to the sleep lab and told them I was gathering my medical records, and asked if they could copy my file for me. They did, and from it I was able to figure out what my CPAP setting needed to be. I bought a device practically new from someone on Craigslist, and I use it every night. I hope that, at some point, I may lose enough weight or start to tone up the soft palate muscles again (I was a trained singer), or both, to be able to do without it. But in the meantime, I’m so grateful that I, like you, decided it was important enough to go off script and take care of it myself.

  2. I am a firm believe in honing the one reliable measurement tool we all have – your own attention to your mindbody.

  3. thanks, this is a really useful post. i am somewhat pre-diabetic, and often get blood sugar readings that are hard to believe, or that vary even across the same drop of blood!

  4. I love checking my numbers… I’m obsessed with ’em. I check blood glucose, ketones, weight, heart rate and HRV every morning… it’s my cup of coffee. That said, I also catalog the subjective markers… energy, drive, motivation and mood. I’m looking for patterns that influence performance.

    For instance, I usually see multiple days of increased glucose, decreased ketones, increased resting heart rate and decreased HRV before I start feeling crappy (glucose and HRV are the best predictors for me). That said, if I see two to three days of this sort of pattern, I tend to make adjustments in anticipation of feeling crappy so that I can keep feeling strong, happy and healthy… it usually works!

  5. That’s very interesting about the different results from different meters – and by a lot. I just got a 2nd glucose meter and will give that a try for myself.

    In general, I think checking your numbers can be very helpful to understanding and honing what you are doing, but obsessing over them is not. And especially obsessing over single readings – it is clear that the body fluctuates all over the place and you should look at trends and patterns. But doing that is harder if the devices aren’t accurate….

    1. My hubby and I use the Walmart brand. They will send out a free bottle of liquid to test the results you’re getting against their specs. And ours were within range on that. But of course you still have to trust the manufacturer. I have often wondered about placing too much trust in the USDA Organic designation – from the same government who has given us fluoride in the water, Roundup in the corn, and the food plate/pyramid.

  6. Brad’s experiment was indeed shocking. What kind of objective numbers can we trust? Many of us found success with powerlifting. If we track our strength relative to bodyweight week after week, under relatively consistent conditions, then we gather fairly reliable data points.

    Often we feel weaker, yet prove to be stronger, or vice versa, revealed only by the trends in our lifts. Often we feel like our bodies aren’t changing when we look in the mirror each morning, but a comparison of a photo from several weeks earlier tells a different story.

  7. Mark – Thanks for a great post.

    I would like to add another problem with numbers that I have seen with myself. It is too easy to obsess over them, or at least overly focus on them, and stress yourself out in the process. Checking one’s weight every day, pinching the subcutaneous fat regularly, measuring your urine ketones multiple times a day, looking for signs of improvement from recent exercise: these are all ways to obsess over the immediate snapshot and miss the big picture. I am guilty of all of the above.

    Finally deciding to just do the exercise, just follow the program, just focus on reducing stress, and let time and nature take its course was a big step forward for me in terms of overall wellness and happiness.

  8. Thanks Mark! I’ll take that 17% body fat any day of the week (-: You blood pressure episode reminded me of something that happened to me. I was meeting with my endocrinologist for the 1st time concerning my Hashimoto. She proceeded to measure my blood pressure again and again without much of a pause and was quick to write down in my file that I suffer from white robe syndrome. I admitted to her that I was a little anxious and mentioned that I rode to the clinic on my bicycle but to no avail. A few months later, I asked her to remove the notation, based on my exemplary vitals prior, during and following my hand surgery. Same thing when measured by a nurse during routine visits but she refused (and boy do I detest tagging). Just comes to show you…. On the other hand, my national health system doesn’t penalize patients for refusing statins etc’ and provides coverage that many people in the states can dream of for a very small fee (i.e. excess to advance care and diagnostic), so not all is bad. So now, I arrive early at the clinic and take some deep breath before entering her office.

    I was going to purchase a glucose monitor but based on your writing will pass.

    1. I’m an RN. If you keep inflating the blood pressure cuff on the same arm, & test again, you’ll always get a higher number the 2nd time. We were taught that when we learned about physical assessment.

      1. In other words, my Dr should haves used my other arm to remeasure my blood pressure. Is it common knowledge? Thanks….

        1. RN here. White Robe Syndrome is incredibly common. When at a medical appt, people tend to be stressed and their blood pressure goes up. Most everyone will have a lower/normalized BP reading at home. She was noting that your BP was likely elevated because you were in her office.

          1. In the past five years I’ve done two lots of 24-hour blood pressure monitoring. That is, wearing a device that takes your BP every so often during the day. This was done to satisfy my doctor that I had White Coat Syndrome. Turns out I did.

            My BP was in the mid-140s/low-90s on one occasion, and then on another (with the nurse) was 180/120. Yet during the monitoring it tracked within the ideal range for the entire 24-hour period.

            The weird thing is, I’m a confident, relaxed person. My doctor is as much a friend as a doctor. I felt no stress or anxiety whatsoever, yet I presented with much higher readings than normal. Apparently this thing works on the primitive part of the brain and is not under conscious control. And it affects a significant percentage of the population.

            So if you should be alarmed by high readings, ask to be monitored.

      2. Thank you, Shan. Something else I learned about “numbers” related to blood pressure, when my mother in law stayed with us to recover from a bad experience in a nursing home, we learned that she has to have a quiet period of at least 60 sec before taking her bp. Or it will always look high. She also cannot be talking.

        It’s amazing how often I am in a doctor’s office and the nurse rushes me into a room as soon as I arrive (not from the waiting room, no time to sit), and is asking me a fast series of questions while taking my BP. One nurse in particular does this and when she does it my bp is always 145/100-ish. She always looks alarmed and then I point out to her that I had no quiet time and my previous bp’s are all normal.

        In a nursing home, this “oopsie” was used to overmedicate my mom in law until she was a “fall risk” and it made her delirious until she was deemed to have “dementia.” Both conditions cleared up completely upon stopping the unnecessary drugs. Please protect your elders.

  9. I have mixed feelings about numbers. I think home measuring devices can be helpful in providing a daily snapshot if you use the same ones consistently. Even if the values themselves are a bit off, you’re probably seeing some trends. That can be useful information.

    But I completely agree that putting too much emphasis on numbers can be useless and even dangerous, if it leads you to ignore how you feel. One problem is that the common reference ranges are just averages across populations, and people differ wildly as individual creatures. A value deemed “normal” might actually be too low or high for a particular person. How one feels should be the guide. Alas, a lot of doctors don’t see it that way — if they like your numbers, they’ll tend to minimize the fact that you’re telling them you feel awful. (I speak from experience.)

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Mark.

  10. This post made me realize that my entire life revolves around numbers: reps, Dexa, weight, macros, hours of sleep, etc. What a great reminder to make a stronger effort to go by feel.

    Also, completely off topic, but I just discovered the Caesar Primal Dressing. Amazing.

  11. Wow, this is just what I needed to hear. The techy part of me loves to obsess about numbers and tests and all that, but is that really how I want to live my life?

  12. Love this post. Can’t stand tracking things in such minute detail. Now I feel vindicated for not doing so…LOL…thanks!

  13. I totally agree, however, if you look at the time stamp of the two meters on the left side of the photo the times are totally different! What gives with that? Don’t get me wrong this could be a re-inactment, but it still raises doubts about the facts as presented. I hope I’m not being too picky

    1. David: I’d suspect that most people’s meters do not have accurate time/date settings because unless you’re a diligent (or Type 1) diabetic, time/date don’t really matter much. I never look at the time/date on my ketone/glucometer, just the most recent few readings.

    2. He’s right–I can’t for the life of me figure out how to change the date/time stamps on mine. I don’t even bother any more.

    3. I would like the author to explain the time stamps as well. I do agree though that we all need to pay attention to how we feel.

  14. I’ve been tracking my blood sugars for the past month, because of ONE A1C test result of 6.9. One night I didn’t believe one of my numbers, so I re-tested, twice and came up with three radically different numbers. All within a span of 2 minutes with the same meter. The point of not worrying about a single test result is huge. When I return to my doctor this weekend, with my numbers (which do not suggest a 6.9 A1C) I will insist on another A1C. In regards to meters: all meters have at least a 10-20% variance, so, yes, getting different numbers from a single meter, in a short time span is “normal”. The biggest takeaway from this is, you are MONITORING your progress, and those numbers are a loose guide or framework to direct your diet, or exercise.

  15. true but: over a period of time those individual readings must mean something, especially if there is a recognizable pattern, say blood sugar over some number, like 126 . Ideally then you can proceed to something less chaotic, like changing your diet or exercising more.

  16. One “device” I saw in a store the other day were plastic baby spoons that change color to indicate if a food is too hot. At this rate, we’re not going to have any senses left, except to look at something else to tell us how we should feel. Is it hot? Honey, just look at the spoon.

  17. When I go to the doctor my blood pressure always reads really high–often high enough to scare medical personnel. So they put me on a machine that takes three readings and averages them. While that is happening they leave the room and I read a book. Those averages are fine.

    1. I can literally feel the panic surging through my body the instant someone puts a BP cuff on me. Bad case of White Coat syndrome. It’s something that’s both unexplainable and uncontrollable. I’ve gotten to the point that I usually decline requests to take my blood pressure. I just tell the nurse, “I know it’s going to spike, so what would be the point?”

  18. Thank you for this so-true article!! If I had listened to the numbers (and my doctor), I’d still be unhealthy and unhappy. After suffering suddenly with horrible fatigue, leg pain, swelling, weight gain I thought I may have hypothyroidism. But my lab numbers were NORMAL…doc said it’s impossible to have a thyroid condition. Took treatment into my own hands (internet is great for that, especially ordering thyroid from Thailand) and wow…complete resolution of all symptoms. Take that lab numbers (and doctor)!!!

    1. I agree completely Rios. 14 years ago I was put on a low fat diet by a doctor who also wanted me to take statins but I said I would try to lower numbers by my diet. What followed were the worst two years of my life health wise by a huge factor. My numbers went down but I compensated with glucose for fat. Became sick and miserable and pre diabetic. I was lucky to meet someone who got me back on fats and off grains and sugars. I literally have not looked back and have dropped four shots off my golf handicap this year at age 59 and exercise regularly. If I have any small issue with any aspect of my health I have a look at my own routine to see if I need to fast a bit or do more exercise or whatever. After the issue clears up I know what the issue was and how to combat it if it recurs. Numbers are just an excuse for the pharma pimps to peddle their drugs. The biggest problem I had was white coat disease and listening to these clueless morons.

  19. I love numbers. Hell, I’m an engineer. I have race times back to 1996 in an Excel file. (Yes, I’m one of THOSE guys.) All that said, I agree wholeheartedly with the message Mark conveys. Data is not the same thing as truth. Hell, as Brad’s experience shows, data is sometimes the opposite of truth! Kudos for posting this.

  20. I went 13 years without any “official” tests because I had no insurance. My mom worried about my switch to eating paleo. According to her (and the prevailing information she had access to), too many eggs=bad, too much meat, especially fatty meat=bad. She warned that my cholesterol would be sky high. For this reason, I was glad to finally get some insurance and have the normal blood tests associated with a check-up. I was even happier to report to her that blood glucose and cholesterol numbers were all “good.”

    Another aspect of my self-care is that body trust you’re talking about, Mark. I had a small cyst on my forehead for about 23 years. It bugged me, and I talked to my doc about removing it. She did so, and of course she had to send it to a lab. The results were that the cyst itself was fine, but there “might be” some “irregular” cells around the area, and they wanted me to go to a dermatologist to have a bigger, deeper sample taken. I declined. i told them I’d had it for 23 years without change, and I would keep an eye on it. It has healed beautifully, and I don’t believe I’ll see anything further from the site.

    I’d like to lose some weight, but I know that even weighing myself on a daily basis is counterproductive. I do pay attention to my body, but I don’t worry about it. Thanks for the post, Mark. Very affirming.

  21. I once got my blood tested for cholesterol using the -same- blood sample for both the regular test and the NMR-based test (which gives the breakdown in terms of all the different kinds of LDLs, etc.). The regular test gave me a total cholesterol of 200, the NMR test indicated 230. LOL, people flip out if their total cholesterol changes by 30 in one direction or the other from one test to the next! I lost all faith in the total-cholesterol measurement tests at that point.

  22. I totally go by how I am looking, feeling and performing. Rarely have tests run of any kind since I feel pretty amazing most of the time. And totally believe in listening to your body. On the occasional day that I don’t feel great, I try not to push myself (easier said than done, I know.) I also look at what might have changed…not enough sleep? Not enough water? Not enough down time? Listening to your body is so much more valuable than listening to tests. I use the hashtag #lookandfeelamazing on all of my Instagram posts because I truly feel that’s what we all deserve!

    1. Excellent point Elizabeth. Trying to figure out what has gone wrong when we dont feel great is the key. Numbers are just a distraction from real health.

  23. My husband had the same issue when he went to the doctor for low libido (he’s in his 40s) and his testosterone was super low, but not low enough for them to do anything about. I’d like to get his thyroid tested as we eat paleo and pretty much the same but I’ve lost 30 pounds eating paleo/keto and he seems to have gained weight. I’m hesitant to send him to a regular doctor as I know thyroid issues are so hard to diagnose (partly from reading this blog and forum). Has anyone had success going to those private testing facilities like requestatest, etc?

    1. Most doctors only look at the THS results. Whenever you test, try the full panel which shows free T3 and free T4, and some other tests. I also recommend a naturopathic doctor and one who works with armour or natur-throid. Synthroid is usually not helpful and can be harmful.

  24. Yes, on not being too hung up on the numbers. BUT when I realized that I was prediabetic last August, I started “eating to the meter”. Since then I have lost 54 lbs and completely turned around my diabetic situation, from A1c of 6.2 to 5.4. It is impossible for you to know your blood sugar without a gadget to tell you.

    I’ve had lots of experience with glucose meters. The strips become inaccurate if they are allowed to get too cold or too hot (ie in your car in winter or summer). If you need to test away from the house, take 1 strip with you and leave the rest at home. Also, if the vial is opened too many times, they get inaccurate. When you open a new vial, put half into a spare vial, and use the other half until it is empty. . Be very careful that your strips have not expired, or nearly expired. Don’t keep your strips in the bathroom, or near the kitchen sink. CERTAINLY not in the frig.

    Always wash and dry your hands before testing. The tiniest residue of food on your finger will throw your numbers off.

    I have two different good brands. If I get a really weird number, I put a strip in each meter and test the same drop of blood in both. Once I learned how perishable the strips are and how to deal with them, I almost never get a bogus reading.

  25. There is something eerie with these posts
    they show up at the right time
    I meet all of this easily:

    Do you have energy all day? check
    Do you wake up feeling refreshed? check
    Do you want to work out? check
    Can you make it to lunch without eating or complaining? very check
    Are you productive? check (still employed)
    Are you happy with your body composition? check

    But I do record my weight daily and body fat (as measured by the electronic scale). I use it to compare over the years and I find it useful

  26. Very insightful article. Sometimes we lose touch with our amazing abilities – honed by millions of years of evolution – to feel clearly, and we fixate on thinking clearly and cognitive pursuits at its expense.

    I particularly like Mark’s list of subjective health:
    – energy
    – desire to workout
    – wake up refreshed
    – moderated appetite
    – productivity
    – body composition

    These are the elements I intend to focus on, rather than go down the wild goose chase of tracking biomarkers and ignoring my intuition. As Mark says: we are thinking AND feeling animals.

  27. Dear Mark, thank you for this! I have wondered about this numbers thing for a long time, but I feel great! Thank you for your efforts. They make a difference. Here’s one anthropologist who affirms what you do!

  28. one gauge is to look at the “tests” conducted 10 years, and what “healthy” numbers were meant to be, and then look at now, how many of those theories, books, and numbers are now invalid – then try this over a 20 year period – what do your fitness books look like from 20 years back?

    No reflect this to the present books and theories you might be reading, where will they be in 10, 20 years ?

  29. There was a statistical analysis done that found 80% of statistics were inaccurate…

  30. Timely article. I just saw an infomercial advertising a blood pressure monitor that you can wear all day like you would a wrist watch. They even tout that you can know your BP at all times of the day. How much more BP meds will be prescribed as a result of people obsessing over their minute to minute numbers?

    1. Good point Bob. I think at a certain point too much information can be a bad thing, which is what I think this article is subtly and indirectly saying. I used to wear a Fitbit to track all my sleep/movement patterns but have not worn it in a year or so as I do not seen the point anymore. As long as I feel good, look good, and perform good that is all that matters.

  31. When testing on a finger stick glucose meter, always test with the second drop. Also refrain from excessive squeezing, as you might be testing on up to 50% subcutaneous fluid. This will help in keeping levels more consistent. Even still these won’t be as accurate as a bigger chemistry analyzer would be. Those are considered point of care test, and will only give you a ball park. I am a lab tech and do diabetes test education. So I’ve seen this first hand

  32. Some day, archaeologists are going to dig up our civilization and find our fitbits. They will scratch their heads and ask each other, ” Now, why do you suppose they counted their steps?”

    1. No they won’t, they’ll go “Oh, it must have had ritual significance”, like they do about everything else (can you tell what I trained as?!)

  33. You hit is right on the nail! Tests are Ok for looking at things from one perspective. But you cant draw conclusions from any one single test. The below self questions you listed in this blog are perfect. Should they be compromised then maybe you look at your habits including diet and sleep and adjust what seems off balance. If hitting all the key points (sleep, diet, relationships, housing environment, etc.) don’t bring you to an equilibrium then it may be time to start taking some tests. Of course I believe a healthy connection with God is key too!

    Do you have energy all day?

    Do you wake up feeling refreshed?

    Do you want to work out?

    Can you make it to lunch without eating or complaining?

    Are you productive?

    Are you happy with your body composition?

  34. I enjoy looking at numbers but primarily go by feel and the mirror. Some things can be precise but not accurate and therefore still useful. For example my skin fold calipers are probably off by 5% or so of my actual bodyfat but I can get within 1mm of a my reading every time. I don’t need to know if my bodyfat is 11.6375% I just need to know that last week I was pinching 9mm this week I’m pinching 8mm.

    And that is crazy and shocking about the blood pressure and DEXA scan being that far off.

  35. I also have white coat syndrome. Every couple of years my doctor does a 24 hour BP test and the figures are always OK. Everyone’s blood pressure should go down at night. Giving anyone medication based on one reading is daft.

  36. White-Coat Syndrome re: blood pressure readings is just one example of how our emotions affect our health overall. Although it’s not mentioned in the article, it’s a fact that we experience more pain and have worse health outcomes overall when we’re chronically depressed or under a lot of stress. How often have we heard about spouses who care for a partner dying of cancer, only to succumb themselves to the same disease within a year or two. Stress is a killer. It causes insomnia and weakens the immune system — these are facts that even mainstream docs agree with. So it makes sense that our numbers can fluctuate for many reasons, including our state of mind.

  37. Mark,
    Long time reader, first time poster!
    I had to personally thank you for this post. I’ve been lifting weights for about five years and struggle with the number obsessions. I’ll have days where I will breeze through a 250lb bench press, other days I can barely bench 200. I think we all have to realize that we can’t live our lives solely by the numbers. Oddly enough, I seem to lift better when I forget to bring along my weightlifting notebook, go figure!

  38. As someone who have been obsessed with food and dieting since I became an adult 20 years ago, I instantly felt discouraged at the thought of measuring blood ketones and blood sugar (aside from testing with my ND). After years of using measuring spoons, scales, books, charts, apps, websites to “track ever bite” I put in my mouth, to me it feels like another level of obsession. I am so glad that is not necessary.

  39. This is probably the most useful insight I will ever receive accompanying the word “turd”.

  40. I’ve been testing morning blood glucose for months with an Abbott Percision Xtra. Now I test a finger on each hand and here are the results from the last 3 days:
    97 & 91
    106 & 94
    102 & 83
    Wow! What a difference! My left hand is pre-diabetic and my right hand is healthy! Thanks for pointing out the variance in these tests.

  41. I totally agree with this, but I want tests that we don’t have. I want something that tells me why I feel as I do. What’s causing today’s bloating? Is SIBO back? Did I have too much meat? Did I have too much coconut/other fodmap? Is it female stuff? Then I would act differently with that knowledge. And so far, I can’t follow my body to know, though sometimes I think I can tell the difference. I need the Magic Schoolbus driving around inside, reporting back.

    And knowing that that weird feeling is low blood sugar (for example) for sure might be helpful. So during the wierd feeling, test glucose, a few times, then you know. Then stop testing. Or is this fever you getting sick or ketosis starting? Use the numbers to confirm the feelings.

    Other than that, you do the math; I”m out. Numbers are for financial types, not me.

  42. I came out to see what Mark had to say about glucose meters, and now I know why he doesn’t recommend them. To me, it’s a bit like a bathroom scale – even if it’s heavy or light, if the numbers are going in the direction you’re looking for, that’s worth something. I never get blood glucose numbers above 100 anymore – at any time of the day, whether I’ve eaten or not. That’s a far cry from where I started.

    1. Hi Mary. Where did you start, if I may ask? I’m monitoring my blood sugar as it has recently increased to between 115 -120 in the morning. I am wondering about accuracy. I have recently lost 10 lbs & I working on another 15. This an excellent article for me. Thank you if you are willing to share anything about yourself.