October is a potentially tricky month to stay on a healthy program. First, you’ve got Oktoberfest and Halloween to get through. While those are each (generally) just one day events, the repercussions of one day of poor eating can easily last up to a week.
image credit Bells Beer
On top of those, you’ve got the weirdness of an in-between month. October isn’t summer, and most people have put away their aspirations of having the best beach body ever. It’s not winter either, so you’re not quite in the full “be careful of holiday dinner” mode that can protect you going into Thanksgiving.
A runny nose, twisted guts, bad sleep, and the speeding up & slowing down so common to stimulants and depressants are all part of the October experience for the unwary.
What can you do to go through this gateway month in top condition, then blaze into the holiday season with all your healthy living habits reinforced?
I recommend something I normally don’t: Start measuring.
For the rest of the year (after you have good baseline measurements), tune in to your body on an intuitive level. For most people, I don’t think you should worry about what your Fitbit, Fenix 5X+, or magic Dexcom CGM tracker tells you on a daily basis, rather, you should focus on how you feel.*
In October, (and usually one other month per year of your choice), I recommend doing a “Month of Measuring”.
This’ll help give you a baseline idea of where you are, and it’ll show you how far off track a one-day excursion into sugar & alcohol land can take you. I think of October as a month of calculation; IF I fall off the wagon, this is the month to do it and see just how badly those behavior patterns set me back.
What should you measure? I recommend breaking this down into two main areas: How you feel, and how your body scores.
For how you feel, I’ll share a system I learned from my Dad. Dad writes in a journal every day. Sometimes he writes a lot, sometimes a little, but at the end of every entry, he writes down 3 scores. He calls them “P-M-E” for Physical, Mental, and Emotional. You don’t have to write a journal entry, but I strongly recommend you record your P-M-E scores for 30 days starting sometime in October.
How should you score your P-M-E? On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being as terrible as you can do without dying and 10 being just shy of angel status.
Dad puts the P in a circle, the M in a square, and the E in a triangle. There’s no significance to the shapes, it just means if he sees a score in a circle, he knows it’s his Physical score for that day.
What Dad found and passed on to me was that if you chart those scores over time, you’ll notice they each have a waveform. It’s not perfect, but they generally go up and down in a wave rhythm. When they all sync up and go up, you know you’re likely to have a really amazing day. When they’re all heading down, you know it’s part of the natural cycle, not reflective of you being a failure at life.
For the month of October (and into November if you want), take the time to record your daily P-M-E scores. Just the act of tracking ‘em may help you understand your moods and perspective, and you’ll also have a chance to see just how much a night of boozing or sugaring can affect you.
So that’s the first part measuring, tracking how you feel. Everyone can do it, it costs nothing, and I’ve found it useful to see how those three scores change over a longer time scale.
The second part of measuring dives into techno-geekery. These are objective numbers; it doesn’t matter how you feel here, just record the number your body gives you. We’ll move from the least tech requirements to higher tech requirements.
Start off by getting your resting heart rate every morning. Yep, when you wake up, find your pulse (wrist or neck) and count how many times your ticker tocks in a minute. Write it down next to your P-M-E score in your journal.
Follow that score with your sleep score; how many hours did you sleep? You can use a sleep tracker for that, or you can just set the healthy habit of being in bed at time XX and glancing at the clock when you wake up.
If weight is important to you, record your weight. Just remember to do that at the same time every day so you’re not measuring pre-breakfast Jane against post-dinner Jane. They can be two different people. :)
Here at the Paleo Treats office we’ve been lent a LEVL device for the month of October, which measures breath acetone. If you’re local to San Diego you can come in and use it as much as you want while we have it. It can be pretty interesting to see what it tells you about your eating habits, and of course Lee & I compete to see who can get the highest score.
Why do I recommend measuring those things, and in that order?
Let’s circle back to the “month of measurement” idea. Remember, October is a weird month with lots of temptations. Just knowing that you’ll be measuring your health in some way can help you resist the temptation to dive into a bag of candy corn, or have that second (which leads to the ninth) beer at Oktoberfest.
If you don’t manage to resist, measuring will help you see what’s actually happening to you when you make those choices. Some of us respond very strongly to one thing and are relatively unaffected by another. Alcohol for me is straight poison, but I can handle small amounts of sugar if I time it right, eat healthy everywhere else, and put in a solid workout.
Here’s to a month of measurement for you, and hoping that even if you don’t manage to stay healthy, you see just how weird things can get when you dive off that wagon and into the land of the Standard American Diet.
To health, to life, and to knowing more about yourself!
Nik @ PT
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*Learning to "feel" what your body is doing is a hugely important thing to do. We are not total Luddites here at Paleo Treats, so we're not saying you should never do any kind of biomarker tracking. What we recommend for most folks is to do a month or so of tracking with technology and learn what certain "numbers" feel like, then see if you can go another few months without relying on tech to feel good. Go back and re-check every 4-6 months to see how you're doing, and you'll build up a great sense of how your lifestyle affects you.
Too much reading...
How about dessert?