How to Use Science to Discover Your Unique Path to Health

Have you ever wondered why in the world there are hundreds, if not thousands, of diet and workout plans out there these days? They all pretty much promise the same thing: fat loss, improved fitness, and ultimately better health for you. Why do we need so many of them if they all accomplish the same thing?

The answer is complicated, but the real reason so many of these exist is that the world is full of unique individuals, whose exact roadmap to vibrant human health is shared by very few people. Thus most diet books work for some people, but not all of us. Our unique roadmap needs to be teased out individually, either through your own investigation or with the help of a health professional. Unfortunately most people tend to outsource this investigation to diet books, hoping that they finally pick up the right one that gives them the results they want.

I’m not knocking diet books, as there are truly a lot of really good ones out there. Most contain at least some morsel of useful information that can be applied to your unique situation .  Rather, I take issue with our tendency to want to outsource our health and well being to other individuals. That we are finally going to stumble upon the perfect prescription from someone that will radically transform our lives. I used to do it myself, bouncing from diet to diet, in search of the magic silver bullet. Turns out there is no silver bullet, but there quite a few lead ones.

All it takes is discovering the lead ones that lead to improvements in your situation, adding them to your arsenal, and continuing to pursue new avenues that ultimately lead to an enhanced state of health for yourself.

Bruce Lee may have said it best, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own.”

Too often we tend to discard whole approaches rather than elucidating what is working for us from that particular approach. This can be done quite easily using something you likely learned in grade school called the scientific method. You don’t have to be a full on nerd like me to use it. It is really a quite simple and accessible way to ask questions, test solutions, and interpret the results.

The goal of this post is to outline all the steps for you using different aspects of health and fitness as examples to demonstrate how taking an active role in determining your unique roadmap to health is going to yield  unprecedented results.  These steps are listed in a numerical order, but often times they can be ongoing concurrently or slightly out of order so don’t feel you need to move from step 1 to step 6 in order.

Step 1: Define the purpose or question

What is the problem you want to solve, or wish to know the answer to? This may seem simple from afar, but it helps to get specific here. A broad question may not address what you are truly seeking. For example, “How do I lose weight?” is not necessarily a good question. Chopping off an arm is an answer to that question, but probably not what you’re going after. Asking a more specific question such as, “Will eating a completely vegetarian diet result in fat loss?” may be a little easier to test. Don’t worry, you won’t discover the roadmap to health with a single question, nor should you try to. Think of this as an exercise to tease out different variables for you to test, setting yourself up for ongoing experimentation. You are not going to figure everything out with a single question. Not sure what to ask, skip to step 2

Step 2: Observe and research

This is basically an information gathering step. You may or may not have a question in mind, but by digging into the information that is out there you may add clarity to that question or help to develop a new one. This is why I read a ton of books and articles. If I can find just one tidbit of information that aides in my ongoing investigation it is worth it. These facts lead to better questions, and help design theories for me to test out in my own personal situation. About a year ago I read the fact that 80% of the population is magnesium deficient. Instantly, questions started swirling around in my mind. What does magnesium deficiency do in the body? Am I deficient? What would supplementation do for me? Eventually I circled back around to step one, asked, “Would supplementing with topical magnesium nightly improve the quality of my sleep?” Once I had the question in hand it was time to dig into the research a little more to discover the exact mechanisms of how magnesium can improve sleep. Then it was on to the next step.

Step 3: Form a hypothesis

A hypothesis is a fancy term for a statement that provides an explanation for something observed. It’s a theory, not a fact, based on the information you know that can be tested to determine its validity. You will form a hypothesis based on your question and the research that you’ve done up until this point. This statement may even include an explanation for the outcome based on what you know. Here is a classic example that’s pervaded nutritional guidelines for years.

Hypothesis: Eating eggs, which contain high amounts of cholesterol, will raise the levels of your blood serum cholesterol.

This is the hypothesis we were given by various sources of dietary guidelines for decades and only in the past few months was cholesterol removed as a “nutrient of concern” for over consumption. That in itself is a sad commentary on the state of of regulatory agencies as science has disproven that hypothesis for years, and it’s only now officially being integrated into recommendations.

One tip to remember is to try and keep your hypotheses simple. Use the framework, “If (this happens), then (this other thing) will happen,” to form clear statements. Action, reaction. Also, try to avoid adding in too many variables (inputs or outputs that can be manipulated) because that can make what you are trying to investigate very difficult to test. This can be very hard when it comes to health and weight loss because there are so many contributing factors. Keep it simple and clear, and choose something that is easily testable, which brings us to step four

Step 4: Design experiment and test

You don’t have to be a scientist to design a well thought out experiment. In fact you’ve done it before: “If I wake up at six AM, does that leave me enough time to do a thirty minute workout, shower, eat breakfast, and drive to work before clocking in at eight AM?” It contains strict parameters and variables that you can control (you should define what breakfast is and how long the shower lasts so the only thing you are varying is the time of waking up), and a measurable outcome that determines a pass/fail grade for the test.

Fixing as many variables as possible and trying to vary only one is usually the best approach, but since weight loss and health is multifactorial that may not always be possible. You can do sweeping changes, like completely overhauling the diet, establishing a new exercise routine, AND making drastic changes to your sleep habits. You’ll see results for sure, but how do you really know what was responsible for the outcomes?

When it comes to health and weight loss experiments the measurable results get a little murky. Most people choose the number on the scale, which may not be such a good marker to choose given daily fluctuations and the potential for body recomposition to skew that number. Things like body fat percentage, circumference of certain body parts, or blood markers such as fasting triglycerides, insulin, or your cholesterol numbers may be better outputs to measure, but these require a little more effort and in the case of blood markers require a trip to the doctor’s office and getting stuck with a needle. Then there’s more subjective measurements such as how much energy you have or how well did you sleep. The important thing to remember here is to design your test so you are measuring something specific, and you are tracking this measurement periodically. You can always revise the parameters of the experiment once you analyze the data.

Step 5: Analysis of the Data

Once you’ve run your health experiment and collected the data you measured it is time to analyze the results. It other words, let’s figure out what happened.  Did the results match what you hypothesized at the outset? If so, great! If not, can you determine what caused the discrepancy? Dig into your method and look for flaws in its setup. Did you stick to the plan? Did you measure the right outcome? Were there multiple variables at work influencing the outcome? Did the experiment impact other areas that you weren’t specifically measuring? These are all good questions to ask yourself. Once you’ve taken a good objective look at things, it’s time for the next step.

Step 6: Conclusion

Work up a viable conclusion to why the experiment either proved or disproved your hypothesis. If your results were muddled and you couldn’t draw any concrete conclusions that’s okay too. That just means you probably need to refine the experiment and do some additional testing. The conclusion should never be an endpoint, just as arriving at a good state of health should not be an endpoint either. Often times, in actual scientific research, groups of researcher will redo others’ tests to assess validity of the data and conclusion. It’s perfectly okay to repeat your own studies too.

I am constantly learning new information and finding ways to experiment with it in my own life. It’s a constant attempt for progression. Don’t be satisfied with the status quo. Stay curious.  Keep pushing yourself. Use the basic scientific method outlined here to find what uniquely works for you.

Your health and well being is in your hands. Yes, you can enlist some help to guide you in the right direction (that’s what I’m here for), but ultimately you have to take control and run these experiments in your own unique situation. It’s the only way to discover your personal state of optimal health.

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