The Vitruvian Man Returns

In which we look at how well I’ve managed to balance my Venn diagram of physical, mental and social well-being.

07:00 · 29th Mar 2020 - 1727 words about health

My Body: The Trash Receptacle is probably where I started.

I’m telling you this because it’s the truth about where my journey started but also because that means it’s taken me six years to get here, to where I am today.

Sustainable life-altering change isn’t quick.

Whenever anyone asks me how to do it, that’s usually the only tip I give them, “Make your change so small that you don’t even notice you’re doing it.”

All the changes I’ve done or am doing to answer the well-being questions from The Vitruvian Man are slow and deliberate. The questions acting as lighthouse beacons in a stormy sea, a way of staying on course.

The well-being questions

  • Are you physically active?
  • Do you have mature mechanisms for coping with life’s ups and downs?
  • Do you enjoy fulfilling relationships?
  • Do you enjoy a healthy weight?
  • Bonus; Are you learning?

Am I physically active?

TLDR: Yes. Though I wish I was more consistent with strength and resistance training.

Six years ago, during the coke and snickers-snacks era, I walked an average of 1,340 steps (or 1 km) a day, sometimes less.

That was my starting point, that’s when this journey began.

Now, looking at the data from last year, I’m walking an average of 12,266 steps (or 9.42 km) a day.

That’s still not quite as much as our palaeolithic ancestors, who walked about 14,900-19,800 steps (12-16 km) a day, which is something I think I would like my average to be.

But with a total of 4,476,992 steps (or 3,439 km) last year, I’m really happy with where I currently am.

I have an excellent at-home strength and resistance training routine—similar to Shapiro’s Building Muscle guide—but I’ve been very sporadic with it in the last year.

Focus this year: Increase steps a little and get back into strength and resistance training (once a week is enough).

Do I have mature mechanisms for coping with life’s ups and downs?

TLDR: I’ve developed better coping mechanisms but still need more practice.

As someone prone to self-destructive, or “dysregulated behaviours” as psychologists call it, I must develop mature mechanisms for dealing with stress and anxiety.

I’ve been working a lot on mindfulness and improving my coping mechanisms.

“Anger,” said the saint, “is a punishment we give to ourself, for someone else’s mistake.”

But, anger is also a great way to know that something needs to change, so balance is my ultimate goal.

Looking at data from my Daylio, my average score of 4.22 (up by 0.23 from last year), makes my average day, a Good day. And as breakdown shows, most days were better than the year before:

  • 118 Fantastic days, 40 more than last year
  • 213 Good days, 5 less than last year
  • 32 Meh days, 28 less than last year
  • 1 Bad days, 5 less than last year
  • 1 Fucking awful days, 2 less than last year

My solitary Fucking awful day was last September when the compounding effects of life and work became too much, I had a breakdown but also finally sought counselling for some of the unresolved traumas in my life.

I’m still finding Daylio lacking in detail now that I’m able to articulate those details—something I wasn’t capable of doing when I first started being my emotional detective—but I haven’t found a replacement.

Instead, I’m considering increasing the number of moods on Daylio from five to ten, which should hopefully give me a better archive of the nuances of my moods.

Focus this year: Develop more mature coping mechanisms and strengthen the existing ones.

Do I enjoy fulfilling relationships?

TLDR: More than last year but still a work in progress.

Last year was tough, to be honest. By asking myself these hard questions, I realised how important they were but also how unequipped I was to answer them.

  • What is a healthy relationship?
  • Am I spending enough time with the people who are important to me?
  • Am I spending too much time with toxic people?

The definition I talked about last year is still one I refer to frequently and I think it’s a great way of looking at it.

Healthy relationships are having life space (boundaries), a common outlook on life (shared intentionality), and growing and nurturing trust. Healthy relationships are built. They require time, work, patience, and a deep look inward. They include mutual respect and communication.

But it made me realise that I had some of the relationships I was building were unhealthy ones. After trying repeatedly to heal old wounds and transform them into healthier ones, they still weren’t working.

Some lacked any boundaries at all, others didn’t respect the few ones I had—I’m working on being better at expressing my boundaries.

I started asking myself, “Do these relationships need to end?”

Because I can’t learn to be kind to myself at the same time as I’m letting other people be unkind towards me.

Carlos Eriksson as a Disney character and Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man.
Le proporzioni del corpo umano secondo Vitruvio.

So, I’m having to let people go. I have to stop building unhealthy relationships if I ever want to be able to build healthy ones.

Knowing bad relationships have to end is one thing, being the active participant in making them end, is a lot harder and more painful.

Now, having this clearer understanding of what healthy, fulfilling relationships ought to be like means I can be more observant of people in my life—existing and new ones—who either already understand this and value it as much as I do, or are also learning to see the value in it.

Of course, this means I also need to contribute my share to healthy relationships.

Focus this year: Be kinder to my inner child. Embrace healthy relationships and strengthen the bonds with people who were already exhibiting the aspects I now understand the value of.

Do I enjoy a healthy weight?

TLDR: Enjoy? Maybe. Healthy? Yes.

Every morning, naked and halfawake I step on the scale and weigh myself.

The number that greets me gets sent to my phone alongside quite a few other measurements. I try to not think too much about them because even though I do it consistently in the morning like that, it varies from day to day more than I would expect it to.

Which makes me worry that if I don’t eat enough daily I will lose the weight I’ve managed to gain.

And as far as I’m concerned, that’s not “enjoying” my healthy weight so I need to examine how I view this. Studies show that our bodyweight can fluctuate up to 2.5 kg in a single day so I whilst measuring every morning is good, comparing it from one day to another is probably not.

Instead, let’s take a step back and look at my weight from a much wider angle.

Back in 1984, born 41+2 weeks and weighing in at 2970 gram (15th percentile) and 52 cm (85th percentile), I was, by comparison, a tall and skinny toddler.

At 6 years old, I weighed 19 kg (~15th percentile) and was 117 cm tall (50th percentile), so an average-height underweight boy.

After puberty, between the ages of 14 to 30, at 183 cm tall I weighed 58 kg quite consistently, making me a tall and skinny man.

And I think this is the internalised image which has left its marks in my psyche. This is the image I need to shift.

It is the image I had started shifting back in Push Ups, Planks and Puking.

Four years later, on December 2019, the very last day of the year, I weighed 74.15 kg with 13.2 % body fat. This is the heaviest I’ve ever been, a healthy weight and I’m incredibly pleased with this.

Now let’s look at a slice of measurements from the past four weeks. On average, my total body weight fluctuates by -0.025 kg per day.

This tells me that yes, I do need to make sure I eat enough daily but that what I’m currently doing is already good and sustainable long-term and that I should chill the fuck out, a little at least.

Focus this year: Continue my healthy eating habits, maintain my weight where it is, ±2 kg, and chill the fuck out.

Bonus; Am I learning?

TLDR: Yes and loving it.

I’m not an academic man. I’m not particularly educated at all.

Now, I used to say that I grew up in a village—I’ve since learned that it’s too small to qualify as a village and I grew up in a hamlet.

But included in the study is a section about the benefits of education for inner-city men and despite my assumption that The Harvard Second Generation Study criteria don’t apply to me, it seemed like a good idea.

The more education the inner city men obtained, the more likely they were to stop smoking, eat sensibly, and use alcohol in moderation. George Vaillant, Aging Well

Education can take many forms and I know from experience that sitting and listening is my idea of hell, whether that’s a classroom or video tutorials.

Reading, on the other hand, is great for me because it allows me to dictate and increase the pace when I encounter sections where the author has already made their point but still feel the need to explain themselves—this happens more often than I’d like.

I decided that reading books would be my main way of learning.

Reviewing the books that I had read the year before made me realise that out of the 18 books I had read, only 2 had been written by women.

So I added a criterion to read from a broader set of perspectives, which means reading more books by minoritised authors.

I read 27 books in 2019 and loved most of them.

Focus this year: Continue reading for quality (not quantity), make sure I alternate topics, take notes and read from minoritised authors.

Theme: health

Topics: journeys, data, quantified self, exercise, wearables, psychology