CC image courtesy of CIFOR

CC image courtesy of CIFOR

I have come to learn in my healing journey that for a lot of areas of health, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't always work. If it did, then the whole "eat less, exercise more" should be producing a ton of skinny people - yet we see obesity rise day after day. This is not for sake of a lot of people not following the advice - they actually are! It's that the generalist approach is not working for them!

Biology in the human body is affected by so many things: We can be genetically programmed for blue eyes , but we are also a product of our environment. There is even a whole world of science called epigenetics which studies how our environment can trigger certain genes to "turn on". Diet, lifestyle and genetics play a big role in human health. Even without doing genetic testing, like 23 & Me, you still probably know where your heritage roots are. Are you a descendant of Northern European cultures, or did your family come from South America? All clues to what it takes to be optimally healthy.

With so many things that can affect our overall health, its no wonder that general approaches often fail for a large part of the population. This is where n=1 experiments come in. This is a play off typical scientific studies where n represents the number of test subjects or samples. An "n of one" refers to running an experiment with only one subject or sample. Typically this is less preferred, as you'd want larger samples to be statistically meaningful. But when it comes to what works for me, or for you, the best thing to do is self experiment. 

Now if you want to be very scientific about it, Chris Masterjohn, has a set of guidelines on how to do proper self-experimentation and have it be scientifically accurate. This is a good read, because you don't want to accidentally draw conclusions on your self-experiments that may not be true for you. 

Tips on conducting n=1 experiments:

  • Measure everything! There is a lot of truth to the adage, "what you measure, improves". If you are not tracking your progress (positive or negative) you can't see the results! This doesn't meant measure everything at once, but for the context of what ever experiment you are conducting, write down your observations and any measurements you can!
  • Limit your experiments to one at a time. Truly, the human body is a complex system. And if you decide you are going to experiment with a new diet, a new fitness regime, a new meditation class all at once - you won't be able to determine which of those things led to the result! So unless you want to become some mad statistician who does multi-variant analysis for fun on a Friday night, I suggest you conduct one experiment at a time.
  • Do the experiment long enough. You won't know if strawberries cause low-level inflammation by eating them once during a Sunday brunch. You have to expose yourself to them multiple times and in random order (see Chris's article above) to be sure. Plus, most systems in the human body take time for them to "settle" in to the new routine. Give anything a good 30 days to be sure. Another way to view this is that doing pushups once or twice isn't long enough to conclude that they do or do not build bicep muscles. You need to be consistent for a long enough period of time for the body to show changes.

So what is my current n=1 experiment? I have decided to try a change in my macronutrient ratio to induce what is commonly called Nutritional Ketosis (NK). This means that I'm eating more fat in my diet than previously to see if I can convert my body from burning glucose to ketones. You can read more about this here, and here. I am doing this for weight loss. I won't lie. But I will report back at the end of my 60day experiment to see if I have lost any weight or not. Stay tuned...

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