The UK is a nation of masochists. We chose Brexit over Not Brexit, Mrs. Brown’s Boys regularly pulls in literally millions of viewers, and we’re all so ashamed of having the temerity to eat and drink over the festive period that gym memberships regularly shoot up as soon as the 1st rolls around.
Like many, I celebrated last Christmas and New Year’s by having too much of a good time, so also decided to piously punish myself throughout January, the “Monday morning” of each new year. However, this time I wanted to know how much good all that self-flagellation was actually doing me, so turned to my old friend: Science.
To measure the inner goings on of my body, I used a home wellness tracker called Vessel Health, which is basically Uber but for piss tests. You urinate on cards printed with QR codes, scan those codes and the app will gauge all sorts of important things, like how much “cortisol”, “biotin”, “ketone A (AcAc)” or “hydration” you’re running on at that moment in time.
The author with one of the test strips.
FIRST TEST: THE 16TH OF DECEMBER, TO SEE WHAT MY NORMAL IS
I say “normal” here, but I should make it clear that the 1st of December acts as a bat signal in my brain to patriotically emulate Henry VIII’s gout via a rapid and sustained uptick in the amount of cheese and salted meats I put in my mouth. Doing that tends to have a negative effect on your body, even if – at this point – I was keeping the wolves at the door through regular exercise and spending my days at work, rather than: simply drinking.
My overall “wellness” score at this point was a robust 64 out of 100. Lowlights included 50/100 for both my “digestion” and “mood”, which was likely down to low levels of vitamin B9 (folate, or folic acid). You get that from a nice balanced diet, but by this point my insides were about 35 percent McDonald’s Triple Cheeseburgers, washed down with Stella Artois.
Folic acid helps your body get rid of harmful amino acids and produces healthy red blood cells, which in turn helps you to absorb nutrients correctly. Studies dating back to the 1960s also show an increased rate of folate deficiency in people with depression. But surely there’s no way I could be depressed – the last year has been great!
SECOND TEST: THE 25TH OF DECEMBER, CHRISTMAS DAY – SURPRISINGLY NOT THAT PISSED, CONSIDERING I STARTED DRINKING AT 9AM
What I love about Christmas is that even though you put half a bottle of Prosecco in your breakfast orange juice, and continue drinking until you pass out cradling a Baileys, because you’re constantly topping up on snacks, meals and leftovers, you never get fully off your face – you just ride that blurry equilibrium between drunk and full.
The problem is, all that over-exertion caused my body to tailspin into four-point wellness decline, to 60/100 – with an alarming drop in my “body” score, from 58/100 on the 16th to a mere 48/100. So: what gives, science?
Apparently, as my PH levels were 5.5, I was a bit acidic – which is not a good thing. Studies have shown that a high sodium diet can lead to metabolic acidosis, symptoms of which include “muscle loss or wasting”, “high blood sugar” and “increased risk of death”, all stuff your body doesn’t particularly like.
THIRD TEST: NEW YEAR’S DAY, THE 1ST OF JANUARY – FULLY OFF MY TROLLEY FROM THE NIGHT BEFORE
To give you a sense of the state I was in on New Year’s Eve, by 9PM I’d already sent all my mates viscerally emotional texts about MF Doom dying, saying that in 2021 I’d “definitely do things differently”. Despite everything I put inside my body to land me in that state, my overall wellness score only dropped by two points from Christmas Day, to 58/100, with my “energy” levels at 48 and my “immunity” at 42/100.
You don’t need me to tell you that NYE excess will absolutely smash your immunity and energy levels to bits, but it was interesting to see that manifest in my cortisol levels being absolutely through the roof. Cortisol is released to help your body deal with stress, and considering what I’d put mine through it had every right to be traumatised.
FOURTH TEST: THE 15TH OF JANUARY
I’d decided at my lowest comedown moment that I needed a break from pretty much everything fun – partying, social media, the chippy dangerously close to my house – but despite abstaining from everyone else’s misery on Twitter to focus on my own, and despite saying, “I actually prefer eating healthily, you know?” out loud every time I ate a salad, my overall wellness score only rose three points, to 61/100.
I’ve had issues with regulating my body through numbers in the past, specifically with calorie counting and the psychological problems that can lead to, and this testing reminded me of that. One category, for instance, is “beauty”. I get what they mean – they’re talking about your skin and nail health – but after two weeks of resisting all the things that make up my extremely contrived personality, did I really only feel 57/100 in terms of beauty? No, I felt full of beauty. Beauty-full, if you will.
Also, did it really even matter what the minerals and proteins in my piss were telling me? Does knowing what’s going on in your body via neat little graphs make your life any better? How come getting rid of all the toxins in your body and exercising nearly every day for weeks on end only makes you feel “not shit”, as opposed to “noticeably good”?
Much to consider.
FIFTH TEST: THE 31ST OF JANUARY
Fair play – after a whole month of avoiding Domino’s, Twitter and blacking out on brandy, my overall wellness score had risen a fair amount, to 70/100, boosted by high levels of folate, magnesium, ketones and hydration, even if my PH, cortisol and B7 levels were still a bit off.
My digestion – perhaps helped by a ban on food that’s actively bad for me – had risen to a rip-roaring 76/100, and my beauty, mood and focus levels were all the highest they’d been since I took the tests. What I’m trying to say is I would have sliced my own leg off for a Mighty Meaty stuffed crust and a pint, but also I didn’t feel like shit 24/7.
WHAT ALL THESE PISS TESTS HAVE TAUGHT ME ABOUT MY LIFE
In his giant tome Being and Nothingness, Jean Paul Sartre wrote, “The being of human reality is suffering,” adding, Frenchly, that “human reality is by nature an unhappy consciousness with no possibility of surpassing its unhappy state”.
What I think he meant by that is: so what if you have a DIY loyalty card at your local chippy? Fundamentally, humans are unable to appreciate joy for any sustained amount of time, so why bother resisting the tiny squirts of serotonin that flit across your brain? Sure, moderating your vices may lead to “long lasting contentment”, but what does that feel like? You’re not actually buzzing, you’re just a little less sad than usual, i.e. it is pointless.
My ultimate verdict: measuring yourself isn’t always bad; it can actually be helpful, in moderation. But also, if you feel alright, what’s the point? Stop being so British and let yourself enjoy life.