Data Viz Thoughts .|: My Weight Battle + Visualizing Weight Loss
A Tableau-centric weekly blog about the viz-making process, #datafam member interviews, Viz of the Week & entertainment for introverts (consisting of a music morsel & a binge bite).
This week, we will discuss my battle with weight and health, my visualization to combat that and share a Sagar Kapoor’s Viz of the Week that I had the pleasure to assist with updating.
Visualizing a Weight Loss Journey
Before I dive into the visualization, it’s important for me to cover my lifelong battle with weight and health. Since youth, my weight has yo-yo’d significantly. People binge eat and binge diet — I am one of those, but it’s time for a change for the health of it.
At 12 years old, I was sick of being chubby and didn’t want to be picked on or looked down upon for that (1) — I had enough problems with my yet undiagnosed autism and likely ADHD (or related issues). I was very determined to lose weight over the summer between 7th and 8th Grade. When the summer began, I was 5' 2" and 154 lbs. and at its end, I had a 4" growth spurt and lost 34 lbs. It began as a healthy compulsion and ended with me being diagnosed with an eating disorder.
Counting calories became an internal competition. I wanted to exercise fanatically while absorbing as few calories as possible. Near the end, I wouldn’t even eat salad with dressing because the calories in dressing were too significant. My goal was 1,200 calories per day, but it decreased to 800 calories per day.
I didn’t know or understand my process was unhealthy until I had a family intervention after a nutritionist was consulted — once I learned, it frightened me. Karen Carpenter’s death was still relatively fresh and anorexia nervosa was a hot topic for years following. After learning I needed to go to outpatient treatment, I stuffed my face with Oreo cookies and milk — again, not healthy, but I didn’t want to go out like Karen. When I went to treatment, it was determined for my height and build, I needed to be 145 lbs. After a couple months, I was at a healthy weight and maintained it (relative to my height) until I was 19.
At 19, I started college. Instead of exercising, I ate and drank and was comfortable due to a stable relationship. At that point, I was 5' 11.5". I gained 60 lbs. (175 lbs. to 235 lbs) freshman year and transitioned from a 31–32" waist to 38". After that relationship ceased, I was more focused on exercising and eating in moderation — it also helped being college-poor. Until I was 22, I was able to reduce and maintain 190-200 lbs. and a 33-34" waist.
At 22, I was in another stable relationship (eventually marrying) and about to be a father and I stopped exercising again while inhaling Thai food, beer and ice cream super-abundantly. In a year or so, I saw my weight climb back up to 230 lbs. and a decade later it gradually increased to 265 lbs.
There are many reasons why I didn’t reduce during that period. I’ve always had bad knees that would give out when I ran. At 15, I had significant ankle surgery from several fractures participating in a kickball game (avoided a ball, broke it stepping inward, got up and broke it the opposite direction). At 25, I had degenerative disc disorder and needed surgery to remove and replace to cervical discs in my neck (2). Both surgeries caused chronic pain since and the neck surgery was even more significant because of more mechanical complications. My knees wouldn’t allow me to bike from 30 years old on, so I was just working at my desk and eating my way into severe obesity. At 35, I was having severe abdominal pain that burned like a fireball — it wasn’t from the spicy food I ate — it was something else. I went into see a specialist and it was determined I had a hiatal hernia + acid reflux. Because of my weight and slight impaction of food + the acid reflux, my stomach lining was trapping gas at the top of my stomach (your stomach has a normal opening to the esophagus and mine wasn’t normal due to the hiatal hernia) — sitting was unbearable at times and was told that losing weight may help reduce the pressure.
This scary jolt finally motivated to focus on weight loss as an adult. I did that by controlling my diet — 1,700 calories per day (with one cheat day every two weeks) and walking. When the walking started, one mile was a struggle, but as I consistently lost weight (while focusing on increasing my distance a little per day), seven miles daily became my norm. In 15 months, I lost 92 lbs. Yes, I was as motivated as I was, if not more, than I was when I was 12, but learned I can do it while eating healthy, taking time and focusing on the end goal of 175 lbs.
Besides losing weight, I lost much of my leg pain and knee pain — my blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol reduced to very healthy levels and the stomach issues disintegrated. In addition, I was motivated to maintain that weight and did, more or less for six years. I was gaining a pound or two annually, but it was okay and still felt great. But I relaxed again and my desire to maintain a healthy weight collapsed.
At that time, my career was static and when I did good things and didn’t get really noticed, I rewarded myself with food. Instead of eating in moderation, I looked to gorge lunch, weekends and guzzled my calories too. My walking virtually ceased, and the weight climbed from Age 41 until now from 190 to 250.2 lbs on 1/17.
The turning point for me was realizing I’m rapidly approaching 45 years old, seeing my photos with the #datafam in Cincinnati (3), increased issues with blood pressure and the return of my hiatal hernia symptoms — besides a ton of scary potential health issues like severe heart problems, diabetes and related. I also knew if I created a visualization and made my challenge public with planned weekly updates, it’s something that could have a lot of long-term benefits and prevent Mr. Complacency from reappearing.
TL:DR: I have a history of unhealthy habits and I’m getting older. I want the 2nd half of my life to be enjoyable and long.
Visualizing Weight Loss
For the data viz, I wanted to see progress and goals in one view. On the airplane trip home from Cincinnati, I popped open my laptop and wire-framed the viz.
I wanted to visualize several things.
- A BAN with basic numbers showing progress and the most recent week’s attributes toward the goal
- A radar chart showing the melting of metrics that need melting
- A music playlist to use as motivation
- Charting that shared progress of the metrics in the radar chart
I decided to keep it simple for the BAN — just a couple of text fields to show current weight and weight loss on the 1st row and the 2nd row sharing the previous week’s average calorie intake and daily steps. I could have easily made these auto update with data, but adding these by ‘hand’ has a more visceral feeling and helps me best see/feel the accomplishment of the prior week. Although automation is great, keeping bits unautomated can be a reward.
Although the radar chart may seem like a strange approach, having it can help me see melting of weight and related elevated metric values. I selected BMI, weight, calorie intake, waist size, resting heart rate, systolic and diastolic BP for the metrics. These metrics were chosen because they’re measurable, need to be reduced and are the most concerning to me. As far as it being a best practice for visualizing it, that’s a different story; using a spiderweb underneath isn’t feasible because there will be so many overlaid weeks. Yes, some metrics may ‘melt’ at different rates, but visualizing the melt itself is what’s important to me. To help you see progress, there is transparency and a way to highlight specific weeks in descending order and tooltips provide context (Note: the goal week is at the bottom).
Music is a big presence in my life. It’s an easy source of non-caloric joy. Each week, I will add a song to the player to motivate me to continue to pursue my goal. These songs will probably range many decades and genres, but hopefully uplifting in some way.
Current vs. Pre-diet for Calorie Intake Dumbbell Chart
This is a placeholder for a future chart, but is another way to visualize the metrics reflected in the radar chart. Simply changing the metric will show how my latest week compared to my pre-diet metric (with the assumption the most recent week will be better than my pre-diet for each metric).
I created a ‘show tips’ dashboard using a dashboard button by duplicating this dashboard and overlaying help text. There are a ton of other ways to achieve the same thing, but this was easiest.
Wording, Design and Color Choices
I wanted to add some wording to the viz to share a bit of my story and why this is important to me. This viz is a journey to better health. The design changed a bit because of feedback received from Zach Bowders (@ZachBowders) (4), Sarah Bartlett (@sarahlovesdata), Toan Hoang (@Tableau_Magic), Paul Rossman (@p7_stats), Brian Moore (@BMooreWasTaken) & Kevin Flerlage (@FlerlageKev). Before publishing, I shared some of iterations and these friends are trustworthy and share sharp and constructive points. They helped me balance the viz out and make it look a little less clunky. Zach was key for the color as his eye for color schemes and design are always primo. Sarah is a great resource to balance creativity with best practices.
The Viz’s future…
The dumbbell chart will be replaced by small multiple charts when I get at least 10 weeks in. You need a significant amount of time points to deliver value with that chart and 10 weeks is a nice starting point (since it’s a weekly measurement). Once I have that done, then I’ll release the version 2. The YouTube playlist will likely be replaced by a Spotify playlist.
The goal of 37 weeks is because ultimately, I would love to meet my target weight of 190 by #Data20. Whether or not the goal is met, I plan on maintaining the viz for years because the bigger part of the challenge is keeping the weight off to maintain health and not relax.
Preparing the data
Since this viz will be updated weekly, I decided to use Google Sheets as the data source and update its data weekly. The data refreshes daily automatically between Google Sheets and Tableau Public, so I do not worry about making those updates in the viz each week. Using Google Sheets is not complicated, but you need to authorize Tableau each time you open the viz to access the Google Sheets data.
For the radar chart, you need a field for the metric points, another for the specific metric and then a final one for the value. For example, for each week, I have seven rows for seven metric points and those seven points have a value for each. I have added additional fields to help show change vs. the beginning, date field and % change to help with context for the other charting. The radar chart was easy to build with Tableau Magic’s radar chart tutorial. If you download my viz, I include comments for each of the calculations made to help you learn how to build yourself.
Feel free to use for your own health journey
If you dig the viz and want to use it as a template, feel free to download and re-point to your own data source.
Viz of the Week
Sometimes it’s not about making the prettiest viz or even data art (5). This resource created by Sagar Kapoor (@skapoorz) a while ago with an upgrade assist by me is one of the most useful resources as a viz available to anyone who wants to learn Tableau with a ton of free resources. Many of the resources are covered in my VizConnect presentation recorded and published here. It was an honor to present and subsequently help update this amazingly useful viz!
I asked him why he developed the viz in the beginning and he shared (he’s a Tableau employee) that he created it to help customers, so they can easily find the resources they need.
It also had a great side effect of being an amazing resource for our datafam community as it consolidates so many resources in one easily-followed spot and can be shared with anyone regardless of their skill level to develop and enhance creativity, design and development.
This week was an exercise in reflection. Looking at my weight & health battles and trying to process the helicopter tragedy had a lot to do with that. Kobe’s tragic death made me recall John’s at nearly the same age. #9 Dream’s ethereal wistfulness & slight confusion captured the essence of my mood perfectly.
For this week’s binge watch, it was a lot of Kobe Bryant. He was a different kind of athlete. He was driven, complex, a little tortured in his quest at greatness and evolved overtime from a brash kid who made a lot of mistakes to a doting father and everyone’s big brother. His post-NBA career was more relatable and inspirational as he supported his daughters through helping pave their way to help them pursue their dreams, became a big voice for women’s athletics and even started a production company featuring its Oscar winning 1st production effort.
When I 1st read he died in the helicopter accident, I really thought it was one of those despicable death hoaxes and tuned it out. When I learned it was real and that his daughter, Giana, who was his spitting image was with him just made it unthinkable. To learn of the seven others that perished with him: John Altobelli (champion baseball coach) with his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa; Christina Mauser (mother of three, teacher and basketball coach), Sarah and Payton Chester (mother and daughter) and Ara Zoboyan (pilot) passed after the collision to a hillside in a foggy hillside in Calabasas.
It’s probably strange for a grown man to say this, but I need the mamba mentality more than ever as I permanently fight again gluttony and sloth.
1) I would be deceiving you if I didn’t share that my mind at that age was to get girls to notice me too. It certainly didn’t hurt.
2) Losing two discs and developing short neck syndrome after surgery reduced my height to 5' 10".
3) Not a great photo of me, but motivation since it helped me see what I was doing to myself.
4) Please check out Zach’s podcast featuring me released on Wednesday.
5) Brian Moore gets a big honorable mention for his #IronViz feeder quality viz… The Forgotten submitted for #ProjectHealthViz & #IronQuest yesterday! It balances exceptional design, analytics and storytelling into an unforgettable visualization.