Time to up the ante on food tracking
Awareness + Accountability + Focus on Long-Term Goals vs. Short-Term Wants
A New York Times article I re-read recently quoted a research expert who summarized it this way: “Self-tracking teaches people how their environment and behaviors affect their health, said Carly Pacanowski, a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow who studies eating behavior. “It’s a preventive daily strategy that always stays with you,” she said. “Over time, it provides a lot of interesting information. It lets people be more in the driver’s seat with regard to their health.”
I agree. Though keeping a daily food log and tracking your activity takes focus and consistency, and it doesn’t work for everyone.
If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you know that I believe the process of losing weight and keeping it off is PERSONAL — meaning what works for one person is not necessarily the answer for everyone. My overall approach to weight loss, as with most things that fall into the personal development category, is to “know thyself.”
I believe that weight loss and weight maintenance success comes when we pay attention to what works (and doesn’t work) for us, and we adjust our behaviors and actions accordingly. This sounds far easier than it actually is. In our quest for self-awareness, we have to be willing to take a deeper look at our mind, body and spirit. We have to dig deep and understand the emotional and mental part of our struggle, and that’s something few people want to do.
Losing weight and keeping it off requires getting fiercely honest with ourselves, and that can be really uncomfortable. It also often requires us to work on emotional and behavioral changes, along with diet and exercise.
Keeping a daily log of your food, activity and weight can be a helpful tool in the process of self-discovery if you don’t get too hung up on the number on the scale and beat yourself up when you screw up – and you will!
All-in food tracking – why now?
This weekend, I made the decision to start tracking absolutely everything that I put in my mouth, as well as my daily movement and exercise. I also adjusted my weighing-in strategy to weigh only 1x per week — and on the same day every week. This was the approach I took when I first started my weight-loss journey in December 2010. It worked for me then and throughout my weight loss journey.
After I lost -200 lbs and achieved my weight loss goal in May 2012, I continued to track consistently for awhile as a way of monitoring my healthy lifestyle and keeping myself in check. Once I got comfortable that I could keep the weight off and had developed healthy habits that kept me on track, I let up on the food tracking, but kept my Fitbit activity tracker. (I use the Sparkpeople app because it’s where I started tracking years ago and where my data exists — but there are so may great apps out there today.)
For the last five years, I’ve implemented the “track everything” strategy only when I feel like I need it to get myself back on track after getting too far afield. So why track everything again starting now?
Well, that’s easy! I’ve crept up way too far in my weight for my comfort AND my daily habits are not “clean.” The “loosey goosey” approach is not working for me. I need a stronger connection to everything I’m eating and doing, so that I have awareness and accountability.
This past weekend I got fiercely honest with myself and admitted that I was out of alignment with my long-term goal more often than not. Lately, I’ve been making too many short-term — I want this now! (usually triggered by an emotion) — decisions that aren’t aligned with my long-term goals. I’ll have a series of great days and feel good, and then get off track. So it’s time to clean it up!
One sure fire way to tell if you are too far off track from your goals is to admit that you have reverted to making excuses all too often for going off plan or not getting to the gym. Yep, me! And, perhaps most alarming, I’ve realized that things have become a giant slide vs. a slippery slope! That is just not acceptable to me. It’s not how the new Lori-in-the-equation rolls. So, I’m doing something about it.
The benefits of tracking
For me, the benefits of keeping a food and exercise log are simple — it’s a tool to keep me more aware, on track, and moving toward my long-term goals. If I am tracking everything I am more likely to stay on plan. And if I note a pattern of emotional eating or slips, I have the information to assess why and re-align or self-correct. Tracking allows the highest level of self-awareness, accountability and alignment with my goals all in one.
I should mention that I am not necessarily tracking to “count calories.” I believe that the quality of what we eat is as/more important as the how much. I learned to count macro nutrients vs. calories and this type of tracking works far better for me.
Clearly, I could write another blog on how to track, what the best tracking apps are, how often to weigh… and I might! But for today, it’s important just to commit to tracking again. As with any new habit, consistency is key. So I’m giving you permission to ask me in a month how I am doing!
How many of you track your food and/or exercise, etc? What app or program works best for you? Tell me, I’d love to hear from you.
Here are some related In the Equation blogs on this topic, ad well as a few articles I’ve found helpful. Enjoy!
- Food and activity trackers – good for weight loss & weight maintenance (Jan. 2014)
- Operation reboot! 7 tips for a successful start, restart, or total reboot (Nov. 2015)
- Want to lose weight, get smart first. A quiz! (Jan. 2016)
- The key to weight loss is diet quality, not quantity (New York Times)
- Diary of a food tracker (New York Times)
- Resolved to lose weight, we gave food tracking apps a try (NPR)
- Can a food diary help you lose weight? (Web MD)