Imagine this - you are lying in bed, it’s 12AM and you are struggling to get to sleep. Your mind begins to wander to all those things you didn’t get done, all those things that are stressing you and worrying you have a parade in your mind.
It feels like a bad dream, an endless time loop of you checking the clock, having rushing thoughts, and reminding yourself constantly that you “really need to get to sleep”.
You might start thinking about your food choices, how your body feels, how you aren’t happy with who you are right now. This is a recipe for disaster as your continued rumination of negative thoughts compound upon themselves and leave you feeling exhausted, unmotivated, and apprehensive to take on the next day.
If your life feels out of control and if your food intake feels like it’s getting away from you - try this simple method.
Today we are going to talk about how important tracking is whether that be your food intake, your exercise, your self-care time, or your career and business tasks.
Tracking is all encompassing and can be one of the, if not THE most powerful tool when it comes to getting into what will work best for positive change and allow you to finally fall asleep with ease!
What does science say about tracking?
Doing a quick google search on the topic of tracking, you can open your eyes to how powerful a tool this is.
According to a 12 month study, researchers found that there was a significant difference in weight loss for those who tracked their food consistently (5x a week), somewhat consistently (3x a week), and rarely (1-2x a week).
Participants either used the old school pen and paper, their phone (notepad), or they used an app (my fitness pal). This particular study didn’t test to see what type of tracking was best, focusing more on the amount of tracking needed to find results.
Those who tracked their food consistently throughout the year saw more weight loss, less fluctuation of weight around the holidays, and had far more consistent weight loss through the year. Those who were in the somewhat consistent and rare groups had more swings in weight, and gained more weight over the holiday season.
What I think the most important takeaway from this is : the more consistent you are with tracking your food, the greater chance for consistent weight loss.
Okay sure - if you track more consistently , you’ll get better results. That might not be so exciting for you if you aren’t one who tracks at all!
If you aren’t convinced, do a google search for yourself and find the dozens of studies that show that those who track vs. those who don’t track their intake lose more weight more consistently.
You know, this kind of makes sense. Think about it...how would you feel if you had to write down every single thing you ate in a book or app AND you would be able to see in real time?
The constant reminder of what you ate as well as the constant accountability that this inherently produces in you. You’ll no longer be able to hide behind your blissful ignorance but instead be put front and center on your own personal spotlight.
This doesn’t just work for your food but also your exercise or professional habits...
If you are doing a big project at work you’ll most likely have notes, a workflow that you need to maintain, and an outcome that needs to happen. With these pressures from outside forces (the company, your boss etc.) if you are a good employee and value your job, you will find yourself putting in the daily work to accomplish that goal. By tracking what tasks you need to get done and when, you’ll absolutely be able to perform better, be more effective and efficient. This saves you time, stress, as well as produce something of higher value due to the purposeful attack of the project.
Tracking your behaviors gives you the necessary data to recognize what is getting done, and what needs to change. How else will you know how and what to change if you don’t know your baseline?
What does food tracking look like?
If you aren’t sure how to start tracking effectively you can use some of these tips to help you begin the process.
First Step: Choose Your Tracking Style
Firstly, you need to think about what type of medium you will use to track and return to. Now I’m one for the low tech pen and paper. For me, nothing beats using my hand to write on a physical sheet the things that I’m doing.
Having a physical connection to the words I put on paper, seeing myself write it and then reading it back in my own hand writing gives me that personal connection. I feel that I OWN those words, I own that information that I put on there.
If writing with pen and paper won’t work for you, consider just using a notepad on your phone. The beautiful thing about this, is that for most people you’ll always have your phone on you. Why not start using this phone not only for work and play, but for self improvement?
Lastly, you can use one of the popular apps such as my fitness pal, or lose it. These apps make tracking that much easier as you can simply scan a barcode, save meals for easy input, as well as see real-time updates as to how many calories, sugar, fat etc.
I want to be very clear here - I don’t believe that you NEED to track calories to see weight loss. I don’t want you to get caught up with the numbers, be consumed with the fact that you had 100 calories over your limit and now see the dreaded red numbers signifying that you are now doing something BAD.
The power of an app like this is the ease in which you can routinely and consistently put your food in there. If you are the type of person who often gets overwhelmed and consumed with being perfect, I would have you opt for the pen and paper or notepad!
Second Step: Write down your food intake
Okay so you’ve picked your method of tracking, next you’ll need to know exactly what you will write down.
We can keep this real simple and only write down a few things such as: Time, food, portion size. That’s it - that’s all you’ll need to start noticing and correlating time of day with different foods.
Third Step: Write down how the meal made you FEEL.
For example you might find that after you eat lunch let’s say around 1PM….at 3PM you are diving into a snack (maybe some candy to give you that afternoon bump of energy). Seeing this in your tracking can help to trigger some change and all you really needed for data was the time, food, and feeling.
I find that my clients do well when they reflect on how they FEEL. It takes about 20 minutes after finishing your meal for your body to send messages to your brain to tell you that you are full, still hungry, or an array of other feelings such as lethargy, burst of energy, clear headed etc.
For example, you might have a protein shake for breakfast at 8AM, and find that at 9AM your stomach is rumbling. Writing down the feeling of the stomach rumbles and upcoming hunger can again give you clues to better understand your eating habits.
Here’s an example of what a journal entry can look like for a given day:
Food: 1 scoop Protein Shake and 1 banana
Feeling : Feeling light, energized
Food: Greek yogurt with nuts
Feeling: Felt really hungry at 9AM, felt a small headache incoming
Food: 1 palm Grilled chicken with Salad
Feeling: Satisfied with meal, feeling clear headed
Food: 3 Hershey Kisses and 1 snack size M and M.
Feeling: Run down and tired, stomach hurts from hunger
Food: Cheeseburger and fries
Feeling: Feeling overfilled, stomach is going to pop
Food: Ice cream
Feeling: Feel bloated
With no judgements on what you ate (which is a skill in itself and something that deserves a blog on it’s own!) you can start to look at your intake of food objectively and ask yourself - how can I make this better?
Truthfully, you don’t need to ask yourself this question every single time. What’s more important is the habit of tracking and not getting stuck in the mud every time you have ice cream and feel guilty about it at night.
So just think about consistency, over time you will adjust your eating habits to better fit in line with how you want to feel, and how you want to progress.
What’s the worst that can happen?
Let me be real honest here - this is not an entirely ground breaking idea. If you have been on a weight loss journey you probably at some point have attempted tracking your intake. I’m well aware that this is a common first step for most nutritionists and coaches.
During my coaching program I will have clients fill out a food journal after our 1st meeting. It’s so important to collect data to then make adjustments and better improve your life and your health. But yet, it’s not anything flashy or exciting.
Sometimes we get caught up with the flashy new diet trends, the promised results, the diet pill and weight loss drinks. These things are uniquely different and try to address the one fear people have - the fear that things will never change.
I don’t want to get too deep into what is actually true for long-term change - but just know that it’s the small things that you do each and every day that will compound and leave a big impact for years to come.
By using a tracking method you will find that making changes might take time. Again, it’s not like you get to take a pill and “shed body fat” to see results in 7 days. This isn’t that type of method.
However I want you to be really honest with yourself right now and ask yourself:
How has being IMPATIENT with my results, worked for me?
Hoping to find quick weight loss almost never works and almost always results in the “yo-yo” dieting that so many health products try to capitalize on.
Why do we continue to set ourselves up for failure? Is it because the simple things don’t seem exciting? Is it because you’ve waited your entire life to look and feel better? Is it because you don’t have the time necessary to get deeper into your own habits?
Whatever the case is - remember this...the simple things that are repeatable over the long term will cause you the biggest change.
Yes I hear you... you have a busy professional career, kids to take care of, friends to see and an ever mounting level of stress.
A quick fix sounds like what you need but in reality, you need the simple things.
So with that being said...start tracking today. If you’ve been having issues with losing weight and feeling better, just start writing down everything you eat, what time, and how you feel afterwards.
That is your homework - do this and I promise you that you will see and feel a change when you begin to realize just where your problem times are, how different foods make you feel and also become aware of the amount of snacks/drinks you might be intaking without even realizing it!
Try to do this for 2 weeks straight with no judgements, an open mind, and a growth mindset. If you have questions about how you can understand the data, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Effect of Adherence to Dietary Tracking on Weight Loss: Using HLM to Model Weight Loss over Time. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568610/