Tracking. It is both comforting and the bane of my existence. It is my mirror, my nemesis, my buddy and my albatross.
Here’s the thing about tracking, a.k.a., keeping a food journal. It works.
This article from WebMD and countless others could not be more clear: the most important tools you need to lose weight is not the latest video set or an ab roller.
The most important tools to weight loss are pen and paper.
As we were doing the 8K training team, we were provided with a training log to record how many miles we had run and how fast we had done it. I ended up tracking all of my activity, so when the training plan said “Cross Train”, I included what I had done (example: Zumba) and for how long (60 minutes).
I actually looked forward to writing down my accomplishments. It became my gold star of the day. One of the payoffs for completing each step of the training was that I got to write it down, recording it for posterity. I had written proof that I had something worthwhile.
My food journal, on the other hand, is starting to feel like a failure journal. It’s become a record of how many days I ate “off plan” or went over my points or simply failed to track because I didn’t want to leave evidence of my indulgences.
Looking back on it, though, I actually do remember my food tracker once upon a time being something I was excited to complete. I would write things down before I ate them, as I was eating them or immediately after eating them. The goal each day was to stay within my points range, and every day I did it was cause to celebrate.
When did I lose that lovin’ feeling?
I spent a lot of years not owning what I ate, but have no fear. It all got tracked.
My butt, my thighs, my belly and every other non-preferred fat deposit location recorded each ounce of extra food and generously stored it for me. Occasionally those same fat deposit locations raised the question of whether a dessert buffet was truly necessary by causing my pants to be extra tight.
When I don’t write down what I eat, it’s like I’m playing some strange game of hide-and-seek with my tracker. I fool myself that I’ve still got “room” to play with on my points count for the day, or worse, I decide to give myself “a day off.” Unfortunately for me, “a day off” quickly degenerates into get-it-while-you-can thinking that leads me to dive deep into the dark recesses of the refrigerator, pantry and freezer.
Hey look! I stashed some chocolate chips back here!
Or — I love it when I tell myself this story: “No need to write it down. I’ve got it all right here.”
I tap my noggin as I make this statement and smile in a self-satisfied sort of way.
I’m fairly sure that’s when Glenda the Good Witch shows up, smacks me on the head with her sparkly wand and leads the munchkins in a rousing rendition of Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire. Trying to keep track in my head is just license to “forget” something. Or worse, guesstimate. Sure, a cup is about the size of my fist and my fist is about the size of Shaquille O’Neill’s hand. No problem. That’s a cup.
The problem with not tracking is that I’m leading myself back to the fog of days past when I ate all I wanted and lived at an extraordinarily uncomfortable size. The only way that I seem to be able to maneuver the math of weight management is to write down what I eat. Because I’d rather make a choice about what I’m eating now than be forced to buy bigger pants in the not too distant future.
Lack of tracking catches up to me awfully quick.
Writing down what I eat not only gives me a sense of ownership, but also a sense of having real options. When I see the full picture of what I’ve eaten today, that gives me the ability to make balanced choices for the remainder of my day… or at least, informed choices.
So how do I start to love it again, like I love keeping track of my training accomplishments?
(1) Rediscover the Game – One of the reasons I used to like tracking (and pre-tracking) was the challenge of staying in my Points target every day while simultaneously enjoying a lot of really good food. By taking up this challenge again, I can steer myself away from food ruts. This is a good thing, because food ruts have a nasty habit of leading (me) to refined-carbohydrate inhalation sessions.
(2) Be the Data Geek I Am – I like to know things, and I like to base decisions on facts rather than fancies of the imagination. I like outcomes to be dependable and repeatable. I appreciate the scientific process. If I have no data, then I how can I know what contributed to a gain or a loss on the scale? There’s so much more to a food journal than just “what I ate.” There’s hydration, the nutrient value of the food, the portion size of the food, what’s going on during my day that’s spurring the eating (activity, stress levels, hormones, travel, even the weather). The better my data, the better I am at spotting patterns. Once I know the patterns, I can develop strategies to support the good patterns and combat the bad ones.
(3) Embrace Leading vs. Lagging Indicator Awareness – Tracking is leading indicator awareness, my own personal crystal ball of what’s going to show up on the scale (or on my thighs) if I choose to eat at a certain level. The scale and my thighs are the lagging indicators. Knowing up front – and making choices accordingly – is the epitome of Bobbi’s Wisdom: always ask “IS it worth it, not WAS it worth it.” I’ve worked too hard to get here to give it all back through elective amnesia.
(4) Redefine Success – This is probably the biggest change I need to make in my thinking regarding tracking. The only thing I have to do to be successful at tracking is to write everything down accurately. It’s a tool that supports my personal goals. By knowing what I ate, I can make good choices about what to eat next or how to balance higher consumption days with the appropriate level of activity or lighter fare the next day.
Knowledge is power to the people. When we know, we grow – just not in our thighs. I also love this quote about awareness from Maya Angelou. It sort of says it all.
“When we know better, we do better.”
Tracking is a way to know.
Wishing You an Awesomeliciously Aware Day!