One of the most boring and yet effective things you can do to improve your health and fitness is to start tracking your food and workouts. Some people call it a “diary” but my 3rd grade self shudders at the word, so I say it’s a “log”, like “Captain’s Log”, and my inner Trekkie is totally on board with the endeavor.
Unfortunately, tracking what you do is super boring and easy to forget, even though we kind of know the benefits of doing it. Wait…what are the benefits again? Let’s touch on that real quick.
BENEFITS OF KEEPING A LOG
- You need a reality check. It’s funny how our perception of self is rarely spot on. Some folks tend to think they’re doing better than they really are and others tend to think they’re doing worse. If you don’t have an accurate sense of where you’re at, how are you going to map out an effective plan to improve?
- Identify easy improvements. If you notice you only eat a sugary cereal for breakfast a couple times a week, that’s an easy thing to improve. While huge sweeping changes to our routine sounds sexy, we know that the small changes are the ones that really stick and are therefore more effective in the long run. Your log will help you prioritize what to change to first.
- Notice recurring problems. Many times we’re blind to things we’re doing that sabotage our efforts to be healthier or fitter. Depending on the kind of detail you put into your log, you may be able to recognize patterns of emotional eating, or how certain eating schedules impact your workout performance.
- Buffer the bad feelings. Sometimes you feel like you’ve failed when you actually haven’t. For example, when someone steps on a scale and isn’t happy with the number. Or when a runner feels sluggish during a workout and assumes they underperformed. Your log might show that you actually ate well and ran just as fast as before. Therefore, you shouldn’t feel bad because your weight fluctuated a bit today or the workout felt harder than usual. That happens sometimes.
- Recognize small victories. Just like our self perception isn’t always accurate, neither are our memories. Looking back on your log and realizing it’s been months since you’ve had a soda or you’ve actually doubled your old plank PR gives you confidence that you’re on the right track and a reason to pat yourself on the back.
There are more benefits, but these are ones we can all agree on as being good enough. So let’s move on to the real point of this post, shall we?
Tips for Tracking Your Food & Workouts
- Keep it all in one place. If you’re doing both, don’t have a separate food and workout log. If you’re into hand-writing on paper, check out the DietMinder or the I Love My…Journal on Amazon.
- Choose the logging method of least resistance. If you’re like my husband, a hand-written log is the most intuitive way to track anything. If you’re like me, a phone app is the easiest because I always have my phone on me. For example, MyFitnessPal has an app and a lot of common foods and exercises already loaded in. Do what is EASIEST for you.
- Set an alarm. Set a reminder on your phone or computer to log at the same time every day. Have it coincide with when you typically finish a workout or get on your computer to check your email. Do this for the first two weeks at least and it’ll eventually be reflex.
- Snap a photo! There is always going to be a day (or 5) when you have to go and backfill your log because something happened the previous day (or 5). If you know you’re not going to be able to log right away, snap a photo of your meal or your workout (treadmill dashboard, sports watch results, whiteboard, etc). It’ll help you remember the details when you do catch up on your log.
- Create your own secret code. Are there meals or exercises you repeat often? Create a shorthand or abbreviation for these. If you’re logging digitally, create some preset meals or workouts to make logging faster.
- Don’t sweat the details. Not at first. Spend less than 5 minutes a day logging at the beginning. Even if you don’t get all the hairy details about each workout or account for every last calorie you possible ate. Keep it quick while you get used to logging consistently.
- Log weight/workout results less frequently. Some people feel the need for a daily weigh in or detailed paces of every single run. I find that unnecessarily cumbersome. A weekly weigh in and details of a couple key workouts should be sufficient. For example, I don’t log paces for my short, easy runs, just distance. However, my speed workouts or long runs, you betcha.
- Go go gadget tracker! If you can afford a smart scale and an activity tracker that syncs your data – it kind of does the logging for you. Fitbit is probably the best brand for ease of tracking with their Aria WiFi smart scale, large menu of trackers, and ability to sync with other apps like MyFitnessPal.
- Schedule monthly reviews. Logging what you do is pointless if you don’t use that info. Set aside 15 minutes a month to review your log. Look for small things you can improve, celebrate your small victories, and recalibrate your feelings of how you’re doing with what your log actually shows.