We’ve all heard the phrase “keep your chin up!” It’s supposed to keep you feeling like a success and encourage you to stay strong. It also really helps if you want to know where you are going. Realistically, if you don’t watch where you are walking, you will probably trip over something, but it also works for weight loss since if you don’t watch where your weight loss is going, you probably won’t get there.
While I’m not necessarily talking about tracking (people react so negatively to that term!), I am suggesting that not paying attention is a proven method for failure. Not paying attention makes it easy to give in to excuses, to make exceptions and to ‘plan for later,’ until one day you get on the scale and realize that you’ve not lost any more weight or — horrors!— you’ve gained! How the heck did that happen?!
Not to be a nag, but if you were paying attention, you’d know how that happened! And if you are honest with yourself, looking back, it’s fairly obvious how that number got on the scale. For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, you might remember Professor Mad-Eye Moody’s refrain of “Constant vigilance!” and while you don’t have to be super strict with yourself, being aware and paying attention are the most important parts of weight loss. That simply means if you’re out with friends on a Friday night, it’s okay to choose the jalapeno poppers and beer as long as you are aware that they’re not going to be ‘fat loss friendly’ and that making a weekly habit of them is going to slow (or stop) your weight loss unless you make some adjustments to your eating plan to take out some things that you enjoy less. While this seems like a no-brainer, the problem comes with making exception after exception or ‘adjustment after adjustment’ until we have ‘adjusted’ our way from weight loss to weight gain.
There are a lot of dieters who simply refuse to track because “I know what I eat!” Unfortunately, these are often the same people who get up one day and wonder why their pants feel a little snug and then when they get on the scale or take out the tape measure, are shocked to discover that they’ve put on a few pounds. It’s like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky! “How could I have gained weight?!” Well, if they had tracked what they ate, they’d have a pretty good idea of where those pounds came from: the month of Fridays out with friends; the bagels they had a couple times or more a week for the last three weeks; that pizza party for the kid’s birthday along with the cake and ice cream… and hot dogs, chips, wings and pretzels at the baseball game, and then there was dinner out with friends (pasta, garlic bread and tiramisu with wine). Those ‘exceptions’ to our healthy eating plan somehow stopped being actual ‘exceptions’ and pretty much became the rule. They probably felt like true exceptions at the time, since they were most likely spread out over a month or more, but when taken together, it seems pretty obvious that they really aren’t aberrations to how you eat any more. That’s what makes tracking so valuable. We really do forget what we ate and how much we ate, even if we really are paying attention. We look at the big plate of pasta and garlic bread and think “yeah, I’ll remember eating this!” Maybe for a day or so, but after a week, when our friends suggest the nachos and beer out at the pub, we may not remember that Tuesday night pasta on Saturday night. Or those bagel bites we had on the Wednesday morning meeting. Or that we had small slice of cake on Monday because it was Cheryl-at-the-office’s birthday. All these things add up and on Sunday when we stand on the scale or whip out the tape measure, we might be a bit perplexed that there’s no loss. Instead of being confused and wondering why you hit a plateau, if you had a record of what you’ve eaten for the past week, you could see why that ‘plateau’ is really just poor eating choices.
Tracking your food doesn’t mean that you have to weigh everything you eat and count each nut and seed that goes in your mouth. It’s really as simple as watching where you are going and noting where you have been. If it’s a handful of macadamias, you don’t need to weigh them. If it’s a small slice of cake, you don’t have to ‘estimate the ounces’ or what’s in the frosting– you just need to make a note of what you ate. Writing it down as you eat it or at the end of the day is the least you need to do. Although I have an app on my phone, I like using a paper food journal since it’s easier for me to flip through. I like putting it in the app right after or before I eat it so I don’t have the time to ‘adjust’ the portion sizes. (It’s amazing that a half a bagel at noon can seem more like a a third of a bagel by the evening- it wasn’t that big, was it?)
This is part of the same thing that happens after a month or so of ‘exceptions.’ “I’ve been really good/ really trying, so why did I gain weight?” The stark black and white reality of what actually passed through your lips explains those extra pounds on your hips! When you- or since we’re being honest here- I flip back over the past weeks, and there’s page after page with entries like “bread,” “cookies,” “frozen yogurt,” “chocolate,” “chocolate,” “dark chocolate” (just to change things up!), it’s pretty obvious why my bathing suit is a little tighter than it used to be. I can blame ‘poor sleep’ and ‘lots of stress’ all I want but until I pay more attention to all those ‘exceptions,’ I’m not going to be losing any more weight!
However you choose to pay attention, watching where you are going as well as where you have been are good strategies for making sure you end up where you want to be! Even if it’s just in the Notes app on your phone, if you decide to eat something not fat loss friendly, it wouldn’t hurt to write it down in the Notes, so when your friends ask you if you want nachos and beer this weekend, you can open your app, remember that pasta and garlic bread on Tuesday and opt for either just the beer, just the nachos or neither. You don’t have to be Constantly Vigilant, but keeping an eye out for trouble can keep you from unwanted surprises.