This would seem like the usual no-brainer: if you don’t stay with your healthy routine, you’re going to gain weight or at the very least, stop losing weight! Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, you didn’t lose weight before when you were eating burgers & fries, bowls of pasta and drinking all those sodas, so why should you lose weight eating them now? Like I said, it’s a no-brainer!
However, a funny thing happens when you’ve been following a healthy routine for a while: you lose focus. You start thinking “I’ve got this!” It’s true: once you’ve been successfully losing weight or maintaining the loss for a few months, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what works for you and what doesn’t. That’s when it happens: you start going off track. Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) calls it ‘drifting.’ I like to think of it as going off the rails, because what usually happens feels a lot like a train wreck to me!
Going off the rails usually starts with drifting. It stems from that lack of focus and not being as careful as most of us need to be. Th problem compounds on itself and then before you know it, you’re somewhere you don’t want to be and have to start the difficult process of getting back on track! We all know it’s easier to just stay on track and don’t let ourselves drift, but for most of us, it’s a lot like shutting the barn door after the horse has gotten out! In other words, by the time we know what to look for or that we should start looking, it’s too late and we’re in the middle of a train wreck! I’m starting to feel a lot like Prof. Mad Eye Moody, shouting “Constant vigilance!” at everyone I see, but hopefully I’m not that bad yet (yeah, there’s another empty barn!)
It begins with little things, such as having a latte instead of just coffee with cream, or sharing a dessert with a friend at lunch. By themselves, none of these qualify as ‘bad behavior,’ but we usually don’t stop with these little things. The little things compound on each other and instead of being an occasional occurrence, they become once a week, then multiple times a week until they somehow turn into a ‘daily treat.’ Once in a while, they aren’t ‘train wreckers,’ but one after another on a regular or daily basis, they knock your carefully crafted healthy routine off the rails. We all know this happens. Like I said, it’s a no-brainer! The question is: since we all know this happens, why do we end up doing it?
That goes back to the other idea I mentioned above: “I’ve got this!” We start feeling in control of our eating choices, our workouts, our activity, how much or how often we’re eating– whatever our particular weakness is! We’ve been ‘in control’ for a while now so we start thinking we can loosen our grip on the reins a bit. I don’t want to make it sound like having one cookie with a friend is going to send you on a wild out of control cookie binge or that you can never go down the bakery aisle at your local supermarket without fear of gobbling all their snickerdoodles, but keeping count of how many cookies you had in the last couple of weeks isn’t a bad idea. It’s one thing to make a conscious decision to have a cookie or share a dessert or even splurge on fabulous garlic bread if that’s your thing, but when those treats become more than occasional or even daily, then we’re back wondering just when we went off the rails and how do we find our way back on track. Even worse, we’re going to have to ‘fix’ the damage that train wreck caused!
I’m going to use a dirty word here: tracking! Yeah, yeah, no one likes tracking! It’s a hassle; it’s annoying; it takes a long time! Blah blah blah! I’m going to respond with one of my favorite words: crybaby! You think it’s a pain in the butt to write down everything you eat? How about having to stick your finger multiple times a day to check your blood sugar? How about having to pick up your diabetes medication every month or worse, giving yourself your daily insulin injection? Think that’s a pain in the butt? How about pain in your knees because you gained your weight back? Or having to go back to your old ‘fat clothes’ because all those new clothes you bought don’t fit right anymore? Remember what it felt like getting dressed and wondering if this is the day the button pops off your pants at the office? Loathe though I am to admit it (because I was one of those tracking crybabies too!), tracking really does work. When we write down everything we eat every day, it’s easy to look back and see that you had six cookies on the weekend when were out with friends and you’ve had three more cookies after dinner this week and then there were the two cookies you got at Starbucks on your way home, and ….. OMG! that’s almost a dozen cookies this week! Ack! No more cookies! No more cookies!
That’s basically what tracking is for! When you can look back at the end of the week, or even just the end of the day, you can see where you went a little wacky with the sweets or the popcorn or whatever, and remind yourself that those foods are treats and not part of your regular menu. They are to be indulged in for a special occasion and ‘Tuesday after work” isn’t a special occasion!
How you track is also up to you. The most basic definition is just what I said above: writing down everything you eat and drink during the day. Some people like to be very specific and write down how much they ate, when they ate and how they feel mentally and physically after eating. If you want to weigh it all and count calories, that’s up to you. For some of us, weighing and measuring can be a big help when you’re starting out because it gives you an idea of portion size. When you look at the label on a bag of nuts and it says one serving is 28 grams and has 200 calories with five servings in a bag, it gives you all the relevant information except what 28 grams actually looks like! The same thing is especially true with sauces like salad dressing. We squeeze a bunch all over our salad because “that looks right” but how many calories did we put all over our healthy 35 calorie salad? 250? 350? Most salad dressings have about 120 calories per two tablespoon serving and once you get a good idea of how what two tablespoons actually looks like, you’ll understand how people can gain weight eating only ‘healthy salads’! The same thing happens with the cheese they put on that ‘healthy salad’ or on their bunless burger!
You don’t have to weigh or measure everything you eat and drink unless you want to, but if you suddenly find your healthy routine has become a train wreck and you don’t know how you got there, tracking is a good place to start getting back on that track! It gives you a direction and it lets you know when you make a wrong turn. Even if it’s just the basic ‘what you ate without portion sizes,’ it can still let you know maybe you had too many carbs in the last month or maybe too much fat or maybe you just ate too much! Of course, that also means you have to look at it once in a while! I know a lot of people who never look at their bank statement and then wonder how they ended up being overdrawn on their account: ummm, it’s another no-brainer! Statements and food journals only work when you look at them!
I personally use two food journals: one paper and one online. I like the paper one because I’ll make other notes in it but I also log what I eat into My Fitness Pal, which is available online and as an app. It has the added benefit of telling you how many calories, carbs, fat and protein are in what you ate, lets you keep a calorie limit and when you close out your diary for the day, will give you an estimate of how much you’d weigh ‘if every day were like today.’ Granted the estimate isn’t very accurate, but it shows you your trend. If your goal weight is 180 and you’re over your calorie limit and ‘you’d weigh 274 in five weeks if every day were like today,’ that’s not a good thing unless you already weigh over 274! My Fitness Pal (MFP) has several other benefits that I like but again, how you choose to stay on track is up to you. The only requirement is that it has to work! No one wants to end up seeing all their hard work undone and that’s what happens when we go off track. Keeping a food journal is a simple technique that needs to do nothing more than list what you ate and drank in a day. The trick is using it every day and looking at it on a regular basis. If you find your clothes are getting tight or that your knees are starting to hurt again, which is the bigger hassle: gaining your weight back or writing down what you’re eating?
The paper food journal I use: https://www.amazon.com/DIETMINDER-Personal-Fitness-Journal-Exercise/dp/0963796836