Friday, July 18, 2008

Check Yourself! - Scales, Measurements, Food Diaries & Activity Logs

When it comes to weight, the last thing anyone wants to talk about is accountability. This whole process is difficult enough, but keeping track of what we're doing seems like so much trouble. But this really isn't as much about accountability as it is about charting your success, and finding ways to figure out what went wrong when we hit that inevitable plateau. I must confess, I never was much for scales - avoided them like the plague, and nearly decked the few doctors and nurses who insisted on recording my weight. Measurements were less intimidating, but at some point they're scary too. Nevertheless, we need some way to chart our progress - and by doing so, we will have progress.

For scales, I recommend weighing yourself no more than once a week, preferably at the same time and wearing roughly the same clothing. It's tempting to check daily, especially if you're working out especially hard or feel more deprived than usual on your own personal eating plan. The reason for this is that weight fluctuates, so you'll get a more accurate idea of your progress if you just check weekly. The food and water you eat also has weight, so you'll weigh more after a big meal and less after a hard workout. Really, weekly is best.

Measurements are also something that you should check weekly, because sometimes you will lose inches and not pounds - so it's a good idea to have another method of checking progress to keep from getting discouraged. When it comes to measurements, recording more than the basic 3 (chest, waist, hips) is always a good idea because your arms or legs might be responding faster than your waistline - and we always want to see progress. However, sometimes just starting with your waist measurement is helpful and then move on to others.

Food Diaries may seem laborious, but they really do help track eating and can highlight a problem area. Food diaries can be as simple or complicated as you like, recording any detail from time, location & emotions in addition to food, portion & calories. They can also be very simple, for example, I use a simple excel spreadsheet that auto-totals and I only record the food itself & calories. Everyone is different, and what you might need to know about your eating habits to help you keep on track will be different from someone else. Calories do count, don't let anyone fool you with that, but some of us process certain calories differently. By keeping a food journal, you can spot whether or not you might need to increase protein, adjust carbs, or eliminate certain foods that tend to slow your progress. Not only that, but often you'll re-consider that extra snack if you have to write it down.

Activity logs are the same thing, they can help you track your calorie burning. I often use a simple to-do list for this, but again, it can be as simple or detailed as you like. There's something very powerful about seeing this all written down. And of course, you might want to make sure your activity journal shows something other than sitting in front of the TV. While it's true that people often tend to under-report their intake and over-report their activity, still, on balance, having a record of these things will help keep you on track - and provide a way to troubleshoot any problems that might arise.

There are some great electronic products (BodyBugg or GoFit Armwear band) that actually measure your calorie deficit and when uploaded to a web server will calculate your actual deficit. I'd love one of those - they're just not mac-compatible just yet, so bummer for me. But for those of you on Windows, they really are a great product.

So, whether it's a simple notebook, a more extensive spreadsheet, or a really cool new gadget - check yourself and enjoy seeing your success!

Partnership for Change

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