“What get’s measured gets managed” Peter Drucker
What is your goal?
Is it weight loss? Is it got gain muscle? Are you training for a marathon or some other sporting event? Maybe you like your level of fitness but would be interested in improving your mobility and reducing joint pain. Whatever your goal, there is one unifying key that can be the difference between your success and failure.
If you went through the process we laid out earlier for creating a meaningful and attainable goal, you should now understand the time it will require and all of the necessary steps you will have to take to accomplish it. There is an exponentially greater chance that you will achieve success with your goal now, simply for having done that step. However, just as you need to follow road signs to get from Los Angeles to New York, you will need to track and follow the signs your body will be giving you along the path to the success of your goal.
Peter Drucker, the legendary business management consultant, is famous for his quote, “What get’s measured gets managed.” This quote applies to the areas of your own life as it does in the world of large business management. The more effort you place into measuring how the various areas of your life are affected by changes you make to your diet and lifestyle, the more apparent your success, or the lack thereof, in achieving your goals will be.
Tracking your results and how you feel will become the road signs keeping you on route to your goal. If you are not moving in the direction of your goal as fast as you should be, but have not been tracking the methods by which are being used to get there, how will you know what has been working well and what has not?
I would like to stress a caution before we get into the methods of tracking your food, body weight, etc. Yes, it is important to track both your methods and your results. The number of variables and the tenacity of your tracking will depend on your timeframe and what you are setting out to achieve. No matter what that goal is, take caution not to allow the tracking of these things to take hold and rule your life. The reason for tracking these variables in the first place is simply to allow us a more comprehensive view of those things in life that may be preventing you from achieving the results you would like to have.
Tracking can very quickly become a compulsive disorder if you do not take some caution. Tracking your food, weight, exercise, or habits should never rule your life, only serve to add value to it. If you ever find yourself obsessing over how many grams of berries you ate, or how many fractions of a pound difference you weigh today than yesterday, it may be time to step back and reassess if it’s serving you.
Tracking your food
Whether your goal is to lose fat, gain muscle, or just tone up what you are eating should be the very first thing you take a look at and begin to track. Once you know what you are eating and how much, you can start making the necessary changes.
It seems there is a big disconnect in our society with how much people are actually eating in a day as it relates to calories, sugar, salt, and cholesterol. For those who are finding it difficult to lose weight, there is likely a misunderstanding as to how many calories they are getting in over the course of a week. Likewise, for those who just can’t seem to put on any muscle or size, the calorie quantity they are consuming is far too low to allow their body the energy to build muscle and size.
There are exceptions, of course, and hormonal imbalances can make it much more difficult for some people to lose or gain weight, even when they are seemingly harmonizing their energy input and output. However, for the vast majority of individuals, the calories they are consuming should be the very first thing accounted for and adjusted accordance with their goals.
Using technology can help you
There are many ways to track the foods that you eat, some more accurate than others. As I said, the ultimate aim is to generate an understanding of the calories you are consuming and their relationship to your goal, then balancing the two over time. The first step is simply to begin making a mental tally of the food you are eating in a day and over the weeks. Do not concern yourself with what foods you are consuming at first or the calories contained in each. Do not judge yourself for the food choices you are making. Instead, just start an account of the foods you have been regularly consuming by writing them down in a food journal or snapping a picture of each meal on your phone. As you create this journal of your food, you will make a connection with the overall amount and types of food you have been eating.
Once you have made a habit of logging your food in a journal or taking a picture of each meal for one to two weeks, it’s time to begin accounting for the calories, sugars, salts, and nutrients within those foods. The easiest way I have found with my clients for success at this goal is by using a free application called “MyFitness Pal.” The best part is MyFitnessPal integrates perfectly with the PowerPlantBody app if you are using it. You can get this app both for iOS and Android, and after about a five-minute learning curve you will be able to quickly log the nutrition info of just about anything you can imagine.
After only a few days worth of logging meals this way, many people are surprised to see how much sugar, salt, and cholesterol they are getting in their meals. People are also surprised to see the disproportionate amount of calories they consume on a daily basis compared to their goals of losing fat or gaining muscle.
You won’t have to log your meals forever
The beautiful thing is, now that you know what is going in you can understand what it has been doing for you by seeing the results in your body. If you have had a difficult time in the past increasing your strength and gaining muscle, and after tracking your calories for two weeks you see your daily intake is only around 2000, you know you have been undereating. You can now strategically start increasing your calories until you begin seeing your weight, strength, and muscle mass go up.
If you have struggled to lose weight for years but, after logging your meals and calories for two weeks, can see that the Saturday morning brunch you have with your friends every weekend is adding two thousand extra calories, you can now begin to make the changes.
The good news is, whether your goal is to lose weight or gain weight, once you have an understanding of the calories you are getting in on a daily basis making the necessary changes to that number is relatively easy. Most people eat a lot of the same food week in week out, regardless of whether they make it themselves or eat out at restaurants. At this stage, then, it’s simply a matter of deciding which meals will be easiest to reduce or add calories, or just remove altogether.
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The steps to success
So, to recap, the first step is creating a mental connection with the meals you have traditionally been eating. The second step is understanding the calorie content of those meals and making the necessary changes by adding and subtracting to them. The third and final step is to gradually begin shifting in the direction of a whole foods diet.
As you become more aware of the foods you eat, you will start to see how they have been affecting your results and your overall experience in life. Food has the ability to change your mood based on its quality of ingredients. It’s possible since you started tracking your meals you noticed the foods containing more sugar left you feeling lethargic or grumpy. Maybe you noticed after having an apple for a snack in the mid-day instead of the usual cookie your energy didn’t seem to tank a half hour later and you felt better overall. Beginning to see how different types of food affect your energy and overall enjoyment of life is the real power behind tracking your food.
As you begin to see the results in your body from changing up the calorie content of meals I encourage you to start removing the more processed components of your diet and replacing them with whole food alternatives. When you do, track how you these foods make you feel, both in the amount of energy you have after eating and your mental state or mood. If you don’t feel good, then it’s as simple as switching back to what you had been eating before. I’m willing to bet you start to notice incredibly positive changes as a result.
Tracking Your Weight and Body Measurements.
Tracking weight is a touchy subject, as I have never been a big fan of scales. That being said, being able to see the effect your diet and exercise is having on your bodyweight is one of the easiest and fastest ways to see if you are making progress. However, just as with tracking food, tracking your weight should be done for periods of time just long enough to get an appreciation for how it correlates to your calories, exercise, and sense of wellbeing. Caution should be taken not to become obsessed with the number on your scale. If you find yourself weighing in every day, I would advise taking a break altogether from stepping on the scale and instead focus more on how you feel overall.
Tracking your body weight should be done once a week, on the same day of the week, at the same time of the day (ideally in the morning), and with the same scale every time. Your body weight can change several pounds over the course of the day, and sometimes even more so on the weekends when people tend to overindulge, so weighing yourself in the morning before having breakfast will offer the most consistent results.
Many people these days are concerned with their body fat percentage. Even those who are extremely fit by any standard chase after a certain body fat percentage by dieting down and increasing their amount of exercise. The thing is, measuring body fat percentage is not an exact science, no matter what method you use. Even the most accurate methods like hydrostatic, air displacement and DEXA scans all vary from each other by a factor of several percentage points. Worse, the smart bathroom scales most people use to measure their body fat are not only inaccurate but fail to gauge the amount of visceral fat in a person, which is the most dangerous and telling of poor health.
In my opinion, a number you can see that is supposedly telling of your body fat percentage is far less important than how healthy and energetic you look and feel. If you can work towards being happy with your ability to enjoy the things you like to do in life from a body you feel comfortable and proud in, isn’t that better than some number that may or may not reflects your body fat percentage?
If you do choose to use body fat percentage as a method of tracking your progress, then I suggest using the same approach every time and only as frequently as once a week, or even better every other week. Also, remember that numbers can fluctuate by as much as ten percent between different measuring tools, so use the same method every time and see the number more like a marker than an exact representation of your actual body fat percentage.
More important than a person’s fat percentage is where the fat is accumulating. Tracking your actual body measurements such as hip and stomach circumference is a far more accurate marker of progress than a body fat scale, and much cheaper to measure. A simple tailor’s tape can give you consistent measurements for a few dollars compared to the hundred or so dollars a scale capable of measuring body fat costs. As you progress toward your goal, seeing the inches drop is far more inspiring than an arbitrary number on a scale.
It is my opinion, like many other health and fitness coaches, that tracking your habits is the most important metric to keep on top of while on your journey to achieving a goal. If you were to do nothing else, tracking your habits will shed the most light on what is helping and what is hindering you with your success. Discovering what habits hold you back and choosing to replace them with habits that move you in the right direction is the single most important action you can take.
What separates a good habit from a bad habit?
To answer that question you need only ask whether the habit is adding to your overall life or taking away from it. Most habits feel great at the moment, especially if an otherwise painful or unenjoyable experience is queuing the habit. The actual consequence of the habit is put off into the future, whether good or bad.
Think of smoking, a habit that is usually triggered in response to a stressful situation or feeling of boredom. The temporary relief from stress or boredom is paid for in the future by deteriorating health and the possibility of severe lung disease.
Alternatively, the habit of waking up early and meditating, although difficult to cultivate and oftentimes requiring a tremendous force of will, can have profoundly good effects on a person’s future productivity, health and sense of wellbeing. In the case of the smoker reward is instantaneous and painful consequences put off into the future.
The magnitude of impact from on the smokers overall quality of life is directly inverse to each other; the instant relief from stress is fleeting at best and is paid for in the future by serious health problems. The early riser who takes up a meditative practice must go through the painful process of pulling himself from bed at an hour he would rather be sleeping, causing instant, but fleeting, discomfort in his life.
The first few minutes of meditation will likely be unenjoyable as well as he shakes off the desire to crawl back in bed. Afterward, though, the man’s mind will likely emerge from his practice more clear, more grounded. If he keeps up his practice, years into the future, he will have developed his mind and lifestyle into one guided by emotional balance and strong will. His stress levels will be measurably lower than his peers who do not have a regular meditative practice and, as such, will have extended his life expectancy and quality of life. His discomfort in the present pays for the long-term health benefits into the far-reaching future, an inverse to his smoking counterpart.
If you are human, then you likely find yourself in a similar situation to the smoker, although possibly with a habit different than smoking. Maybe it is having a cookie every afternoon with lunch, a glass of wine or two after work, or sitting down to watch two hours of television every Sunday afternoon. These actions are associated within your life to moments of instant reward and cued by a circumstance or feeling. The incident serves as the cue, the cue causes the action, and the action delivers the good feeling, or reward. This series of events is what has been called the habit loop.
By tracking your habits, you can begin to understand the habit loops that are no longer serving you, particularly when you set out toward the achievement of your goal. By tracking your habits and the feelings in the moments leading up to them, during the habit action, and in the moments following, you will begin to see patterns and develop an understanding of the underlying causes. Once you know the reasons for a habit loop, you can work to look for better alternatives to insert in the reward system. If you find the habit has an all around negative impact on your life, you can begin the work to remove the stimulus and, therefore, the habit itself altogether.
It’s only through tracking and recording these habits that you can begin to understand the reasons they have crept into your life in the first place. Once you start noticing the patterns, the events and feelings causing you to go down the habit loop, you can do the work of replacing or removing them altogether.
Replacing old habits no longer serving you or introducing new ones you would like to adopt into your life requires patience and tactic. The building of habits is akin to building a house. You don’t start building a house from the roof down. Instead, you construct it from the foundation up, adding to each segment, piece by piece, until one day a home has emerged.
In the same way, you can adopt healthy habits into your life by adding them into the already built and ingrained habits of your life. Dr. BJ Fogg talks about the idea of creating “tiny habits” around the already deeply ingrained large habits of your life. The idea is that you can piggyback your new, tiny habit on top of the larger habit, eventually associating the two within the same habit loop.
He uses the example of flossing your teeth. Instead of focusing on flossing all of your teeth and thinking of it as a single task unto itself, give yourself the goal of flossing just one tooth before you brush your teeth. You likely already have the habit of brushing your teeth every night, and flossing only one tooth is such a small task it’s almost impossible to get overwhelmed by it, that you will inevitably be able to adopt the task more easily.
Although it seems silly to floss only one tooth, once you have brought the new habit of flossing together with the deeply ingrained habit of brushing your teeth they begin to meld together. Over time you can try to floss more than one tooth, but only if you feel up to it. The goal is flossing one tooth, anything more than that is a bonus. After two months of continuing in this way, you have developed the habit of flossing your tooth, or more likely all of your teeth.
You can apply this approach to building new habits in all areas of your life. When I first started meditating, I failed miserably at getting up an hour earlier to do something I had no habit of doing before. It was only when I began to get up a few minutes earlier to do the things I always did, like having breakfast, showering, brushing my teeth, getting dressed, packing my things for work, etc, that I was finally able to make space for sitting down and meditating.
It took a few weeks, but the new habit of meditation began to stick. Getting up a half hour earlier to complete the regular habits of my morning routine seemed much easier than getting up a half hour earlier to adopt something like meditation.
Throwing meditation in at the end of my morning routine for a few minutes was much easier to than simply focusing on meditating for a certain length of time every morning. Instead of saying I was going to meditate for thirty minutes straight, I told myself I would sit for five minutes. Eventually, five turned into ten, which turned into twenty, and has now turned into thirty minutes of mindful meditation every morning.
As always, thank you so much for taking your time to read this article. If you got something from it, or you know someone who would benefit from this article, please feel free to share.
If you have any questions or suggestions for future articles or videos, please leave me a message in the comments or reach out to me on social media!
And remember, with everything in life the secret to success is getting started. So get started!
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About the author
I switched careers from a mechanic to a personal trainer and life coach after seeing the difference one made in the life of my mother. I watched as she transformed herself, changing her path in life to one that allowed for the enjoyment of what she loves most. Our family saw how powerful an impact her trainer had on her health and happiness, and we couldn't have been more grateful. From then on, I knew I wanted to help others take back their lives the same way her trainer had helped her.
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