Tracking Nutrition Is Like Tracking Finances
Updated: Nov 22, 2020
“What gets measured gets managed.” - Peter Trucker
On the flipside, if you want to lose track of something and let it spiral, stop keeping an eye on it. This applies to strength-training, blood work, mental health, finances and yes, nutrition. Tracking your nutrition through tracking calories is the most effective way of systematically losing or gaining weight. I remember thinking that as long as I exercised, the weight would come off. Fun Fact: I once ran 100 miles in one month when I was 24. Guess how many pounds I lost that month...ZERO. I didn't realize that weight loss or gain was centered around the amount of calories I consumed and the calories I burnt. First things first.
What Is A Calorie?
“The energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water through 1 °C, equal to one thousand small calories and often used to measure the energy value of foods.” A calorie isn't a thing, but it measures the amount of energy in the food and beverages that we consume. We all need this energy to live and stay healthy. Everything we do relies on the energy that comes in the form of calories. Calories are responsible for 90% of weight loss. Ignoring calories is going to make it really hard to see results.
Calorie tracking requires you to track what is going in your body. It requires you to be aware of what you are burning. To illustrate this, think of money and how you know what comes in and what comes out. Your checking account is your body weight. If you burn more calories (spend) than you consume (earn), you will lose weight. If you consume more calories (earn) than you burn (spend), you will gain weight. Where people get in trouble is that they don’t keep a budget, which is what tracking is. Imagine walking into Nordstrom and grabbing items off the shelf without checking the price tags. That’s is exactly what happens when you order off menus or grocery shop without checking nutritional labels.
It becomes very easy to overspend when you recklessly consume.
The same can be said when it seems like weight gain is impossible. You have a set level at what you think is a lot of food, so anything beyond the calories keeping you at your same weight feels like a you’re gorging yourself. Are there people that don’t need to track their spending or their calories? Yes. But unless you are Jeff Bezos with a gazillion dollars and you don’t have to worry about what you’re spending or you are an Iron Man athlete burning 10,000 calories a day, you need to know what is going in and what is coming out.
Tracking is best done when weight loss or weight gain has stalled. One of the first things companies do when sales dip or surge is pull a report. This is no different. The first thing I like to iterate is that you don’t have to track to be a successful dieter or bulker and if you do start tracking, realize that you don’t have to do it forever. Just do it long enough to get data on what your current nutrition habits are. Some people can intuitively eat and they have a good connection with their body to know when they are full and when they are hungry. Some people find tracking to be tedious. Some people absolutely love it. I’ve worked with clients that continued tracking even after they lost weight and we stopped working together because it gave them more awareness of their nutrition. I’ve worked with clients that had a hard time using apps and tracking food when they travel. There are other ways to manipulate calorie consumption and that’s where individualized coaching comes in. The other tip for when to track is directly after your meal. MyFitnessPal has a great feature where you can scan the barcode and you get all of the nutrition label’s information imported onto your day. When choosing a meal that is from a restaurant, assume it’s more calories. That means if you get a chicken fajita at a Mexican restaurant, choose the highest caloric option possible. If you overestimate how much a renovation is going to cost for your kitchen, you’ll have some money leftover. It’s always better to overestimate how much you’ll need, especially because most of the time people underestimate their calories in other areas.
I’ve touched on several of the benefits so far, but one of the biggest benefits is mindfulness and education. Being mindful of what’s going into your body is extremely valuable given that everything we are physically comes from the food we eat. That’s right. Look down at your body and realize that you grew because you ate calories. Your brain consumes roughly 20% of the calories you burn. When you take this perspective, you realize that what you eat has the power to do just as much harm as it does good. If you put bad oil and gas in a car, the engine won’t last as long. When you educate yourself on what is going inside your body, you empower yourself to make decisions that will lead to a longer life. How much is it worth to you if you were more mindful of your food, educated yourself on the best foods for you, and were able to live 2 years longer?
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