4 things I learned from logging my food & exercise

At some point along my weight loss journey, I realized that I wasn’t going achieve my goals and have them be life long habits if I was implementing radical and quick fix solutions. I needed to think about sustainable habits. What were those things that I could do and keep doing for years and years, and still be successful? AND if I was going to do something that wasn’t sustainable, I would acknowledge it, but if it could get me to a goal and then I could safely transition off of it, the technique would be worth a try.

An example of this is food logging and wearable fitness trackers.

In my guide, 7 Mistakes I made in my Fat-Loss Journey, one of the 7 mistakes that I made was being too dependent on the calories in versus calories out approach. And that’s true. I used my fitness trackers and food logs as if they were ‘the rule’, and the truth is that our bodies are much more complex and sophisticated than the calories in versus calories out approach.

Why counting your food calories can be misleading

1) Your Digestion

There are a few reasons why calorie counting isn’t accurate, but let’s start with digestion. Based on your gut health, and the type of food that you’re eating, the number of calories and nutrients that you’re absorbing from your food can vary greatly. We assume that we’re going to absorb the number of calories that’s on the nutrition label of whatever food that we’re eating, but research has shown that we will absorb fewer calories from a homemade item than from the same item that has been processed (example: a homemade hamburger versus one that is pre-packaged & sold in the freezer section of your grocery store).

2) Food Quality

But that also brings up the issue of food quality. All calories are not created equal. Your body is going to process and respond to a donut very differently than a chicken breast with the same calorie count.

There’s a term: Thermic Effect of Food (TEF). It refers to the number of calories that your body uses to digest the food that you eat. Based on food quality, and makeup, your TEF can be anywhere from 3% to 30%. In a 2000 calorie diet, that’s a huge range! Anywhere from 60 calories to 600!

3) Our Hormones

And the thing that is a real wild card are our hormones. I know your eyes are glazing over with the word ‘hormones’, but simply put, hormones are communicators in our body. They tell our organs what to do. 

We see a saber-toothed tiger? Our brain tells our adrenal glands to start producing cortisol. Under stressful conditions, cortisol provides the body with glucose in an effort to provide the muscles with energy so that we can run away as fast as we can. This energy can help an individual fight or flee a stressor. However, elevated cortisol over the long term consistently produces glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels.

Increased blood sugar levels are what lead to diabetes, and other health problems. So, even if your diet is low starch, if your stress is high, you can still gain bodyfat because of your hormones.

And that’s just one example of how hormones can effect our weight efforts.

So, there are a lot of things that these tools can’t show us. But the truth is that logging my food, and wearing a fitness tracker taught me some valuable tools, that I still make up a lot of my daily habits.

What I Learned

1) Go for High Water Foods

I specifically remember where I was when I learned this lesson. I was logging my food, and somehow realized that 10 grapes were the SAME THING as 10 raisins. It was during my phase of ‘eat as much volume of food for as few calories as possible’. And I remember thinking, “H*ll! I’ll take 10 grapes over 10 raisins any day!” And then I started searching out more foods that had a higher volume of water.

I still follow this rule. Without a doubt, I always seek out foods that are higher in water content. I braise a lot of my meat, seek out broth based soups, and steam my veggies!

2) I gained Awareness

If you’ve logged your food before, you should be able to relate to this. Food logging brings an awareness and insight to your eating. There are a few different layers of awareness too! There’s the awareness of what your food is made up of, and the awareness of what/when/why you are eating. 

Similar to the raisins/grapes aha moment, I recall the first time I logged peanut butter. “Two tablespoons is 190 calories?!? I’d have to run for 20 minutes to burn that off!” (I was in the beginning of my calories in versus calories out mindset). 

I didn’t swear off peanut butter forever, but what it did, was made me more mindful when making a peanut butter sandwich. Gone were the days of slathering a nice, thick, creamy slab of peanut butter on a slice of bread.

But food logging also allowed me to have more insight into what I was eating & when. I stopped mindlessly grabbing a handful of candies, or some treat left out in the break room. I asked myself, “Am I hungry? Do I really want to eat that?” Sometimes the answer was yes, but often, it was no. 

Food logging also gave me insight into my emotional eating, and forced me to break a few of those habits. Sure! There were lots of times when I found myself looking in the pantry. But logging my food also gave me the curiosity to examine why I was doing that. Why was I turning to food? What could I do that would be more productive instead?

3) I started cooking

When I first started logging my food, I was working in an office. And like many office folks, I brought my Lean Cuisine with me for lunch. Ha! 
I realized pretty quickly that I could make similar lunches for fewer calories & have much more volume (by adding more veggies!) So, I really dug into learning how to cook, and making large volume food without the calorie investment. 

[Not to humblebrag, but I’m actually really good! I offer tons of ideas, tips & techniques in the emails that I send to my subscribers. Not on the list? Get on it here.]

4) Movement is better than no movement

I know. That’s a total “Duh!” Right? But when you see the graph in your activity tracker, you can clearly see what has been happening in your day! “Oh! Well, that’s where I was in the grocery store. And yeah – that flat-lining there? That’s where I was sitting at my computer, not moving.”

It’s motivating, and it made me more aware of when I was sitting too much.

What I do now

Today, I don’t log my food, and I don’t wear a calorie tracker. At first, it took a lot of self-trust. If I didn’t wear my Fitbit, would I still exercise? If I didn’t have my tracker to prove that I exercised, would I still motivate myself to move? If I didn’t log my food, would I know when to stop eating? It was scary.

But quite honestly, tracking my food and activity wasn’t part of my long-term plan. When I looked into the future, and saw myself 10, 15, or 20 years in the future, I didn’t want to see myself logging my food. So, the logging allowed me to tune in to my hunger, motivations, and habits. Instead of looking at how many calories I had left in my day, I ate to satisfaction. Where before, I may have had the attitude of “I have 400 calories left! Woohoo! Let’s have ice cream!” Now, I ask myself, “Am I hungry? Do I feel like I need that?”

So, although logging isn’t a long-term solution, I think it’s an invaluable tool; that when used right can bring lasting change to anyone wanting to improve their eating and activity habits.

Do you log your food? What sort of of feelings do you have about it? Do you resent it when you’re on it? When you don’t log your food, do you eat with wild abandon? What thoughts do you have about being on or off the wagon, so to speak? Send me an email here. How do you feel about food logs and wearable data trackers?