Your Ledger

In our discussion about Focus I told you the story of my reluctance to track my food consumption. My Trainer got onto me every week when we’d have the same conversation: “Ron, are you tracking your meals?” “Nah. I told you, I eat the same thing every week.” When she finally convinced me to track formally, I was blown away by how much I’d gotten wrong. It was one of the most important moments of my fitness journey.

Think about the aspects of your life that you’re good about tracking. You keep your eyes on your performance at work, your vehicle’s fuel consumption, and your banking account. If you’re a sports fan you may be tracking your team’s or a player’s stats. Why bother tracking your banking account? You know, more or less, what stuff costs. You know what you’re spending and you know when payday is coming around again. The money will be there, right? Why do we track our productivity at work?

Steven Covey says that not measuring our performance is like bowling through a curtain. How are you going to adjust your swing, or change how you’re lining it up if you have no idea what happens at the other end of the lane.

Can you imagine going to a basketball game without a scoreboard? Or playing in a game like that, for that matter? Without tracking each team’s performance, how would the coach know what plays to call or what players to rest?

If you are taking a serious approach to wellness but you’re not tracking your food consumption – well, you’re not taking a serious approach to wellness.

I surprised a few folks in my last article. People often expect fitness professionals to advise against diet systems like Weight Watchers or Whole 30. While I don’t make it habit of promoting one system over another, there is a common piece that I believe makes or breaks their effectiveness. That piece? You guessed it, tracking. Even people who decide to undergo weight loss surgery benefit from tracking. The first stage of the weight loss surgery procedure is consuming a specific number of calories over a given time. The meals are measured to the ounce. When you’re measuring each meal to bring about a desired outcome, we have a word for that. Once again, tracking is the common key. Of the 80% of people who relapse after weight loss procedures, the first missed step is that tracking is no longer a priority. They eat until they’re full and hope a limited stomach capacity will be the solution that takes them to the promised land.

As a fitness professional, I’ll tell you that meal tracking is one of the most challenging aspects of working with a client. I can want it for you, but I can’t do it for you.  When we’re in the middle of a great workout, I can say, “Come on, give me one more!” I wish I could follow you around and chart your meals for you. Drone technology hasn’t caught up to trainers wishing to spy on their clients yet. Yet. So, let’s address why people don’t track their meals. I believe it comes down to three obstacles. You may have something else standing between you and tracking, and I’d love to talk about overcoming that obstacle with you. For now, let’s focus on these three:

  1. It’s cumbersome.
  2. I already know what I eat.
  3. I’m just not ready to face the facts.

Number One: It’s cumbersome.  No it’s not. There, problem solved. In all seriousness, from keeping a pen & paper journal to using one of the many free mobile apps, it’s easier than ever to keep track of what we eat. So, you can’t use that as an excuse.

Number Two: I already know what I eat. As we discussed, this was my stumbling point. I was fairly intentional about my meals, going so far as to meal prep and plan my snacks. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the sugar content of my favorite beverages, for example. While I had accurately taken stock of my inventory, I was negligent about portion sizes and nutritional value.  I was not taking into account the impulse buys and microtransactions that were adding up to more calories than I had planned for. A lot more. A lot a LOT more. Tracking changed all that. Not only was I able to account for my intake, I actually stopped eating foods that I didn’t want to write down. Which brings me to the third objection. Full disclosure, when I take the time to track my meals for a few weeks, I weigh my discoveries against my assumptions and I am wrong 100% of the time. The disparity isn’t always that significant, but the point is that I’m a fitness professional and I still miss a step when I don’t take stock.

Number Three: It’s understandable if you’re not ready to know what your diet really looks like. Tracking can be a form of confession. It’s a preponderance of evidence in the case against your well-being. Do you know anyone who never looks at their bank account? Have you ever hesitated before looking at a scraped knee? It’s natural to avoid bad news. Natural, but not healthy. When we know what we’ve spent, we know what we can spend. When we know how bad the scrape is, we can begin to heal. There are a couple of surprises waiting for you when you start tracking. You are going to discover that it’s not as bad as you think. You’ll look back on a week and say, “Wait a minute, if I cut out that snack after work, and refuse that donut with my coffee, I can make an easy adjustment.” The next surprise is that you’re going to find something you likely need to add to your diet. Tracking isn’t all about taking food away from you. It’s also a chance to discover you need more fish, or protein, or the good kind of fat. Yes, there’s a good kind of fat.

There’s one other clever twist to tracking. It becomes a mechanism of self-control. By helping you connect the dots between your habits and your status, you begin to make the right changes. Time and time again, I’ve seen people make immediate adjustments to their diet based on one week of tracking.

So, at this point if you’re going to be convinced, you’re convinced. You’re ready to start tracking. Which means you’re asking, “Ron, what does tracking look like? What exactly is it that I’m measuring?” A good starting place are the Primary Colors of Nutrition: Carbs (sugar), Proteins, and Fats.  Everything you’re putting into your mouth has varying measures of those three elements. People love to sanctify fruit, and I want you to eat fruit, too. But did you know that a banana has 28 grams of sugar? Starting with measuring your carbs, proteins, and fats allows you to make adjustments as you go. Remember to measure – really measure your portions. Do you know what half a cup really looks like? By flipping the box over, turning the can around, or looking on the back of the package, you discover that you’ve poured too much cereal into your bowl or that it’s time to swap your sports drink for plain water. Once you start using apps like MyFitnessPal, you’ll see the source of the carbs and proteins in your diet and be able to make appropriate adjustments. Don’t get overwhelmed with micro-nutrients, net carbs, good fats vs. bad fats – for now, just stick with the basics. Measure, track, make adjustments.


Let us know how you’re tracking and what you’ve discovered.  Follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@ptfitness), and Instagram (@ptfitnessdfw). Share #myledger so we can encourage and celebrate with you. See you soon!