Archives for March 2015

Food tracking tips | lose weight without losing your mind

Let’s be honest, food tracking is a chore.

food tracking

 

Weighing, measuring and documenting everything you put in your mouth isn’t any fun.

It’s tedious and time-consuming. It tethers you to your phone or computer and can trigger anxiety and obsessive behaviour in people who get overly hung up on numbers.

Yet research repeatedly demonstrates that people who keep food journals are more successful at weight loss and weight loss maintenance than those who don’t.

Is there a way to track your food without losing your mind?

I think so. Below, I share my food tracking philosophy; why it’s important, how to get started, what to do with what you learn, and best practices for losing pounds while preserving your sanity.

Why food tracking is important
  • it’s an objective way to show you what your diet really looks like; calories, fats, sugar, carbs, proteins, warts and all 😉
  • it allows you to identify areas for improvement; often tweaking just one or two components of your diet can result in measurable change
  • it creates a sense of accountability; knowing that you have to log those Girl Scout cookies may make you think twice about whether they’re truly helping you move toward your goals
  • it forces you to become more knowledgable about what you’re putting in your body; newbies to food tracking are often shocked by how many grams of sugar their favourite flavoured yogurt has or how little protein a purportedly ‘high protein’ breakfast cereal actually has
  • it facilitates the creation of new nutrition habits; long-time food-trackers typically report that they eat the same basic meals from one day to the next. Food tracking has helped them identify their best nutrition plan; a plan that’s sustainable over the long term.
Getting started with food tracking
  • pick an online food tracker and create an account; it doesn’t really matter which program you use, they all count calories and break your daily intake down according to carbohydrates, proteins and fats. I prefer MyFitnessPal (just because I’ve been using it forever..) but have clients that love CoachCalorie and FitDay.
food tracking

Hooray me! A 9-day food tracking streak!

 

  • enter your current weight and, if asked, your current activity level; note that this is usually an assessment of how you spend the majority of your day NOT how frequently or intensely you work out.
  • don’t enter a weight loss goal; the first week or 10 days of tracking are to be used to figure out what you’re currently eating and identify areas for improvement.
  • accept the program’s default settings for daily calorie intake and diet (macronutrient) composition; again, making changes before you know what you’re already doing is simply shooting in the dark.
  • diligently track everything you put in your mouth for 7 to 10 days; this includes water, tea, coffee, condiments and cooking oils. The more accurate your input, the easier it is to determine what needs to be changed. Don’t worry, you won’t be doing this forever (see below).
  • don’t track exercise; since we’re not trying to meet any particular calorie requirements during this initial phase, tracking caloric expenditure is overkill (plus, it’s way too easy to overestimate calories burned during exercise…).
Using the data to make change
  • once you’ve established 7 to 10 days’ worth of baseline data, analyze it; compare your daily calorie intake to the recommendations made by the program. If you’re consistently well-above your target, focus on reducing food intake by no more than 500 calories per day; small changes tend to be easier to maintain than drastic ones.
food tracking

A day where I was fairly close to ‘plan’

 

  • if your daily intake is close to the program’s recommendations, compare your daily macronutrient intake to the program’s targets; focus on tweaking your macronutrient intake to better reflect your goals. Most people tend to over-shoot on carbohydrates and under-shoot on protein. Simply swapping a serving of lean protein for a serving of starchy carbs may be all you need to move things in the right direction.
  • if your daily intake is consistently below your target you’re going to need to eat more; chronic low calorie intake (especially if you’re eating fewer calories than your body needs for basic maintenance and day-to-day functioning) tends to result in metabolic slow down. Because your body is used to having to save energy, it’s in perpetual fat storage mode. The thought of eating more may scare you. You’ll need to adjust your intake slowly, perhaps by as little as 100 calories per day every week or two.
  • commit to following this ‘new’ program and continue tracking food for another 7 to 10 days; pay attention to how your body responds to the changes you’ve made, keeping track of energy levels, hunger and cravings in the comments section of your food tracking app.
  • repeat the above steps in another 7 to 10 days’ time; figuring out your ‘best nutrition plan’ is an iterative process.
  • continue avoiding the temptation to track exercise; most trackers only provide calorie burn estimates for cardiovascular exercise and, unless they integrate heart rate, are likely to be wrong. For a discussion of the challenges of estimating caloric expenditure during exercise, read the follow-up post to this article.
Food tracking for weight loss and sanity maintenance
  • once you’ve created a baseline, used it to generate a plan and have followed the plan consistently for a week or two, take a break; religiously tracking food can lead to anxiety over eating and an obsession with numbers. Listen to your body and trust yourself to continue fuelling yourself in a way that makes you feel good.
  • return to food tracking, periodically, as a way of ‘checking in’; birthday months, holidays and stressful times at work are typical reasons for going ‘off plan’. Return to tracking for a week or so after any life event that’s left you eating differently than you usually do. Right yourself and get back to living.
  • simplify your food tracker’s ease of use; have a tendency to eat the same meals over and over again? Most tracking software allows you to create and save favourite recipes or meals. I do this with my protein pancakes and veggie omelettes. Then all I need to do is enter one food item, rather than enumerate all the ingredients every time I eat it.
  • link up with friends who are using the same food tracking system; just knowing that somebody will notice that you’ve logged in and lost a pound makes food tracking less isolating (it’s also a great way to increase the accountability factor of the tool).
  • use your food tracker as a menu planner; rather than logging after you’ve eaten, input your planned meals and snacks for the next day, examine the daily nutrient summary and tweak your menu to optimize calorie and macronutrient intake.

Next week….some thoughts on the challenges of including exercise expenditure in your daily food tracking routine.

 

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Using the stages of change model to adopt new fitness and nutrition habits

Change is hard.

Whether it’s getting started with exercise, cleaning up your diet or giving your website a facelift (hint, hint…), changes worth making don’t happen overnight.

stages of change

And the best way to start implementing change depends on how ready you are to make it.

Despite all the motivational social media memes telling you to ‘just do it’ and ‘stop making excuses’.

And the best intentions of friends telling you that ‘the only workout you’ll ever regret is the one you didn’t do’ and that you should just ‘pull up your big girl panties’ and get on with it.

If you’re not truly ready to make change, you can’t and you won’t. It has nothing to do with willpower or excuses or fortitude and everything to do with mindset and mental preparedness.

The transtheoretical model of behaviour change (also know as the ’ stages of change’ model) is used by counsellors, psychologists and fitness professionals alike (including yours truly…) to assess an individual’s readiness to act on new behaviours. By knowing which stage of change (Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action and Maintenance) a person is currently in, we can identify strategies that are relevant, appropriate and most likely to be successful at guiding them towards action.

If you’re struggling with starting a new exercise program or making changes to your nutrition plan, take a minute and read the descriptions of the five stages of change below. Check out the suggestions I have for actions you can take at each stage to help you move forward and beyond the stage you’re currently stuck at. You can use these same suggestions to help a friend who’s been trying to improve their fitness and health as well!

Stages of Change

Stage 1: Precontemplation (Not Ready)

‘Precontemplators’ have no intention of altering their behaviour in the near future. In fact, many are unaware that change would benefit them at all! I don’t tend to see very many people in this stage of change; they aren’t typically the ones looking to hire a personal trainer 🙂

If you suspect that you’re stuck in Precontemplation (it’s actually tough to self-assess this one…), focus on educating yourself about the benefits of exercise and healthy eating. Work on becoming more mindful of the choices you’re making right now and focus on the consequences of your actions. Begin to notice patterns between behavioural choices and how they make you feel.

Currently in stage 1? You might find these posts helpful >>>

 Stage 2: Contemplation (Getting Ready)

‘Contemplators’, while more aware of the benefits of making a change than ‘Precontemplators’, are still relatively ambivalent about taking action in the very near future. While they’re usually aware of the benefits of change, they still see as many ‘cons’ as ‘pros’. Moving forward requires encouragement to reduce the ‘cons’ of changing their behaviour.

If you’ve been ‘Contemplating’ starting a new exercise or nutrition program for six months or longer, your best chance of success is to surround yourself with people who have already made the change you desire for yourself. Spend time with friends who are physically active and interested in healthy eating. Ask for (and be receptive to) their encouragement. Identify the hurdles (both physical and mental) that are keeping you from getting started and actively work to eliminate them.

Stage 3: Preparation (Ready)

People at this stage are ready to start taking action, typically within the next month or so. They’re willing to take small steps that they believe can help them make the healthy behavior a part of their lives.

For example, they may tell their friends and family that they want to change their behaviour. They may join a gym or start a Pinterest board of healthy recipes. They might start reading nutrition labels and going for a daily walk. Most of my new clients are in the ‘Preparation’ stage. Reaching out to a fitness professional is often one of the first action steps they take.

If you find yourself in ‘Preparation’ mode, let other people know. Sharing your plans with trusted friends increases your chances of success. Identify one or two small changes you know you can be successful with. Think about possible roadblocks to success and map out a plan for dealing with setbacks.

The number one concern at this stage is fear of failure. Have a plan in place for those inevitable days when you miss a workout or ‘mess up’ your nutrition plan. The more prepared you are, the greater your chances of success.

Does stage three sound familiar? One-on-one health coaching is perfect for you >> Online Fitness Coaching with Fitknitchick

Stage 4: Action

If you’ve already started implementing small changes and are ready to keep moving ahead, you’re well into the ‘Action’ stage. The biggest challenge you face is fighting the urge to slip back into old behaviour patterns. Strengthening commitments to exercise and healthy eating are super important, as is understanding your ‘why’ (the real reason you want to make changes to your behaviour).

People in this stage progress by being taught techniques for keeping up their commitments such as substituting activities related to the unhealthy behaviour with positive ones, rewarding themselves for taking steps toward changing, and avoiding people and situations that tempt them to behave in unhealthy ways.

Action takers; surround yourself with like-minded women. Join my online monthly group training program for 40+ females >> #40plusfitness Group Training

Stage 5: Maintenance

Once you’ve mastered ‘Action’ and regular exercise and healthy eating have been part of your daily routine for at least six months, you’ve entered the ‘Maintenance’ stage. At this point, it’s important to be aware of the types of situations that may tempt you to slip back into old behaviour patterns. For example, stressful times at work, fights with loved ones, social events with certain friends or family vacations.

Again, anticipating challenges, being able to identify them when they occur and planning an appropriate response in advance can keep you from slipping back into old habits and previous stages of change.

Which ‘stage of change’ are you currently in, with respect to fitness and nutrition?

What’s keeping you from moving forward? Share your ‘obstacles’ and ‘roadblocks’ below.

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How to stay on track while your trainer’s on vacation

*** Note that the tips in this post apply equally well to the absence of your favourite group fitness instructor and/or your regular workout buddy.

It never fails. You’ve just gotten into a groove with exercise. You’re hitting the gym several times a week and starting to see and feel the results of your efforts.

Then, out of nowhere, your personal trainer (or favourite group fitness instructor or regular workout buddy) goes on holidays.

While you might be inclined to take the week off yourself, there are plenty of ways to stay on track while your trainer’s on vacation.

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  • Pretend she’s there and keep your usual appointment. You know your way around the gym. And while you might miss her coaching (and charming personality 😉 ), there’s no reason why you can’t perform your usual routine on your own. Remember, one of her goals is to someday, turn you into an independent exerciser!
  • Ask her to create a special program for you to do in her absence. Have her include all of your favourite exercises (avoiding movements that require significant cueing) in an easy-to-follow circuit. If you feel confident about your ability to execute the program, you’re much more likely to do it.
  • Find somebody else to train with. This might be another trainer at your gym (a colleague and I regularly step in for each other when the other’s away from the gym and a client isn’t quite ready to train on their own), a friend or just a friendly face from the gym. Reach out to the woman who trains at the same time as you do and see if she might appreciate some exercise company. Read these suggestions for making partner training a success.
  • Try a group fitness class instead. If you’d really rather not set foot in the gym on your own, findan appealing sounding group fitness class and give it a try. Bootcamp, Circuit Training and Body Sculpt classes are all great alternatives to your usual gym workout. (If it’s your group fitness instructor who’s away, go to her class always; I bet she’s arranged a fantastic sub for you 😉 ).
  • Relax. Worse case scenario? You substitute daily walks for your strength workouts and skip the gym entirely while she’s gone. If you’ve been consistent with your workouts for any length of time, a week away isn’t likely to result in much loss of progress. And she’ll be relieved to know that she’s not the only one who’s hurting a bit the first day back…

Share your best strategies for dealing with a vacation-induced training hiatus…

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Three Simple Feel-Good Steps to Conquering Consistency {guest post}

Today I have a special treat for you.

A guest post written by my friend and fellow fitness professional and wellness advocate, Meg Root. Meg and I ‘met’ (virtually of course, isn’t that how we’re all meeting these days?) on Facebook by way of our mutual friends Kymberly and Alexandra of Fun and Fit.

We are kindred spirits in fitness philosophy and the route we’ve taken to get there. Her approach to fitness is Accessible, Actionable and Achievable (in keeping with the Alliterative theme of her post…) and ‘Fitknitchick-approved’!

Just like you, I’m a big Fitknitchick fan! {aw shucks, thanks Meg…}

I loved Tamara’s recent post, “Everything You Need to Know About Being a Fitness Success.” Even a seasoned wellness pro like myself benefits from a friendly reminder that there’s no magic bullet for achieving our goals, and that most reasonable approaches work if we stick with them long enough.

Consistency. That was at the heart of Tamara’s message.

That scary “C” word that dangles out in front of us like the proverbial carrot on a stick. The closer we get to it with all our goal setting, program planning, and positive can-do attitude, the further away it slips, pushed by sick kids, overstuffed schedules, and mid-life menopausal mayhem. You even said it yourselves in the comments:

“The consistency part is the tough one.” SR

“Yes, so true! Consistency is key.” Bonnie

“Consistency and realistic expectations above all else.” CF

It’s one of those good news bad news scenarios: Do what you love and the fitness will follow! “Yay, I’ve always hated squats, I can do lunges instead.” But, you need to do it consistently. “Oh yeah, I forgot about that part. I’m too busy this week.”

We all know that until we learn how to nestle consistency inside of crazy—which is life, most of the time—fitness success will always seem out of reach.

That’s why I came up with a few “C’s” of my own to help you stay committed to your fitness journey even in the midst of life’s little (and not so little) interruptions.

This simple system, I call the Three C’s of Wellness, switches up the energy around the healthy choices you need to make, day in and day out, to reach your fitness goals. Instead of viewing them as a chore, or even an item to check off your to-do list before the real fun begins, you tap into the “feel good” potential of your choices, and use that energy to fuel your commitment.

Believe me, solving the crisis of consistency is as easy as 1, 2, 3 . . . Connect. Choose. Celebrate!

Connect

wellness feels goodSet aside your vision of fitness success for just a moment (trust me on this one), and think of a few words that describe how you want to “feel” on a daily basis. Happy? Healthy? Vibrant? Strong? These are some of the “feel-good” words on my list. What’s on yours?

Now, think of something—anything—that makes you feel like those words. Maybe it’s a long, heart pumping run outdoors, or one of Fitknitchick’s challenging Fatblaster workouts. Maybe your workouts don’t take you to that feel good place just yet, and “happy” means a walk on the beach with your family. We can all think of something that makes us feel good. Connecting with the way that energy feels, and bringing it to the choices you make, is the first step to conquering the challenge of consistency. Wellness feels good!

Choose

You make hundreds of choices everyday. Imagine what would happen if you prefaced each one with the question, “What could I do right now to feel happy, healthy, vibrant, strong?” and then made a choice based on that?

wellness feels goodFor example, choosing a breakfast of oatmeal, chia seeds, and blueberries propels me into my day feeling energized and fueled for wellness. Grabbing a muffin and a designer double latte . . . not so much. Sure it’s hard to get to the gym after a long tiring day at work. But you have to admit, getting your body moving has a better chance of reversing feelings of anxiety and fatigue, than plopping down in front of your Facebook feed with a glass of wine. Really, it does!

Begin to NOTICE how each one of your choices either takes you closer to your wellness zone or further away. With practice, you’ll discover that you have more control over the way your life looks and feels than you think.

Celebrate!

When you make a choice that leads to one of those “wellness feels good” moments, Celebrate! Say “Yes!” out loud and pump your fist the way athletes do after making a great play. Don’t laugh—this is based on real science. And it works.

All good habits are validated and strengthened when there is a reward at the end—an acknowledgement that you did well and you’re moving in the right direction. Tapping into the positive energy of wellness makes consistency a no brainer. Feeling good FEELS SO GOOD, you become willing to do anything to hold on to your wellness.

So, Back to Consistency

Connect, choose, celebrate . . . repeat. Filling your life up with “wellness feels good” moments is that simple. And it’s the connection to how good your choices make you feel that keeps you committed in the midst of your crazy busy life.

I agree that striving for fitness success is a healthy, even noble goal. But don’t stop there. Why not shoot for living your best life? That’s what the energy of wellness feels like. It feels good! And when we feel good, we do good—consistently.

wellness feels goodI’d love to hear what your favorite wellness words are, and how you conquer consistency when the pressure is on.

Meg Root loves to write and speak about all things wellness. Her positive, feel-good approach to wellness is a product of years spent living and working at some of North America’s premiere destination spas, where every day feels like a spa day! You can follow her wellness updates on her website, MegRoot.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

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The dark side of wearable fitness trackers

*** This blog post evolved out of a conservation I had with some friends in my Facebook community. They have given me permission to share their thoughts below***

Pedometers. Smartwatches. Health monitors. Wearable fitness trackers. They’re all part of the emerging landscape of wearable technology. A landscape which promises to change the way we exercise and communicate with one another about fitness.

wearable fitness trackers

A tracker for every mood…

 

Many will keep track of your daily steps, calories burned and pattern of sleeping. Most can connect with your phone, be it Android or OS. Some can track your heart rate in real time and even provide statistics on elevation gained and distance travelled during exercise.

While I love that more and more people are wearing these devices and becoming increasingly aware of their daily level of physical activity, and that many devices have built in accountability and support communitiesI do think that there’s a dark side to wearable fitness trackers.

I recently participated in a two-week ‘step challenge’ with a dozen other bloggers. Despite my relatively active lifestyle, I finished near the middle of the pack, literally hundreds of thousands of steps behind the winners.

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This experience made me stop and question the general value of wearable fitness trackers.

While I appreciate the potential benefits of tracking one’s daily activity (heck, my favourite way to use mine is as a reminder to get up and move on those days when I’ve been sitting at my computer too long), I also believe there’s the possibility that they may discourage some people from making appropriate fitness choices.

The dark side of wearable fitness trackers
  • Might some people benefit more from them than others? I think wearable fitness trackers are a fantastic accountability tool for those just getting started with fitness (or those who have no idea what their day’s activity looks like). But for those who are already fairly active, the information they provide is unlikely to result in behaviour change. Sure, it’s nice to feel that little vibration when you’ve hit your daily step count and great to see your weekly activity report showing that you’re ‘in the blue’ most days, but are there other ways you can measure your progress that don’t involve counting steps?

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  • Is the emphasis on step count, above all other activity, misleading when it comes to improving health and fitness? Although there are numerous studies linking increased daily step counts with a variety of health improvements (increased weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, decreased blood cholesterol levels, to name a few), the same benefits (and more) can also be achieved by swimming, cycling, yoga and lifting weights. Does encouraging people to achieve 10 000 steps a day (which requires most of us to include at least an hour long walk in our already full days) lead to them prioritizing walking over other activities? Activities whose contributions to health and fitness might be more important to them, depending on age, health and goals.

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  • Is it useful to categorize a person’s activity level by simply the number of steps they take in a day? According to the activity categories of the ’10 000 steps a day’ campaign, many very physically fit people would be categorized as ‘sedentary’ or only ‘moderately active’ only because they choose to spend their daily exercise time doing something other than walking. Take me, for example. After an hour of heavy strength training, I’ll typically have racked up only 1000 or so steps. If I had spent the same 60 minutes walking the treadmill (without building muscle or improving bone density), my count would have been pushing my daily 10 000 steps goal. Given the push to share one’s activity tracker data via social media, there’s the potential for feelings of shame or inadequacy. Or even worse, the feeling like one needs to do more to avoid appearing slothful.

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  • Is there the potential for wearable fitness trackers to trigger the same ‘compulsiveness’ some experience around calorie counting and the bathroom scales? As a scientist, I value data. It allows us to quantify our behaviour and make changes if that behaviour is not leading us towards our goals. Not everyone is capable of such an un-emotional response to numbers. Many people, women in particular, become obsessive about tracking the number of calories they consume and let the number on the bathroom scale dictate their mood for the day (I know, I’ve been there). I believe there’s a real possibility that fitness activity trackers could trigger the same response in some individuals, resulting in a negative effect on physical activity and fitness in general.

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  • Is there a subconscious tendency to consume more calories later in the day because our wearable fitness tracker says we burned ‘x’ number of calories? I believe so, given the ‘how many burpees do I need to do to burn off a Mars bar’ mindset I see so often on social media. Combine this ‘reward’ philosophy with the notoriously inaccurate counts generated by most calorie counters (i.e., they almost always over-estimate how many calories burned and we, as humans, tend to under-estimate how many we consume…) it’s easy to undermine the metabolic benefits of exercise.
  • Are people actually using all the data they’re generating to make changes to their behaviour? While data is great to have, unless you’re actually doing something with it, what’s the point? When scientists design experiments, they collect only the data they need to test their hypothesis (collecting more is expensive and often, it’s impossible to determine outcomes and effects if there are too many variables to include in the analysis). Other than using their pedometers as a reminder to get up and walk around the office, I’ve seen very little evidence that the massive amounts of data being collected are actually changing people’s behaviour around fitness.

I’m curious what a longer term study of the effects of wearable activity trackers on health and obesity will reveal. Given the challenge of working with human subjects (we’re terrible at sticking to plans and have a lot of correlational variables that need to be statistically accounted for), I’m betting we won’t have a clear answer for many years to come…

Do you wear an activity tracker?

Which metrics do you pay attention to and how do they affect your behaviour?

 

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