Measure and improve

Posted on March 26, 2011. Filed under: Nutrition | Tags: , , , , , , , |

The other day I saw a member step on the scale.

He said “it’s not going down.”


I asked “well what are you eating?”  He wasn’t very clear with his answer on that.


He then stated he’s been working out consistently “so that means I should see something right?”


Having observed the member working out on his own, I could honestly say the intensity could stand to go up a few notches.  I don’t tell him this right off the bat, because that’s not what he asked me.  And I don’t want to open a conversation with a criticism.  So instead I ask a question of evaluation.


“Have you ever kept a food journal?”


“Why not.”

“Just never thought about it.”

“I can understand that.  But if you are trying to lose weight, it would benefit you to actually know what you are eating.”


The member nodded and after a bit of small talk went on his way.  Whether he takes the initial advice is up to him.  If not I’ll wait a week or two and after he mentions his frustration again.  I’ll suggest the journal again.


A food journal is one of the simplest, most effective tools for weight loss, muscle gain, improved athletic performance, you name it.  Simply put, how can you improve your body, without knowing what you are putting into it.  I am such and advocate for food journals that I even took the time to design, print, and bind my own.  Just so my client and I can be on the same page.


The fact is, you can’t out train bad eating.  You just can’t.  There is only so many calories you can burn within a workout.  And there is only so long you can maintain a level of intensity.  Not to mention the fact that your ability to maintain intensity, will be based on the fuel you give your body anyway.


Yes there are genetic exceptions who seemingly can eat anything and burn it right off.  But more often than not that ‘genetic exception’ does not eat as much as you think they do.  Unless you are with them 24 hours, you do not know how much they eat on a regular basis.  Just because they eat a big meal with you does not count for their eating habits for the week.  And even if they are an exception it will catch up to them eventually.   Ultimately your caloric intake and nutrient profile will tell the tale.


You also want to keep a food journal, because how else can you know what is, and what is not working.  Some people do well on low carb, some do well on high carb, some on high protein, some on high fat.  How can you possibly know this if you don’t track.  We can’t all follow the exact same protocol to the T.


One of my biggest peeves is when people throw out random examples of indigenous tribes as justification of their diet or exercise ideas.  This holds no bearing for my clients.  For example in the book  ‘Born to Run,’ ( favorite of cardiaddiks) it states how members of the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico can run hundreds of miles each week with what amounts to a piece of cloth wrapped around their feet, drinking more beer than a 4-year veteran frat boy.  Many than argue how this means long distance running and a similar high carb diet is what is best for everyone.


You know what the Tarahumara don’t do, but my usual clients do in the beginning though?


  1. Run and /or walk on pavement
  2. Move around in rigid footwear giving markedly impaired ankle mobility
  3. Sit at desks/cubicles all day, impairing shoulder, and spine mobility
  4. Eat fast food
  5. Sit indoors all day
  6. Breathe air pollution
  7. Exercise with some already predetermined current or potential health issue
  8. Live engrossed in a stress related hormone bath which probably contributed to the predetermined current or potential health issue


Yes there are universal principles we all adhere to.  They need a sufficient caloric intake for their goal, they need protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water.  They need rest and recovery time.   But the ratio for each person is going to vary slightly.  A journal allows us to make adjustments.  They are not necessarily always huge adjustments.  But adjustments need to be made.    And to make them, first you must measure where you are.


No matter what the scenario, I insist everyone keep a food journal.  And I encourage you whether you are working with a coach or not to keep one.  For a veritable laundry list of reasons.


1) Guessing about things like protein intake is a lot like guessing at your body fat percentage. Left to our own devices we tend to be a little loose with our figures.  No pun intended.  Whenever I agree to coach someone, the first thing I ask is they keep a food log. (This even takes precedence over asking what their current workout routine looks like.) I ask them to write down what they eat, drink and the time they do it at.  Often doing this alone brings out some revelations.
2)   People tend to get tunnel vision when it comes to aspects of health and forget about the big picture. They focus on trying to find that super secret workout to add strength and muscle, yet have no idea how much protein they get or haven’t eaten a green vegetable in weeks.  Others look up every fat burner or miracle supplement on the market, collect studies, try various products, yet they have no idea of how many actual calories they take in every day.  They forget that this isn’t about tricks, it’s about food.  Food for most is about pleasure or relief of stress.  Too often to achieve a goal we make it about pain or a source of stress.  Food isn’t just some random object transporting nutrients to your body.  It’s a very intimate, emotional, cultural and even for some religious part of our lives.  It is often linked to prominent memories of family and friends both good and bad.  It’s used as part of major celebrations, and whether you are aware or not holds powerful emotional ideas.  Although we may grasp the logic of this, we can not truly change behaviors until we are truly aware of what are choices are.  This journal will help you to find that awareness.


3) The short time you spend here will affect the rest of your life. Let’s be honest, keeping a food log is annoying at first. Measuring portions, and reading labels can sometimes take longer than eating! Think of it as learning a new skill. Sure, it may take a bit of time, but what’s that compared to the rest of your life? Let’s consider the math.  This journal is set for 12 weeks.  Over say 45 years of an adult life, that’s .5% of your life.  Now consider what you learn from keeping a food log will be invaluable from this point on.
4) Food logs make you aware of what you’re eating. It’s easy to overeat when you’re not paying attention to calories. When recording your intake, you don’t just eat out of the container unconsciously; instead you recognize servings of almonds or Ben & Jerry’s or whatever. And thus you tend to eat less.  This is one of the main reasons why all diets work to an extent. When you begin to paying at least some degree of attention to what you eat, you lose weight.  This awareness should also help you recognize cravings which are often misunderstood.  People think it has to do with a physical signals when it’s actually more often mental or emotional.  When you get a craving, make a side note in your journal.  What were you doing when you had the craving?  Where were you?  What were you watching?  Why were you craving that particular item?

Chances are your cravings are based on:

  • Habit: I always have a snack to get me through the meeting
  • Stress relief: I was demoted.  I need ice cream/chips/ a drink
  • Celebration/Reward: I was promoted.  Drinks all around

5) A food log will help keep your willpower in check. This relates to the point above, but it goes the other direction. Some people have such strong willpower that they can easily not eat enough when dieting, which can lead to muscle loss. That’s because their willpower is stronger than their appetite, which isn’t always a good thing.  Muscle loss usually tends to go hand in hand with a slower or damaged metabolism.  We do NOT want that.  Recording your food intake will help keep you from hitting a plateau or wall prematurely.   Whether you wish to gain muscle, lose fat, or get stronger.   Body awareness will play a big role.   This journal will help you to learn that awareness

The key to making a difference is never a quick fix, but a transition.   Health is not a race, but a journey.  To get on the right path we have to see where we’re going and where we’re coming from.    That’s where a journal comes in.



Best Health,

Coach W


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