Keeping a health journal

Keeping a journal is essential to success. Not only does a journal keep you on track and motivated, it also reveals how much cheating you can endure while still reaching your goals. Surprising? Read on.


Ultimately, being healthy requires sustainability. True that getting healthy and fit takes effort, but staying there requires understanding how to live a lifestyle that's fulfilling and enjoyable. This means allowing yourself to enjoy some of the things you typically must give up day-to-day. A little cheating if fine and good for the soul, as long as you are progressing towards your goal. Go ahead, have that pie for dessert if it won't throw off your diet too much...a journal is the way to know.

This article covers:
  • The purpose of a journal
  • Ways to track
  • What to record


The purpose of a journal


A journal provides awareness, accountability, and motivation. By tracking daily eating, results of weekly (or daily) weight-ins, exercise, and other factors, you can see what works, what the results are of your effort, and identify what you might need to change. It's also a source or motivation to see that you are getting results (by losing weight, for instance).


Ways to track


There's basically two main options for keeping records: one is to write in a notebook, and the other is to type into a computer or an electronic device. I've tried both.

1. Notebook. It's easy, portable, and effective to make notes on paper. Get a notebook, journal, or diary, grab a pen, put a date on the first page, and start recording. I like freedom to make notes in the margins and highlight details with large text, underlines, or doodles. The major downside is that it's much more difficult to review past days, weeks, and months this way. If you like to write, and enjoy personal expression, this is a great way to go.

2. Computer or electronic device. My preferred journal tool is the computer. It allows for a lot of detail, speeds-up formatting thanks to cut-and-paste, and is great for reviewing past entries. I recommend a do-it-yourself journal. That is, find an app that let's you enter whatever you want on a blank page and then build your own daily or weekly template.

My favorite app is OneNote by Microsoft (pre-installed on Windows 10, and available free for iOS, iPad, iPhone, Android, and on the Web. Choose a version.)

I've also tried Evernote and Google Keep. Both are versatile, available for a variety of devices or on the Web, and full-featured.

With these so-called "virtual notepads," you can organize pages, search, and have back-ups.
This is a page from my journal in OneNote from October, 2016. I record basic daily information, add notes if I want, and organize the journal by week (see the tabs on the right-hand side). Each year I start a new journal.

I've also explored ready-made diet and fitness tracking apps, but I can't recommend any. For one reason or another, I chose to not use any of them. One consistent gripe I have about them is the lack of versatility—one-size-fits-all. I don't count calories, for instance, and that feature in an app only gets in my way.


What to record


1. Date. This is obviously a very important detail, and date is the basis of the journal's organization.


2. Weight. Weight is key factor to track. When trying to lose weight, it's critical to see if progress is being made. I started out getting only a weekly weight, and then I upped that to a daily (or near daily) weigh-in. For me, the more weight records I have, the more I can identify what helps or hinders my progress.

Tip: Record your starting weight and occasionally make note of total weight loss for added motivation, such as, "I've lost 22 pounds so far!"


3. Eating. This is also essential. Regardless of whether the goal is weight loss, health, or physical fitness, diet is the key variable that needs to be noted. In my approach, Healthy Metabolic, I don't track calories, although some people might wish to do that.

Tip: Tracking meals can also be a handy way to note favorite recipes! Why not also add a photo of that awesome dish you cooked-up?


4. Exercise. Regardless of what you do to stay active or increase strength and endurance, keep track of it. This information combined with diet is essential to determining what works!

Tip: Highlight personal bests, or activities you are very proud of. For instance, "Today I PB'ed on the bench press..." etc.


5. Observations. Pepper your journal with your own thoughts, plans, and things you've noticed.


Other information to record:

• Use of medications. This can be very important depending on your personal situation. For those who take supplements, it might helpful to record which ones and how much.

• Alcohol intake. Drinking can affect health and weight-loss results. If you drink, you might wish to make a special note of it.

• How you feel. I started tracking this factor recently on a regular basis. It's interesting and helpful. Could even make it fun with a daily emoji: "Today I feel: 😀 ".

• Progress photos. I've been doing this from the start, and every few weeks I add a photo new selfie. Of course, this is much easier to do if your journal is digital.

• Special events and moments. It's a journal, so why not add additional information that's important to you? It gives the journal another purpose beyond tracking health and fitness.


Good luck on your journey! Leave me a comment and tell me about your journal. Thank you for reading.





When the weight is down, keep it down

You just stepped on the scale and found your weight is down a little. That's great! Now it's time to lock in the lower weight. Avoid the bump-up that sometimes happens, wiping out your success.


As I've mentioned in another article, Weigh-in tips: how to manage the ups and downs, it's not unusual to see numbers on the scale go up and down from day to day, but at the end of a week you want to see a lower result when you are trying to lose weight. So when you see a lower number in the morning, use these tips throughout the day to keep it there (or even lose a little more).

Think, "kick it while it's down." You know how in the movies the bad guy usually get's up again after they're pretty much defeated? We know this going happen, and we yell at the good guy to finish them off! This is like that. Today is a day to get in that extra hit while the weight is down. So use that thinking as you go about your day, do the same things but with a little more effort. Better yet, add an extra measure of effort. It's worth it, that's why you're doing this; soon enough you can step it down again, but today step it up.


1. Eat a lighter dinner. Yes, a healthy breakfast and a nutritious lunch are really important today. Continue doing that. Put in some good fuel to start your day, and eat enough lunch to feel satiated, because that's going to power you through the second half of the day. Make sure your lunch has protein and vegetables. Then at dinner go light. Eat a salad with grilled chicken, or some fish with a side of veggies. Lay off of the carbs, sweet sauce, and extra portions.

2. Drink water. Go for the water, all day, through lunch and dinner, and until bedtime. Not huge amounts, necessarily, but be sure to stay well-hydrated with water, and think of it as a weight-loss aid, because today it is.

3. Cardio time. If you can fit it in your schedule, get some cardio in, or at least go for a brisk walk—just get active at some point. Activity today will keep caloric burn heading in the right direction. Don't compensate by eating more or differently, just add the activity on top your planned eating regimen.

4. Don't snack late. After dinner, stop eating. Just drink water, or perhaps some herbal tea if you find yourself craving flavor. And the next tip can also help curb snacking...

5. Get plenty of sleep. Get your eight hours of sleep, it's really important to overall health and healing. This might mean going to bed early, but keep in mind the goal: locking in the weight loss. It's also part of a good strategy for curbing after-dinner snacking—when you end the night sooner, that ends the opportunity to eat anything more, and the urge to snack usually goes away.

That's it, the weight will stay off!

Speaking of kicking it while it's down, do this three days in a row and you should see some excellent results. If you do this for a few consecutive days every week, the results will continue.

Good luck on your journey, and congratulations on the weight loss. Thank you for reading.





Weight-loss plateaus: how to handle them

I lost 10 pounds in one month, but then nothing for two weeks. It was a "plateau." How long would I be stuck at that weight, and what would it take to kick-start my weight loss again?


Plateaus just happen during weight loss. At least, that's my experience. Unfortunately, it can be very demoralizing to be working hard and apparently be getting nowhere. It took me a few months to realize:
  • Plateaus are normal
  • Although there is no weight being lost, it doesn't mean there is no progress
  • Plateaus can be overcome, and weight loss will continue

This chart shows two of my plateaus over a period of about four months. Notice that weight loss continues strongly after each plateau is broken. The pattern looks a little like stairs.


Plateaus are normal, but what are they?


A plateau, as I'm describing it, is when weight loss apparently stops, according to the results of a weekly weigh-in. If for two weeks or more, a person weighs the about same amount, even though they are working hard at losing weight (following a healthy and nutritious diet approach, like Healthy Metabolic), then they are experiencing a plateau.

If you reach a plateau remember this: you might not have lost weight, but you might be getting healthier anyway!

There are many possible causes for weight-loss plateaus, and I'm not going to try to list them; it's better left to a qualified health or medical professional to provide those insights. But nevertheless, I experienced them on my journey, still lost 50 pounds, and have some helpful information on overcoming them.


When you reach a plateau


So, there it is—the results of your weekly weigh-ins have not change in a couple of weeks. You have not just been on a summer vacation, nor weathered the holiday season (each of which can cause weight to fluctuate due to indulging in off-diet eating or skipping exercise). If you have been doing thing right, more or less, and you reach a plateau remember this: you might have not lost weight, but you might be getting healthier anyway!

Ask yourself if you feel healthier than before. Hopefully you do feel the beneficial results healthy living and eating. Such as having more energy, sleeping well, being physically stronger, or enjoying a better mood throughout the day. Use that as motivation to keep it up and keep your spirits high.

Notice how your clothes fit. Are you more comfortable in those jeans now—slimming-down while staying the same weight? That's possible, too, so use it to take the next step of overcoming the plateau.


Getting past the plateau


Getting past the plateau usually requires making an adjustment, but what kind of adjustment depends on each individual. This is where it gets personal. You will need to consider what you've been doing recently and see if there is something that can be changed:
  • Tightening-up meals so they better aligned to the core principles of your healthy eating
  • Allowing fewer "cheat" meals or drinks
  • Eating out less often, or not at all
  • Exercising more often, or differently
  • Eating less salt
  • Drinking more water
These are just some of the more common adjustments that are also under our control. Others might be out of our control, they include use of certain medications, illness and physical conditions, or other physiological factors. You might wish to consult your physician for advice on those.

Keeping journal is extra useful at this point. In a journal, you not only track weekly weight, what you've eaten, when and how much you've exercise, but you also keep helpful notes about progress and set-backs. By reviewing your records, you will be able to see what you've been doing, so you can determine what adjust. Without a journal, it can be hard to even see the plateau clearly, that is, to see when it started and how long it has been happening.


How long does a plateau last?


How long a plateau lasts depends on how soon you notice it, and how long it takes to come up with an adjustment that works for you. You'll notice it quickly by keeping a weekly weigh-in record; about two weeks for that. Then if you can make an adjustment that works, you would probably see a small change right away—about another week longer. So the answer is about three weeks. Yet, from my own experience, I can say sometimes they last a month.


My longest plateau and what happened afterwards


I experienced several plateaus on my weight-loss journey. Typically they last about two to three weeks. The longest plateau I ran into during my year of weight loss lasted one entire month! I had just lost 10 pounds over the previous two months, and then it stopped. I didn't realize it had stopped until about a week or so had passed. I first increased my exercise and workouts, because that alone helped me get through an earlier plateau, but my weigh-in a week later showed I was still at the same weight. Next, I cut back on cheats and got pretty strict with my diet (including a focus on sodium reduction). That second adjustment finally kick-started weight loss again. I went on to lose 8 pounds in the next three weeks. In fact, I was losing more each week after that than before the plateau.

I had just lost 10 pounds over the previous two months, and then weight loss stopped for an entire month!

After losing those 8 pounds, things slowed down a bit and I only lost 10 pounds over the next 3 months. But even slow weight loss is progress because, looking back, I had lost 35 pounds in 8 months and weight was still trickling away week-by-week. As the saying goes, it's is a marathon, not a sprint.

I eventually lost a total of 45 pounds in one year! An amazing result for me, because I had made it to a very healthy weight, I was looking toned and in shape, and I was into a size 32 pants. Furthermore, in the following few months I lost 5 more pounds (50 pounds, altogether). My BMI at that point was right for my height, build, and age.


Don't lose hope, and don't give up. Plateaus are normal, and they can be managed. Remember, too, that even in the midst of plateau, your body may be healing and getting healthy even if the weight is not coming off, and that's a great thing!


Good luck and I hope this helps you! Please return to my blog for more information and ideas. I'll be posting regularly, and I appreciate your feedback.

Please share this if you found it helpful.




Fitness Day: a way to get back on track

On Saturday, I woke up and realized I've gone a few days without working on my physical fitness, so I promised myself I would do a workout, a run, and some stretching, all in one day. I called it "Fitness Day." It worked, and it was very satisfying.


Over the course of my health and fitness journey there have been times when I've needed to check myself and work a little harder. This is normal; it's normal to lose focus sometimes, and it's normal for life to get in the way of daily and weekly goals.

This time, to get back on track, I decided to work harder than usual in a single day. I gave the day extra meaning by naming it "Fitness Day." Sure that's a little corny, but it made the idea more fun. Laying in bed, I created a mental list of the things I would do before the day is over, and by the time I got up I was energized to get started.


Morning: Yoga and stretching

I made some coffee and had a small cup. Then I put on relaxing music, lit a stick of incense, and rolled out my exercise mat. For the next hour I took my time and did some Yoga.

My brand of Yoga is a mix of the kind of stretches they tell you about in physical rehab and traditional Yoga poses. I'm not yet able to do the more challenging Yoga poses, anyway. I should probably point out that I had spine surgery last year so I'm quite happy to limit myself to the level stretching that feels right, and not push too hard.

I used to avoid stretching, but once I started doing it regularly, I realized it's critical to being healthy and physically fit. It's also great for stress relief.

It's easy to find a list of basic Yoga poses on the web to use as a guide.

Afternoon: workout and a swim

My idea for a run outside morphed into lap swimming at the YMCA—I was already going to be there for my workout, and realized I had not ben swimming in a while. Swimming is a great cardio, too.

Around noon, I hit the gym. I did about an hour of TRX (which is a brand of suspension training), and I included some dumbbell lifting.

Next I went to the pool for laps. I'm not conditioned for swimming right now, so after 20 minutes I was done. I spent another 10 minutes lounging in the spa, relaxing.

Evening: core exercise

By the time evening came around, I had done my stretching, my gym workout, and my cardio. Last thing to do was a little core exercise. I hadn't planned to do core when the day started, but at some point I decided to add it to get the most out of my Fitness Day. It doesn't take long to work out the core muscles, and doing a little core every other day or so for a about 10 or 20 minutes is enough to make a huge difference.


I am grateful that I was able to do all of this on one day—I had the time available and I didn't have other things already planned. Spending a day exercising got me back on track mentally and physically. I then used Sunday for physical recovery. Recovery is an important aspect of staying fit, and not to be overlooked.

If you find life has gotten in the way of a regular, weekly exercise routine, try a Fitness Day of your own. It's one way to get back on track.



Weigh-in tips: how to manage the ups and downs

You get on the scale to weigh-in. Surprise! —It's not what you expected. Whether the weight is too high or suddenly lower, here are some of the factors that might be causing these ups and downs.


When you're in the weight loss phase of a diet, weighing in each week should reveal a steady drop in ounces, maybe a pound, or possibly more. Then when you are at ideal weight, you would expect to be seeing about the same number each time. But the reality is, you are likely to see ups and downs, and the more often you weigh-in the more variance you will see.

In an effort to really understand these dynamics, I started weighing-in every day along my journey. I also tracked my daily eating, exercise, and activities to provide plenty of data. What I found out has helped me plan and set expectations, and I'll like to share it with you.

This chart shows an actual, average week for me. On the first day I weigh exactly the same as on the last day, but in between (from the High to the Low) I experienced a 6-pound weight swing!

Bump-ups


1. WEIGHING-IN AT DIFFERENT TIMES OF THE DAY. First thing in the morning is best for consistent results.

2. EATING A LATE DINNER. Try to eat dinner at a regular time each day depending on schedule. Eating very late, especially if that means eating close to bedtime, can throw-off a morning weigh-in.

3. EATING A LARGE MEAL. The more food in the digestive system, the higher the scale will tip. I have noticed that large dinners seem to affect weigh-ins more than large lunches or breakfasts.

4. SALT. In all of its many forms salt can be hard to avoid, but consuming particularly salty foods and drinks will really mess-up a weigh-in. Salt causes the body the retain water.

5. EATING FOODS THAT SLOW DOWN DIGESTION. If you usually eat according to the Healthy Metabolic approach (low carb, but lots of vegetables and meats) they suddenly switch to a high carb meal such as pizza or a plate of rice, beans, and tortillas, the digestive process slows down, apparently. This can cause higher weigh-ins for about two days until everything clears out.

6. ALCOHOL. Drinking some alcohol in moderation doesn't really affect weigh-ins much, but a lot of drinks will. Especially sweet cocktails or beer. (While alcohol can dehydrate the body, and that should lower the scale, I've never noted a time when drinking a lot of alcohol resulted in a lower weigh-in the next morning.)

7. DRINKING A FIBER SUPPLEMENT. One of my more surprising discoveries was that drinking a fiber supplement, like Metamucil, resulted in a higher weigh-in the next day. It's not particularly unhealthy, it just can have a negative effect on the scale. Um, until it's done working, I suppose.

8. NOT GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP. The body repairs, rejuvenates, and resets overnight. For a good weigh-in, get plenty of sleep.

NOTE: I won't even mention avoiding sugary foods, soft drinks, snacks, and desserts because they aren't part of a typical nutritional plan and are simply detrimental to good results.


Bump-downs


1. DRINKING WATER. Experts say this is true, and I agree: drinking lots of water helps in every way, and it certainly does help the next morning's weigh-in. My data also shows that drinking a lot of water can improve a weigh-in the same day, after it runs through the system is expelled, however.

2. DEHYDRATION. Though not a healthy practice, dehydration does result in a lower weigh-in. Not recommended according to my Healthy Metabolic approach.

3. VIGOROUS EXERCISE. For some of the best overnight weight reducing results, engage in some vigorous exercise. Work up a sweat, use your muscles, increase heart rate and breathing, and get active. Play racquetball, do a HIIT class, go running, go out dancing, or whatever you prefer.

4. A LOT OF EXERCISE. As an alternative to vigorous exercise, it's true that any exercise helps lower weight. Though for a result you can measure on the scale tomorrow, you need to do a lot of it. Such as a 30 minute or longer weight lifting session, or a long walk.

5. EATING LIGHT. Eat a healthy light meal at dinner, such as fish and vegetables, or a dinner salad with grilled chicken breast. It's almost guaranteed to give you a great weigh-in tomorrow morning.

6. SKIPPING A MEAL. This has to be said, even though it's not a good practice. When you skip a meal (perhaps because you're just not hungry) it does help lower the weigh-in results the next day. Presuming, of course, that snacks are not taking the place of a balanced meal.


Example routine for a great weigh-in


• Eat a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Pay particular attention to preparing a light dinner. Don't eat at restaurant or use processed foods—too much salt.

• Drink several glasses of water throughout the day, including in the evening time after dinner.

• Get some exercise, and for best results choose a vigorous, energetic activity.

• Weigh-in first thing in the morning the next day.


Thank you for reading, and I wish you good health and success.



Managing stress: why it's important and some ideas to try

We can make choices about the food we eat, and the exercise we perform, but we can’t really control what stresses we encounter in daily life. Yet, stress has a major influence on health. What we can do about it is to use our minds, actions, and environment to help reduce the power stress has over us. By being mindful and proactive, we can strive to live a low stress lifestyle.



Why is this important on a health and fitness journey? Because the mind-body connection can either help or hinder the success of one's program. In addition, stress can harm us now by making us ill and robbing us of happiness, and later on by shortening our lifespan.

Dr. Diana Schwarzbein, in her book The Schwarzbein Principle, The Truth About Losing Weight, Being Healthy, and Feeling Younger, put it practical terms when she wrote, “Stress stimulates secretion of various growth hormones, including insulin. Immune system function declines under stress. People tend to eat more comfort food (cookies, doughnuts, ice cream) when stressed because stress causes serotonin levels to drop. Rapid decreases in serotonin levels lead to carbohydrate craving and other stimulant craving. Need for alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and tobacco intake goes up under stress. Lifestyle habits deteriorate. People tend to exercise less because the stressful situation is consuming their relaxation time. There is truth in the old axiom, “Stress kills.””

Incense burning with candles in the background

When I started my journey, I cared less about stress and much more about healthy eating and exercise, and that worked fine for about a year. As I got further along, I realized that I needed to address stress in order to keep advancing myself. As it turns out, managing stress has been as rewarding as weight-loss and physical fitness.

DISCLAIMER: I will not attempt to dispense advice about dealing with stress within personal relationships, but if the techniques I provide below are useful in that regard, then I’m very glad.

Here’s some techniques I use to manage stress:

1. LISTEN TO RELAXING MUSIC.
I do this whenever when I can. It’s one of two ways I have of altering my environment to promote a sense of calm (the other way is listed next, burning incense or candles). An online station I enjoy for stress relief is Calm Radio. To each their own, and one person’s sweet music may be quite different than another’s.

2. BURN INCENSE OR CANDLES. Like music, it’s about setting an ambiance of stress relief. I have become somewhat of a connoisseur of incense fragrances, and ultimately my search for the best, most natural ones have lead me to The Mother's Fragrances (which can be purchased online at a very reasonable price from Exotic Incense). Candles are ideal when dim lighting is preferred for an added calming effect.


Playing relaxing music and scenting the air with fragrances helps others around us to relax and unwind as well


3. STRETCH. Needless to say it feels superb to work-out those joints and tight muscles. I strive to do a little stretching every day, but actually it ends up being more like every other day. Yoga and massage are effective, too.

4. WALK, RUN, OR JUST GET ACTIVE. I try to go for a run one or two times per week, not only is it great exercise but it is superb stress relief. Yet, while running takes some planning and preparation, walking can happen almost anytime. I walk every day; not necessarily outside, sometimes just up and down a hallway. Other activities can work just as well. The key is to do these activities with intention—to get stress relief out of exercise.

5. GO WITH THE FLOW. This is powerful, and there are various ways of explaining it based on personal, spiritual, or religious beliefs. It’s faith. Wonderful things can happen when we look for the clues that guide us. In the context of a common and familiar situation, “Don’t worry about where you will park your car when you arrive, a spot will be there, and it is the right spot for you.”



On the road to health, with family along for the ride

It's a fact that making a lifestyle change involving eating is a personal choice that usually impacts others. I'm thinking here of family or friends that share in meals, food shopping, and food preparation. The key to success in motivating others to tolerate this lifestyle change is to highlight the many benefits of getting healthy from good food choices.



The Healthy Metabolic approach is about healing the body and its metabolism, this actually benefits everyone who participates. Weight loss is only one effect of being healthy, and in my experience a lot people don't particularly need that for themselves, or a reluctant to consider a "diet." De-emphasize weight-loss.

Instead think of the ways people around you might personally benefit:

  • Someone athletic could enjoy better performance and fewer injuries
  • If acne is an issue, then consider how a healthy body can lead to a better complexion
  • For chronic pain sufferers, keep in mind that Healthy Metabolic reduces inflammation
  • Those with high blood pressure are certain to see positive results
  • High cholesterol can be lowered (my cholesterol dropped dramatically in just a few months)
  • Mood swings can be reduced 
  • Accelerated metabolic aging can be halted, possibly even rolled back a bit
  • Bone loss, osteoporosis, can be reduced (eating healthy dietary fat is key to keeping bones strong)

Everybody benefits from eating healthy, even if they are reluctant or only a part-time participant. Having said that, you, yourself, should not do this half-heartedly or part-time. Your own success will be a major motivation to those around you.

Thank you for reading, and I wish you and yours good health and success on your own journey.