Keeping a journal is essential to success. We hear this a lot, and it's absolutely true. In my opinion, the most important take-away from keeping records of eating, weigh-ins, and other factors, is this: it 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 requires 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.
After about a year and half into my journey, a friend asked me why I had not started to backslide. I told them learned how to live a sustainable healthy lifestyle.
People often waffle up and down in weight and fitness. Very often the trend is to gain back some pounds lost during a diet, lose muscle tone, or both. That doesn't need to happen. To avoid it, you have to know how much cheating your body can endure and still be on track. The bottom line is: a little cheating if fine (and goof for the soul), as long as your are progressing towards your goal. A journal is the way to find out.
Okay, end of my philosophy discussion, now on to conventional wisdom and techniques.
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 other 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 other 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 all of 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 a an app just 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.