I had a boss tell me once that “what get measured gets fixed.”
What he meant was that when things weren’t going as expected you had to take stock of the situation. He believed, and I wholeheartedly agree, that in order to affect change, in order to right the ship, to fix things, you first have to measure what is happening now. It is only when you measure the current state that you can determine what the real issues are. Once you know what the issues are, you can then and only then begin to build a plan to fix the issues.
I’ve had many folks ask me “what should I do to start eating healthier?”
My response, “Let’s figure out what you are eating now and then figure out the small changes you can begin to make that will start your journey.” Eating better, getting fit, finding balance and leading a healthier lifestyle is a process. Most of us don’t go cold turkey from our old habits and just start eating kale, quinoa, and lean organic protein for every meal. The reality of getting healthier is that it is a process. You will make small changes that last. Eventually you will add on to those first changes with more changes until you reach a point where you are truly eating healthy. Slow, methodical changes that you can live with are the keys to lasting health and fitness. But before you can start making methodical changes, you must first know where you are so that you can determine what you are willing and need to change.
On of the greatest tools that I have found is My Fitness Pal. There are many other options out there like Spark People , but I’ve found that My Fitness Pal is the easiest to use and has an awesome free App that has one of the most complete food databases.
Having found myself on the journey from unhealthy to fit, as I began measuring where I was, I also realized that there were some key mistakes that I made along the way that slowed my progress. Having a cool App on your phone to track your food and exercise activities won’t make you fit all by itself. In fact, if you fall into some of the traps I list below, you could end up fooling yourself and actually contributing to the difficulty of your journey.
Here are some of the key pitfalls to watch out for as you begin keeping track of where you are.
- Overestimating your activity level
When setting up your My Fitness Pal account, you can select (and edit at anytime) your activity level. Your activity level along with your weekly weight loss goals will determine your recommend calorie intake – basically how much food you can eat. Sometimes we don’t want to admit to ourselves that we are not as active as we think we are. Sometimes we don’t recognize how inactive we are compared to the “average”. Just to give you an idea, I am a triathlete and I exercise 15 – 25 hours per week depending on where I am in my training schedule. I compete in 4 – 6 triathlons throughout the spring and summer months. I compete in half Ironman distance triathlons. During my normal work week, I have a desk job. I am able to get up and move around and often walk around briskly to see folks throughout my office building. My activity level is set on “Lightly Active.” For my age (43) and weight (136 lbs.) my daily calorie target is 1550 calories. For most of you, “Sedentary” or “Lightly Active” will be the proper setting.
- Underestimating how much you are eating
Beginning to read labels, recognize what a portion is and what the recommend serving size is are all keys to getting the most out of your calorie tracker. If you pour a bowl of cereal and call that a serving size, then you will woefully be underestimating your calorie intake. A typical serving size of cereal is 1/2 cup to 1 cup depending on the brand and cereal. I’m not sure about you, but the first time I actually measure a proper serving of the cereal I was eating, I was completely shocked and then deflated. 1/2 cup to 1 cup of cereal is not very much – especially if you have a large bowls (as is typical). If you are underestimating how much you are eating, then you will not see the results that you are wanting to see.
- Overestimating the amount of effort / calories you are burning during your exercise
Another pitfall in beginning to track your food and exercise is overestimating your calories burned during exercising. My Fitness Pal does have fairly accurate exercise caloric counts. With some of the exercises, you can choose your effort level. For example, aerobics is a category that has several different levels of effort (light, moderate, vigorous). If this is your first time starting out exercising and you find the exercise difficult, you may be tempted to select vigorous. However, I would caution you that this may overestimate how many calories you have burned. Vigorous aerobics would be a high intensity for someone who is fit. Most likely, if you are just getting started, your effort level (from a calorie tracking perspective) will be light or moderate. Don’t be discouraged. Remember, measuring where we are is key to being able to affect change. Be honest and accurate in what you are recording. In the long run, accurate recording will pay off.