As of November 9, 2020, I have been tracking my food for 365 days. “Why”, you may wonder? “So what”, you may be thinking. “What does tracking your food even mean?”. I had all of these questions too, before I began. Today’s blog is going to answer those questions and more.
I am no stranger to monitoring my food intake, keeping a diary of what I eat or even tracking my macros. Maybe you have tried one or two of these, as well. I have done all of those things off and on throughout the years for a variety of reasons. I would like to mention that those reasons are mine and may not necessarily be ones that you would consider. That’s ok,from my perspective because each one of us have our own journey, our own path. I am simply sharing for those who may be interested in learning more. These are things that I found helpful and things I didn’t, over the last year.
Tracking your macronutrient (protein, carbohydrate and fat) intake can be done for many different reasons. As mentioned, I have tracked my macros before and seen great success in losing body fat while gaining lean muscle mass. I told myself that if I ever “tracked” again, there were going to be some changes in my approach. Last year, as I ended my breastfeeding journey with Sophia, I found that my body was carrying a bit more fat than I wanted to maintain. I also felt ready to get back into fitness more, and remembered how well tracking my macros went the last time in relation to my physical performance in the gym. That memory was quickly followed by recalling how taxing it was on me mentally and emotionally. I remember being extremely strict and not allowing myself much, if any, wiggle room in terms of my food intake. After giving it much thought, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to get clearer about what my actual goals were: to lose weight, gain lean muscle mass, reestablish healthy eating habits (I let that go a bit too much for my liking) and establish boundaries around things like how often I stepped on the scale, what my approach would be to eating out, and allowing myself flexibility versus eating a bunch of garbage. I felt confident that with some help, I could do just that. I reached out to my previous nutrition coach with Working Against Gravity (you can learn more about them here) and shared my goals and boundaries with her.
And so, my tracking macros journey began…again. I wasn’t really sure how long I would track this time but I knew that it wasn’t my intention for it to be forever. Here I am a year later, and there are a few takeaways I want to share (all of which are my opinion), some of which are not new but have been reinforced:
-Keeping track of (to include weighing/measuring) what you eat, no matter what your goal is, can be extremely helpful. You can learn so much about your eating patterns, portion sizes, food preferences, and more by doing so. Every time I have tracked my food, I learned more about nutrition and what works best for me.
-Weighing and measuring your food can feel daunting and time consuming at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really quick and simple.
-You can’t go wrong with eating whole and real foods. Things like (but not limited to) fruits, vegetables and meats that are unprocessed (or very minimally).
-Small, consistent changes lead to big results.
-There is no need to eliminate or restrict ourselves from any specific food item in order to lose weight…it’s about portion control!
-The scale is only one tool in measuring progress.
-Being healthy is not about the number on the scale.
-Carbs are fuel and should not be restricted (other than by your doctor due to a medical reason).
-There is a big difference between fruits and vegetables, which are carbs, and processed, sugary foods which are also carbs.
-One bad meal does not make a difference in the grand scheme of things.
-Restricting your calories for long periods of time is unhealthy and unnecessary.
Those are my biggest takeaways. I am a firm believer in all of them now, more than ever. I should also mention that working with a coach who is trained and knowledgeable in all things nutrition is key, but who is also able to meet you where you are, while understanding where you want to go. For me, the way, and what I eat is so much more than how I look (although admittedly that is part of it). It is about things like having the energy to do everything I want to do each day, feeling good, being able to perform well in the gym (lift heavy things!), learning about how different foods affect me and understanding what ingredients are in the things I consume. It all comes back to what my actual goals are. I want to eat to support all of that, while allowing myself the flexibility to eat a few pieces of candy on Halloween or enjoy some pie on Thanksgiving.
This leads me into the challenges I face with tracking my food. As I mentioned previously, in past experiences I was very strict and did not allow for wiggle room. I can imagine in some cases, in order to support performance or even to reach personal goals, that may be necessary (for competitive athletes or when preparing for a specific event). But for me, in this chapter of my life, that is not the case. Recognizing that and setting the appropriate boundaries from the beginning was very helpful for me. In order to live my life in alignment with my core values, which I am very passionate about, this was necessary for me. One of my values is courage. Having the courage to do what works best for me, and not what works best for others, is part of that. It feels really good to be able to say that I am living MY healthy life, in a way that best serves ME. I do not feel restricted or like I am fueling my body in a way that is unsustainable for the long term. Another one of my core values is health.
Living my life in alignment with that goes so much deeper than my physical health. It includes all of me – my mind, body and soul.
So what’s next now that I have tracked my food intake for a year? I am giving myself permission to explore some modifications I would like to make. I plan to start easing away from tracking my food, because like I mentioned, it was never my intent to do so forever. But, I love that I can go back to it anytime I feel called to do so. Maybe I’ll gain a few extra pounds over the holidays. Or maybe I’ll decide to sign up for a CrossFit competition after COVID. Who knows! The options are endless, but I am happy to share that I feel as though I have a firm handle on how I currently fuel my body. I have been consistent for a solid year and am ready to change things up a bit. And just to clarify…for me that does not mean I intend to eat any differently. It simply means I won’t be entering the data into an app each day. Maybe I’ll do it every other day. Maybe not at all for weeks. And I think my favorite part about it is that I am giving myself the room to discover what works best for me and supports my goals, as I evolve and grow in life and in health.
What questions do you have about tracking macros, logging food or any details about my journey? I’m happy to share more, but am pausing for now because this has gotten a bit longer than intended. But I also know that I am not the only one on a journey like this one. If you’re interested in keeping the conversation going, please feel free to reach out to me via Facebook or Instagram at Coach Jennifer Ballou or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org