I just got a training program from a bodybuilder whose approach I like, and one of her most recent posts in the private Facebook group was simply:
(Not meaning track your bowel movements, that can be important but not for the purposes discussed here!))
I believe the first step in any body betterment program, whether it be for weight loss or to prepare for bodybuilding or athletic competition, is to track your nutrition.
Does that mean that I think nutrition trumps training? Not at all. I think they work synergistically, the best improvement is made when both are carefully considered and then adhered to. A marathoner with an excellent training program will not run his or her best if nutrition is subpar, just as a cyclist will not perform well if nutrition is on point but training is lacking. However, for those who just need to take that first step (which is AWESOME!), perhaps for either weight loss or improved body competition, I think tracking food intake and habits is the key to getting started and sticking with it.
If it’s so easy, why don’t people just do it? People have shared the following with me: “I stare at screens all day, the last thing I want to do in my free time is do more WORK.” “Tracking is complicated, and just figuring out calories is hard enough, but macros too? Gaaaaaaah!”
Enter: My Fitness Pal. No, the app makers aren’t paying me to advertise or anything (PS it’s a FREE APP and there is a website too). I use it myself, and it is great ESPECIALLY when I am in contest prep mode and I need very specific macros.
Why it’s awesome:
1- You just start typing the name of the food, and it pulls options from a vast database, with calories AND macros. Love.
2- You can customize it to your own calorie needs and macro percentages. Love.
3- YOU CAN SCAN A BARCODE. Obviously this is a favorite feature of mine! Love.
4- It remembers popular food choices for you. I am known to eat like a little kid. i.e. the same thing for a few weeks (I still include variety, but I may go on an avocado toast kick for a while. A long while 😉 ). Those are remembered too, so you start typing it in and it pulls those up first. Love.
5- You don’t have to calculate totals or overall macronutrient percentages. It does that for you. Love.
So what’s the benefit of tracking anyway?
First, you see where your numbers really are. Are you eating too many calories, or too few? For many women, the real issue is too few calories (all those “1200 calorie a day” diets? Not if you’re over 5’5 and you move during the day!). Are you eating too many carbohydrates and not enough protein? Are you eating too many fats and not enough carbohydrates?
Second, it makes you more aware of what you’re eating. Donuts are not evil, but it’s not ideal to eat one or two every day for breakfast. Every once in a while? As long as it’s delicious! It also helps you figure out what your body might be sensitive to. I figured out that my body does not do well with corn or beans. They’re great foods and have many benefits, my body simply does better if I only have them every once in a while. You will find what you thrive on and what may be better to limit (or you may be one of the lucky ones who has no issues with anything)! The key is getting to know and listen to your own body, not some “miracle diet” or other ideology. Our bodies are smarter than they are often given credit for.
Third, and this is one of the more nuanced but perhaps most important thing, at least in my opinion. The act of tracking can reveal your relationship to food. Do you fixate on the numbers or get stressed if you have 1801 kCal instead of 1800? Do you get frustrated if your macros at the end of the day aren’t just right, or do you see it as “Sweet, I got within a couple percentage points for each one!”? Do you feel ashamed to enter in a particular food choice, or do you feel forgiving and accepting about it? It’s important to be aware not just what you’re taking in, but your attitude about it. Yes, food is fuel, but it’s fun too! THERE IS A REASON DELICIOUS THINGS ARE DELICIOUS! Food both serves a purpose and is meant to be enjoyed at the same time.
Finally, once you get started, it gets easy. It becomes habit. And you will find that those little adjustments, over time, have led to a major adjustment accompanied by improvement!