Category Archives: My Fitness Pal

Increasing Mindfulness by Logging Your Food

When I was actively losing weight, I logged my food every day, every meal, every bite. As I got closer to my goal, I realized I didn’t really need to log anymore, but by then it was a habit…and to be honest I was a little scared to stop, like I would suddenly start putting the weight back on if I did. But the truth is that by the time I hit my goal weight I really understood what foods to eat, and how much, and eating healthy was such an ingrained habit that maintaining without logging has been fairly easy.

Logging was a very important step in my really becoming aware of what I was eating, and the nutrient density and caloric density of certain foods. Because of this, I strongly recommend that anyone trying to form healthier eating habits tries logging their food for at least some amount of time. Logging food includes occasionally weighing or measuring what you are eating, which is great to understand what a serving of different foods actually looks like.

The website, and associated app, I used was MyFitnessPal. It has an enormous database, and the app even has a barcode scanner. There are many other apps out there, use whichever one works best for you.

Again, you don’t need to change what you are eating this week. Just try logging everything before you eat it. It will make you much more aware of what you are eating…hard to eat mindlessly when you have to write it down first. Try it for a day or two, or even for the rest of the week.

ETA: After I posted this, an article was posted on Fooducate–a great app I am talking about in my next post–about The Top Ten Whys and Hows of Keeping a Food Diary. It is by Yoni Freedhoff, MD whose blog Weighty Matters is worth following.

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Healthy Lifestyle Tip #5: Keep a Food Journal

This tip goes hand in hand with the previous one, Think About the Food You Eat. I think we all tend to lie to ourselves a bit about the things we eat in a day. We also may not realize how many calories are in a particular food, or just how many (or few!) calories we should be eating in a day. A food journal is a great way to hold yourself accountable. I use MyFitnessPal, both the website and the iPhone app, to keep my food journal. There are many other food journal apps and websites, and of course you could just use a pen and paper.

You can just keep a journal for a short time until you figure out where your problem points are, and to get a better understanding of the calories in different kinds of food. Or you could log consistently over a long period if you need it to keep yourself on track. Do whatever works best for you, and that may change over time.

I have been keeping a food journal on and off for over a year. I stopped logging for a few months in March when I felt like I had a really good grasp of how to continue losing without it, then started logging again after a busy May when I hadn’t lost any weight and only had a few pounds left to reach 100 pounds lost. I managed to drop the last few pounds pretty quickly once I started logging again. Now that I am considering going into maintenance, I am taking a break from logging again. If I find the weight is going back on at any point, I know I can start logging again to figure out what I am doing wrong. Instead of seeming like a burden to me, I find keeping a food journal (even if it is only occasionally now) gives me confidence in my continued success.

Losing Without Logging

I’ve just finished my first week of eating without keeping a daily food log. With the exception of time off for vacation here and there, I have been keeping a daily food log since May of last year. For the last month or so, I’ve been thinking that I may actually have a handle on this eating thing, and could keep going without a food log. I am now 16 pounds from my initial goal (!!!) so I want to see how I do at judging my food intake on my own.

The first week went great, I still lost a little over a pound, and I have to say that it was very nice to just eat in a natural way without writing it all down. After all this time logging, I have a pretty good idea of what quantities of protein and carbs I should be eating, and now I don’t feel the need to think about every single vegetable I am eating, I’m pretty much going full gusto with the veggies. Still limiting my fruit to 2 or 3 servings per day, since they are higher in calories. I’m still weighing high calorie foods some of the time, like nuts and dairy, just to make sure my portion sizes aren’t creeping up. However, I think my move towards eating close to zero processed foods has simplified things quite a bit for me. It is much harder to overeat when what you are eating is mostly nutrient dense, but calorically light, veggies.

I still recommend to anyone trying to lose weight that you start out logging, and do it until the way you are eating becomes second nature. Really figure out what works for you, and do it for a long time. If at any point I stop losing weight, or feel like my eating is no longer in control, I know I can always go back to logging. It’s a relief to think I might not need to, as when I started I thought I might have to log forever in order to maintain my weight loss. It is amazing to feel, for the first time in my life, that I have control of my weight.

Keeping a Food Journal

I was reading my old posts, and was reminded that when I first started, I had a rather blasé attitude towards keeping a food journal. I think later posts have made it pretty clear how valuable I feel keeping a food journal can be, but just in case I wanted to reiterate it now. I have had a lot of people come up to me asking about how I have been so successful, and the first thing I always do is suggest that they get MyFitnessPal, and start logging what they eat. Not only does it make you accountable for all those little snacks you might be sneaking in the kitchen as you are cooking dinner (or was that just me?), but you might be surprised how many calories are in something you are about to eat. For example, almonds are very very good for you, however, if you are logging them you will notice that a serving, which is about 24 almonds, has 163 calories.

Logging my food has made me more aware of everything that I eat, and has led me to much more mindful snacking. I’ll still have the almonds, though usually in the form of almond butter with an apple (yum!), however, I make sure that I have the calories to spare that day. Even when they are healthy calories, they can still lead to extra pounds if you have too many of them.

So, if you are trying to lose a lot of weight, or even a little, I would recommend logging your food, at least for a while. Even if you know what you are doing wrong (snacking in the evening in front of the TV? I did that too…) if you have to write it down, it might convince you not to do it anymore. Or at least to take a single serving of that snack in a bowl instead of grabbing the whole bag.

60 Pounds!

I am now down 60 pounds from when I started, 45 more pounds to go. 45 sounds infinitely better than 105! It actually doesn’t sound hard at all, although I still fear the dreaded plateau as my goal gets closer. I’m not sure if a plateau is an inevitable thing, or if I can avoid it if I keep going the way I have been. Guess I’ll find out.

I’ve got my exercise schedule pretty well set now. I find myself going to the Y many days a week, and I’m really enjoying the group exercise classes. I never thought that was something I’d enjoy, but Zumba is so much fun with a group, and I enjoy how the body sculpting classes really push me to my limits. I don’t enjoy the weight machines as much, but I’m only doing those once per week.

When I started this journey, I was only occasionally tracking my food intake. I quickly found that it worked much better if I consistently tracked my food nearly every day–only giving myself the occasional meal off from tracking (like when I went to this fabulous British Tea last week). I introduced a friend of mine to MyFitnessPal, and he is amazed at how easy it is to lose weight once you are tracking what you are eating. I totally agree. It is only a matter of realizing how many calories are in the things you are eating, and what the proper portions are, and then the weight comes off easily. You don’t have to exercise as much as I am, I have just found myself enjoying the exercise, and how it makes me feel. You don’t have to lose weight as fast as I have been, losing any weight can help your health. I encourage anyone who is on the fence about getting healthier to just start tracking what you are eating. You might find some simple changes can make a huge difference.

How To Get Started

I get the question all the time, what started all this, how did you get started? So, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and whether I have advice to give to others on how to start living a healthier lifestyle themselves. I think I do, but take all of this advice how it is offered, one person’s opinion.

1) Find your motivation – I think the first thing you have to do is think about your motivation. I had been thinking I should lose weight for years. I mean, of course I was, it’s not like I didn’t know I was overweight. I would even start an exercise routine, like swimming at the gym, but if something came up and I couldn’t get to the gym for a few days, or I got a cold, I would give up. I think the catalyst for me this time was some heart palpitations I had back in January. They never found anything wrong, but it got me really thinking about my health and just how sedentary I was, and how bad that was for me. Losing weight alone would help my heart, but I realized that what I really needed was to get moving. It wasn’t until about 2 months after I started exercising when I started seriously keeping track of my food intake. I think for me this was key. If your motivation is simply to lose weight, or get “thin”, or look good in your clothes, that could be a very distant goal. Depending on how much weight you need to lose, it could take a year or even more to get to that goal. If your goal is to feel more fit, to have more energy, you can accomplish that pretty fast by figuring out how to fit more exercise into your day. Just a bit of exercise most days of the week will have you feeling better and better within days, long before the weight is off. Plus, it is an ongoing motivation as you can continue to improve your strength and endurance. I enjoy exercise now because I can consistently surprise myself in how much I can do. It is so amazing to run around at the park with the kids and not end up winded. To hike up a hill with my fit friends, take the lead, and have them all huffing and puffing. There are so many rewards to fitness all along the way, even before you get to your goal weight. Cliche I know, but the hardest part is starting. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Start with a 1/2 hour walk 3 times a week. Build up from there.

2) Find an exercise you really like – I’d seen and heard about Zumba for years, but was scared about going into a class looking like I did. So, I bought an Xbox 360 with Kinect, and Zumba Fitness Rush. I started at the easiest setting, and discovered it was fun. I slowly built up to doing it about 3 times a week at the easiest setting until I was doing it 6 times a week at a moderate setting. That’s when I started branching out into other forms of exercise to see which ones I enjoyed. Try lots of different exercises. Some you will love; I now have Zumba, hiking with friends, and body sculpting classes, all of which I really enjoy. Some you will not enjoy; I gave jogging a good effort for a couple of months, even completing the Couch to 5K program, but finally decided it wasn’t the best choice for me. My clue was that I would find myself coming up with all these excuses about why I shouldn’t be doing it that day. There are so many different ways to get your exercise, many of which don’t need a gym: dance classes like Zumba, hip hop, tap, etc. (live classes or video), hiking, walking, jogging, swimming, kettlebell, kick-boxing, bicycling, playing sports, the list goes on and on. There is no one right way to get your exercise. Just try a bunch of things and find what you think is fun. It can be fun even if it is difficult–like body sculpting classes for me right now–and it will get easier the more you do it. Think about getting a pedometer, like the fitbit. You’ll be amazed at how much motivation you have to park farther from the store, or walk to a friend’s house instead of driving, just to get in your 10,000 steps for that day.

3) Change your eating habits – Don’t try a fad diet. Change your eating habits in such a way that you don’t feel deprived, or like you are missing out. Do what works for you. If you don’t already love them, develop a love of vegetables. Eat lots of different vegetables, cooked in lots of different ways. Eat from smaller plates. Make your food delicious, and take the time to enjoy every bite of it. If it can work for you, keep a log of your food–I use MyFitnessPal, but there are lots of different apps out there–and weigh and measure all your food, at least for awhile. You might be surprised how large the portions are that you’ve been eating. Find healthy substitutes for the unhealthy things you are currently eating. If you love chips and dip (which I do), try finding a substitute that can satisfy the same cravings. I came up with cucumber chips dipped in greek yogurt and green salsa. Same salty, crunchy, creamy sensations as potato chips and dip. My typical dessert now is some fruit and a small piece of dark chocolate. I savor every little bite of that dark chocolate. Consider eating smaller meals, and having snacks in between. Come up with snacks that taste good to you. I am never ever hungry, and if I am I eat. I eat a smaller breakfast and lunch with snacks between, and then a slightly bigger dinner. This is what works for me. Find what works for you.

4) Don’t make yourself crazy listening to advice – Yes, I know, funny thing to say when I’m giving advice. But as I wrote in a previous post, message boards and internet advice can make you crazy. For example, on MyFitnessPal there is a large contingent of people who say to keep track of how many calories you burn when you exercise, and always eat all of those calories back or you will not lose weight because you will slow down your metabolism. Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t anything to this idea, I think if someone seriously starves themselves that could happen. But I eat within a consistent range of calories–between 1300 and 1500 per day–and it has worked very well for me for months. My calories burned are logged on the MyFitnessPal site through my fitbit, however I don’t really pay much attention to that. Again, I eat when I’m hungry. If I’m hungrier one day, well I figure that means I should be eating more. This goes back to weighing and measuring portions, though. If I want to eat some nuts, which are wonderfully healthy, I need to weigh them. A serving of nuts is really a very small portion, but it satisfies for a long time. It seems like the end result of my change in lifestyle should be the ability to listen to my body and give it what it needs to be healthy. I also read that you couldn’t successfully get fit without strength training. That may be true, but I didn’t do any strength training for the first 4 months, simply because I didn’t want to. I was still feeling much more fit, and losing weight consistently. I started doing strength training because I finally really wanted to do it. Now I really enjoy the feeling of tired muscles, and look forward to my strength training sessions. However, it was important for me to wait until I was ready, and not let the fact that I didn’t want to do it keep me from making other positive changes.

5) Make small changes, one at a time  I have made gradual changes, and I’ve lived with each one for awhile before adding anything new. It started with Zumba, then using smaller plates, then eating a lot more vegetables, then logging my food, then adding more exercise… Each thing I did for awhile, and it made a positive impact. Don’t try to add vigorous exercise and logging all your food all at once. It will feel too overwhelming. Start with easy exercise, gradually increasing intensity. Start with small changes to how you are eating. Take it slow, because:

6) Realize that this is not temporary, it is forever – Anything you do, any change you make to your routine, make sure it is something you can keep doing for the rest of your life. This is not a temporary change, because your motivation is not just to lose weight, it is to be a healthier person. Healthier people exercise, and they eat a moderate amount each day. Sure, they splurge now and then, but day to day they are conscious of how much they are eating. Once you realize that you will find time for exercise forever, that there is no real finish line to your healthier eating, it can be very freeing (I suppose it can also be depressing, but I prefer to be an optimist). Getting to my goal weight will be terrific, but the journey doesn’t end there. At that point I will need to figure out the right level of exercise and calories to maintain my weight for the rest of my life. There are statistics out there that a majority of people who lose weight end up gaining it right back. I think that has all got to be about attitude. If your goal is to lose the weight, and then you think you are done when you get there, it seems pretty obvious that you will gain it back. If your goal is to be a healthier person who exercises and eats healthy food in appropriate quantities, then that will keep you fit for the rest of your life.

So, the overall theme of all of this advice? Do what works for you. Figure out what that is. There is no easy way to lose weight–from what I’ve heard about weight loss surgery, that seems a lot harder than what I am doing. However, it is worth it in the way you will feel about yourself. Not because you fit into society’s idea of what your body is supposed to look like, but because you will feel so much healthier, and have so much more energy. Isn’t that worth working for?

And…I’m Back to Blogging!

I’m not going to go into a long reason why I wasn’t blogging…I went on vacation so I stopped, and never started again. That’s pretty much it. The good news is, I haven’t strayed from my new fitness and eating routines! I am now 40 pounds down, and feeling great. I am still using Zumba, but not as often. I am doing Couch to 5K three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and I’m currently on Week 8. I usually am doing Zumba the other 4 days of the week, although on Tuesday this week I did a Kettlebell DVD and a shorter Zumba class. If you haven’t seen Kettlebell, I suggest you do a search for it on YouTube. It is strength training and cardio combined, I really like it.

Today I took a hike with a friend of mine. It was so nice to be social and get exercise at the same time. I bought a Fitbit during the time away from the blog, it is a sort of pedometer that syncs up online, and it is great for keeping track of how much exercise I am getting when I do things like walks, without needing to wear my heart rate monitor. It is integrated with My Fitness Pal, so it shows up as calories burned in my food journal.

I am going to try to get into regular blogging again, it really is helpful for motivation, and to keep my mind on the path ahead.