I’m especially excited about today’s topic because I know if I didn’t follow the steps I’m going to outline for you here I NEVER would have gotten the awesome results I did the first time I did P90X.
In fact, without a doubt it was my secret weapon for success!
So what’s the BIG secret?
One month prior to starting P90X I decided to take control of my eating habits and started tracking my nutrition daily. What an eye opening experience that was!
A lot of people think that keeping a record of everything you eat during the course of the day can be a tedious process. Well, it is. Especially during the first couple of weeks.
However, there are many tools that will make the process a lot easier and even a little fun! I found that after a while I almost became somewhat addicted to the whole process and it almost became a game for me to see if I could hit my numbers.
Now, I’m not telling you to start your own daily nutrition journal just because I personally think it’s fun. I’m telling you this because A RECENT STUDY FOUND THAT KEEPING A FOOD DIARY CAN DOUBLE A PERSON’S WEIGHT LOSS. Wow!
I know it’s only ONE study, but I think it’s pretty significant because it reinforces the idea that the more you pay attention to what you’re doing, the easier it is to make changes and get the results you want.
Jack Hollis PhD, a researcher at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregan says, “The more food records people kept, the more weight they lost. And those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories.”
Also, you might want to know that about 70% of your body composition is determined by what you eat. So you can workout until the cows come home but you won’t get nearly the same results if you don’t keep your nutrition habits in check.
If you’re not making any progress, this lack of attention to detail might be the only thing holding you back. Do you really want to take that chance?
A long time ago I used to be one of those people who thought that counting calories was a waste of time. I mean, as long as you’re eating healthy and don’t go too crazy with your portion sizes that should be good enough, right?
Well, guesstimating your calories or eyeballing portions is fine if you’re getting good results. But if you’re not, it’s time to get serious and start counting. Those people who claim that meticulous calorie counting is not practical are often the same people who complain that they don’t seem to be making any progress despite trying “everything.”
“I feel that number crunching is a very important part of learning about nutrition. You will never be able to build an exact diet, one that really works, and one that is built especially for you without knowing how to count calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat.” Chris Aceto, author of Everything You Need to Know About Fat Loss
Don’t worry, you won’t have to do this for the rest of your life. It’s more about the process of learning than anything else. The longer you keep a food journal the better habits you develop over time. Eventually you’ll become more accurate at “guessing” your numbers and keeping a detailed journal will no longer be necessary. However, as soon as you find yourself heading in the wrong direction guess what the first thing is you should do? 🙂
Again, it all goes back to our previous lesson on establishing your baseline. If you don’t know where you are now, how you can make a plan to get to where you want to go? Otherwise you’re just a dreamer or a “hoper.” I can tell you that six-pack abs never happen on accident. Simply dreaming or hoping for change isn’t going to help you reach your goals. Taking action will.
So, you really need to make a decision now on what you’re going to do. You can follow the schedule for your workout program to the letter, sweat your butt off and hope for the best when it comes to your daily eating habits. Or, you can double your chances of success by tracking your nutrition.
The choice is yours!
If you’re ready, here’s the steps I recommend you follow to get started:
1. Establish Your Baseline and Calorie Goals
It’s a good idea to figure out how many calories you eat daily even before you start your workout program. However, if you’ve already started a fitness program that’s OK. Knowing your baseline just makes it easier to figure out how much of a calorie deficit you need to create (assuming your goal is to lose weight) in order to reach your goals.
There are several tools you can use to establish your daily calorie goals. Keep in mind that all these tools and equations are estimates and will give you a range of numbers to work with. The only way to know for sure what’s going to work is try something for a week or two and then track your results.
I wrote a detailed post that explains how to establish a starting point for calories. You should also reference the nutrition guide that comes with your workout program for additional information, including what proportions of protein, carbs, and fat you should be eating. However, for now I recommend focusing on your calories because in the early stages of your health and fitness journey the amount of calories you consume is the most important.
You can read the following link for more information on calories (it was written specifically for those doing P90X but the guidelines can be applied to any workout program) so go there and then come back to this page: How Many Calories Should I Eat During P90X?
2. Select a Tool and Start Tracking!
There are numerous tools and mobile apps you can use to track your nutrition goals. The one I prefer to use is MyDailyPlate which is a feature of the popular LIVESTRONG website.
A lot of people like to use MyFitnessPal but for some reason I like MyDailyPlate a little bit better although they are both very easy to use.
Both websites are totally free and allow you to keep an online nutrition journal and track your goals. The reason I like MyDailyPlate better is because I found that their database tends be more accurate than the foods listed on MyFitnessPal. It doesn’t really make sense to track your nutrition if the information isn’t correct!
The first couple weeks of tracking your nutrition are going to be the most tedious. That’s because everytime you search for a new food item in the database you have to make sure that the information they have listed is correct. You can do that by comparing what they have listed with the nutritional label or referring to the USDA National Nutrient Database.
NOTE: even though a food item is listed as VERIFIED you should still verify the information yourself to make sure it’s correct because food manufacturers change things all the time.
You will only have to verify items the first time you add them to your account. After that, once you start typing in the search box the item you selected previously will come up first. You can even create customized recipes and meals for foods you eat often which can save a lot of time. Like I said, the first couple of weeks will require a time investment, but it’s definitely worth it!
Also, be sure to measure your portions carefully with measuring cups and/or a food scale. The food scale I have is made by OXO and I love it! Again, you don’t have to measure portions for the rest of your life. And don’t forget to track what you drink (which should be mostly water anyway) in addition to food!
Both websites have a HUGE database of foods listed. They even have food from many restaurants and recipes from popular books. You can try both websites and see which one you like better. Both have apps you can use on your smart phone which makes life a little easier.
When I first got started I just kept a piece of paper in my pocket and everytime I ate something I would write it down. Then when I got home from work I would sit down at the computer and enter it into the website. Eventually I got to the point where I was planning each day in advance so that way I knew exactly what I was going to eat the next day so I hit my target. It feels very liberating, because it takes all the guesswork out of the equation! You should try it. 🙂
Nutrition Tracking is a Discipline that Pays off BIG Time
Keeping a daily food journal will require a lot of work and discipline in the beginning, but once you do it for a week or two there’s really nothing to it. There simply isn’t anything more valuable than knowing exactly what you’re putting into your body each day and comparing that to your results and body measurements every week.
If you don’t become familiar with the calorie content of your daily food choices and keep a detailed nutrition journal during your entire workout program, then you’re just not serious about your goals–YOU’RE GUESSING!
And even more powerful than keeping a nutrition journal is sharing it with another person. In the next lesson we’ll learn why accountability plays such an important role in reaching your health and fitness goals.