The Real Reason to Keep a Food and Fitness Journal
I still have my journals from high school. I didnâ€™t keep much from growing up, but I tried to save much of my writing. In my teens I was a poet. Or at least I thought I was.
My first publication was a piece of poetry I wrote while reading the Odyssey. I recanted how Penelope must have felt when Odysseus returned home to Ithaca. All the mixed emotions, the joy for his return, yet that wrenching agony inside she must have felt because she already taught herself to let go.
Sappy, I know. But the editors of that lit mag liked it. I was 14. Who doesnâ€™t love a14-year oldâ€™s sappy poem about an epic poem? Okay, now I just feel pathetic for admitting this whole thing. Forget it every happened.
As I got older, I realized I wasnâ€™t that great at poetry. Itâ€™s good to be honest with yourself. In more recent years I also realized I suck at fiction writing. All of the fiction Iâ€™ve sent for publication got a big red X of denial (okay, they donâ€™t really take the time to do that. They just throw it out).
Other than that first poem, my publications have all been nonfiction. Personal essays mostly. Personal essays have such a raw appeal. There you stand with a shovel, digging into the earthen soil of your mind to excavate fragments of your past.
Itâ€™s not as large of a heroic act as fiction. Fiction requires you grab jagged edges of your life and mold them into new characters with dynamic plots that are still believable. Thatâ€™s where I always went wrong. My plots got out of hand and my characters turns into cartoonish images of potentially real people.
It just gets ugly.
This drawn out lede is to introduce the purpose of food and fitness journaling. These documents you keep of your workouts and daily eating habits are less of a tracking mechanism and more of a means to pull out that raw honesty we often neglect to show ourselves.
In other words, it should be more than just a means of tracking how much you lift, how far you run, or how much protein you take in every day.
Use this journal to tap into the emotional side of your journey as well. And be fu**ing honest with yourself!
Phew, that felt good to say.
I think for the most part we all get this whole journaling thing wrong. I know I used to. Itâ€™s not a control mechanism. Itâ€™s shouldnâ€™t be used as a tool to harvest that deep obsessive-compulsive disorder youâ€™ve been nurturing for years.
When it becomes that, just a series of letters and numbers that read like a menu or nutrition label, or the pages of a workout book, then itâ€™s all fiction.
What is the purpose in that? In tracking numbers and exercises? How will you use this information in the future?
Will you sit down with your grandkids 30 years from now and say, â€œAnd on this date in 2012, Grandma pulled a 245-pound deadlift for the first time. It was a good day.â€
Nobody does that, and if you do, God help you grandkids.
You need to learn to journal with purpose. Just let it all out.
I read so many emails from frustrated women who wondering why things canâ€™t change. Why they are experiences certain symptoms, or canâ€™t lose weight, or canâ€™t muster up the energy to exercise.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to write it all down. Donâ€™t just generalize your inability to achieve your goals.
If we polled ten random women right now about their daily eating habits, itâ€™s a sure bet that they would all rank pretty close to one another.
Fresh veggies, fruits, lean meats; perhaps some yogurt, nuts and seeds are thrown the mix. Â Itâ€™s all whole, natural foods picked right from the earth.
Okay, so then we say to these ten random women, â€œGreat, now go through the next five days and write down everything you eat.â€
This gets a little tricky because once they start monitoring their eating habits; they alter a bit to fit the description. So, for the sake of my post, letâ€™s pretend they didnâ€™t. They just ate normally without thinking about it.
By day one, my inbox is full. â€œI had no ideaâ€¦â€ â€œI am shocked at what Iâ€¦â€ â€œOkay, this is disturbingâ€¦â€ â€œFreakinâ€™ grilled cheese crust my kids never eat!!!!â€
Bingo, thereâ€™s the answer. Weâ€™ve been writing fiction all along.
And now we have that lie that tells the truth.
One of my favorite things each month is reading my clients’ workout logs. I have many who keep notes along with how much they lifted.
When I read them Iâ€™m cheering, Iâ€™m laughing, Iâ€™m nodding my head, â€œMmmhmm, donâ€™t I know thatâ€™s the truth.â€
Then I use it as fuel to keep that fire lit. â€œAh, remember when you said two months ago that you will never be able to do a pull-up? And who just did a pull-up?â€
â€œWhy, I donâ€™t recall sayingâ€¦â€ Oh, itâ€™s right here in the journal.
And your journals should extend beyond these notes about the difficulty, the triumphs, and the new personal records.
They should be the outlets for your voice as you trek into the depths of your journey.Â Then you can look back and realize why and how you got to where you are, or why you havenâ€™t gotten quite as far you wanted to.
This all comes down to precision versus accuracy. I think for many who keep a journal, it becomes a very precise detail of food and exercise.
It may look something like this:
Thursday, August 30, 2012
5:30 am: Fasted cardio, 30 minutes elliptical level 8 setting
6:00 am: 1 scoop whey protein mixed with water
7:30 am: 4 egg whites, 1 tsp. EVOO, Â½ cup cooked oats, Â½ cup berries
3 x 10 reps barbell squat (70 lbs, 75 lbs, 75 lbs)
3 x 8 dumbbell step up (25 lb dumbbell)
Each day is meticulously documented and all the information is neatly written, stowed away, and never used again.
Say you wanted to use this information for progress purposes. For instance, your squat is kind of sucking right now. You remember 6 months ago it kicked butt. You set a new PR. It felt like magic.
You skim back to the date that PR was set. Oh, there it is! Written in magenta ink because your kids took all but your magenta pen out of your purse and now itâ€™s in your gym bag (sorry, Iâ€™m feeling emotional about not being able to ever find pens)
Yep, I set that PR. There it is.
What is that telling you? How did you set it? You ate the same thing that day as you did today. Maybe the egg whites were from chickenâ€™s that possessed super powers. Must find those chickens!
This information tells you nothing other than you had an awesome workout. Now you feel terrible because your workouts are less than stellar. And you still donâ€™t know why.
You just have a closet shelf filled with composition notebooks and nothing to show for all that writing. Itâ€™s like my fiction. It will never sell!
Since youâ€™ve made it through all 1,200 words so far, I shall now share with you a better use for your journals (donâ€™t worry, itâ€™s not poetry).
Use them as a tool to express the emotional side of your training and nutrition. This will mean more to you than writing down that big deadlift PR. I promise.
Imagine on that day you set your squat PR, you wrote down not only what you ate and how much you liftedâ€¦ but also how you felt that day, what was going on in your life, good things that happened, bad things that happened, where you were in your cycle, whether your bills were paid on time.
Because all of these things, all of it, is what helps us achieve greatness. Not just that moment you stand there facing the barbell.
Here is what should go in your journal:
- Exactly what you eat. Not just what you have written on your diet plan. But what you really eat. Every crumb, morsel, anything that survives the 30-second rule, Â that gummy bear you found in the couch cushion, whatever goes in your mouth.
- Your workouts. Real numbers. Donâ€™t just write out your plan and then fill in your lifts. If you wrote down 3 x 8 barbell squat, and you do 1 x 8, 1 x7, 1 x6— then write that down.
- Â How you feel that day. Your energy, your mood, your emotions. Did you have a good workout? Did something happen at work that is affecting you? Did your neighbor crush your trashcan as he backed out of his driveway? Emotions are so important to this whole process.
- Life events. Is your wedding in two weeks? Are you trying to conceive? Are your kids driving you crazy? Is your husband traveling? Things in life affect how we train and eat.
- Your cycle. You donâ€™t need to write down what each day in your cycle. Today is number 19 of my 28 day cycle. No need for that. But, PMS, ovulation, your period all play a role in how you perform in the gym as well as what you eat. This ties in with your emotions as well. Is your PMS getting worse? Take a look at your diet. Â Did you not experience cramps this month? Woohoo, what was I eat and how was I training to achieve this?
- Anything else trivial that may be relevant. Itâ€™s all important, so donâ€™t leave it out.
- Poems. Just kidding.
Thatâ€™s a lot of info, but it all plays an integral part of your success. Â You donâ€™t need to write 10,000 words each day. Just jot down small notes if all is good in the world, then more detailed accounts of major things are going on, good or bad.
This real account of your life shows you exactly how you got to where you are right now. Plus, sometimes itâ€™s funny and you can laugh at your own expense in the future. Thatâ€™s always a good time.Â â€œYeah, I remember the day the plumber dug Billyâ€™s frog out of the toilet pipes. That was the same day I set a new time for my mile run. I actually ran away that day, but my husband convinced me to come home.â€
Getting in shape is tough. Staying in shape is tough. We all slip up. But we all also witness incredible things we never thought possible. Journaling shouldnâ€™t just say you are going to do something.Â It should help you do it, and if you donâ€™t do it should help you figure out why.
Holding yourself accountable, admitting your faults, and staying connected to the emotional side of this journey is just as important as standing at that starting line.
Okay, so now that we know what should go in your journal, let me share what not to do:
- Share it all on Facebook.
- Tweet about it.
- Join online forums and blurt it all out.
- Create an infographic and share it on Pinterest.
- Tell your spouse or loved ones every minor detail of your diet and exercise regime.
Yes, you need moral support. You need people standing on the sidelines cheering you on. But with that come opinions, comments, things you donâ€™t want to hear, evil glares, and loads of tuning you out.
Howâ€™s that doing for your emotions?
There is a strong delineation between support and the â€œhey, look over here! Look at me!” act.
Find that friend, that coach, or that one person who will emotionally share your journey. Then share those emotions only. Donâ€™t share how you miscalculated your chicken serving, your entire workout that day, or if you hit your macros.
But be really selfish with what you share. Act like the CIA for your goals.Â Make sure that itâ€™s really purposeful if you decide to blurt it out. Like itâ€™s festering inside of you and if you donâ€™t share it will mutate into something unpleasant.
Then take a deep breath and realize youâ€™re getting there. And once you get there, decide to travel to a new destination.
Just donâ€™t forget your journal.