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Speech of the Week: Journaling for Awareness

You get up in the morning, look in the mirror and are dissatisfied with what you see. Or, as you go about your day you are dissatisfied with how you feel. You just don’t have the energy you should, your stomach isn’t playing nice, and you're not making the progress you feel you should. You just don’t understand it!

You’ve read all the blogs, heck, you even got a gym membership. You are convinced you are doing everything right!

So what gives? 

I’m going to be brutally honest with you for a moment, most people, even the morbidly obese, often really do think they are doing “everything right.” When I first started my fitness journey, I made a resolution, got a gym membership, and consistently went every day! And after an entire year, I had made very, very little progress.  I was doing everything right! Spoiler alert: No, I wasn’t. But I didn’t have enough awareness to know what was breaking down and where. I was not very aware or mindful of my habits, and how they were influencing each other, which is precisely where most people find themselves. 

You will often see celebrities who are sponsored by various companies tell their followers that all you need is 1200 calories a day and exercise an hour a day, and you can be just as thin as they are! One (whose name rhymes with Peneth Daltrow) told her followers to fast until a bone broth lunch, followed by a 1 hour workout before eating veggies for dinner. As an aside, I hope everyone can recognize just how disordered and unhealthy that is. These celebrities, and groups of their followers, track every morsel that goes into their body obsessively. They weigh everything and meticulously track calories. On this end of the spectrum, eating and exercising take over every detail of life. 

Hopefully you can see that both ends of the spectrum are extreme and not exactly helpful. We need enough awareness to know what we are actually doing, but not so much that it takes over our lives.

Journaling and tracking is a great way to build temporary awareness.

If you find yourself in the first group of people, convinced that you’re doing everything right, but not making any progress, tracking can be a useful way of laying bare some habits that are not supporting your (appropriate) goals. You may find that your macros are all out of proportion. You may find that you are eating significantly more (or fewer) calories than you think you are. Through journaling, you may find a pattern of feeling cruddy every time you eat a certain food. You may find that you leave the gym feeling like your legs are going to fall off every single day, and not recovering. You may find that you are overloading one muscle group and not working another enough. 

Whatever you find, the key to this being successful is for it to be temporary. Tracking constantly is exhausting, and in extreme cases, can even turn into a form of disordered eating called orthorexia.

Tracking calories and journaling are a way to increase awareness, highlight some actionable next steps, and set appropriate goals. One week (minimum)-one month (maximum) is more than enough time to get valuable data. Once you have increased your awareness, and mindfully set some habits and goals, ditch the calorie calculator for a while. After your habits are established, choose a week here or there to check in, and make sure you are still on track. In this way, you build mindfulness and awareness that will support your progress without creating a monster. 

Now, for this to be effective, you are going to have to be absolutely honest with yourself and with your journal or tracker. Tracking won’t do you any good if you are cooking the books. Keep that in mind. Keep this tool in your belt, and make it work to your advantage. 

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