A few weeks back, I wrote a piece about dropping the data - meaning; knowing when it's time to STOP tracking, collecting, sorting, and analysing health-related data.
But for now, let's consider the exact opposite scenario: you've just begun your wellness journey, and you need to track some serious data in order to make changes.
Which data, you ask?
Hold on to your britches, folks - there's a lot that goes into the "optimal health habits" I coach my clients to achieve. I advise:
calorie/intake tracking (knowing your baseline, activity level, and macro targets)
hydration tracking (allowing for variables like outdoor sports or breastfeeding)
sleep tracking (how many hours / how many quality hours / average bedtime)
steps tracking (baseline activity measurement; different depending on goal)
body fat / LBM [lean body mass] measurements (for body composition goals)
additional daily habits as requested/needed (may include meditation minutes, sun exposure, phone use, bowel regularity, fasting windows, mobility work, etc.)
As I mentioned in my previous blog, "if you're not measuring it, you're not managing it." So if a goal like "eating better" is within your purview; a habit like "tracking your food intake" can't be far behind. Without goal-relevant data, we can't get an accurate or useful sense of where we are, what we need, or where we can potentially go to make meaningful lifestyle interventions.
So where do we begin?
Tracking food intake is the most important single habit you can master when your goals include weight loss, body recomposition, and/or correcting a nutrient deficiency & improving gut health. To do this correctly, you'll need a reliable food scale (I like the digital ones), a solid set of measuring cups and spoons, and a food tracking app like MyFitnessPal or, ahem, the all-inclusive Coach Amanda Lim app (where you can track ALL the things in one place).
The biggest issue I notice with food tracking; however - and this applies to both newbies and the seasoned food journalists among us - is omission. "Forgetting" to log something because it was "just a bite off my kids' plate" or choosing not to log alcoholic drinks or worst, ONLY logging the "healthy" choices and skipping the grim reality of having to search "Taco Bell gordita" in a nutrition app (ha) is one major way that folks misrepresent their intake data - and struggle to see results.
As I've said to many a client: bad data is worse than no data, from an analytical perspective.
With any form of intentional, lasting behaviour change - you need to come to terms with the good and the bad to truly understand the work that needs to get done. By only "allowing" yourself to track food when it's good (and not bad, or heaven forbid ugly), you're shutting out the part of the process that separates judgment from information; the part that illuminates where you're actually working against your goals versus toward them; and the part that acknowledges the presence of balance and growth rather than demanding perfectionism and reinforcing all-or-nothing thinking patterns.
Regarding "weight" tracking, you'll notice above that I recommend focusing on body composition if leanness or weight loss is a goal for you. We've all been conditioned to look at the raw number on the scale; I get it. It's easy and familiar, and we've often formed lifelong connections to it, or a version of it that we cling to as the "right" one. I can't tell you how many clients I've had that are personally attached to one specific scale weight (whether that's their "wedding day" weight or their "pre-baby" weight or their "ideal" weight) without paying a damn bit of attention to how much fat, muscle, and (dare I say) joy comes at that weight.
I can write you a whole book about why you should care about your muscle mass reading above all things, or how improving your fat-to-muscle ratio is a nobler goal than just getting lighter, but the takeaway is this: if you're choosing to use a scale as a metric to record your actual progress, choose a home scale that reads muscle and fat (or get your verified clinical body composition results done with us at LIFT Lab) so you can track what really matters.
And once you're looking at the "right" numbers, consider that you may actually need to track some things that aren't necessarily quantitative, at least in the sense of calories, or body fat percentages, or hours of sleep.
I encourage clients to develop quarterly (12-week) habit-based goals that rely on the daily repetition of - or in some cases, daily elimination of - certain habits, such as how often they eat sugary treats after dinner, how many nights they are able to put their phone down an hour before bed, or how many mornings they make time for a meditation practice. These data - data of frequency/completion, often related to mindset rather than physiology - are just as important to measuring behaviour change as the hard numbers can be.
Once you know what you're measuring, you've committed to measuring it fully and completely, and you've come to terms with what the data show you over time, you'll finally be able to craft a wellness strategy to achieve and sustain the results you want to see in your life.