As we’ve seen, health research doesn’t come with a guarantee. The best way to fine-tune our fitness and diet regimens is to take some of that expert advice and test it out for ourselves.
After all, we spend a whole lot more time in our own skin, observing what we do and how we feel, than scientists spend researching individuals in a lab.
However, being our own “researchers” can seem daunting. How can we do it effectively without a major time commitment? There are a few savvy, scientific ways to keep tabs on your progress, including these 5 rules for tracking your fitness results:
Rule #1 – Measure Against Your Ideal Body
In our endless pursuit of perfection, we tend to forget what we used to look like—seeing only what we still want to get rid of. One way to ensure we’re working toward OUR ideal shape, and to see the real progress along the way, is to take measurements. Weighing yourself is OK, but better indicators of fitness level are your BMI (here’s a basic calculator) and your measurements (use a cloth measuring tape to track waist, hips, thighs and arms). Also, awkward as it can sometimes be, don’t shy away from taking pictures of yourself—your inches might stay the same as the flab turns to muscle, but photos will reveal your more toned shape!
Rule #2 – Give It a Month
Ready to get fit? Then get ready to be patient! When starting any new activity, there can be a month or more of “lag time” in the results department and then, bam, it’s like a whole new body. That lag time can make it hard to connect actions with results. That’s why sticking to one thing for 4-6 weeks and keeping a record is so important. If after a month or so you haven’t seen improvement, then you can ramp up your efforts or try something different (or look to other factors for clues).
Rule #3 – Look for Patterns
Nothing makes us objective and opens our eyes wide like tracking the facts. Making a note of workouts, food choices and other lifestyle patterns is a terrific way to see the big picture over weeks or months. What was going on during that period right before you fell off the wagon or your results flatlined?
Were you sleep-deprived? Did you chug extra caffeinated drinks to stay awake? On the flip side, maybe you noticed that you ate healthier when you had more frequent, small meals throughout the day. Or, you saw better results when you were exercising three times a week instead of five (hey, it can happen).
Rule #4 – Don’t Be Biased
Sometimes our ego will go to great lengths to hide the fact that we’re sabotaging ourselves. If you hate something (i.e., a new diet change or workout routine), you’ve probably been looking for evidence that it “doesn’t work.” Being an objective researcher can help us reduce our unconscious biases.
There is also a considerable amount of research showing that people underestimate the effect outside factors and our environment have on our personal effectiveness. Tracking helps us pinpoint that sabotage, which could be anything from the habits of coworkers to the temperature of the room. (I’ve always heard that restaurants keep the air chilly to trigger our eating drive!)
Rule #5 – Make One Change at a Time
There are many reasons why you should only make one change at a time. For example, if you’re trying to change multiple things, it becomes easy to fall into the trap of labeling your successes and failures based what you ‘want’ to find. You lose objectivity because it’s hard to isolate the behavior change that either worked or failed. That’s just one reason why it’s critical to test out a single behavior at a time.
The other reasons to make one change at a time are outlined in David’s e-book “Diet Chaos,” which is a must-read if you haven’t yet. David shows how multiple weight loss changes can actually cancel each other out. He also explains how to set up fitness experiments the right way.
By Chelsea Bush