TO TRACK OR NOT TO TRACK
This is like a super duper catchy title and I should really be using it to discuss my hatred for track workouts. Like it would make the perfect blog post and I am sure there would be a ton of people who have the exact opposite opinion and who would try to talk me into giving the track a second chance and would tell me all about the benefits my running would gain if I incorporated track workouts into my weekly running routine. But, that's not the kind of track I am referring to and today is also a rest day. So, I am hear to talk instead about the great debate of tracking food versus intuitive eating versus counting calories versus counting macros.
For me personally, my strategy when it comes to what I eat, how much, and whether to keep a record of it has changed so much since I first embarked on my journey way back in January of 2011. In the beginning, I did not track anything that I ate...at all! I simply just ate foods I knew were better for me than eating entire frozen pizzas every night (so basically anything) and voluntarily engaged in exercise. That was it. I would say that I didn't actually start tracking until probably the start of my sophomore year or so. At that point I had discovered the website/tracking app called 'Calorie Count.'
I was super obsessive from almost the get go when it came to using this app. The whole macro thing (amount in grams of carbs/fats/protein you eat in a day) never even entered my mind. I was just fixated on measuring out my foods and entering every bite into this app/website so I would not go over my calorie limit. Guessing at this time it was probably somewhere around 1,500-1,700 calories. I was that person who legit would not eat something if I couldn't track it. And if I knew we were going out to eat for lunch or later in the afternoon, I would go all day without eating.
From there, once I got into the whole lifting thing and eventually running during the summer of 2012 occassionally I sorta fell out of love with tracking if that makes sense. As school work and working out became focal points in my life (and reading!) it felt silly to waste all that time planning out my meal and meticulously tracking everything I ate. I simply just ate when I was hungry. I still had struggles when it came to being flexible with my food choices, and wasn't a huge fan of eating out or during social settings. Once you lose the weight, it seems like everyone is paying attention to you and your every move.
Flash forward several years to the fall of 2014 and my first year of college...and thing swung back the other direction in favor of tracking. And tracking obsessively. I was that person who felt like they were doing this whole health/fitness/weight loss thing wrong if they weren't going to bed hungry. I would eat a breakfast of 500-700 calories and then not eat again (aside from maybe a small snack of 200 calories which might be a single serving of goldfish crackers or baked chips) until my final meal at 5. So, I was back to my old 1,500-1,600 calories a day, walking a ton, doing 60 minutes of cardio a day, and lifting for 30 minutes three times a week.
I was essentially starving myself and losing a lot of the muscle I had worked so hard to build during the 2.5 years that I weight lifted in high school. And I was bursting with pride at the time when the scale showed that I weighed 136 pounds. I am 5 foot 7 for reference. I had maintained around 145 or so in high school, so this was a huge deal. I looked in the mirror all the time, picking myself apart and wishing I were skinnier.
Flash forward again to this past summer (summer of 2017) when I ate too flexibly, barely tracked, and got to myself all the way back up to around 175 pounds. Yeah I was building muscle for sure and making strength gains...but at what cost. I didn't have the greatest relationship with food and I hated what I saw in the mirror. Once, I started my senior year of college in the fall, I decided to get back to tracking...but with a different approach to guide me.
My approach to tracking/eating was now geared towards fueling my workouts and trying to building as much muscle/strength as possible while still losing fat slowly. I wasn't super obsessive with it, and I allowed myself to have thing like oreos or poptarts which I so would not have done my freshman year of college. And I focused instead on the progress I saw in the gym, in the mirror, and in how my clothes fit. I didn't stress over calories. Or over eating "clean" 100% of the time. Instead, I worked to find a balance that worked for me and my lifestyle.
Now, although I haven't weighed myself in well over two months, I probably hover somewhere around 150-155 pounds. And I am perfectly content not knowing my exact weight or striving to be the lowest weight I can be. I eat to fuel my workouts and to get stronger and faster every day. My approach is simple, eat enough protein, and treat your daily calories like a bank account. Don't eat more calories than you burn throughout the day and eat when you're hungry. That's it. No low carb, gluten free, vegetarian, or low sugar diet. Although there's nothing wrong with any of those approaches to nutrition.
I have just found that for me, tracking works long term to maintain my fitness level and work towards being better and getting stronger. For once in my life, I actually look like I lift now...because I am actually aware of how much protein I should be eating and how much I am actually consuming. I have no problem going out to eat now, or eating more than 1,500 calories a day. Why? Because once you take the time to learn about nutrition and really honestly track your food...you find what works for you. Not what you think works or what your friend told you worked for them...but what works for YOU.
So, why do I tell you all of this information about myself and my history with tracking/not tracking my food. I tell you this because I believe that it's important from an overall health standpoint to know at least a little bit about the food you're putting in your body and what approach (high carb/high protein/low fat/etc) works best fore you. Education is so crucial when it comes to discovering what balanced approach to nutrition and exercising looks like for you. Also, I want people to know that tracking isn't for everyone. Or something you have to do for forever. It's just one tool to help educate yourself on what you're eating and how it's impacting your body/performance in the gym.
Also, I think my story helps to shed light on that fact that there are going to be different period of your life when tracking may or may not fit into your lifestyle and/or approach to fitness. Now that I feel like I sort of have the hang of things, I could probably go without tracking for a few weeks and be fine. However, I continue to track because I know how easy it is for me to go overboard on carbs and seriously neglect my protein. And for some one who is trying to get big arm and a Kim Kardashian booty...protein is a necessity.
Overall message of this post: Tracking, even if it's just for a few weeks or months is beneficial for almost everyone in my opinion. Long term, it's not for everyone but is helpful to keep you on track in regards to maintaining whatever health and fitness strides you have made, and helping you to accomplish those goals that you have set for yourself. Balance (when it comes to nutrition and fitness) means something different to everyone. Find what works for you and your lifestyle. Someone else's balance is not your balance and vice versa.