I’ve seen a few patients recently who have been trying to lose weight for a long time. Most of them feel like they’ve tried everything, but many feel like they’re getting nowhere. Sound familiar? I’ve met a lot of people who find themselves in a similar situation and I want to share a tip from some of the healthiest people I know: track your progress. Tracking can be a great motivator and help you to figure out when something’s working for you and when it isn’t. But even with all of the fancy calorie counters and fitness trackers on the market, tracking progress can be harder than it might first appear. Here’s my advice on how to do it right.
Set Your Goals
Goal setting is a key part of successfully losing weight and getting your health back on track. Doing so helps you organize your thoughts about what you want to achieve and allows you to come up with concrete steps that will help you get there. When you’re clear on where you’re going and which route you’re going to take, it’s a lot easier to make change happen. Having a goal is also motivating because you have a built-in finish line to work towards and you can celebrate when you reach it.
Why Tracking Is Important
Having a goal isn’t enough by itself. You have to have some way to track your progress towards that goal. Without a regular reminder of how you’re doing, you can’t know whether the actions you’re taking are working to move you closer to your end point and better health overall. Let me tell you, it’s tough to stay motivated when you don’t know if the things you’re doing are moving you forward or setting you back. Unfortunately, just going by memory or overall feel isn’t enough. Keeping mental track can lead to missing small gains you’re making or areas where you could easily improve. You might be spinning your wheels and never even know if you’re not tracking what’s happening.
Tracking Isn’t Just About Calories
So the question is, what should you be tracking? The most common answers I hear are calories and pounds, but it really depends on what your goals are. Think carefully about what measures you use. Picking the wrong thing to follow may cause you to miss progress you’re making in other areas. For example, you might set a goal of eating more fruits and vegetables as part of your weight-loss plan. But rather than just tracking pounds lost, you should also keep an eye on how many fruits and vegetables you’re eating. If your scorecard shows you’ve clearly improved your diet, you can know you’ve made positive change even if the scale hasn’t moved much. Other suggestions for measures could include your mile time, the amount of weight you can lift at the gym, your body quotient, your RealAge, your thigh circumference, and a whole host of other things.
Keep It the Same
It doesn’t end with choosing the right measure of progress to track. The next important step is to keep the measure the same. If you’re measuring your waist circumference as you lose weight, you should do the measurement over the same spot with the same clothes on with the same measuring tape. Keeping your measuring system constant will help you see changes, even if they’re not very big. If you switch things up, like using a ruler to estimate instead of a measuring tape, you’re bound to miss changes that could be important. Inaccurate measurements might make you think your progress has slowed or even reversed when you’re actually doing well.
Use the Data to Your Advantage
Beyond the sense of accomplishment tracking your progress can give you, I think the real value of tracking is that it can tell you what works and what doesn’t. If you pick your measures right and you’re consistent with how you do them, the data will tell you what works and what doesn’t. Maybe you’ve always wondered if doing a plank for 60 seconds every day will slim your belly. Guess what? Tracking allows you to set a goal (slimmer belly), pick a measure of tracking (belly circumference at the belly button), pick a method for measuring (with a tape measure without clothes) and follow it over time to see if it works. If so, keep it up! If not, look for some other ideas.
Ready to get started? Follow the simple steps listed below and get tracking!
- Sit down and make a list of two to three goals you want to achieve and then write two to three action items under each about how to get there (they can be things you’re already doing).
- Look at the goals and concrete steps you wrote down and write a few possible things you could use for each to track your progress.
- Next to each tracking measure you’ve written down, note exactly what you think you might use to make those measurements.
- Find a place to store all those measurements. It can be on your phone, in a notebook, on your computer, or any other place close to where you’ll be taking the measurements.
- Follow over time and see what changes!