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Committed to Tracking as Training

Saturday, August 18, 2018

I have been wishy-washy about whether or not it's good to track food.

When I first joined SparkPeople, and before I started participating in the community, I lost twenty pounds by using the tracking feature on this site. Tracking worked very well for me that first year, and I was happy with my weight loss.

Then lots of stuff happened, I wasn't emotionally strong enough to handle it all, and I turned to food and alcohol to help me get through. I would track all day long, but then everything would fall apart at night, when I would figure I deserved to do exactly what I wanted to do after having done all day long things that made me feel like a servant. Every day I do a million things that make other people's lives easier, I would think at the end of the day, and I "deserved" a reward in the form of a beer or a big bag of chips. So my twenty-pound loss was gradually reversed, and there followed years of repeating the same old ritual every day--starting off refreshed and motivated in the morning, tracking carefully all day long, only to make up for the saved calories at night with a binge of some sort. I would go a few weeks here and there doing very well and losing five pounds or so, but I always eventually lost sight of my goal and completely forgot why it was I wanted to lose weight. I avoided looking at images of myself, but sometimes I would be caught by surprise. Occasionally seeing myself in rogue mirrors or storefront windows, or in photographs taken by others, and often waking up mornings with joint pain so severe I could barely walk--these would be little reminders along the way of the reason I had originally joined SparkPeople and had worked so hard at the beginning to regain my health and formerly attractive appearance.

Somewhere during those years, my younger daughter was diagnosed with anorexia, received counseling, and was assigned the book Intuitive Eating, which advocates the approach of paying attention to your body's hunger signals and ignoring numbers. It's dieting that has made us all so fat, the book said, and I could see the point. Making rules and weighing myself and all my food suddenly seemed extremely oppressive, like a punishment, and instead of helping me to lose weight, only made me want to rebel and throw tantrums by bingeing. Around that time, I saw many of my Spark friends achieve success with the Beck Diet Solution. I remember ordering the book, starting to read it, and immediately balking at all the thinking I would have to do if I were to follow the program. It had homework! The advice offered by Dr. Beck seemed opposite to what the Intuitive Eating book was encouraging me to do, which seemed to be to stop thinking about food and weight.

It's been a while since I opened either of those books, so I can't say for sure, but my thinking about them has changed. It strikes me this morning they have the same ultimate aim--to set readers on a path toward freedom from the destructive mental habits and behavior that we have mindlessly trudged along for years. Though the books have different approaches and focus on different kinds of cognitive training, they both seek to lead the reader to a healthy life of freedom from obsession, guilt, despair, and physical suffering.

While the Intuitive Eating book helped my daughter overcome anorexia, regain a healthy body, and develop a healthy attitude toward weight and eating, I realize that for me, at this time, I need the structure of clear limits on eating. So far, whenever I've tried "intuitive eating," I've become confused about whether I'm hungry or just tired or bored, and I've stretched the limits beyond what's possible for weight loss. Therefore, for now, I will humbly and earnestly go back to the tracking method here on Spark, which worked in the past and which allows a great deal of flexibility and choice of nutritious foods within the assigned calorie range.

A period of restriction and discipline can lead to a type of freedom that would not be possible without it. An analogy comes to mind. Twenty or so years ago, I took my elementary school-aged children to the US for a few months because I wanted to spend time with my mother, who was ill and not expected to live very long. I enrolled my children, ages 10 and 8, who had been going to Japanese public schools here in Japan, in the elementary school in my small hometown in Georgia. There were many differences in the curriculum and educational style between the two countries. Japanese schools provide excellent musical education for all public school students, no matter the district. Music education is a nationwide given, unaffected by budgets, always provided for every student. My children learned to play the harmonica in first grade, the recorder in second grade, and other instruments in the years after that. But while I was delighted that my children were taught to play various instruments, my impression about Japanese music education (and in other subjects as well) was that it was all very rigid and allowed for little self-expression. I mentioned my concern to the music teacher at the rural Georgia elementary school, a talented young man who could play several instruments and was impressed that my children could already play the harmonica and recorder. "Well, yes," I said, "they can play the notes, but can they express themselves with the music?" And the music teacher had a quick reply, which felt almost like a reprimand. "Oh, that comes much later," he said."First they have to learn the skills! They can't show any feelings until they learn how to play the notes automatically!"

And that's what I'm remembering now, at age 61, starting over again to try to learn the skills of eating properly and taking care of my body. Take time to learn the skills. Pay attention. Freedom and joy will come later.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    As I edge towards my 71st birthday this coming August a full 40 pounds above where I was when was after my first efforts at tracking on Sparkpeople in 2010. Of course life was a little different then, Erik's accident happened and the stress turned me to a regimented eating habit and walking to the pool, then swimming for 30-45 minutes and walking home again. I had lost 30 pounds in four months and have bounced around to where I am now, within 5-10 pounds.
    I need to get back on track too. I hope since August 18, 1918 you've had some success. I have started trying to convince a 75 year old friend to join me at Weight Watchers, I was once successful there too. But the success was not enough to keep me going so I have my few weeks in Belgium to think about how I am going to turn this trend around, and what I start with tracking on Spark people or with Weight Watchers I work to make it a habit. This falling back to the old ways has to change...So I will challenge you to continue or begin again and let's keep each other working at this. Hugs and prayers. emoticon emoticon emoticon
    emoticon emoticon emoticon
    462 days ago
    I loved this blog. I'm on day 2 of tracking again as of today. My OA sponsor have been discussing The Promises, going through them line by line. I have been working to recommit myself to my program after horrible binging through the holidays. I too feel like I sometimes "deserve" to eat or drink but what I really deserve is to be happy and healthy. If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. emoticon emoticon
    616 days ago

    Comment edited on: 11/26/2018 7:48:50 PM
  • no profile photo CD23741364
    An amazing blog.....brilliant! For me, I do very well when I track my food. I need it on paper, in front of me,rather than online. I am currently trying to regain some focus, and start again.
    My plan is to “ take time to learn the skills, pay attention: freedom and joy will come later”

    Thank You! Beautifully written! emoticon emoticon
    656 days ago
    Thanks for sharing. For me I need to TRACK all meals, plan ahead meals and grocery shop at least once a week for my fruits, veg, and whatever ingredients needed to make any new meals or recipes.
    I also need to exercise to keep off the weight, along with watching those portions. Working on it all the time but slower success this time for me....I think I was off track after my LOSS and then my surgery which put me behind....so NOW i am working on these goals again and trying HARD to keep it up.
    God bless. Do what works well for you and know determination and focus is key. Take care dear friend.
    love and hugs, Ei emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    667 days ago
    I love how you told us about your children's musical education! I wish America would place greater emphasis on music education as well. Some districts believe in it, and some don't. My cousins were able to take recorder and then violin, and they learned a lot! It really helped them to become more disciplined about all of their schoolwork. I was taught a little on the recorder, but not long enough to develop any proficiency. One weird thing about me, is that from a very early age, I was able to play the piano. I would just sit at any piano, and start playing music! But that was never nurtured. I've never gotten to take piano lessons. That's on my list of things I really wish I could do with my life, be a life-long learner of the piano. One of those people always taking lessons. It's really fun to play music! It costs money, though!

    I wish you the best in returning to tracking! You can do it! Just remember your earlier success! I keep reminding myself of how I lost twenty pounds and it makes me feel much better about things. You know, when I'm down about my weight. I really don't like tracking, though. I find it difficult. I've had eating disorder problems before, so that is a part of it for me. I question the rigidness of tracking. You have to be ready for it. If you aren't ready for it, it could be deleterious for you. I don't know quite how to be ready. But I am looking at that website, from the authors of that book, Intuitive Eating. It's an interesting website. Thank you for sharing the book title!
    669 days ago
    I have always known that with things that are a Big Deal to me I need structure. I know I'm more likely to daydream about a Big Deal than to actually do it. I go back to remembering two things about my own music education. One - I put in so many hours that I totally knew my instrument. There was nothing I could hear that I couldn't immediately play back on my instrument - in several fingering positions. And Two - As the famed master Suzuki said "to become a musician it takes practice. 3 hours a day for 9 years. Or 9 hours a day for 3"

    Another easy and, well, happy, book about intuitive eating, which I have used with some success, is Paul McKenna's I Can Make You Thin. If his claim triggers resistance and resentment then of course it won't do any good but if you are willing to give his ideas a try the message of the book boils down to this mantra.

    Eat when you are hungry
    Eat what you want
    Savor every bite
    Quite when you are full

    You have to pay attention all through the process but it can be enlightening and fun. But it's as much work as tracking. I think of tracking as the short cut way to limit intake - but either way can work.

    Hope you're enjoying tracking this fall
    671 days ago
    Excellent blog. Your comments to the children's music teacher made me realize something. Years ago I was frustrated because I couldn't show the depth of emotion my piano teacher requested for a unfamiliar piece I was learning. After reading your blog, I now realize that I was still learning the skills and concerned about playing it flawlessly. My frustration led me to think I had more enthusiasm than talent.
    I can see how that applies to our on-again-off-again attempts to eat healthier. We have a headful of knowledge that we need to formulate into a plan. We come up with what works best for us. Then we can develop the habits that will carry us through times of confusion or waning motivation.
    677 days ago
    I just reread this blog: it is a great blog! Thanks for sharing it. Maybe there is the beginning of an answer in it for me: I should start by taking time to learn the skills of eating properly. emoticon
    680 days ago
    I saw a bit of myself in this blog, so the 'food for thought' is processing it. Showing me what to do. We all seem to have that "Committee" in our heads and they can never come to a solution that ALL agree with, the crazy side, the sane side. All we can do is 'try' to hear that bit of knowledge that gives us the right answer and see if it's truly what we should do or are we 'cheating outselves'...

    Carpe Diem

    708 days ago
    Ooops, I missed your blog. (I knew going back to work wouldn't be good for me...)
    I'm a tracking rebel. I track just fine all day long and then it all goes wrong after dinner. Somehow, when I see the total numbers for the day, and depending on what they are, my mind goes crazy. If I'm 5 calories under I keep thinking about what I could have for a snack to reach my "goal" calorie number (like I'm gonna die if I don't), and, of course, this usually ends in disaster. When I'm 5 calories over, my head tells me I blew it anyway so may as well keep eating... And while my rational thinking brain keeps telling my crazy head that this is absolutely nuts, guess who usually wins...???
    We've cut down to two meals a day on most days, and most of the time don't exceed an 8 hr. eating window. We're mostly sticking to unprocessed, and we're keeping an eye on added sugar. Though the occasional glass of wine or beer are absolutely on the list.
    Please keep us updated on your progress.
    709 days ago
    I somehow missed this blog, just found it today.

    Over my years with Spark there's been several times I got sick of tracking and decided to stop, but I always come back to it. I'm not fanatical about it - if I add chopped onions to a dish I don't track them, don't measure my salad greens, things like that - but I find it makes me feel better, more in control and relaxed about eating, when there's no underlying anxiety about whether I'm eating too much. Within the structure there's guilt-free freedom.

    I like to think of my 1550 calories as a budget. Just as I'd spend money in a budget for both necessities and discretionary items, I've been focusing on spending my food calories on items that keep me full and fueled with good energy, but that also afford me pleasure and satisfaction.

    The evening eating is a problem for so many of us. I just had to stop buying peanut butter, one of my go-to snacks which I always carefully measure, because I had a couple of evenings in a row where I just sat there with the jar in front of the tv,
    710 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/24/2018 8:51:01 AM
    Carolyn - you are such an eloquent writer!! Thank you for sharing your insights, what you have tried, and your plan going forward.
    711 days ago
  • HEYRED221
    I can relate to what you said - definitely the rewarding myself because of a rough day, hard word, etc. I've tried the intuitive eating as well - it can be difficult, I just try to be more mindful and pay attention to all the queues and still track what I eat. Wish we could just wave a magic wand and it would all be fixed :-)

    So good to see you back. Missed your posts. Sure wish we could meet up when you are in Colorado - I'm just one state over!

    Love and hugs,

    711 days ago
    Everyone is different and every binge eater is different, that's whay I learned over the years.
    Tracking does not work for me (at all). But it may work for you. Intuitive eating doesn't work for me either but it might as I continue on my path of recovery.
    What worked for me in my healing process was to create a steady eating pattern: eat 3 meals and 2 or 3 snacks per day, set amounts of food at set times.
    This plus some cognitive therapy (Beck-type methods, yes, but not the extensive daily lists).
    Then I started an elimination diet (cutting out gluten, soy, dairy, peanuts, yeast, sugary foods and sweeteners) and that allowed me to lose weight. Not eating junkfood and sweets seems to make it easier for me to stay on track. Done this for 5+ months now, but we'll have to see how it goes as I go along.
    I wish you lots of luck on your own path!
    712 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/22/2018 3:54:03 PM
  • _BABE_
    When I joined Weight Watchers back in 1988 I tracked and was trained to look at exchanges which is everything in balance and moderation. I still look at it that way to lose weight. Tracking helps keep me accountable and makes me realize when enough is enough.....otherwise I graze on "healthy foods" and don't lose a pound.
    emoticon emoticon
    713 days ago
    I feel that I must tell you that when I joined Spark I thought that I would follow the amount of calories given to me buy eat the foods that I enjoy instead of following a "diet". It worked for me and I reached my goal weight. I have had my ups and downs over the years but I have not given up. Right now I am four pounds over but I am slowly coming down. Carolyn, we all have problems for one reason or another which makes us go off the track. No matter how old we are we still have a lot to learn about ourselves and why we do what we do. Reading your blog was very helpful. Thank you.
    714 days ago
    Two blogs in one day (or 24-hour period, since maybe they're dated for you a day apart) from you??? What a treat!!!

    Intuitive eating doesn't work for me, either. My intuition got me to my highest weight in the first place. I can't expect it to help talk me down.

    Beck did help me lose. The biggest thing was planning my meals the night before. It worked like a charm! I dropped 20 pounds so fast. To me, it's common sense, like budgeting. How will you know how much you can eat if you don't count it? And being able to choose what you want to eat, like you can choose what you want to buy, with what you have, is actually pretty freeing.
    714 days ago
  • DESIREE672
    I do it when I’m gaining but I never continue for very long. I find it a good reality check though.

    I learned the violin from eight to eighteen, but it was only in my fifties, after going to a concert given by a distant relative and talking with him afterwards that I realized he expressed himself through the music. So I learnt that music wasn’t just slogging your way through lessons and practice. emoticon

    Indeed a great metaphor!

    715 days ago
    I do best using the tracker. I tried the intuitive eating and it didn't work for me. Too easy to misjudge how many calories I am actually eating.
    We all have to find what works best for us.

    You will find your course, Carolyn and we will be here to support you.

    So glad to see you here on SP.

    715 days ago
    Intuitive eating just doesn't work well for me either. But I do think that changing my relationship w/food really put me on the right path. Meal planning, making the grocery list @ the same time, and tracking were/are the successful trinity for me.

    OH there are some days I really feel like "Why me? Why all this effort?" But the REAL question is why not. No matter who you are, what your station in life, there is ALWAYS a challenge in everyone's life. So, for me, it is worthwhile to do what I need to do so I can stay healthy! I wasn't before, and I do NOT want to go back to that.
    715 days ago
    Your wise and thoughtful analysis speaks to me too. Like you, I was faithfully tracking, but then staying up late to "relax" and read led to carb overload almost every night. I've been off track on eating and exercising for several months, but I just committed to start tracking again. I have faith in us!
    715 days ago
    First off, you go girl! Cheering you on!

    I think it's all about how we are wired and for me intuitive eating was a disaster because I have impulsive tendencies. I want that cupcake and I want it now. I want more food even after waiting 20 minutes. Both my kids can be impulsive and it definitely comes from me. Our brains tell us to do things and the control center is taking a nap. Tracking weight watchers points seems to be the only thing that reigns me in. The nice thing for me is while it felt oppressive at first when I realized just how much I was over-eating my healthy food, as I got used to it, it felt more like a game. I get very excited when I have budgeted enough for an evening snack and I love how if you eat most vegetables without any oil/dressing/butter it's a free ride-no points and all you can eat. It has really pushed me to eat even more vegetables and more variety. Plus, I use the system where exercise lets me earn more food points so I not only get endorphins, but a bit more food. I figure when my son gets out of control (usually just too silly at school, and calling out) we put him on a behavior modification program and I expect him to follow it so the least I can do is follow my own behavior modification program.

    With regard to all the emotions that comes with caring for others I am finally starting to use exercise to cope on a regular basis. I had fallen into mostly relying on meditative walks which is helpful, but for frustration, anger and even intense anxiety a quick intensive spurt like a jog, Zumba or other cardio gets me mentally stable/more positive faster than the walk.
    715 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/19/2018 11:46:39 AM
    I have a tendency to rebel about guidelines also. I wonder if it is the rebel child acting out because we are so dedicated to the care giving of others? I think back on my life and realize I have ALWAYS taken care of others and put their needs and wants before my own.

    It does take a certain selfishness to maintain diet and fitness...and I don't mean that in a bad way. It takes TIME to cook and eat healthy, not to mention the shopping aspect of meal planning. It takes a TON of time to get that exercise in on a daily basis.

    I'm always rushing to our consignment gallery, or doing the millions of things necessary to keep it on track. When I do have a day at home I'm doing bookkeeping for payouts, or writing checks for personal bills, or attending a sick kitty, or doing what I can to support the hubs.

    Caretaking is hard...and the sad thing is most women almost never master the fine art of putting themselves first which is absolutely necessary for the role.

    So we do what we can to soothe ourselves and sadly that sometimes comes in the form of food.

    Sigh...as long as we are aware of this truth and keep chipping away at it we will hopefully move ourselves to the top of our 'to do' list.

    Great blog my friend, you always give me food for thought...and the BIG bonus is..it's calorie free! emoticon
    715 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/19/2018 9:35:43 AM
    Another excellent blog...thank you, my friend.
    My weight has been pretty stuck for the last few years but I know it is because I am getting sloppy in my tracking and lazy in my exercise habits.
    Like you, my day is spent doing for others and by evening I am tired and feeling sorry for myself.
    Food intake seems ok but waaaaay to much wine lately.
    Thnx for thereminder that I deserve to do this,,..for myself!
    715 days ago
    As a little girl who took piano lessons, and as an adult who tracks nutrition I like your music analogy a lot. At the end of the day if I've got a few calories to "spend" I'm checking to see: am I low in protein? Vitamin D? calcium? Darn it, I'm NEVER "low" in the potato chips or wine category!!
    715 days ago
  • no profile photo CD22518161

    ((HUGS)) you are just so articulate and your blogs give me "all the feels" as the kids say, LOL.
    (of course, maybe the kids don't even say it anymore... I'm not very cool)

    I JUST rejoined the Beck group before I came to your blog, isn't that something?
    Maybe you will want to join too, and do the hard work it takes for your personal success. It's something that no one can ever take away from you... a very good feeling.
    715 days ago
    A Buddhist friend says practice - following the proper form quite strictly - provides the 'container' which will hold us up when we are struggling. I think similarly, tracking and attending to consumption helps me create habits of thinking, that can then allow creativity and flexibility but within the 'container'. Much like your music analogy. I like that analogy a lot...
    715 days ago
    emoticon emoticon

    I am not ready for intuitive eating. I am working on acquiring the skills so I can eat intuitively!

    Thanks for a great blog!
    715 days ago
  • SEAGLASS1215
    What a great lesson you have shared! Learn (and practice) the skills (tracking, calories counting, an exercise routine, whatever) and the freedom will come later - the freedom to indulge a bit here and there because we know instinctively where we are calorie-wise for that day so a slice of pie will not derail us. The freedom to curl up on the couch with a good book on a rainy Sunday afternoon because we did some form of exercise every day during the week and it's okay to rest without fear of obtaining permanent couch potato status.

    Thank you for this!
    715 days ago
    Oh Carolyn, I loved your blog,
    you describe your thinking process and emotions so clearly,
    and seeing the similarity between Intuitive Eating and Beck Diet Solution is brilliant.
    Yes, the skills are needed - and modern societies don't do well in teaching them, we have to do that for ourselves.

    715 days ago
    And we keep trying. That's all we can do, taking a step at a time. You're not alone.

    716 days ago
  • PHOENIX1949
    emoticon Great analogy.
    716 days ago
    I find myself confused by the recommendations from SP. After walking the dogs, and various other exercise, SP increases my total caloric intake - like to 3-4000! - but doesn’t increase the carbs, fats, etc. So, daily, SP chides me on being below my calories, while exceeding carbs if I try to eat more than 2000 calories. While I still track my food, I’m trying for “mindful eating “. Sigh
    716 days ago
    emoticon Some real wisdom here. I periodically go back to Beck because it puts me in the right frame of mind and dictates discipline. Problems start when I just do what I “feel”. Never ending quest to try and get it right. Hugs to you, R.
    716 days ago
  • JIBBIE49
    He's true that learning the skills comes first. I remember learning to type in 10th grade typing class, which was one full hour, five days a week for one full school year. I learned how to type. Now at 68, I type and never think about the keys. In fact, one day my GD said "How can you keep typing while I'm talking to you?" Well, it is like a person who plays the piano and sings with a group. They don't even think about the keyboard.
    716 days ago
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