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Friday, November 30, 2012

One of my signature quotes is from David Campbell, "Discipline is remembering what you want." This has been an important concept for me in making the small day to day choices of what to eat and when to exercise. Sometimes that small decision that isn't worth very many calories is easier to make when I remember what I want. The cliche, "Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels," doesn't do anything for me because I don't particularly care whether I'm thin as long as I'm not fat.

I have to rephrase that cliche for what I want: Nothing tastes as good as being able to run a 7 minute mile feels. Nothing tastes as good as being able to do pullups feels. Both of these are accomplishments that didn't happen until after I hit goal weight.

But there's another piece of the weight loss and maintenance puzzle that is complementary to remembering what you want. That piece is, being aware of what you are doing. It's hard to make good choices when you aren't even aware that you're making choices at all.

Lack of awareness on the eating side is not a new concept to me. There's a book by Brian Wansink titled Mindless Eating:

I bought that book and read about half of it some time before I found SparkPeople. Like many self-help books, it has one simple idea expanded by research and interesting examples. The idea is, people eat for a lot of different reasons than just being hungry, and they usually aren't aware of why they're eating. Many times they're not aware of how much they're eating, or even that they ARE eating. Wansink advocates a variety of strategies to be mindful of what you eat.

I tried some of Wansink's strategies, and they weren't sufficient for me. But his concepts were a good start, and helped me out when I started tracking my food on SparkPeople. The concept of being aware of what I'm eating is still very important in maintenance. So is the Nutrition Tracker.

For me, tracking my food is the key to awareness. There are the days when I see that I'm ahead of where I want to be, and get myself to slow down. There are days when I see that I'm ahead of where I want to be, and use that awareness to adjust what I eat later in the day. And there are days like today, when I got to dinner and found that I needed to eat 300 or so more calories to get to my minimum for the day. On either type of day, without tracking I would be unaware that I was eating too much or too little. Then when my weight moved up or down, I would not know what to change to correct it.

Another aspect of tracking as awareness is that the Nutrition Tracker works like a calorie budget. No food is forbidden, but some are so expensive that I don't eat them or don't eat them very often. The 150 calories for a one ounce package of Doritos just aren't worth it, even if I can stay in range for calories and all the macronutrients. But I wouldn't know that without awareness of what I'm eating, and I wouldn't have that awareness without tracking.

I've read several blogs over time where different Sparkers find that they don't have to track what they eat in maintenance, they can just eat reasonably. I'm sure that works for some people. Maybe some day it will work for me; but I kind of doubt it. Awareness is key to making good food choices, and being aware without tracking looks to be nowhere near where I am right now.

There's another side of awareness in maintenance, and that's awareness of activity. I say "activity" rather than "exercise" to be more inclusive. There's a lot of daily activity that burns calories but isn't formal exercise. I get quite a bit of this type of activity without being aware of it. And there's the rub. If I'm not aware of doing it, neither am I aware of when I stop doing it. And when I stop doing it, I burn fewer calories. Absent an adjustment of what I eat, I'll gain weight.

Lack of awareness of either eating or activity means that if my weight changes, I don't have a clue why. From the way a lot of people talk about weight gain, I'm sure that there are millions of people who are unaware of both eating and activity, and thus have no clue why they gain weight or how to change their situation.

A fortunate thing happened when I signed up for SparkPeople. My sister gave me a pedometer. I managed to break that pedometer, I think from dropping it enough times to create small cracks in the case then sweating enough moisture into it to kill it. But by the time that happened, I was hooked. I bought replacements. Yes, plural. When a pedometer dies or gets lost, I want to take its replacement out of a desk drawer instead of having to shop for a pedometer.

Why is a pedometer so important? Because it gives me a gross awareness of how much I move. Before I started wearing a pedometer I didn't know that I walk more on work days than on days at home. I didn't know that Sundays are very low activity days, absent a conscious effort to do something. I wouldn't know that I compensate for running by walking less afterwards. And I certainly wouldn't go out at 8 PM to walk around the block so as to defend a streak of 10K+ step days.

I need the pedometer to be aware of how much gross movement of my body I do. I track steps on SparkPeople, but that's more for the stupid motivational trick aspect than for pure awareness. Watching the pedometer through the day is where the awareness comes in.

Without the pedometer, I might not realize that the NFL is hazardous to my activity level. It is, and I can limit how much I watch because of that; but the limit wouldn't be there if I didn't know I needed it, and I wouldn't know I needed it without the awareness.

As with mindless eating, before using a pedometer routinely and tracking exercises on SP, I wasn't really aware of the activity choices I was making. I'm sure I made some poor choices, and at times made some consistently poor choices, without being aware that I was making choices at all.

Today I'm babying a bad foot. Instead of running, I walked. Instead of walking briskly, I deliberately walked slower than usual. It was kind of hard to hold to a pace of over 16 minutes per mile. But I did it. I made that choice because getting that foot better enough to run is important to me. I was disciplined enough to make that choice because I remembered what I want.

But I wouldn't have been able to make that choice if I weren't aware of how the foot felt, and aware that walking vigorously has aggravated it in the past. There are two sides to discipline. I have to remember what I want. And I have to be aware of what choices I'm making, as well as being aware of how they affect what I want.

Nothing tastes as good as being able to run feels. And no NFL game is as important as maintaining my ability to run and to do pullups. But I need to be aware that choosing to eat too much is choosing to add fat, and I need to be aware that choosing to watch the NFL is choosing to be inactive for an extended period. Absent that awareness, I could make bad choices regardless of how well I remember what I want.

May we all remember what we want, be aware of what choices we make, and be aware of how those choices support getting or maintaining what we want.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I wore a pedometer for several years and got hooked on the daily feedback. I also went through several and always had a spare on hand. A few months ago I switched to a Nike FuelBand which you wear on your wrist. It is a pretty neat gadget. Not only does it track your steps but it gives you "Nike Fuel" for your other activity such as cycling... so now I have a daily activity goal instead of just a step goal. You can check it out by googling Nike Fuelband.

    Best to you and Spark on!
    1779 days ago
    I used to listen to a fair amount of the rah-rah, self help type audios....and one of them said "Awareness is a skeleton key." TYVM for the renminder
    I agree with your well thought out and put together blog. Keep writing, my man. You are an inspiration.
    1780 days ago
  • MELLIE1030
    1781 days ago
    I say, that we have to keep the focus on what is important and what we want.
    I want to feel healthy. Most important of all things to me!
    Have a terrific week end.
    1781 days ago
    I liked this blog, too...It's a great reminder of the importance of knowing what we want and staying mindful each day to support those goals. emoticon
    1781 days ago
    So true.
    1781 days ago
    Awareness definitely is key. It reminds me of the last time I went to buy a Cinnabon several years ago. Not sure if you have Cinnabon stores where you live but it's basically a chain that sells extremely sweet, high calorie freshly baked cinnamon rolls, warm out of the oven and covered with a days worth of calories just in glaze. Apparently a new law had come into play in my state mandating that food court restaurants list calorie counts next to each item on their menu because I walked in, saw those huge numbers, actually felt sick to my stomach, turned tail and walked out (and I wasn't even on a diet at the time, so that tells you how bad they were). Had they not made me aware of those numbers, lit up in bright lights right next to their delicious tasting rolls, I'd have happily smarfed one down and thought nothing of it! I've since wondered how much business they've lost since they've started listing calories.
    1782 days ago
    you've got my vote too! a lot of truths herein that apply to many of us!
    1782 days ago
    This one is vote-worthy, Kevin! It sums up a lot of truth... awareness is key to getting what you want, as much as knowing what you want is key to realizing you have arrived!

    1782 days ago
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    Disclaimer: Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.

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