Tracking to improve your daily habits

Tracking to improve your daily habits

This week’s post is short, but it could have a long lasting impact on improving your daily habits

We tend to give ourselves far too much credit for our ability to be mindful of, and accountable for, our daily habits. In particular, the amount of and frequency with which we eat unhealthy things, or things we hadn’t planned to. Despite our best intentions, it isn’t until what we eat on a daily basis is laid out in front of us that we can really get perspective on the cumulative effect these unanticipated snacks can have on our health.

Countless studies have found that those who track something (be it exercise, diet or weight) are more effective at long term weight loss success, than those who don’t. I’m not convinced that weighing yourself is constructive for everyone (you can read why I think this here), and I don’t really feel calorie counting is the way forward either, however I do strongly believe in the power of tracking your eating habits.

Tracking (sometimes referred to as self-monitoring) is an important foundational habit to cultivate, and is vital to long term success.

Tracking to improve your daily habits keeps you honest and helps you get this perspective.

You can then start to look for patterns in your behaviours. Knowing these patterns will help guide you as to how to tackle these temptations for future success (see here for my published research that underpins this hypothesis).

Temptation tracking to improve your daily habits

In order to quantify this, we need to take a look at mindless calorie consumption (fyi this is an illustrative example, as I am not a fan of calorie counting).

The average lapse (i.e. when you give in to temptation) is around 150kcal (e.g. 2 chocolate biscuits, a handful of Doritos). The average individual lapses around 5-10 times per week. To quantify the impact of this, at an average of 150kcal a pop, that is an extra 840-1500 unplanned calories per week. And those are just the ones we knowingly remember!

In other words, the ones that were obvious enough for us to remember to record. We can very often forget about many of our unplanned snacks (e.g. grabbing a bite of our children’s food or taking something from the fridge whilst cooking).

That is why it is vital to develop the foundational habit of temptation tracking to improve your daily habits, cultivate greater self-awareness and  look at where these unplanned instances are happening. Knowing this can help you offset the long term impact they can have on your weight.

To cultivate this foundational habit of tracking, in the most effective way, I want you to ask yourself…

  • What do you know/remember about your eating habits over the past few days?
  • How often did you eat or drink things you hadn’t planned to?
  • How often did you go to a shop/restaurant with the aim of getting something healthy but come out with a something completely different?

It is difficult to recall these facts beyond the last 24 hours (hence why dietary recall studies are often seen as unreliable – you can read a really interesting article on this here). However, if measured in the right way, the information and perspective tracking your temptations can give you is vital to your long term success.

Based on this, your challenge for the next week is to use temptation tracking to improve your daily habits:

Track how many unanticipated meals, snacks and drinks you have.

I would ask you to also note why you felt that you had these unanticipated foods. Was it genuine hunger? Or was it boredom, or stress, were you tired, happy, sad, feeling deprived or was it just because a specific food was there in your environment tempting you.

Your challenge in 3 steps, write down:

  1. The time of day you were tempted
  2. Why you were tempted? (e.g. boredom, stress, environment)
  3. What the temptation was (e.g. beer, chocolate, taking an extra portion of something)

To do this you can use an app or simply note down each time this happens and what you had on your phone or a piece of paper that you carry with you.

If 7 days seems too long, then at a minimum, it is best to track 3 week days and at least one weekend day.

Try and be as honest as you can with yourself about this, honesty = results.

At the end of the week take a moment to reflect on what you tracked.

Are there any surprises for you? Any patterns emerging (e.g. time of day, location or a frequent temptation?)

This exercise alone will give you a valuable, objective insight into your eating behvaiours. I will then check in next week what to do with your results.

I’d love to hear how this went for you, please share any thoughts (or you can share what you tracked) with me by emailing info@drheathermckee.co.uk

Published on 2nd Nov 2017 at 10:10 by Dr. Heather McKee


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This work is in no way meant to replace any medical advice. Dr. McKee is Non-HCPC-registered. Photography by Dylan Madden.

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