07/21 2011

Write it Down – The Results of the Weekly Health Calendar Test

Back in May, I challenged myself (and others!) to write it down and recognize the value in keeping a Weekly Health Calendar. My goal was to track the food I ate, the hours of sleep I got and the duration/type of exercise I carried out. The motivation was FEELING GOOD – by an increased awareness of what factors influenced my daily health and well-being.

I had another motivator as well. I was diagnosed with IBS years ago, and I wanted to see if certain foods triggered my dreadful stomach aches.

I successfully tracked my eating and exercise habits for six weeks. I even cut out sugar and alcohol during some of this period, to see if this had any impact on how I felt.

After a six week period, I had the following realizations:

Perceptions aren’t always reality. We may all have the perception that we eat healthy – I know I do. But by writing down snacks and side dishes and desserts, I became increasingly aware of my food ‘weaknesses.’ Suddenly I felt guilty to report that I had eaten potato chips with lunch. Similarly, I realized my energy lulls in the morning were caused by one too many carbohydrates.

Nutrient rich foods provide much needed fuel. I found that if I snacked on nutrient dense foods and ate balanced meals, I had so much more energy! I also realized I wasn’t eating enough fruit and tried to increase my intake to the recommended servings/day.

Eating out isn’t always a win. I’m not sure if I give myself more liberties at restaurants or if restaurant food isn’t quite as healthy as my home-cooked fixins’, but I usually felt more bloated and lethargic after eating out. Sadly, many restaurant meals are void of vegetables, so this creates a nutrient deficit right off the bat.

Life goes on without sugar. I’m a dessert freak, so giving up sugar was challenging for me. It was especially tough in the mornings when I tried to eat a bowl of oatmeal or cereal without any sort of sweetener. (I tried Stevia but didn’t like it). But I survived my two week test; and by the end of it, I wasn’t missing sugar nearly as much as I thought I might.

Even after I stopped tracking my health habits via the weekly health calendars, I have reduced my dessert intake. There is such pleasure in knowing I am filling my body with healthy calories that give me energy instead of sugary “stuff” that only provides a temporary buzz. This is not to say I will give up desserts and sugar altogether, but cutting back has been much easier than I anticipated. And eating more fruit helps fulfill my sweet urge.

Sleep is critical! Almost as much as the food I ate, the amount of sleep I got each evening influenced how I felt the next day – both physically and mentally. I realize that some folks need more sleep than others, but if extra shut eye gives me a new lease on life, then I’ll take it!

Recovery is needed. Though I have always done a pretty decent job of alternating easy and hard workout days, writing down this information forced me to pay attention to my body’s need for rest and recovery.

More snacks = less pain. Sadly, I didn’t solve the mystery of my frequent stomach aches, but I did confirm that afternoon snacks help alleviate the problem a little. I also noticed that eating a HUGE dinner could trigger an episode as well. (And when you’re training for a marathon, a huge meal is a pretty common occurrence!).

And an added bonus. While preparing for the Seattle Rock N Roll Marathon, I had some of the best training runs I’ve ever experienced. I had a great race, too, and recovered more quickly than normal. Though tracking my health habits might not be the only factor in this welcome change of pace, it certainly contributed!

If you’re looking for ways to feel better – write it down! You might discover some interesting things about yourself in the process.

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