You start by knowing where you are. Plain and simple. Except... it's not always plain and simple to figure out.
"I already know: I'm not in shape, I want to be in shape. That's my starting point."
Knowing you're ready for change and knowing where you're starting are two completely different things.
These are all examples of knowing you're ready for change:
- I'm not in shape.
- I need to start exercising.
- I'm not eating right.
- I need to lose weight.
- I'm ready for a healthy lifestyle (because diets suck).
These are all examples of knowing you need to make changes - which is a great start! It's absolutely necessary. But once you know you're ready for some healthy changes, it's time to figure out your starting point. You'll want to ask yourself some of these questions:
- I'm not in shape
- (What exactly does that mean? How is your health effected? Do you know your limitations? Do you know what exercise pace is right for you? How long has it been since you've exercised?)
- I need to start exercising
- (Could you run a mile? Any idea what kind of exercise you like? How much weight can you lift? How long can you workout? What's a practical frequency for you?)
- I'm not eating right
- (How often are you eating out? How many calories are you eating every day? What good/bad habits do you have?)
- I need to lose weight
- (How much weight? In what time-frame?)
- I'm ready for a healthy lifestyle
- (What have you tried in the past? What does "healthy lifestyle" mean to you? Are there certain foods you want to cut out? Or add? What does your ideal you look like?)
Please don't let all these questions overwhelm you. Download the free food log so you can get started right away. The more you know, the better equipped you are to make wise changes. Grab your free food log below so you can get started right away.
But before you go running off to the races, take time to figure out your starting point. You want to be sure you’re setting yourself up for success. You don’t want expectations so big that you can’t meet them for a year. Talk about discouraging. If you can’t run a mile, would you sign up for a marathon? I know I wouldn't. And I especially wouldn't expect to break any records.
In order to set realistic goals, you need to first have a realistic idea of where you're starting. And if your goal is to run a marathon, that's great! But we need to work up to that, it isn't our starting point.
Still not convinced your starting point is important? Knowing your starting point will help you:
- Set realistic goals.
- Give yourself realistic time-frames.
- Avoid getting all hyped up, going hard, then hitting a wall.
- Make lifestyle changes at a pace you're comfortable with.
- Easily avoid starting out too intense.
- Make eating/exercising changes that aren't overwhelming.
- Make eating/exercising changes that work WITH your lifestyle, not against it.
- Ultimately allow you to make sustainable changes.
Why else is it important - nay - VITAL to know your starting point? Here are the specific, practical applications:
I talked about this a bit more in this post, but here's the gist. If you want to lose weight, you have to eat less. You can eat real food and you can even indulge in your favorite dessert, but overall, you have to eat less. Here's the math:
1 pound = 3500 calories
3500/7 days a week = 500 calories per day
Lose 1 pound per week = eat 500 fewer calories per day
Since we're all different with different habits, we all have to find our own starting point before we can implement changes. How can you cut out 500 calories per day if you don't know how many calories you're eating right now? You can't. I might be eating 500 calories less if I limit my calories to 2000 per day, but you might be actually eating 500 calories more if you start eating 2000 calories per day. Know your starting point so you can make smart, effective changes.
Again, there's a full blog post all about knowing your workout pace here (and there's a free cheat-sheet you can download too).
I've worked out with trainers a couple of times and let me tell you my biggest pet peeve: when they don't take the time to find my style or starting point first! If a trainer wants to jump right in and have me do 30 reps or run 5 miles right off the bat? They'll be fired quickly.
Why? Because I'm a sprinter. I don't like running long distances. Could I if my life depended on it? I'm sure I could. But that doesn't mean I would like it and it doesn't mean I would be good at it. And don't we all like to exercise in ways that are fun and keep us coming back for more?
Even if we're not talking about running, I'm a sprinter at heart. 5 sets of 30 reps? First of all, THAT'S A TON! Second, it's not my style. I would rather do 12-15 different exercises, but do each of them 3 times with 8-15 reps. I want rather have a quick, intense workout than a slow, drawn-out workout. And if that's not your style, that's ok. You have to know what works for you. What style do you like? What pace do you like? And more importantly, what pace are you capable of? You don't want a workout that's so intense you can't walk the next day. Or the next week. That's a little counter-productive.
Getting enough sleep
Sleep is so, so important. But, I'll be the first to admit that I'm horrible about getting enough sleep. (That being said, I'll keep this section short. I'm not trying to be an expert on something I still struggle with.)
While you sleep, both your mind and your body are rejuvenated. If your mind has been cloudy, or you've had a hard time focusing, or you're just always tired -- you probably need more sleep. But again, how do you know what "more sleep" looks like? Do you even realize what your current habits are? Are you only getting 3 hours of sleep 4 times a week?
Again, if you don't know your starting point, it's hard to make realistic changes that will actually last. What I do (or try to do) is track my sleep with my FitBit. It's my favorite thing about my FitBit and the main reason I bought it. (I'm not an affiliate, this is just what works for me). It tracks how long you sleep and how restful your sleep is. I don't know if it's 100% accurate, but it's proven to be helpful for me.
Now to the good stuff -- actually finding your starting point! In order to find your starting point, you have to track your current habits. You need to find your baseline. You're not going to start making all of your changes at once. You might be like me and start making better food choices first, then start your workout routine and finally get around to getting more (and better) sleep.
Similarly you don't have to track all of your habits at once. Here's my opinion:
If you have absolutely no idea where to start: go ahead and track your food, exercise and sleep all at the same time. Depending on the results, you can then determine the best place to start making changes.
If you already know which category you want to start with: either because it's what you're most comfortable with, what's the easiest to do, or what needs the biggest change - then just track that category. For example, if you know you want to change your eating habits and figure that's something you can likely do without too much extra time or money, track your eating habits first. Make sure to download the free food log below so you can get started right away!
The number one biggest mistake you can make when you decide to track your food is making changes before you start logging your progress!
I know it's tempting. When you're all of a sudden being held accountable, you want to make sure you can boast about it, right!? You don't track your starting point so you can boast. You track your starting point so you can find a realistic baseline.
If you stop eating out for a week while you do a food log, you won't get a baseline. What you will get is a difficult, possibly hungry week FULL OF LIES! Just track your current habits without making any changes! You don't have to show it to anyone else. And if you want - you can lie to people about how good you're starting out - just don't lie to yourself. (Not that I recommend lying to other people.) I promise it will do more damage than good. Plus, you'll have to track your habits all over again.
choosing how to keep your log
From a physical journal to a digital journal, to an app, a spreadsheet, text messages, emails, Snapchat, Twitter or another person - there are SO MANY different ways to track your habits.
Choose one that works for you. No matter what I do or what your personal trainer or boss or best friend does, what's going to work best for you depends on your personality.
I'm the kind of person who's likely to lose paper. If I kept a physical journal, I would either lose it or forget it. I've learned that I'll stay most accountable if I can track my habits in a digital format. I usually use my Google Drive, Evernote or MyFitnessPal. If you want a free resource guide with all the top tools I use, you can find that here.
You may not be making changes while you're tracking your exercise, food or sleep, but you can still make observations. Instead of looking at this week as painfully delaying your healthy changes, take advantage of this time. Notice trends.
- How often do you go out to eat?
- When are you most likely to eat dessert?
- When are you encouraged to go to the gym?
- What prevents you from working out?
- What do you like about your current habits?
- What don't you like about your current habits?
Because you'll be recording your food, exercise and sleep, it'll be easier to take a glance at it and notice patterns. If you're paying attention, it's likely you'll notice those patterns as you go. However, you can always look back after a few days or a week and notice trends. Be mindful of the fact that although the specifics of your food, exercise and sleep will be in your log, your mindset around your decisions probably won't be recorded. Take the time to notice what's on your mind as you're making different choices - good or bad.
setting a time-frame
Before you sit down and think you have to track your life away, set a specific time-frame. You don't want to track your habits forever. I recommend tracking your habits for 1-2 weeks. There's needs to be a balance in setting your time-frame. You want enough time to get a really good feel for your baseline. You also don't want to track your habits for so long that all you're really doing is putting off making changes. I say 1 week is a good length of time, 2 weeks is better but not necessary if you're looking to start your changes right away.
Tracking your habits
As is hopefully apparent throughout this post, it is absolutely vital to track your current habits so you can gauge your starting point. Once you know where you're starting, you can set individualized goals that make sense for your lifestyle. The specifics of how you track your food, exercise and sleep are up to you.
Here are a few examples of different ways you can track your habits:
- Keep a log
- Make a simple list
- Count your calories
- Use an app like MyFitnessPal
- Calculate your macros
The amount of detail included is up to you. Make a note that you exercised three times this week or take the time to record all the details of your workout. I still write down every one of my workouts. It serves as a good reference when I want to make my next workout more intense. It also means I now have a huge collection of workouts I can choose from if I don't have enough time to sit down and make a new plan one day.
The same thing goes for food and sleep.
Know your starting point. Make smart changes. Create a healthy lifestyle.
Get started today! The sooner you know your starting point, the sooner you can start making healthy changes.