5 Reasons Counting Calories Helps You Lose Weight – And It’s Not What You Think.

Since the first of the year I have been committed to tracking my calories. While it can be tedious and at times slightly time consuming the benefits have far outweighed the inconveniences.

Counting calories reveals more than you think

Counting calories reveals more than you think

Here’s what I’ve learned.

One: I more accurately know what I am eating and when

While I know in my mind that a breakfast that includes protein is extremely important, I often struggle to eat in the morning. I’m about as far from a morning person as you can imagine, yet I teach and train four to five days a week starting between 530 and 6am.

Needless to say, I get every last minute of sleep I can before walking out the door. So breakfast prior to teaching and training simply does not happen. Some mornings, if there’s time I even grab some more sleep before dropping off at school.

Depending on my class/training schedule I have to be careful about what I eat so I don’t get sick when jumping around. This not only goes for mornings but evenings as well.

I discovered I was eating far too few calories early in the day and was left with a great number to consume at the end of the day – the worst time to consume a lot. Think about it, how many hours do you have to actually ‘burn off’ your dinner and evening snacking calories before going to bed. Sleeping on a full stomach just doesn’t make sense.

Two: I more accurately understand my caloric burn

I invested in a heartrate monitor that gives me an idea of the number of calories I am burning during my workouts. Is it foolproof? I’m sure it’s not, but it does give me a measure to know what my burn rate is.

Weight loss, weight gain and weight maintenance is all based on calories in and out. Want to lose? Consume less and burn more. Want to gain? Eat more and burn less. Want to maintain? Find a balance.

The point I want to emphasize here is that while weight loss is accomplished through consuming less and burning more, if you eat too few calories, you slow your metabolism down and impede your efforts to lose and tone.

This is a problem I was experiencing. I wasn’t necessarily ‘gaining’ weight, but I wasn’t seeing the results that I should from the amount of effort I was putting in each week. Since tracking my calories and maintaining a good balance, I am noticeably more toned. Don’t believe me…I got into a pair of skinny jeans I was ready to donate (A Pair of Jeans that Fit Just Right).

Don’t starve yourself to lose – because in the end it won’t be pounds that you lose, rather you’ll lose a functioning metabolic rate, strength, and ultimately willpower.

Three: I recognize the entire weekend isn’t a free for all

So whether I recognized it or not, by unintentionally ‘starving’ myself during the week, when the weekend hit I was up for anything. Pizza? Sure! Cocktails? Sure! You name it, I pretty much let go on the weekend and indulged.

Part of this is because I was consuming too little of food during the week that my body was crying out for nutrition. Without eating what I should have I was giving myself a pass to ‘enjoy’ everything.

My willpower was shot because I was hungry. Seriously, it takes some strong mind power to choose chicken breast with zucchini noodles in an avocado sauce, over piping hot pepperoni pizza. (Note: I used chicken instead of shrimp for this dish and served the sauce on the side.)

But by feeding my body better throughout the week, I find the weekends are much easier to stay on track. I’m not only making better choices, but even splitting meals with my husband when we eat out. And eating out has actually diminished quite a bit, I’d rather eat at home and have control over my choices.

Four: I’ve learned to plan better

Now please hear me, I wasn’t under-consuming intentionally. I’d get busy, and more often than not after looking at the clock I’d realize that if I ate something I’d no doubt get sick teaching my classes.

So I now plan my breakfast for mid-morning. I don’t get up early enough to eat before my classes – should I? Yes. But the reality is I want every last minute of sleep I can get. I make sure that my breakfast includes protein and a good amount of calories.

My lunch happens early afternoon, usually before school pick-ups. Again, I try and get protein in and the necessary calories that are going to give me a good balance after my evening classes.

Dinner time is sometimes late for me so I do my best to keep the caloric intake to a minimum and as clean as possible. Clean meaning fresh veggies and lean protein.

I could be better about consuming snacks during the day, and that’s something that I need to work on. But for now, getting my meals balanced is something worth celebrating.

Five: I more accurately understand the breakdown of my nutrients

Can you eat ‘clean’ and still consume too much fat? Yes! Avocados and raw nuts are both excellent healthy fats for you but consuming too much of them can get you off track. Do fruits provide quality natural nutrients? Of course! But consuming too many fruits can lead you down a road of entirely too much sugar in your diet. Are carbs good for you? Yes, because they are your body’s preferred energy source, but your carbs need to come from nature not from a factory. What about protein? It’s essential to build lean muscle tissue.

I’m not going to get into a science lesson here on the necessary breakdown of nutrients because it will vary depending on body size and type, but what I will say is that in general you need a healthy balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

I was guilty of days that were entirely too high in fat, even though they were healthy fats. I was guilty of eating far too few carbs at times and too little protein other times. Not every day will turn out to have the perfect balance, they key is to take it day by day and do your best to find the right balance for you.

So can counting calories be a pain, no doubt. But since committing to it, I am seeing and feeling the difference. I’m only doing it 4 days a week, but I am finding that now I am used to what I should be eating and when, even when I’m not tracking, I’m staying on track. If you’re not currently keeping a food log to better understand your nutritional health, I encourage you to start. Start slow, commit to two days a week, then add a day at a time until you are comfortable with the schedule. You’re going to see differences. I have.

A Pair of Jeans that Fit Just Right

A couple weeks ago I wrote about breaking up with my scale and ways you can measure success without being attached to a number on the scale:

  • Tracking calories
  • Using tape measurements and
  • Keying in to how your clothes feel

I’ll be honest, I haven’t done much with tracking my tape measurements…but I have been regularly using MyFitnessPal and being honest with myself about how I feel in the things I wear.

This morning we were getting ready for church and I glanced over at a pile of clothes that I had set aside to give away. I’ve ignored that pile for a couple weeks now. One, because I’m disappointed that I’ve spent money on things I didn’t really like, Two, that I’ve somehow outgrown some of the things that I love and Three, that I’ve been too lazy over the last few weeks to scoop it all up and donate it.

jeans-personaltrainingbyjenn

Then, for whatever reason, I grabbed a pair of jeans out of the pile. I remembered how much I loved those jeans – so much, in fact, there were two identical pair in the pile. But it had been months since I had even attempted to wear them. The last time I tried them on I felt restricted, I felt fat, I felt uncomfortable.

These jeans were just a reminder of the smaller me. They were a reminder of who I wasn’t now. They were a reminder that I had failed myself.

So why I even bothered to pick them up this morning I really don’t know. But they fit. And they felt good. And I felt good about myself. Have I had a perfectly clean diet? No. But have I been conscious about making good choices. Have I made every personal workout I’ve intended for myself. No. But I’ve made the best of the one’s that I was able to get in.

Again, it goes back to taking small steps to appreciate the big reward of achieving your goals. I had given up on getting back into those jeans, it no longer seemed possible. But once I set my mind to being accountable for my calories in and out on a daily basis things changed.

I still don’t know what I weigh – and to be honest – I don’t care. My jeans fit again and that’s all that matters.

Even Though It’s a Personal Goal I NEED My Family

Back in October I set a goal for myself to run a half marathon every month until I turn 40. The goal was as simple as that – register and finish 13.1 miles every month. No time expectations, no expectations other than to cross that finish line.

I just finished my 3rd race last weekend and I haven’t written much more than a some FB status updates about them so let me share with you what I’ve learned by running 39.3 miles.

Even though it's a personal goal, I realize I NEED my family to reach it.

Even though it’s a personal goal, I realize I NEED my family to reach it.

My First 13.1

My first was the Naperville half marathon. I didn’t choose it for any other reason than it was in November and close to my home. I started that race like I was on fire. I felt on top of the world and my pace was better than I had expected. Even though I had set the intention of just completing each race, all of a sudden I was telling myself, “You could finish this first one under 2 hours! You’re on pace for your best half marathon yet! Just think of how the next 11 are going to go if you keep this up!”

Then I hit the wall about mile 6 and my pace tanked. I was suddenly dressed too warm, out of breath and annoyed with just about every song on my playlist. What in the world was I thinking when I set this goal?

Then about mile 8 things started looking up. My husband, mom and dad were there cheering me on. I stopped for a few minutes and talked to them and had a bit more spring in my step running away from them.

That’s not to say the rest of the race was a piece of cake – it sure wasn’t. I stiffened up, I walked, I even questioned how the heck I was going to do 11 more races. But in the end, I finished.

My Second 13.1

Along comes December and I’m carefully watching the weather forecast for Carmel, IN thinking, surely there must be something wrong. There is no way the high is for the 60s. But sure enough, I was able to head out for my run in shorts, a tank and my sexy compression socks!

This time my mom, dad, husband and the Schindlings (my three kiddos) were all on the course to cheer me on. And once again, started out HOT! I tagged along next to the pacer who was finishing in 2 hours.

Mile 4 I texted Don to say, “I’m on pace for a 2 hour race, I’m not going to stop when I see you all.” He understood and cheered me on.

When I turned the corner and saw them all standing there, a straight-up 2 hour finish didn’t matter anymore. I wanted to hug them, I wanted to thank them for taking their Saturday to cheer for me and the other runners and I wanted to let go of the self-imposed expectations that I was putting on myself once again.

I kept my family updated on my progress and was fortunate to see them several times throughout the race and because of the prayers of my mom and the somewhat aggressive driving of my husband they even made it to the finish line.

It was a great race and a great day.

My Third 13.1

So this past Saturday took my to St. Louis for a run in Forest Park. One thing that I was most excited about this race was the entry fee – $20!!! If you are a runner you know it’s a financial commitment to participate in races so finding a $20 race was a win in itself.

My in-laws came to the hotel and swam with the Schindlings while I ran and Don cheered me on. I broke all of my pre-race rules for this one. I normally don’t eat a single thing – mostly because it upsets my stomach and I feel awful.

But on Saturday I made myself a big, iced coffee, took a couple bites of Don’s breakfast sandwich and headed to the start line. I turned on my playlist, started RunKeeper and took off at a moderate pace.

The course was to complete a big loop through Forest Park twice which made it possible for me to see Don about every other mile. Between seeing him often and letting go of any self-imposed expectations for a finish time, I kept a consistent pace throughout and finished with my best time so far in this series of races: 2 hours, 6 minutes.

All that said, I hope what you get from my running stories is how important my family is to helping me achieve the goal of finishing a half marathon every month.

I couldn’t do it without my family sacrificing time to travel to my races.

I couldn’t do it without my family cheering me on during my races.

I couldn’t do it without seeing my family at the finish line.

So remember, even though we may set personal goals, there are people behind the scenes that just as important in your own efforts to achieve those goals.

Raising Healthy Children

Both my husband and I participated in sports growing up and throughout our adult lives exercise has remained a priority. So it’s a unique challenge for us that two of our three children have absolutely no interest in physical activities.

The positive thing is that they aren’t bound to a video gaming system or their electronic devices. Now, don’t get me wrong, they spend their fair share of time playing various games, but they are also very much into drawing, reading, writing and creating things out of old boxes. All of which I encourage them to do because I love to see where their minds take them and how their skills are growing.

On the other hand, I am challenged to get them physically active. I’m sure some of you can identify with this problem.

I’m fortunate enough to train and instruct classes designed to help my clients achieve better health. Some of them have been active all their life and thrive off of the ‘high’ that physical activity brings them. Whether it’s the sense of accomplishment, the release of stress, or the sheer joy of the activity, this type of person is upset when life gets in the way and keeps them from exercise.

But there’s another population that engages in personal training and takes classes – and those are the people who don’t really enjoy exercise at all, but are doing it because they know they have to. For this group, excuses can come a little easier, and in general a missed workout isn’t the end of the world.

For two of my three children, I fear that is who they will be as adults.

Healthy living starts in childhood.

Healthy living starts in childhood.

Let me pause here and make something very clear to you as my reader…
– I don’t expect my children to love fitness just because I do
– I do expect them to make healthy choices to live a balanced life
– I don’t push my children to participate in activities that aren’t of interest to them
– I do challenge them to try new things and push themselves in areas they enjoy

I think we can all agree that life is BUSY. Sometimes entirely more than we’d like it to be. When that happens, we must make choices, and more often than not those activities we find less desirable take a back seat. This isn’t limited to exercise, it can include preparing meals, cleaning the house, getting the laundry done…you name a task you don’t enjoy doing and I guarantee it’s one that’s easy to find an excuse to leave it for later.

I’m guilty of this. If you know me you know one thing that I hate most in life is cleaning glass shower doors! I would rather be stuck doing laundry for days than spend the 15 minutes it takes to clean that shower.

The point is, when time is limited we prioritize our activities based on the pleasure they give us.

So as parents of inactive children it’s so important that we encourage our children to try as many new activities as possible.

Maybe organized sports isn’t their thing, but what about going for a walk or taking a bike ride. Your both getting active and this is an excellent time to connect about what is going on in your child’s life.

Or find a way to engage them in an activity you enjoy…my husband goes boxing twice a week and takes two of our kiddos to Ju Jitsu classes which they both love (even the kiddo who hates being active).

Think back to your last hotel stay…what do the kids want to do the minute you check in? Head to the pool! Find a place that they can go swim.

Don’t discount the video games that require active movement. We’ve spent many nights looking like fools dancing and playing a variety of sport games with our Kinect. Even the kiddos who don’t like playing traditional sports are up for a virtual foot race, volleyball game or boxing match.

It’s possible that getting them active might require a bit of investment. I was fortunate to come across a great deal on a treadmill so my oldest daughter now picks her favorite episode of Friends or Everybody Loves Raymond and hops on to get some steps.

Bottom line is that it’s my job to help them find something they like. If they don’t find an activity of choice while growing up, life is likely to get in the way and rather than exercise being a pleasurable experience, it’s going to be something they dread.

We focus on making sure that our children get a good education and have solid moral values, let’s also equip them to live a healthy life.

The Best Way To Achieve Your Weight Loss Goals

It’s no surprise that the gym population grows in January and soon starts to dwindle in the following months.

Most people go into a new year thinking about a new self. We set resolutions about lifestyle changes – whether it be adding exercise, quitting bad habits or setting your sights on a new job, it’s going to take dedication to get there.

All to often what happens is we set our long term goals without thinking about all the steps in between that are going to get us there. When there is no preset plan, you set yourself up for a very bumpy and possibly messy path to reach your goals.

It's not just the end goal that matters, intentionally take steps towards your goal.

It’s not just the end goal that matters, intentionally take steps towards your goal.

Has this ever happened to you? You set a weight loss goal for an important event in two months. The first few weeks you start out strong, drinking water, sticking to your caloric intake, incorporating exercise and you are feeling good. Then you step on the scale to see the same number from the week before and you get discouraged. Because you’re discouraged you have a cheat meal, that cheat meal feels like a good way to feel sorry for yourself and before you know it, that one cheat meals takes you totally off course for a week or more. You take a look at the calendar and realize the event is now only a couple weeks away and you are no where near your goal.

DEFEATED. DISAPPOINTED. DISCOURAGED.

Now let’s look at the same scenario in a slightly different way.

LONG TERM GOAL: Lose x amount of pounds in two months.  (By the way, weight loss goals should never be more than 2lbs per week – so the MAXIMUM amount of loss assigned to a 2 month period should be 16 lbs – a more realistic goal would be 10 – 12 lbs. Click here to learn more about realistic losses.)

Instead of only focusing on the end result of let’s say a 10 pound loss over 8 weeks, set your mind to think about it one week at a time. What can you do THIS week to take a step towards your ultimate goal?

This week you can increase water consumption to 1/2 your body weight in ounces, you can track your calories, and you can incorporate exercise. Set some specific goals around those actions.

At the end of the week evaluate where you were with accomplishing those goals. If you achieved them – fantastic! You are inspired to take on week two and possibly even take your weekly goals to the next level. If you didn’t succeed, you can quickly evaluate where you failed, what changes you have to make and recommit to your goals. The end goal is still within reach and hope is not lost!

My point is, when we only focus on the end and not the steps in between it makes achieving our goals incredibly more challenging. Incremental accomplishments keep us motivated! Just the same as incremental failures give us the opportunity to reset more quickly than to completely give up on our goals and revert back to our old way of living.

Each week I encourage you to set 3 goals – each of which will lead to a healthier you:

  1. Nutritional – a goal surrounding tracking caloric intake, increasing fruit and veggie consumption, increasing water consumption, etc.
  2. Physical – go to the gym for 30 minutes at least 3 times a week, run a 5k in less than 30 minutes, complete 2 cardio workouts of 30 minutes and 3 resistance training workouts of 45 minutes
  3. Personal: go to bed at 10pm, read for 20 minutes every day, call a friend and invite them to coffee

There are important factors to consider when writing goals that I didn’t tap into today. To learn more about writing goals I encourage you to take the time to read these two blog posts:

Are Your Goals SMART?

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-Sensitive

3 Questions to Consider When Writing Goals

  • Am you ready to make the change?
  • How will this change impact your quality of life?
  • Are you willing to make this a lifestyle change?

Top 3 Ways to Replace your Bathroom Scale

Earlier this week I wrote about breaking up with my bathroom scale. After years of allowing the number that appeared on the scale to take away the joy I should have felt from my healthy choices in the kitchen and hard work in the gym, it was time to part ways.

That said, I think it’s still very important to find ways to remain accountable to a healthy lifestyle. So moving forward these are the three methods that I will use to measure my progress.

You don't need your scale to stay accountable.

You don’t need your scale to stay accountable.

Caloric Tracking

There are a number of free apps available to use to track both calories and exercise. Two of the most popular are LoseIt and MyFitnessPal. Both connect with many other gadgets like FitBits or heart rate monitors for more accurate readings on activity levels.

By entering your caloric intake and keeping up with the exercise log you can easily see if there is an imbalance in the two. For some, tracking this information may reveal that caloric intake far exceeds the amount burned, for others it can be eye-opening how many snacks are consumed during the day.

The reason tracking is important is because we often underestimate the calories we consume and overestimate the calories we burn. Weight gain, loss and maintaining all comes down to calories in, calories out. Consuming more than you are burning will result in weight gain, creating a caloric deficit will allow you to lose, and clearly a good balance will help you maintain.

I’m not suggesting you become obsessed with tracking calories and activities – this can prove to be as harmful as being a slave to a number on the scale – but I do suggest that tracking even just a few days a week will open your eyes to your choices in the kitchen and the results of your workouts in the gym.

I’m not going to dive any deeper into this topic today, but I invite you to visit a blog post I wrote about ‘The Reality of Calories and Portions.’

Tape Measurements

Another method to track progress is using a good old fashioned tape measure. Whether you are trying to lose weight and tone or trying to build muscle this is a great way to measure your changes.

Here are some major areas that you should measure and how to do it properly:

  • Chest: measure right across the nipple line on your chest
  • Bicep: measure half way between the shoulder and elbow
  • Waist: measure about one inch above the navel
  • Hips: measure the largest area around the glutes
  • Thigh: measure half way between the knee and hip bone

I recommend remeasuring about every 4 – 6 weeks and tracking your results.

Clothing

Jeans never lie. We all know the feeling of trying to jump into them or inhaling to get them buttoned. Start to use your clothing as a measurement of your progress. Are you comfortable in your clothes or are they tight? Despite how much we all wish it were true, we can’t always blame the dryer.

Speaking to the point of clothing, it’s certainly okay to have a goal outfit, but be realistic. If you are saving a pair of jeans from 10 years ago, and have since had 3 children, those jeans might not be realistic. Over time our bodies change, so when choosing (or keeping) a ‘goal’ piece of clothing be realistic.

I also suggest that if something is baggy or unflattering, get rid of it! Wear things that show off your best because the better you feel about the way you look, the more motivated you will be to stick to your plan.

So dump that scale, adopt some new ways to measure and celebrate your successes in 2016!

The Top 3 Reasons to Get Rid of Your Bathroom Scale

Towards the end of 2015 my husband took my scale away. He hid it from me. What used to be a prominent feature in our bathroom was gone.

I think he did this partially for his own sanity – he was tired of the same old conversation about the number that appeared each time I left the bathroom.

Day or night, anytime I walked in there I was compelled to step on the scale. Depending on what that number was it pretty much determined my mood for the rest of the day/night.

Top Three Reasons to Get Rid of Your Scale

Top Three Reasons to Get Rid of Your Scale

It’s been an adjustment not having my scale…but in the last few months I’ve learned quite a bit about myself and the type of trainer/motivator I want to be.

So here are the top 3 reasons why I don’t care what my scale says about me or my clients…

#1 Health isn’t determined by a number on the scale.

I used to be so frustrated by eating clean, getting in my workouts and not seeing the scale budge, or worse, go up.

For the most part, I choose broccoli over french fries, chicken over burgers, grilled over fried…you get the picture. Yet, more times than not, I’d step off the scale and feel like a failure. The display of that number would take away all of the positive feelings I had about my healthy choices.

I’m done with letting the scale take away how good I feel about making positive choices in my life.

#2 A number doesn’t reflect my dedication to healthy living.

Looking down and seeing a number I didn’t expect completely took the wind out of my sails. I’d question, why should I keep choosing broccoli and chicken to only see the scale stay the same and go up. Maybe next time I should give in and get the burger and fries.

Or what about the fact that I left everything I had at the gym – between teaching classes and my own workouts, I had not another thing to give and still the scale laughed at me.

So I’ve learned, that number only has the power to take away how hard I’ve worked towards a healthier life if I let it. And from now on I’m not going to let it. It’s a number. Just a number.

My dietary choices and my sweat prove that I am far above the number on a scale.

#3 My worth can’t be assigned to a number.

And lastly, why would I ever allow my love for myself tied to a number? Do I love my family and friends any more or less based on their number? Certainly not. I don’t care about their number. I care about their heart. I care about their well-being. I care about the time I get to spend with them.

So my worth can’t be a number – my worth is my heart, my worth is my well-being inside and out and my worth is the time I spend with others.

So as a trainer and group fitness instructor, I encourage you to not be intimidated by your scale. Rather, think about what healthy living means to you and live that out…all else will follow.

Later this week I’ll give you some positive ways to track your progress that aren’t based on your bathroom scale.