Have You Learned Nothing?

There’s a topic that has come up somewhat routinely on my podcast and I wanted to take a few minutes this week to write about it.

When many of us make an effort to improve some aspect of our lives, whether it be physical, emotional, etc. we do so with something of a plan. Maybe it’s by trying a diet out that we heard was effective or a training plan that promises to get us stronger and/or leaner or maybe we’re trying to clear our headspace by doing something more therapeutic.

What we often forget to do is to take notes and leave a trail of how these changes are affecting us in real time so that we have a track record of what’s working, what isn’t and most importantly, what (if anything) needs to change.

Let me give an example.

Several years ago, I read some literature about intermittent fasting. The sources were credible, the information seemed sound and I advocated for it by writing about in a blog on a website I no longer keep active.

I tried a variation out which would be the one that was popularized recently by utilizing a 16 hour fasting window with an 8 hour eating window. I didn’t track calories, I just ate within my window and tried it for about month.

My results, as memory serves, were not remarkable. However, two points stick out: 1) I didn’t track calories so whether I was unconsciously eating in a deficit, a surplus or at maintenance, I can only assume based on what the scale told me. 2) Any positive or negative benefit otherwise is left to my memory which is not getting better with time. So, when I look back on my first experiment in fasting, the results didn’t stand out in any way.

After my first experiment, I tried fasting in a different way, by doing one 24-hour fast each week. Here again, I tracked no calories, followed the parameter of the fasting protocol for about a month and saw no noticeable results. Just like my first go-round, I had no clear recollection of the good or the bad of the different approach.

Fast forward a few years and I tried fasting again with a slight difference. I tracked my calories meticulously, went back to a 16-8 fasting window and lost 9 pounds in about 2 months. Now, I had data to look back on to say that “something” was happening aside from the otherwise uncomfortable window of not consuming food for X amount of time.

In retrospect, a bit more information would have been helpful too:

  1. How was my mood?

2. How was my energy?

3. How was my libido?

4. How was my sleep?

5. How were my workouts?

These are the areas I would have to rely on my inconsistent memory to provide me.

Why does this matter?

It’s somewhat human nature to, for lack of a better phrase, blindly follow a plan and just hope for the best. If things are positive, we try to stay on the course. If things are negative, we either abandon prematurely or we stubbornly stay on the course hoping things will be favorable soon. In the case of the latter, we might be right, we could also be wrong.

The thing is, we have to remember our individual response to what we embark on. Just because your spouse saw good results doing CrossFit doesn’t meant that you will, just because your grandfather lived to 94 eating bacon every day and smoking cigars doesn’t mean you will reach the same age with the same practices.

However, having data helps.

If the way you’re eating matters, you can track calories, or track eating behaviors, or track diet-related habits and see what changes. Use the 5 questions I listed above as a reference. If you decide you want to try intermittent fasting, a low carb diet, a low fat diet or something along those lines, have a record of what you were feeling, when you were feeling it and data points that can help you understand what’s happening.

As I’ve said many times in the past and will share again: if you’re not keeping track, you’re guessing. And if you’re guessing, there’s a good chance you’re wrong.

We’re all (myself included) trying to get better at something. You can read all the books, all the articles and watch all the videos you like, but if you’re going to make the financial investment, perform the task and not have some quantitative record of what’s happening, what are you learning?

Make the time and effort worth it.