Congratulations, you’ve survived the anguish and guilt of sticking to or abandoning your New Year’s Resolutions for the month of January.
After the festive period, filled with social obligations marked by indulgences, you quite possibly decided to scale down on certain beverages or snack choices and perhaps even give something new a try. Something like chia seeds, low fat cheese or even the Impossible™ burger. You might even have joined a gym or asked a personal trainer to revamp your existing training routine. Why?
Because you have gained a few pounds, now suddenly suffer with acid reflux, your IBS symptoms have returned, you are sleeping badly and feel tired all the time – all the time that you now have to spend back at work, that is.
So what now?
The hype in the media to entice you to go vegan, go dry, or get active has now passed and your long-term health objective, once again, is down to your personal choices.
There is overwhelming evidence for limiting alcohol intake, losing excess weight, eating a healthy diet, and being more active – unless you are already an ultra athlete. So what choices will you make for the next 10 months? Let’s not count December as that month is clearly marked for overindulgence, year after year.
Any successful strategy requires data. How do know what shoe size to buy your growing child? By measuring their feet at the time of buying that desired new pair, not by guessing or merely buying the next size up from last time. Yet, when we talk (boast) about our fitness regimes and food intake, we often subscribe to selective recall, an affliction that not only befalls recreational fishermen.
When it comes to healthy lifestyle it is imperative that you measure both your actual exercise output and food and drink intake. Observational studies that rely on population recall are but a mere indication of a possible trend. They do not provide a definitive dataset. For example, the classic London bus driver and conductor study concluded that conductors suffered less coronary heart disease (CHD) than drivers, implying that physical activity at work could be a preventative measure to CHD.  A follow-up paper suggested that the difference in health outcome for these two sets of people were more likely due to their body composition (BMI) at time of recruitment than the amount of movement done on the job.
Recall is inherently flawed, that is why the gold standard of testing is still considered to be a randomised controlled study – the kind where all factors are controlled for in a specific laboratory setting. For example drug development. However, even in these regulated environments there can be surprising outcomes and one study does not set a precedent unless the results can be replicated by an independent study.
A winning strategy
The best strategy is to get a step counter (fitness measuring device) that you can wear all the time. There are many devices on the market, ranging from relatively inexpensive models to prices that take your breath away. At the end of the day they all measure your level of exercise that give you a much better indication of your activity levels than you boasting about having played county squash 20 years ago. The assumption being that you are still that fit and able.
The most important habit to cultivate in 2020 is keeping a detailed dietary diary. There are so many applications available, many of them free. It is imperative that you diarise everything that passes your lips, both solid and liquid. You will soon realise that your guesstimate of daily calorie intake is inconsistent with what the numbers reveal. The added bonus of downloading a good application is that can also track your nutrient intake. We are bombarded with experts stating that supplementation is a waste of money and only makes for expensive urine. When you log your food and drink intake, you can easily pinpoint excess and deficiency compared to recommended nutrient intake. When your dietary log shows optimal intake of nutrients but you continue to experience symptoms, the problem can then be identified via specific tests. This is a time and money saving approach that covers all bases.
The vegan community is often derided and ridiculed for their choice of sustenance and told to be aware of nutrient deficiencies. In my experience, even all inclusive eaters can suffer with nutrient deficiencies indicating that all diets need to be well planned and implemented. By logging your food intake, you as a vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or intermittent faster can show that you are eating an optimum diet, or not. With a proper dataset you can address concerns and change your eating and fitness regime to fit any goal that you have set, be it weight loss, weight gain, reduced salt intake, increased protein, or improving your endurance.
Data is not only informative, it is also beautiful. Would you rather set yourself up for failure by selective recall or be empowered by numbers, that simply do not lie? Involve your family and friends and set up a friendly challenge. This works a charm in my household where we all compare our daily steps and make meals that work within the limits of our individual health goals.
Whether you are trying to lose weight, get fitter, manage your existing illness, or simply safeguard yourself against age-related deterioration, you are worth the effort.
- Kujala, M. (2018) ‘Is physical activity a cause of longevity? It is not as straightforward as some would believe. A critical analysis’, British Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol. 52. Iss 14, pp. 914-918. Available at https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/14/914.long, accessed 30/01/2020