Most of us sail through our daily routines with little thought as to how badly we’re exceeding our essential calorie demands, kidding ourselves about what kinds of things and how much of them we’ve eaten. But when there’s a record to contend with, it’s much harder to remain unaware or in denial.
By now, many readers of this blog have heard the term “mindfulness” (there are several good articles on this site on the topic of mindfulness) and are aware of its benefits. The concept of mindfulness is rooted in Buddhist philosophy and its meditative practices. And for several years now, psychologists and other mental health professionals have used mindfulness principles to help folks increase their levels of awareness, attention, and focus, thus taking more deliberate charge of important aspects of their lives.
For many years I’ve struggled with weight issues, and those issues have played major roles in various health problems that I’ve also had, directly causing some as well and significantly exacerbating others. Things got to a point that I knew something drastic needed to be done. About 4 years ago this month, I embarked on a quest to do something I haven’t been able to do my whole life until just recently: not just shed some needed pounds but also maintain a proper weight over time, along with a healthier lifestyle. Becoming more mindful played a big role in accomplishing this feat. But for me, mindfulness does not come easily (it’s rarely “easy” for anyone but it’s particularly difficult for some), for I have one of those “monkey minds” the mystics talk about that wants to constantly jump from idea to idea. It’s a real challenge to quiet and focus that monkey mind of mine. So I needed a mindfulness aide, and to my good fortune, I found it in a most unusual form: an app called My Fitness Pal. (And no, this is not a paid plug for the app or the website!)
It’s simply amazing how our obliviousness to things such as how little exercise we get during the day or how wretchedly we typically feed ourselves contributes to our health problems. Most of us sail through our daily routines with little thought as to how badly we’re exceeding our essential calorie demands, which is why so many of us are overweight. Even when we’re trying to be more conscientious about things, it’s still easy to kid ourselves about what kinds of things and how much of them we’ve eaten, and how inadequate our efforts to expend the excess calories we’ve consumed have been. But when we journal our nutritional events and activities, all that changes. When there’s a record to contend with, it’s much harder to remain unaware or in denial.
Now, I’ve tried keeping a journal in the past, with varying degrees of success. And I’ve tried counting calories as well. But it’s hard to do this reliably (for one thing, it’s not very convenient when you’re talking tablet and pencil) and equally hard to do it accurately. And it’s also just too darned easy to cheat, whether intentionally or unintentionally. But the ease of use and the accuracy of the fitness app I’ve been using has been a real game-changer.
Psychologists are all about the “wellness” model these days. And we’re often pretty good coaches for our clients when it comes to promoting wellness. But who coaches us? Well, for, me it’s my little pocket app. I have it on my phone, which I carry with me all the time, and on my digital tablet. I can access it from any internet-connected device. And using it has become such a routine that I almost never fail to make an entry no matter what I’m doing (e.g., eating, snacking, walking, biking, etc.). And even when I miss an entry, it’s easy to make a retrospective one at the earliest opportunity. And if I forget to do so, my reliable little app reminds me. As a result, my “fitness pal” has become more than my constant, reliable companion and wellness “coach” but also a most effective mindfulness aide. I’m more acutely aware now of the things I do both to and with myself (as well as the unhealthy things I obliviously used to do in years past) than ever before.
The app I use is more than a calorie counter, although it’s a pretty darned good one. In fact, it has on file thousands of brand name items (even items you buy at fast food joints) and you can use the built-in bar code scanner to assess the exact calorie count of almost any food you can think of. And it will help you determine the constitutional and caloric makeup of any food you might concoct as well. It also lets me keep track of every bit of cardiovascular fitness I engage in, from simple lawn mowing to fast walking, hiking, weight training, and even rock or wall climbing. And it lets me know the overall proportion of carbohydrates, good fats, bad fats, protein, etc. in my diet. Eating the right foods and getting the balance right is just as important — if not more so — than just consuming the right amount of calories. But perhaps the most life-changing (in addition to being perhaps the most sobering) thing it’s offered me has been a reliable way to measure my “maintenance” calorie demands, given my metabolism and level of activity and exercise. I was more than a bit shocked at first to know what my true daily caloric requirement is an astonishing 1550 calories/day, inasmuch as the official “charts” suggest a range of between 2000 and 2400 calories would be more “normal” for my age. But to know that, and as a result, to understand why it was always so impossible to maintain a healthy weight consuming what I believed to be a normal amount has truly changed everything.
My digital mindfulness aide has enabled me to completely reverse the vicious cycle I was in for years and years. I was under-exercising, overeating, suffering physically, and because I was suffering physically, tended to under-exercise and overeat even more. With this vicious cycle broken, my whole life (and consequently, my lifestyle) has changed so dramatically I hardly know where to begin describing all the differences. And I’m acutely aware of these differences moment to moment. I’m not only more aware of them but also savoring them and enjoying every minute of what has genuinely become a new life.
Sometimes I say to myself that it’s so good to feel as good as I do now that I know I’ll never go back to where I was before. But then I reflect on the fact that I’ve said some very similar things to myself several times before. What’s different this time is the mindfulness factor, and without my little digital helper, I know I’d really be in trouble on that score. Still, the “proof” of this regimen’s success, as they say, is “in the pudding” (which, by the way, I don’t include in my diet anymore!). I’ve maintained my weight and healthier lifestyle habits for nearly two years now. And, while I certainly don’t discount the value of the effort this undertaking has required, I know I couldn’t possibly have done it without the mindfulness aide its developers call My Fitness Pal. I’m sure glad this app was out there, and, at the time I got it, free for the taking. I now know there are many others like it, too, and I think it’s wonderful that in this day and age when so many of our gadgets simply do things for us (and make us even lazier than we already are) there’s one designed to help us do more for ourselves by helping us be more mindful. Perhaps one of the many apps out there in the cyber-market is tailor-made for you and your fitness needs as well. And if you, like me, need such an aide to be more mindful about your health and wellness, I sincerely hope you find it and give it a try. It just might change your life!
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by