Things like counting calories, tracking macros, and following diet “rules” give us a sense of control over our health outcomes. And we all like control, right? But what happens when you do everything right and you’re not at your goal weight? Do you feel motivated to try something different and push on? Or, do you feel like the majority of us – discouraged? 

When our effort doesn’t translate to results, we often feel hopeless. That’s because we can’t control external factors – not completely, at least. We can’t control how our body will look after following a particular weight-loss plan. So, what can we do to feel a greater sense of control?

Tracking: integrating external outcomes with internal cues of progress

How do you know you’re moving closer to your goals or doing a good job? I bet it’s a combination of body weight, body measurements, how you look in the mirror, or your clothing size. Maybe you’ve incorporated a food tracker app and you’re logging calories and macronutrients like carbs, fats, proteins. 

These are external things and they tell us important information about our progress and performance. Are we hitting our target macronutrients and daily calorie goals? Are we getting leaner around the belly? 

On the other hand, internal things tell us about our internal state or how we feel. They serve as a guide that we are working towards the underlying motivation for our goals. 

And… they are not contingent on a particular outcome. 

For example, consider internal body cues like sleep, hunger, mood, energy, and cravings (SHMEC). Many people feel better when they see improvements in these areas of their health … regardless of the scale! 

Internal cues like SHMEC are not dependent on the scale or measurements. We know we’re doing a good job because we can feel it.

When we know what’s happening internally and how to respond to that, we often feel a greater sense of control. For example, we often feel more in control of our eating habits by learning, understanding, and using our internal cues of appetite awareness to determine our food intake. In other words, using physical hunger and fullness cues to tell us if we’ve eaten enough to feel full and satisfied (rather than an app).

This doesn’t mean you can’t use external things like calorie counter apps as a backup or for fun (especially if you’re a numbers person). Tracking these things is especially important in the beginning to gain a better understanding of food portion sizes and how much we are eating. But how food makes us feel emotionally and physically is internal.

And guess what? You are the boss of your food choices. You can’t control the scale, but you can adjust your meal size and frequency depending on your body cues.

Control what you can actually control.

And why not use both? 

What’s truly important to you about your goals? 

Pick a goal that you want to work on. Got it? Great! What’s important to YOU about that goal?

Do you want more energy for the people and things that bring you joy? Better sleep to improve athletic performance? A higher-quality diet to improve digestion? If you think it’s aesthetic, then ask yourself, what’s important to you about being that size or that weight. Why is looking that way important to you? There are no wrong answers here!

Considering your goal and the underlying motivation(s) for it, think about how you’ll know you’re moving in the right direction. In other words, what will you use to track and measure progress?

Here’s a checklist to help get you started

  • List the things that tell you that you’re on track and doing a good job.
  • Look at your list. Which things are external? Which things are internal? 
  • Are all of these things helpful? 
  • If you were to shift your focus towards more internal cues, what would that look like? 
  • If you’re stuck, focus on the skills you might need. For example, if certain eating habits (ie stress eating) are getting in the way of your body composition goals, then regulating your emotions without food and eating is a skill that you need to develop. Moving away from stress eating urges requires identification and recognition of several internal cues, such as physical sensations (physical hunger and fullness cues), emotions, and thoughts around eating.
  • Use SHMEC to guide you, but don’t stop there! Think about what truly matters to you.

Both external outcomes and internal cues of progress have a place in our action plans; however, using internal cues is a powerful way to become your own metabolic detective. When we know our internal cues and how to respond to them, we feel a greater sense of control.

We’d love to hear from you now! Just for fun, if you were to build an action plan based on SHMEC alone, what would that look like? Share your comments below. 

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash