What keeping a food and activity diary taught me about my overall wellness

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Our writer learns that the first step to adopting a healthier lifestyle can be as simple as recording what you eat and do every day.

TEXT: KEENAN PEREIRA

PHOTOS: SHUTTERSTOCK, HOMETEAMNS

Looking at me, you’d never think that I was fat – I stand at 1.85m and weigh just over 70kg. But underneath my T-shirt lies one of my biggest secrets: a tummy. It’s the classic “skinny fat” syndrome, which means that I have a relatively high percentage of body fat and low muscle mass — despite maintaining a normal Body Mass Index (BMI).

To address this, I turned to Mr Muhammad Khir Bin Mohd Saleh, Fitness Trainer Assistant at HomeTeamNS Fitness Workz. “The biggest misconception about shedding belly fat is that more high intensity exercises like running, skipping meals and sit-ups are the only ways to achieve it,” he explains.   

Mr Muhammad Khir Bin Mohd Saleh, Fitness Trainer Assistant at HomeTeamNS Fitness Workz
Mr Muhammad Khir Bin Mohd Saleh, Fitness Trainer Assistant at HomeTeamNS Fitness Workz

He adds that there’s no point in doing those exercises if you don’t pay attention to your daily diet. “One of the main reasons why burning calories through exercise may still not result in weight loss is due to overexertion, or inflammation of your body. If you exercise too hard on a daily basis, there is excess inflammation in your body, which in turn makes you gain more weight,” he advises. Instead, he says a low-calorie daily diet is ideal for shedding belly fat. Getting at least seven hours of sleep from Monday to Saturday, and nine hours of sleep on Sundays, can also help you achieve your weight loss goals.

To help me achieve my goals, I documented my fitness routine and food consumption over the weekend. The diary didn’t just help Mr Khir make sense of where I could improve; it also forced me to take note of what I was putting into my body and how much I was exercising.

I’m not alone: according to Harvard Health, keeping a food diary can help you understand your eating habits and patterns. Research shows that for people interested in losing weight, a journal can be an effective tool to help change behaviours. And it worked. For example, only after recording my food intake, did I realise the significant amount of carbohydrates I consume.

Here’s Mr Khir’s review on my food and activity diary and his tips on how I can adopt a healthier lifestyle for the win:

FEB 4, SATURDAY

Breakfast: Three wholegrain WeetBix squares with fresh blueberries, blackberries and banana, topped with fresh milk

Lunch: Pan-seared salmon, basmati rice and snow peas/baby corn stir-fry

Dinner: Pork dumpling noodles

Snack: Wholegrain bread with peanut butter

Mr Khir says: Try reducing your solid carbohydrate intake and concentrate on consuming liquid proteins such as protein shakes. With that being said, consuming foods that are high in protein and fibre, and contain iron, healthy fats and vitamins can also help maintain your healthy diet.”

Activity: A quick workout of 180 squats and 180 jumping jacks

Mr Khir says: “So far so good. To challenge yourself more, consider applying some intensity to your squats by hugging a 5kg packet of rice or a weight plate. You can keep yourself motivated by scheduling regular workouts and aiming for fun and variety – swimming, weight and interval training, jogging, walking and cycling are all great ways to lose weight.”

FEB 5, SUNDAY (CHEAT DAY)

Breakfast: Minced meat noodles

Lunch: Rice, boiled chicken, broccoli

Dinner: Baby spinach salad with chicken thigh, egg (no dressing)

Activity: None

Mr Khir says: “Don’t be afraid of the occasional cheat day. You can plan this for when you’re not exercising, and return to a high protein diet on the days you do work out. The rationale is that by allowing yourself brief periods of indulgence you’re less likely to veer off course for your diet. Cheat meals can help to reset hormones responsible for metabolism and insulin regulation, replenish glycogen for increased energy and keep fat torching mechanisms high. Cheat meals really work for those who are on a strict diet plan or an intense workout regimen. A cheat day or cheat meal should be a small break before returning to your healthy diet.”

STAY ON TRACK

What to remember when keeping a food and activity journal:

  • Write everything down, no matter how small it seems.
  • Don’t rely on your memory at the end of the day. Instead, record your meals and activity using your phone’s notes app as the day progresses.
  • Be specific. Had fried chicken? Write it down instead of just stating, “chicken”.

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