Does Self Monitoring Matter?

Whilst I’m recovering from putting the old ham back on the bone, I’ve been reading a few books. Some of them have evolved around habit change. The more I have delved into this area, the more I have been finding books that have been quite voluminous and laden with scientific studies to illustrate the process of habit change. However, reading tomes full of studies takes the pleasure of of reading for me and when I chanced upon Gretchen Rubin’s book, Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, I gobbled it up as her writing style makes her words easy to digest, not to mention entertaining, and I’ve been having a bit of fun road testing her recommendations.

What I appreciated about Rubin’s writing is that she states that everyone is unique in what habit structures are going to be a pleasure to adopt versus those that may not be as effective – hint – has a bit to do with personality. Thus when she discussed monitoring and measuring, my interest was piqued, as when I ran my online health coaching business a few years back, I asked my clients to keep a food diary and to weigh themselves daily.

There was a massive variation to how everyone responded – some clients loved keeping a log and felt that it was beneficial to see varying patterns and how they felt when they ate a certain way, others found it an evil, and some became entrenched in the minutiae of it all – we’ve all read about people who become obsessed with their scale/My Fitness Pal etc.

Rubin’s theory is that the habit of self monitoring is highly beneficial to many but not necessarily to everyone. Thus if you try self monitoring a habit whether it be a training log, sleep patterns etc and you’re feeling a great degree of resistance to it, it’s probably something that isn’t enhancing your wellbeing. Which is probably why some methods of coaching work well for some but not for others.

I decided to put self monitoring to the test – with the simple parameter of “if I feel better as a result of gaining this information it’s a winner”.  As I’m now off my crutches, I decided to tackle step count as a means of monitoring recovery and secondly, after a long hiatus, I decided to track my weight and food intake for a few days. Tracking steps was not going to be an issue but the last time I logged my food intake, I was doing a program called Leanness Lifestyle where my food log was monitored and I would be chastised for eating more than one serve of grain and one serve of dairy daily. Plus if we didn’t make our required weigh in, we would be fined. So to begin with, I had a negative perception about recording food intake and stepping on the scale.

The results? I was surprised to see as a result of pottering around the house for a few days that my step count has gradually increased (my perception was that I was doing the same amount). On the scale and food recording front, I decided to just record the times I ate, how hungry I was before each meal and what I ate rather than breaking things down into every last macronutrient and calorie – which is way too time consuming. I felt that monitoring food intake using hunger as the cornerstone, improved my perception of both hunger and fullness – which I’ve started to use to space my meals out more for example, adding a bowl of fruit to my morning breakfast keeps me going all the way to lunchtime without being hungry (note hunger and ‘wanting to eat’ are two separate things!). I’ve learned that I need to eat more for lunch and have an early dinner. I haven’t restricted any foods and have been amazed to see my scale weight dropping as the result of being self aware, rather than getting into a froth over calorie counting and how ‘clean’ my food is – that’s for ninnies!  Plus, the world is a happier place with chocolate, trust me.

As a result I’m going to keep monitoring all three variables for now. In terms of food monitoring, it’s as simple as taking a photo of a meal and labelling it with time and date. Plus it’s a good way of remembering good recipes to try again down the track.

My conclusion is that for me, self monitoring is useful , particularly if you do it in a way that aligns with your personality and values. My take home tip is that you need to record data that has meaning to you. Recording steps and improving means this ham on the bone is getting stronger!

What are your experiences with self monitoring?



14 thoughts on “Does Self Monitoring Matter?

  1. Hi Liz,

    as you may remember , food monitoring does my head in as I can’t help but fall into total obsession over the minutiae. I might occasionally weigh my meat out but that’s about it these days. However, I religiously keep an exercise log of what I do with times, heart rates, calories burned etc. It has no benefit other than I like doing it and like looking at the (meaningless) numbers LOL.

    But I do strongly believe that long term health, wellness, weight management and fitness are the product of long term (good) habits. Now to get cracking and start wedding out some of the bad habits that have crept back in lateley.

    XX Love ya work


    1. I am with you there on monitoring fitness. I think Strava is my favourite App! I love to see myself improving in some way shape or form.
      I’m making a chicken casserole, I’ve put way too much meat in but what the heck, it is done now 🙂

  2. Hi Liz
    I spent a year on Weight Watchers and the great thing I learnt was proportion and daily calorie intake. I embraced the point system. Easy! I loved how I could make choices and not deprive myself from my favorite food. I now know from looking at something or from reading about calories /item what is within my range. I only weigh myself monthly as the scale depresses me!
    I really like your theory and love your blog! Thank you!

  3. I enjoy monitoring training details, particularly when goal focussed. I enjoy reading over the stats, noting progress or lack of. Other variables when more serious that I like to note are: sleep or at least time in bed, the amount of alcohol I drink in a day, (hopefully mostly zero) and anything of interest in relation to performance about nutrition, hydration, weather or food intake. Such as a good endurance training food I come across or how something makes me feel, or something which is effective and cheap as a reference! As for daily food logs which record precise amounts, precise macronutrient breakdown etc……….I found a complete drag and total waste of time for me! Infact when I’ve been asked to do them, I mostly made them up as I didn’t see the point of such close food analysis and never re-read it, however could obtain decent results when I put in enough effort through common sense!

  4. I am not a self monitoring person. I don’t get anything out of it and it makes me resent things. Same for “do this/hit this goal, then you can buy yourself this as a reward”…um, I’m an adult, I can technically just go out and buy whatever I want at pretty much any time.
    I had a very negative session under a health plan with a dietician or nutritionist (I can’t remember which she was) years ago and it really put me off of finding another – which isn’t fair, I know! But bad experiences do stick with you.

  5. I definitely think self monitoring has it’s place – as long as it does not become an obsession as you pointed out. Keeping a visual log or diary can be very beneficial & a great tool for self awareness & changing habits.
    Thanks for joining us at #TIK

  6. I’m not sure. Monitoring almost completely boils everything down to a pass / fail option for me which scares me and I give up completely, but there’s a part of me that’s a natural ‘monitor’ if that makes sense and needs to measure and track….


  7. I can tend to get a bit hung up with all those little details if I’m constantly monitoring so I tend not to do it. Except for my running stats which get neatly handed to me by my Garmin.

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