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We're not going to tell you that tracking your weight loss and exercise is a boatload of fun. (Some people think it is, though, especially if they get to use a shiny gadget.)  We are going to tell you that it works and it can be more fun and helpful than you might think.

That's because there are more easy-to-use and free ways to track yourself against your weight-loss goals than ever before. And it's worth mentioning that once you've got a handle on what you're really eating and how much you're really exercising (not how much you think you are), you probably don't need to keep tracking yourself. The important part is that you get a good understanding of what food, drinks, and exercise translate into weight loss for you. Once you understand that, you're good to go.

Lots of people, though, get addicted to seeing the calories, pounds, steps, miles, inches, etc. add up. It can be really satisfying, especially if you're not losing weight as quickly as you'd hoped. Tracking yourself makes it easier to see that you are moving forward, even when it seems like you aren't.

The main reason we should all find some way to track our progress is that most of us are incredibly bad at accurately knowing how much we're eating or how much or how hard we're working out. Studies are very consistent about this: We often have no idea how much we're eating or how little we're exercising. A May 2013 study found that adults at fast-food restaurants underestimated how many calories they were eating by as much as 20 percent. One-quarter of the people in the study underestimated the calorie content of their food by at least 500 calories.  Wow. If you overate that much every day you'd gain one pound in one week.

We don't do much better when it comes to exercise: A small 2010 study found that normal-weight adults tended to overestimate how many calories they burned during exercise by three to four times. To make matters more complicated, some machines at the gym don't measure calorie burn very accurately, either.

So you can't really know what's working and what's not unless you know the real numbers. Here are a couple of ways to get more accurate information:

Write it down & step on the scale. That same 99-cent notebook in which you're planning your meals is a perfect place to write down how far you walked/ran/biked/swam, how many calories you ate, and what the scale said (step on it at least once a week). There's no reason to spend a lot of money or go high-tech if you don't want to.

OR

Track your progress on a site, app, or wi-fi device. There are hundreds of electronic ways to stay on top of your weight loss and your fitness, including wearable devices like Fitbit, Jawbone Up, and Nike+ Fuelband; apps like RunKeeper, MyFitnessPal, MapMyRun, and Endomondo; and sites that will store your data. Some sites and apps are free (the devices aren't) and pretty much all make it easy to share the information with other people and see your progress over time.


The six articles in the Weight Loss section are designed to give you some of the most important, useful, scientifically sound, and safe information. We don't try to cover everything about weight loss (or anything else) on ih8exercise.com, but if you follow the advice in these six articles you'll have a great foundation for lasting weight loss.


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