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As I blogged a while back in “Counting Calories”, my wife and I started the year in the most clichéd way possible and hired a virtual trainer to help us with our nutrition.

Before we began, we were issued the rules of engagement. Weigh ourselves each morning. Record in app. Weigh and record everything we ate throughout the day. Record in app. Use app to monitor what you’re eating against targets for calorie intake and mix of protein, carbs and fat to achieve a balanced diet. Acknowledge daily whether we complete our planned level of activity, get at least 7 hours of sleep, walk 10,000 steps and/or meet our calorie goals for each day. Of course, do this in the app. Then, every two weeks, record various body measurements, take progress photos and, if we choose, fill out a form letting the trainer know how things are going, what we’d like to work on, etc. In turn, we’d get answers to our questions, periodic nudges and encouragement and pretty detailed periodic feedback from the trainer.

Not to be overly dramatic, but to say this sounded painful would be putting it mildly. I understood and reluctantly accepted that this level of accountability could be helpful, but dreaded the thought of adding what seemed like a mountain of tasks to an already busy schedule and considered all kinds of alternative options to approach this without that level of tedium to “better set myself up for success.”

The trainer heard my pleas and effectively responded, “Tough. That’s the program.”

So, we ordered some food scales, did some initial grocery shopping and got to the task at hand. And let me tell you, as we got through the first couple weeks, doing all of this tracking was actually . . . exactly as I suspected it would be . . . painful, tedious and time consuming.

The trainer’s response? “Keep going.”

I will say, it was informative and eye opening. We learned a lot about what we were putting in our bodies, what left us fulfilled and what left us wanting. We shuddered at what we had been putting there before and became acutely aware that what we had been defining as “occasional” indulgences were much more the rule than the exceptions we thought they were.

Plus, real results started showing up. Progress was evident.

The pounds weren’t melting off, but things were improving. On top of that, we got much faster at weighing and recording. We realized we weren’t ever really hungry, weren’t terribly restricting our calories or cutting any other corners that had delivered short-term results, but long-term failure in the past. When trips or special occasions came up, we ate pretty much whatever we wanted, but our expectations for what we wanted had changed. Not because of the rules, but simply because we were aware of the choices we were making. If that enjoyment resulted in an extra pound or two, no problem. Just back to the consistency of the plan and things would turn around. This was a pretty livable plan.

We also realized why the trainer strenuously insisted on working together for at least a year. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Building real habits is a long game. Having accountability outside the home to someone invested in your progress is invaluable, not to mention the counsel they can provide when questions come up, times get tough, or your personal circumstances change. In just five months, need for counsel on all of these points has come up in our situation.

Five months in, it’s probably obvious that I’ve made a full 180 on my reluctance. Is tracking calories tedious? You bet. But, this tedious activity isn’t restrictive, it’s freeing. I’ve learned I can eat plenty of the right kinds of food. I can splurge then get back on plan, if for no other reason than a plan exists.

Plus, I’m no longer in denial that the alternative is blissful ignorance. That didn’t feel good either. Knowing I wasn’t on the right path and possibly causing myself long-term harm carried its own stress. A stress I now know was far more painful than taking a little time to build awareness into my physical health.

What’s the long-term plan? More of the same. If it’s not a plan you can live with, it’s not much of a plan. Maintenance means shifting to being “on plan” 70-75% of the time instead of 80-90%. That gives us 90-110 days/year to indulge as we see fit. Holidays, vacations, birthdays, and plenty of days to spare for spontaneity.

Whatever our current financial stressors might be, burying our heads in the sand and refusing to track spending, sitting down to talk through our wishes after we’re gone, etc. can result in far more pain than going through the tedious dip on the path to awareness.

We hope that TAAG, like my nutritionist, helps to provide that accountability and guidance to those we are fortunate enough to call clients. To those of you already working with us, if there’s something on your mind that is causing this kind of stress, please let your advisor know. If you’re not working with us yet or know someone who might be putting off this kind of work on their fiscal health, forward this to them or give them a nudge to reach out to help.

Having a plan in place and being aware of the financial choices we’re making is a giant leap towards long-term financial success. As I’ve learned with my nutritional journey, awareness rules.