Better Ways to Measure Your Health Without the Scale

Wellness is a lifestyle, not a number!
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Wellness is a lifestyle, not a number!

When you’re trying to improve your health, it’s easy to get caught up in looking at the digits on the scale. But how much you weigh doesn’t say anything about your body composition, not to mention that a woman’s weight fluctuates throughout the month—changes in weight occur based on the time of day, that time of month, food and water intake, and many other factors. While maintaining a healthy weight is important, there’s so much more to wholesome living.

Get off the scale, and try looking at more holistic ways to determine your health.

HEALTHY HABITS

WATER INTAKE

Water is the essential macronutrient that we need for human life. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommendation for women is nine cups of fluid each day. And yes, all fluids count toward hydration, but keep in mind that most beverages out there are full of sugar, empty calories, and preservatives. Choose the most natural fluid you can find: H2O! The USDA reports that American women ages 20 to 39 only drink an average of 4.7 cups of water a day, so there’s definitely room for improvement.

It’s tough to keep track of water intake; many of us are lucky if we even remember to eat breakfast. Need some help? Use a water bottle with time markings. If plain water is too bland for you, infuse it with fruits or herbs for a natural flavor boost. This healthy alternative to soda or iced tea will sweeten up this new habit without the extra sugar.

If all else fails, go digital. If you have a smartphone, download a water-tracking app such as Water Your Body, or set hourly alarms reminding you to take a drink.

FRUITS AND VEGGIES

Eating fruits and vegetables scores you major health points. For women ages 19 to 30, the daily recommendation is 2.5 cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit. You can use a measuring cup to make sure you’re getting your daily dose, but it isn’t always possible if you’re traveling or in a rush. So try following this rule of thumb for at least two meals a day: Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables, and you’re golden. And snacks count, too. For example, a banana at breakfast, a salad or grilled veggies at lunch, and a cup of strawberries after dinner will do the trick.

MODERATE INDULGING

It’s beneficial to have a healthy approach to treats, sweets, and alcohol. Denying yourself all “bad” things can lead to consuming bigger, unhealthier portions later on. Think about it: The more you resist a craving, the more it builds up. Instead, aim for balance, which is all about indulging in moderation and giving into cravings wisely. When you eat a smaller, healthier portion, you can kick the craving before it grows.

Americans already consume high amounts of sugar and salt, so minimizing portions of sweet and salty junk foods is always a good idea. Experts recommend no more than 20 grams (5 teaspoons) of sugar and 1,150 milligrams (1/2 teaspoon) of salt each day, but according to Yale Health, the average American eats about 22 teaspoons of sugar a day.

Worried about your sugar intake? Keep an eye on sneakier sources that are in foods you’re already eating. Two slices of whole wheat bread, for example, contain 4 grams (1 teaspoon) of sugar. One medium banana contains 14 grams (3.5 teaspoons) of sugar. As for alcohol, the American Heart Association recommends one drink a day for women. Because many cocktails are loaded with sugar, try mixed drinks with soda water or ice instead of that frozen marg.

WISE FOOD MOVES

How thoughtful you are about your meal decisions is a fundamental way of gauging your health. When you’re less focused on tallying calories and more aware of managing portion size, using healthy cooking methods, and eating real (not overly processed) food, putting together a meal becomes less stressful. Generally, choosing home-cooked over store-bought meals is a tried-and-true health move. Because frying is the most common cooking method in America, a majority of restaurant meals are high in saturated fat. And if you do eat out, it’s still possible to be smart about what you order. Educating yourself to make wiser food choices is a big step for your health.

HEALTHY RESULTS

SKIN IMPROVEMENTS

When you start eating healthier, every part of your body reaps the benefits. Your skin, hair, and nails are the most visible measurements of improvement, thanks to the medley of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables. It’s yet another reason to focus on improving from the inside out instead of trying to cover it all up with cosmetics.

So what should we eat? From acne-fighting properties to reversing environmental damage, we call superfoods such as blueberries, tomatoes, and garlic “super” for a reason. Looking for individual add-ins? Turn to vitamins A, E, C, and K, along with biotin, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients all contribute to your cosmetic health, proving that we really are what we eat.

Skin, hair, and nails also improve with adequate water intake. Studies show that more water encourages blood flow, which is a factor in a glowing, vibrant complexion. Water intake also promotes healing and decreases wound infection. Remember, pimples are essentially mini-infections. If water can help combat those, we’re totally in.

STRESS RELIEF

Taking on healthy habits such as regular exercise, adequate sleep, and nutritious eating will benefit your mind and body. One way you can measure this is by monitoring how you handle certain stressors. According to the American Psychological Association, physical activity encourages a better stress response by forcing the body to “practice” making the physiological systems work together. When you’re faced with a stressor, they’ll have your back—and mind. Because a sedentary lifestyle can impair this response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s ideal to exercise for at least thirty minutes a day, five days a week. You’ll start seeing improvements even as you achieve smaller fitness goals.

Handling stress is also a lot easier when you’re sleeping enough. This is your body’s time to recharge, recover, and get ready for the next day. Because sleep is directly correlated to mood and stress response, experts recommend seven to nine hours of shut-eye to reduce feelings of anxiety and unhappiness.

And when it comes to food, a diet low in fat and high in fiber will also yield an improved stress response. This is due to a boost to your immune system and to your body’s ability to handle certain stressors.

FOCUS AND CONCENTRATION

Ever notice that lively, motivated post-workout feeling? There’s a reason for that. Aside from increasing blood circulation, physical activity induces mental sharpness by releasing a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. As you exercise your body, your brain also gets a workout.

Physical activity is crucial for getting enough sleep, which—surprise, surprise—can also increase focus. And just like mood, your cognitive capacities depend on the recharging nature of adequate sleep. Finally, your concentration levels will increase with better eating habits. From blueberries to salmon, the nutrients found in many superfoods are considered to have memory-boosting properties critical for cognitive development. In essence, an extra bowl of berries will bring you a step closer to your A game.

URINATION & BOWEL MOVEMENTS

If you want to know what’s happening on the inside, look at what’s coming out. It might sound gross, but let’s be real: Urination and bowel movements are normal and necessary, and they’re also windows into our health. When your diet and health improves, you’ll notice changes in your liquid and solid waste. Healthy kidneys produce urine in a shade of yellow. The more water you drink, the clearer it is. Dark-yellow urine may be a sign of dehydration or a more serious condition. Cloudiness, unusual color, or strange odor might mean a urinary tract infection, kidney problems, or bladder issues.

As for the solid side? That holds all the information about your digestive system. When your gut bacteria is in its prime, bowel movements produce normal matter in a shade of brown. It’ll sink (not float) and won’t be too runny or too hard. Eating adequate fruits and veggies helps here: The fiber in fruits and vegetables is a major player in proper feces development.

When everything’s good on the inside, urination and bowel movements aren’t painful, uncomfortable, or marked with blood. Frequency depends on your fluid intake, diet, physical activity, and overall health status. Given all these factors, “normal” frequencies of numbers one and two will significantly differ from person to person. The more fluids you drink, the more you’ll pee. Normal bowel movements can mean anything from three times a day to three times a week. Because everyone is so different, it’s vital to pay attention to what’s typical for you. Anything out of the ordinary (or painful) should warrant a visit to your doctor.

Remember, there’s more to health than what your scale says. These concepts are representative of your wellness, bringing every aspect of your body together. We hope they’ll remind you that good health is a lifestyle—not a number!