Calorie counting is the go-to weight loss and weight management method for many. Yet, calories aren’t the only indicators of healthfulness. All calories aren’t equal, right? Compare 100 calories of soda to 100 calories of quinoa; same calories, yet very different nutrients. One is primarily made of simple carbs with little other nutrients, while the other is a blend of complex carbs, fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. This difference in nutrients dictates the effects those calories have on blood sugar, hunger, energy and satiety; factors that are as important as total calorie intake.
Don’t get us wrong: we’re not saying calories don’t matter. Calorie intake is key to energy balance. But, when the focus is primarily on calories, we often lose sight of healthfulness and don’t make the healthiest food choices.
Soooo, what do you track instead of (or along with) calories? Check out this list of things to count, track, or follow that will help you keep in-check and encourage healthy choices and habits.
1. Count Minutes of Activity
You already know that exercise is essential for a healthy body, but it’s the effect that activity has on food choices and appetite that can make monitoring activity a positive.
Why It Works: Do you find that on days where you’re physically active, that it’s easier to make healthy diet choices? Research suggests that activity affects brain functioning by increasing your ability to pass up less healthy food. Many find that when they’re “on track” with activity, they stay “on track” with diet automatically.
Counting Goal: Aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity weekly—or a combination. *Tracking weekly minutes allows flexibility on days when you can’t fit exercise in.
2. Count Fruit and Vegetable Servings
Individuals who consume more fruits and vegetables have better overall diets and typically consume fewer calories. Research shows that most adults are still way below recommended intake for fruits and vegetables. Make produce your focus to manage calories and improve health.
Why It Works: Focus on getting the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, and you’ll find you have little desire (or stomach room) for less healthy foods thanks to the large servings sizes, high fiber, and low calories. Add some lean protein, smart carbs, and healthy fats.
Counting Goal: Women should aim to get 1½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups vegetables daily; men need 2 to 2½ cups fruit and 3 to 4 cups of vegetables.
3. Count Bites
It sounds too simple to work, but a 2015 study at Brigham Young University found that counting bites when chewing is just as effective for weight loss as counting calories.
Why It Works: In our multi-tasking world, it’s challenging to be mindful of what and how much we consume. Counting bites slows down food intake which helps you be more aware of what you’re eating and the body’s satiety signals. (You might even enjoy your meal more!)
Counting Goal: Research suggestions range from 15 to 40 chews per bite, however, the BYU study suggests that it’s the practice of counting, not the number reached, that really matters. Make it a point to count bites at every meal and snack for a few days to test it out.
4. Count Fiber
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that simply focusing on consuming a higher-fiber diet can be just as effective for weight loss as following a strict diet plan. (And who wants to be on a strict diet?)
Why It Works: Fiber-rich foods fill you up and slow down the digestion process. The end result is greater satiety after and between meals and overall reduced calorie intake. Sadly, most people only consume 40 to 60 percent of the recommended fiber amount.
Counting Goal: The Institutes of Medicine recommend 26 g for females and 38 g for males. Start by tracking your fiber intake a few days to calculate your daily average. Then, look for ways to increase fiber—adding vegetables to dishes, snacking on fruit and nuts, choosing whole grains—slightly at each meal. Keep a tally of fiber grams each day.
5. Count Carbohydrates
Are carbohydrate-rich starches and snacks your downfall? If so, keeping tabs on carb intake at meals and snacks is a good way to stay on top of healthy eating.
Why It Works: Carbs are essential, but most people get them in excess from breads, starches, and sugar—triggers often for hunger and overeating. To get the most bang from this tracking method, choose low-processed carbs like vegetables, legumes, fruits, dairy, whole grains, and plant proteins in place of refined ones.
Counting Goal: Research shows benefits from both low and high-carb diets. We recommend you go with a moderate carb intake which is likely to be a little lower than what you consume now, but still within the recommended guidelines. Total carbs will be determined on how many calories you want to consume daily, then broken down between meals and snacks.
6. Count Weekend Intake
Are you dedicated during the week, but relax a little too much on the weekends? Consider keeping track of food intake from Friday through Sunday.
Why It Works:
You might be a pro at balancing healthy eating and activity during the work week, but pay less attention on weekends to eating and exercise. Keeping a simple food log from Friday to Sunday makes you more aware of what you’re eating, helps you plan ahead, and avoid mindless eating.
Counting Goal: What’s realistic for you on weekends — counting fiber or carbohydrates, counting bites, keeping a simple food long and planning weekend eating (including eating out) in advance? Pick something to count or log that doesn’t make you feel constrained, but rather helps you be more mindful about weekend food choices.
Other ideas for habits to track or be mindful about: hours of sleeps, water intakes, exercise minutes, number of alcoholic drinks and minutes of meditation or mindfulness.
Need an app to help you with your tracking?