Some people count calories and some people count steps, but there is one measurement that’s constantly obsessed over when it comes to health: weight. Because of the emphasis our culture puts on the number on a scale, you might think it’s the only way to measure your health. The truth is that your wellbeing comes down to multiple important factors, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with the physical space you take up. Genetics and lifestyle factors are different for every body, so of course weight doesn’t paint an accurate picture of health (duh!). Instead of hopping on a scale and dealing with the guilt, shame, and embarrassment that often comes with it, try these eight ways to identify how healthy you are instead.
1. Glasses of water
Staying hydrated is a tale as old as time, but there’s a reason just about every expert on the planet recommends it. Your body uses water to maintain the functions of cells, organs, tissues, etc. As with everything else, the amount of water the body needs for optimal health varies from person to person because of factors like lifestyle, activity level, and bio-individuality, but it’s a good rule of thumb to be drinking as much water as possible.
If you’re regularly sipping throughout the day, drinking a big glass before your first cup of coffee, eating water-rich fruits and veggies, and bringing a water bottle whenever you’re on the go, you’re probably drinking enough to keep your body functioning at its best. If you do want to improve your health with hydration, try tracking the glasses of water you drink in a day and drink one more glass the next day.
2. Hours spent sleeping
It’s true: falling asleep while watching Selling Sunset at 8:30pm can help boost your health. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get 7-9 hours of sleep to reap the benefits of “powering the mind, restoring the body, and fortifying virtually every system in the body.” Getting your beauty rest is critical for the health of your body, so tracking how many hours of sleep you’re really getting can help determine if your sleep is restoring or if you could use a little improvement. Try an app like SleepCycle that will not only track how many hours you’re sleeping, but will identify how quality your sleep is. Even if you’re getting nine hours but your sleep cycles are poor quality, you won’t feel well-rested.
Reality check: counting calories doesn’t really tell us much about our health. Every body needs a different caloric intake, and every calorie looks different in the body (for example, 1,000 calories of soda would be very different than 1,000 calories of spinach). But when we’re aware of the nutrients (like vitamins, macros, antioxidants, phytochemicals, etc.) and what they do for the body (like give energy, boost skin glow, or reduce inflammation), we’re able to use food as a tool to achieve peak wellness. Focusing on more nutrients can also subconsciously crowd out processed and sugary foods (totally guilt-free). Think of adding more whole foods into your diet (like adding kale to a pasta dish or eating berries with breakfast) to get more healing nutrients.
4. Energy levels
Another reality check coming at you: you shouldn’t be OK with just feeling OK. Afternoon slumps and necessary nap times are normalized in our society, but brain fog, a lack of energy, and general exhaustion is your body’s way of telling you that something might be off. Everything from difficulty waking up in the mornings to needing a coffee at 3pm might mean you have some room for improvement. Fatigue is not a way of life; it’s a symptom. Getting better sleep at night, moving more, eating different foods, or just taking more breaks might help fix energy levels so you feel your very best and be as healthy as possible. On the flip side, if you do wake up refreshed, have consistent energy throughout the day, and feel relaxed at night, it’s a good sign of how healthy your body and lifestyle are.
5. Bowel movements
You know how they say eyes are the window to the soul? Well, poop is the window to your health. Sure, it’s not a great dinner table topic, but your bowel movements are an important measurement to identify what’s going on in the body. The gut microbiome affects the immune system, the brain, hormone levels, and pretty much every other function and system in the body, so it’s crucial to keep the gut healthy. The frequency, appearance, or changes in bowel movements can give us some insight into how healthy the gut actually is. Talk to your doctor if you think your stool is abnormal or changes, and consider tracking how often you’re going to the bathroom or how certain foods and lifestyle changes affect movements.
6. How many push-ups you can do
Last year, a study made headlines for finding that push-up ability could predict heart disease in active adult men. Even if you’re not an active adult man and haven’t done a push-up since middle school PE, the point is that physical strength and endurance are huge indicators of how healthy the body is overall. Whether it’s how many push-ups you can do, how much weight you lift, how many miles you can hike, or how long you can kickbox, your physical limits tell you a lot about your body. If you are motivated by external factors, don’t stare at a number on a scale. Instead, push yourself to do one more rep, move up in weight, or do one more push-up to improve your health.
The mind-body connection is real, people! Moods can actually clue us in to what’s going on in the body. Food can affect your mood (which is why “nutritional psychiatry” is a thing), so if you could use a few little tweaks in your stress levels or happiness (who doesn’t in 2020?), try eating foods like nuts, berries, or dark chocolate, which may help boost your mood. Likewise, my favorite reason to exercise is that it serves as a major mood booster. Bottom line: eat whole foods that are good for the gut and fit in regular exercise to improve your overall health and boost your mood. The mind-body connection is a never-ending cycle you can use as a tool for checking in with the body.
8. How you physically feel
OK, let me rant for a sec. I’m thankful for technology like Fitbits that track our steps, apps that record the nutrients we’re eating, and yes, even scales, which help our doctors keep us healthy. With that being said, I also think that focusing on external numbers, counting, and tracking is preventing us from being truly intuitive with our bodies. The truth is that we can understand our health simply based on how good we feel, rather than depending on a number on a screen or scale. The most powerful, accurate, and sustainable method to measure your health? Take notice when you feel great, when you feel OK, and when you don’t feel good. Your body is constantly communicating with you, whether it’s through a symptom like acne, upset stomachs, or fatigue, or through feeling energized, vivacious, and happy. All we have to do is listen and adjust to achieve our healthiest selves.