5 Things You Should Count Instead of Calories

Green and Lean

A healthy lunch plate featuring sliced avocado, hard-boiled egg, tomatoes, and smoked salmon.

When it comes to trimming your waistline, it’s not that calories don’t matter. They definitely do. It’s just that food quality and lifestyle habits matter too. If you’re looking to drop a few a pounds, here are some other things you’ll want to track for surefire weight loss.

1. Count the Number of Whole Foods You Add to Your Plate

According to a recent study out of Stanford University published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people who focused on eating as many whole foods as they wanted but restricted processed ones lost an average of 12 pounds in a 12-month period. This isn’t surprising because whole, fresh foods are naturally more filling and have fewer calories than sugar- and fat-laden packaged items. If you fill your plate with the right foods from the start, you won’t leave much room for junk later.

At mealtime, make it a goal to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of it with lean protein or dairy, and the remaining quarter with a whole grain, starchy vegetable, or fruit. And don’t forget to incorporate healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds.

2. Count the Number of Cocktails You Drink

It’s not new information that boozy beverages, especially heavy beers and libations made with sugary mixes, pack a calorie punch. Not to mention it’s a no-brainer that when you imbibe too much, your willpower to resist tempting foods goes right out the window. But if you enjoy an occasional social drink or like to unwind at the end of the day with a glass of vino, the good news is you can still drink alcohol in moderation and lose weight. But the caveat is you’ve got to be smart about what and how much you sip.

A standard drink, which is the equivalent of 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, has about 14 grams of alcohol. Because alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, it has about twice the amount of calories per gram of carbohydrate and protein (4 calories) and almost the same amount per gram of fat (9 calories). The high caloric density of alcohol is why one small glass of wine has as many calories as one tablespoon of olive oil.

Aside from calories alone, drinking alcohol can stall your weight loss efforts in other ways. First, your body lacks the ability to store alcohol and will use it as fuel before using carbohydrate, fat, and protein from foods. If too much alcohol is consumed, your body won’t utilize those other nutrients for energy and will store them as fat instead. Secondly, too much alcohol disrupts sleep patterns, and not getting enough shut-eye can cause weight gain (we’ll discuss more in the last tip).

So, how much can you drink without hindering your weight-loss efforts? The truth is, the effects of alcohol consumption on weight loss may vary from person to person. But many weight-loss experts recommend no more than 6 or 7 drinks per week for men and 4 or 5 drinks per week for women. If you’re not seeing the results you want, consider drinking even fewer.

3. Count How Much Water You Drink

Most experts recommend that the average person should aim for at least eight 8-ounce servings of water every day. This amount can be higher depending on your weight and activity level, so it’s best to let your thirst level be your guide and drink a few extra glasses if you’re parched.

Keeping tabs on how many glasses of water you drink each day can help with more than just quenching your thirst, though. Hydrating with water over other beverages has positive benefits related to weight loss, including satiety and fat metabolism. It may not be a huge surprise that if you chug water before meals you’ll get full faster and eat less. But what you might not know is that water is a key ingredient to ensure your body burns fat efficiently. When you’re well hydrated, your body works at its peak performance and allows the proper blood flow to fatty tissue for fat removal.

4. Count Your Activity

For effective weight loss, integrate physical activity into your weekly routine. Not only will you burn calories from the exercise itself, but also you’ll gain lean muscle mass, which will allow you to burn more calories during resting periods. Shoot to get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity (such as walking at a 15-minute per mile pace), 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (such as jogging), or a combination of the two every week. Also, incorporate muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week.

5. Count the Hours of Sleep You Get Each Night

The recommendation to get more ZZZ’s may seem counterintuitive because you burn more calories when you’re awake than in a state of rest. But the truth is when you average around 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, you eat better because you’re able to stay in control of your intake.

Lack of sleep throws the proper balance of two primary appetite hormones, ghrelin and leptin, out of whack. Think of ghrelin as the hormone that tells your brain it is time to eat and leptin as the one that tells it you’re full. When you’re deprived of your beauty rest, ghrelin levels increase and leptin levels decrease and cue your brain that you’re hungry, ultimately causing you to overeat.

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