Does this sound familiar? You’ve been watching yourself all week (avoiding junk, skipping seconds) and still, your weight is exactly the same as it was a week ago-or worse, even inched up a pound or two. It’s hard to remember that weight loss is a long-term process, you’ve got to stay patient. But I’ve learned that focusing on just your weight can sabotage your motivation. So instead here are five other numbers to think about. Keep track of these and your overall health (as well as your weight) ought to improve.
1. Waist circumference
By now, you’ve probably heard enough experts blast BMI (body mass index, or a ratio of your weight to your height), saying it’s not a good measure of body fat and health. Instead, you should know how many inches your waist measures. That’s because the fat that accumulates around your middle is linked to a host of health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even death. One 2010 study examined more than 100,000 Americans age 50 and older and found that people with the biggest waist size had about twice the risk of dying as the slimmest.
Numbers to know: Aim for less than 35 inches for women and 40 for men.
2. Daily calorie requirement
Our health books editor loves to point out the one thing most successful weight-loss programs have in common: They cut calories. Why? Chances are you consume way more than you realize or need.
Number to know: Most not-too-active middle aged women should consume around 1,600 calories a day to lose weight; men should consume 2,000 to 2,200. Try Mayo Clinic’s calorie calculator tool for a personalized guesstimate that takes age, activity levels, and other factors into account.
3. Daily fiber intake
You probably scan food labels for calorie and fat content. But if I asked you how much fiber you’re eating each day, I bet you wouldn’t know (and it’s probably half of what you should get). The big deal about fiber and weight loss is that it takes your body a long time to digest it compared to other nutrients. This tamps down hunger cravings and prevents blood sugar spikes. You know how can feel voracious an hour after eating a jumbo plain bagel? That’s probably because your meal had no fiber.
Number to know: Many experts recommend 25 to 35 grams a day (a medium apple and a cup of oatmeal each have four, for example); some would love to see us eating even more. Most adults get about 15 grams a day. If you’re pretty low on the fiber intake, add it slowly to avoid feeling bloated.
4. How much you sleep
Sleep helps the body regulate complex hormonal processes that affect our appetite, cravings, and weight. There’s now ample research that shows people who get less sleep are more likely to be overweight and munch on junk food than those who get more. Skimping on sleep may sabotage your diet as much as the Snickers calling your name from the office candy bowl.
Number to know: If you’re consistently getting six hours or less, your sleep habits may be tampering with your weight-loss goals. Most adults need seven to eight hours a night. A good clue you’re getting enough: not needing an alarm clock to wake up.
5. How many steps you take each day
More and more research shows it’s not the hour we spend sweating it out in the gym that counts, but all the incremental activity that adds up over the course of the day from things like taking the stairs, walking over to a colleague’s desk instead of emailing, or standing and pacing while you chat on the phone. Sitting down is bad for your body and your metabolism-our hunter-gatherer ancestors were constantly on the move, and so we’ve evolved not to sit still for hours on end.