When you embark on food and lifestyle changes with health in mind, what defines “success”? For many people, weight loss is the primary marker of change they focus on. But weight change is only one possible outcome of improvements to nutrition, physical activity and self-care—whole-body health is another.
Eating foods that provide balanced nutrition, taste good, and leave you feeling good has inherent value. So does moving your body regularly in ways you enjoy, getting enough sleep and managing stress. These are some of the small-but-significant victories you may experience as you work towards your goals:
Better biomarkers. Positive changes in blood sugar and cholesterol levels can be a sign that your healthy nutrition and exercise habits are having an effect. However, keep in mind that genetics also play a role, so some people will see more changes due to diet and lifestyle than others.
More energy. Regularly spaced meals composed of nutritious food will give your body the fuel it needs to run optimally, which you may notice as improved energy levels. Similarly, expending energy through regular physical activity may yield you even more energy.
Improved sleep. Regular exercise can help promote more restful sleep, and so can shifting more of your food intake to earlier in the day. This means eating three meals a day—plus nutritious snacks, if you need them—and making lunch a bigger meal than dinner if you can.
Better digestion. Changes like reducing meal skipping, including more fiber-rich plant foods, stopping eating when you are satisfied but not stuffed, and reducing late-night eating can all improve digestion.
More strength and endurance. Regular exercise doesn’t always lead to weight loss, but it does improve your strength and endurance. Not only are lean muscle and cardiovascular fitness important for health—and healthy aging—but you’ll find that many daily activities become easier as you become fitter.
Healthier skin. One side benefit of increasing intake of fruits and vegetables, and reducing sugar and highly refined carbohydrates, is healthier skin. The carotenoids and antioxidants in produce can improve skin tone while helping to prevent sun-related signs of aging.
Another benefit of celebrating non-scale victories—even if you hope to see the number on the scale shift—is that focusing on your new habits make you feel every day can help you maintain those habits long term, or return to them if you find yourself off-track along the way.
—Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN