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The Daily Tar Heel

Tracking habits, not just weight

Most college students are less worried about heart disease than looking good enough to break hearts. But there is one key factor that long-term health and attractiveness have in common: maintaining a healthy weight.

But focusing on weight loss alone isn’t a guarantee for a healthier —or happier—lifestyle.

Crash diets and other techniques people use to trim waistlines often leave people miserable and moody (which is arguably more unattractive than a few extra pounds).

Moreover, weight is too often equated directly with health. Stepping on the scale is part of the ritual of any yearly check-up — and many a body-conscious person’s morning routine.

But the number of pounds someone weighs doesn’t always reflect of their health or even the efforts they are putting in to eating well and exercising.

So what metric should take its place? One alternative is tracking good habits rather than poundage. Though it’s less concrete, keeping track of one’s habits rather than just their weight is often a better indication of long-term health.

And for those whose successful weight-loss endeavors have inexplicably plateaued, stepping away from the scale and instead focusing on habits can prevent them from losing motivation.

Proponents of a new movement called self-tracking say that recording and analyzing personal data is a better way to improve health.

This technique has long been used to improve athletes’ performance and workers’ productivity. But a crop of innovative companies have now made self-tracking simple for anyone with a computer or smartphone.

The RunKeeper app allows people to track the distance, speed and calories burned during a run and then stores the data to help users track improvement.

Another app called DailyMile allows users to post workouts for friends or the general public to see. This can provide positive reinforcement or even some friendly competition.

Similar apps can now track food intake. Though calorie counting has been around for years, it can now be done relatively effortlessly with digital tools.

Some novel approaches have also emerged in the health app world, like 80 Bites, which operates on the premise that it only takes about 80 bites of food for the average person to feel full. The app help users avoid overeating by tracking the number of bites they take each day.

This sort of approach offers numerous advantages when compared with an old-fashioned scale. It relies on positive rather than negative reinforcement and focus on factors within users’ control.

Of course, the effectiveness of self-tracking still depends on setting reasonable goals and sticking to them. But it provides more ownership of personal health (or attractiveness) targets.

So instead of vowing to lose ten pounds over the next few months, you could throw out the scale and aim to run five miles in under an hour and eat a balanced, healthy diet.

It will probably get you feeling and looking better. And it’s got to be less stressful than the daily ritual of hopping on the scale and praying for a good number.

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