Time for Midwesterners to Count Calories

It’s that time of year to count calories. As the weather gets colder and the holiday gatherings start adding up, so do the calories. And the pounds. Some of that is totally natural. For one, research shows that humans are hardwired to fear starvation more than we are to worry about putting on weight. Our ancestors likely ate more as winter approached to ensure they wouldn’t starve during the leaner months.

Secondly, there is also evidence that sunlight tends to shrink fat cells. And the shorter, colder days probably mean you’re getting less of that sunlight right now. You’re probably also getting less exercise, as you spend more time indoors and sedentary.

But what should you do about it? Join the gym? Skip meals? Count calories? Here are some specific tools and suggestions for keeping yourself in shape this winter.

1. Try a Wellness App

Losing weight (or maintaining a healthy weight) isn’t just about what you eat. It’s also about your overall lifestyle, your relationship to food, and your mental health and stress levels.

An app like Noom can help you monitor all of those things and more. Noom will prompt you to choose specific goals (maintain your current weight and get fit, lose 20 lbs, etc.) and then provide tools to help you meet those goals. The app lets you log your food, weight, and levels of exercise. Noom can get expensive — plans run as much as $70 monthly — but its users give it high marks.

If you need a more affordable wellness app, Lifesum might be for you. Like Noom, it provides guidance on healthy eating and allows you to count calories, plan your meals, and track your fitness. Lifesum syncs with Apple Health and Google Fit so that you can use it in conjunction with the apps already on your phone. Try it for free or subscribe for less than $50 a year.

2. Count Calories

One of the most basic tenets of weight management is pretty simple — if you want to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in. Unless you’re a polymath, you’re probably going to need a little help with all that counting.

The Calory app is a simple way to do just that. It comes with a built-in database of common foods, so you can enter that sandwich you ate or the Sprite you drank, and it will let you know how many calories you’ve consumed. If you subscribe to the pro version, you can scan barcodes and input nutritional information directly. You can also track your water intake, as well as macronutrients like carbs, proteins, and fat.

MyFitnessPal offers similar features and also includes options for tracking your workouts and fitness activities. Counting calories is a snap with this app, which has nutrition info for more than 14 million different foods. If you’re willing to spring for a monthly subscription, you can also set goals for things like cholesterol, sodium, and fiber intake. Additionally, MyFitnessPal can also help you with menu planning and recipe inspiration.

3. Focus on Fitness

Maybe you’re not ready for meal planning and you’d rather focus on creating an exercise routine. After all, counting calories doesn’t have to be solely about intake; burning calories is just as important.

An app like Daily Workouts-Home Trainer is a great place to start. It features at-home exercise routines for people of varying fitness levels. You can start with a workout as short as five minutes. Remember — some exercise is always better than none! Best of all, the workouts on this app don’t require going to a gym or buying any equipment.

If you’d rather get out of the house, check out MapMyRun. It’s free to use and gives you suggestions for the best running routes in your community. You can keep track of your progress by charting your pace, distance, and performance. And you can use it even if you’re just starting out — you can just as easily use it to map out the perfect walking map in your neighborhood.

4. Make It a Challenge

Workout apps are nice, but plenty of us need a little external motivation to get going. If that describes you, a fitness challenge app might be right up your alley.

The 30-Day Fitness app offers customizable daily fitness challenges that help keep your exercise plan on track. You set personalized goals, and then the app delivers daily workout activities to help you meet them. There are free and paid versions, and this app comes highly recommended by users.

Or maybe you have friends or family who want to help keep each other motivated on your fitness journeys. An app like Strava is perfect for that. Strava allows you to create groups of people who can all track each other’s runs, bikes, and hikes. Let those closest to you keep you accountable for your fitness goals.

5. Just Wear It

If you’ve never tried a wearable like a Fitbit or Apple Watch, now might be the time. These wearable fitness accessories help log your workouts, your heart rate, and your motivation. Fitbits come with an app that can help you track your daily steps, sleep, and stress levels.

Likewise, you can use an Apple Watch to keep track of all your activity throughout the day — including things you might not even think of, like how much time you spend standing versus sitting. If you work at home, this is a great way to remind yourself that, even on those sedentary days, it’s important to get up and stretch every once in a while.

6. Analog Weight Tracking

Maybe you’re not looking to add another app to your life. Get yourself a quality electronic scale and track your progress IRL. The Eat Smart Precision Bathroom Scale is a great way to keep track of your weight goals. It’s accurate, easy to use, and typically available for less than $40. The Greater Goods AccuCheck Bathroom scale is a similarly solid option.

Just remember to weigh yourself at the same time of day if you’re trying to get an accurate picture of your progress. It’s best to do so in the morning before you’ve had anything to eat or drink. That way, your body has processed everything you consumed the day prior.

Most experts don’t recommend weighing yourself every day. This can create anxiety, particularly since water weight and natural fluctuations can mask progress. Weigh yourself once or twice weekly for the most accurate long-term picture.

Getting Healthy in the Midwest

The best strategies for losing weight or getting healthier are the ones you can stick with. That’s why short-term diets often don’t lead to healthier eating in the long term.

Making a plan to count calories isn’t for everyone. And not everyone can or wants to subside on food they’re not excited about. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps in a healthier direction.

Pick one of the suggestions above and try it for a few weeks. And remember to be kind to yourself — the journey towards getting (and staying) healthier is a marathon, not a sprint.


  • Chris Kane

    Chris Kane is a military veteran and former business owner currently living in the Des Moines, Iowa, metro. Chris is an inveterate entrepreneur and avid web developer who is not shy about sharing his opinions.

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