Why a Daily Food Diary Is Still the Ultimate Weight Loss Hack

Why a Daily Food Diary Is Still the Ultimate Weight Loss Hack

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who are aiming to lose weight, the process can sometimes seem daunting.

From adopting a new diet by adding more nutritious items to your meals to finding an exercise regimen you’re comfortable with, figuring out a strategy to lose those extra pounds can sound like an overwhelming change in the way you live your day-to-day life.

However, new research suggests that self-monitoring what you eat might be the most effective part of any diet — and it takes less than 15 minutes each day to do it.

If you bite it, write it
The study, published in the journal Obesity, took a look at how 142 people self-monitored their diets through an online behavioral weight control program over a 6-month period.

Over the course of 24 weeks, they took part in a weekly online group session led by a trained dietitian. Through the program, the participants logged their daily food intake.

The most successful study participants were those who ended up losing 10 percent of their body weight, spending an average 23.2 minutes each day on self-monitoring in the first month of the study period.

By the study’s end at the 6-month mark, that average time had dropped down to 14.6 minutes.

“We were not surprised that frequent self-monitoring was related to weight loss success. We were surprised that 15 minutes a day is all that’s necessary,” lead author Jean Harvey, PhD, RD, chair of the Nutrition and Food Sciences Department at the University of Vermont, told Healthline.

Yes, on the surface, committing to just under 15 minutes to record and hold yourself accountable over what you’re consuming each day doesn’t sound like a lot, but Harvey said the act of self-monitoring can be daunting to people at first.

“Self-monitoring is a pain! You have to try to guess what foods in the database match the foods you have eaten — no small task when you go out to eat for example — you have to weigh and measure food if your estimate is to be accurate,” Harvey said. “You have to take the time to do it, and you have to admit to yourself that you’ve just eaten what you’ve eaten.”

Ali Webster, PhD, RD, associate director of Nutrition Communications at the International Food Information Council Foundation, told Healthline that many people are “afraid to face the reality of what we’re putting in our mouths.”

“It’s easier to dismiss the contribution that regular trips to the workplace candy stash or second helpings at dinner can have on our waistline if we’re not confronted with seeing it written on paper or tracked in our phones,” Webster, who was not affiliated with the study, told Healthline. “Many people also see monitoring the food we eat as ‘just another thing’ they have to think about during the day, or another task that chains them to their computers or their phones.”

Nevertheless, Webster said, this study shows that the time commitment required for this kind of self-monitoring is pretty minimal.

“We’d all be lying if we said we didn’t spend at least 15 minutes mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Instagram every day,” she stressed. “Why not redirect some of that time toward a productive, healthy habit?”

Why does self-monitoring help? Harvey said that calorie counting is one of the effective strategies out there to manage your weight. She said that it is highly likely people who self-monitored in the study were more aware of just how much they consumed. As a result, they probably were more successful at sticking close to their initial “calorie goal.”

How keeping track keeps you on track
“Self-monitoring can be helpful for both positive reinforcement of making healthy choices and for reining in tendencies to indulge more often than is beneficial for weight or nutrition goals. Seeing healthy meal and snack decisions manifest themselves in improvements to our health is rewarding,” Webster explained. “And being able to say, ‘oh, I forgot that I had some candy after lunch today — maybe I can go easy on dessert tonight,’ is a clear way that having a written food record can lead to making healthier choices overall.”

In other words, self-monitoring allows us to see the good choices we’re making, quickly correct course when we indulge, and make smarter choices in the future.

A growing trend
Finding ways to manage diet and nutrition is gaining popularity.

It’s estimated that about 45 million people in the United States go on a diet each year, while Americans invest about $33 billion annually in buying weight loss products, according to Boston Medical Center.

These efforts to find the best weight loss approaches stand out starkly against the ever-rising obesity numbers among American adults.

More than 1 in 3 adults were said to have obesity, while about 1 in every 13 has “extreme obesity,” according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

A study published in 2013 in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) showed that obesity accounts for 18 percent of deaths among Americans between 40 and 85 years old.

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