Keeping a journal of everything you eat can be daunting, not to mention an unpleasant reality check. But new research suggests that it's one of the most effective things you can do to if you're trying to lose weight. The other two most important strategies were things to avoid: regularly going out for lunch and skipping meals.
In a study published online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers in Seattle examined the eating-related behaviors and self-monitoring strategies of 123 overweight or obese postmenopausal women who took part in a year-long weight-loss trial. Of the 18 behaviors and strategies the researchers looked at, which included counting calories and staying away from fast-food restaurants keeping a weekly food journal had the greatest positive correlation with weight loss. Women who used that strategy most weeks lost about 6 pounds more over one year than women who didn't (or, in terms of percentages, 12.8 percent of body weight among journalers compared with 8.2 percent among non-journalers).
The two other strategies most strongly linked to weight loss were things you shouldn't do: regularly going out to lunch, and skipping meals. Women who did those things lost about five fewer pounds and eight fewer pounds, respectively, over a year compared with other women.
Previous studies have looked at how various individual behaviors and strategies on weight outcomes, but this study was the first to pull together a wide variety of such practices, both healthy (planning meals and snacks throughout the day, keeping track of calories, weighing oneself regularly) and unhealthy (skipping meals, taking laxatives, vomiting after eating). That allowed the authors not just to identify which factors influenced weight loss, but to compare their relative importance.
If you're not sure what should go in a food journal, here are some basics:
• Be honest. Record everything you eat.
• Be accurate. Measure portions and read labels.
• Be complete. Include details such as how the food was prepared, and the addition of any toppings or condiments.
• Be consistent. Carry your food diary with you or use a diet-tracking application on your smart phone.
See which strategies were associated with healthy body weight in our survey of 21,632 readers (hint: eating at home was one). If a restaurant meal is the only option, use these tips for healthful dining out.
Self-Monitoring and Eating-Related Behaviors Are Associated with 12-Month Weight Loss in Postmenopausal Overweight-to-Obese Women [Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics]