Oh, the new year’s resolution to lose weight. For so many of us, that is our dream, and every January, when we put up the new calendar, we resolve again that this is the year we will lose weight. If you are one of these people, keep a food log.
Numerous studies support the idea that writing down each item that enters your mouth will make you more successful at losing weight. A study of more than 2000 people done by Kaiser Permanente in 2008 found that the single most effective indicator for losing weight was keeping a food diary. During the 6-month study, participants ate a low-fat diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, and exercised regularly. And they lost an average of 9 pounds. But those who kept a food diary lost an average of 20 pounds!
Why does this work? First, just the activity of writing down everything that you eat and drink makes you more aware of everything that goes into your mouth. Many people eat “mindlessly”, perhaps not even remembering the stray piece of chocolate or trip to the vending machine. Also, keeping the food diary gives an opportunity to reflect on what we eat and when we eat, which can lead to a realization that the food wasn’t to satisfy hunger, but rather to cover some emotion we were feeling: loneliness, or sadness or anger. Finally, a food diary helps raise awareness about portion size, something people regularly underestimate.
How you keep your food log is a personal thing. Some just scribble down what & how much they eat every day with pen and paper. Others much prefer to keep track online, or with a phone app. Here are links to several options:
- NHLBI offers a free food diary and a menu planner that automatically calculates calories in common foods.
- MyNetDiary.com an online food diary and calorie counter, offers iPhone and Blackberry applications, among others for a fee, and provides additional services.
- Myfooddiary.com which has a database of foods and nutrients and a food search engine, allows individuals to start on a 7-day free trial, but then charges $9 a month.
- FitDay.com a free online diet and fitness journal, offers multiple diet-related services, but asks individuals to first create a user profile.
- Nutrihand.com offers a free basic plan upon registering, and charges $9.95 a month for additional services.
Typically, the more information you want to log, the greater the chances that you’ll end up paying a fee.
Whatever method you choose, log the food immediately after you eat it for the most accurate record, and be honest! If you don’t record everything you eat and drink, even the best log is worthless.
The benefit of keeping track of every single thing that you eat seems to come from reflecting about what we eat, where and when. Many people who want to lose weight strongly resist keeping a food log, and I’ve often wondered why. Are they afraid of what they will learn?