The Most Effective Weight Loss Programs Use Food Diaries

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The Most Effective Weight Loss Programs Use Food Diaries

The most effective weight loss programs require the participants to record food intake in a food diary. The extra accountability helps dieters stay on track all day. Recording intake throughout the day can also help you reserve calories for a restaurant dinner or some other food-centered event.

If you’ve ever tried to lose weight and failed, you understand the challenges of sticking to a healthy diet. Next time, try keeping a food diary. Research has shown that overweight people who keep food diaries lose twice as much weight compared to those who don’t keep food diaries.

A study conducted by Kaiser Permanente of nearly 1,700 participants showed that the best predictors of weight loss were how frequently food diaries were kept and how many group support sessions they attended. Jack Hollis Ph.D., the lead author of the study and a researcher at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research, reports that “The more food records people kept, the more weight they lost. Those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories.”



Keeping a Food Diary Is Critical to the Most Effective Weight Loss Programs



The Kaiser study used a variety of techniques to determine the most effective weight loss programs. The participants were required to do the following:

• Keep food diaries and turn them in weekly,

• Attend weekly support group meetings,

• Follow a heart-healthy DASH (a Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), rich in fruits and vegetables, and

• Exercise at moderate intensity levels for at least 30 minutes a day.


The Kaiser Study Reveals the Elements of the Most Effective Weight Loss Programs



• After six months, the average weight loss among the participants was approximately 13 pounds.

• 69% of the participants lost at least nine pounds,

• This amount of weight loss was enough to significantly improve their health, and

• The successful participants qualified for the second phase of the study, which lasted 30 months and tested strategies for maintaining the weight loss.


A Food Diary is a Critical Component of the Most Effective Weight Loss Programs



There are many ways keeping a food diary can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight:
• It will help you become aware of your eating patterns,
• It’s a good visual to show you where you can improve,
• It can help you identify emotional eating and its triggers,
• It can inspire you to do better,
• It will keep you accountable all day,
• It will help you learn how caloric restaurant dining can be,
• It may help you cut down on mindless snacking, and
• It can assist you with portion control.

Use any type of food diary that works for you and is sustainable. I recommend the My Fitness Pal app. There are many other phone apps. Find the one you like best. The USDA website,, has a food tracker called “SuperTracker.” You can also go low tech and just write down your food intake.

According to Keith Bachman, MD, a Member of Kaiser’s Weight Management Initiative, “Keeping a food diary doesn’t have to be a formal thing. Just the act of scribbling down what you eat on a Post-It note, sending yourself e-mails tallying each meal, or sending yourself a text message will suffice. It’s the process of reflecting on what you eat that helps us become aware of our habits, and hopefully change our behavior.”

It is best to record the food in your diary immediately after you have eaten, rather than waiting until the end of the day. Your log will be more accurate and you won’t be in denial. Keeping a food diary requires a little discipline, but it is worth the time and effort. Those who do keep one regularly are more successful in changing their lifestyle and losing weight.


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