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How to keep a food diary, and why it is essential to weight loss
Keeping a food diary has long been the cornerstone of many successful weight loss programs because it lets you know just how many calories you are eating. I also believe that it’s a great tool for you to identify where you can improve the quality of the calories that you are eating.
Here's a Good Tool for Weight Loss: Your Camera
The problem with keeping a written food diary, however, is that they can be extremely inaccurate. Studies vary in their estimates, but it seems that as many as half of all people keeping a food diary write down less than what they actually eat.
Online Food and Exercise Diaries Can Help You Lose More Weight
For years I've been suggesting that those patients who are working on their weight use a Food Diary to help track their caloric intake. These have all been paper diaries and have worked well to help folks both lose weight and maintain their weight loss. Only in the last few years, however, have there been online food diaries available to help people with weight loss, and there are dozens, if not hundreds of sites that offer calorie as well as exercise tracking (and Dr. Gourmet is no exception).
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One of the best tools that I have found for my patients to help them eat healthy and lose weight is keeping a food diary. Many popular diet plans have people record everything they eat and there's good research to support that when people do they eat better.
On the other hand, scientists know that when participants in research studies are asked to keep track of what they eat, their records are not very reliable. Such diaries are generally kept using pen and paper, but a group of researchers led by Bethany Yon at the University of Vermont (J Am Diet Assoc 2006(8);106:1256-1259) were curious whether technology might help.
They recruited 61 adults who were either overweight or obese to participate in research using personal digital assistants as an aide to keeping more accurate diet records. The participants received PalmZire PDAs equipped with Calorie King software along with instructions to record everything they ate.
There are some fairly complicated research tools that scientists use to evaluate actual calories burned by those who participate in dietary research. These are used to check the accuracy of what people report in their food diary. When these were applied to the users of the PDAs, the researchers found that there was a marked difference between the amount of food reported and that which they actually consumed. 41% of the participants under-reported their intake.
Interestingly, this is consistent with previous research showing that between 27% and 47% of study participants do not report their consumption accurately. Generally this is people not recording all the foods that they eat. While the PDA didn't help improve the accuracy, the investigators speculate that it may be the technology itself posing a barrier. A common complaint was that the users were not familiar with computers and found the Palm difficult to use.
Keeping a food diary is a challenge, and technology may help, but this appears to be a personal preference. Still, we know from research that keeping an accurate record of what you eat is a powerful tool to help you eat better. Download a Food Diary (PDF format) and try it for yourself.
First posted: August 4, 2006