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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.
Keeping a Food Diary
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.
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When my patients ask me for help with weight loss, the first thing I tell them to do is to keep a food diary. As I noted in my Real World Diet Coaching Essay on "Why You Should Keep A Food Diary," I think that keeping a food diary is a great tool for weight loss because it not only lets you see exactly how much you're eating, it also lets you assess where you might improve your diet - by getting more vegetables, for example.
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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).
The weight loss industry has long been targeting women, but since overweight and obesity is by no means gender-specific, there's recently been more interest in helping men lose weight. A recent study out of Australia reports on the results of a 12-month Internet-based weight loss program specifically for men (Obesity 2011;19(1):142-151).
The researchers recruited 65 men between the ages of 18 and 65, with an average age of about 36 and an average Body Mass Index of about 31 (clinically obese). The men were randomized into two groups: one received a weight loss booklet and attended a one-hour information session, while the other group received the same weight loss book and attended the same information session, but they were also instructed in how to use the study's online weight loss website: www.calorieking.com.au. (This website is specific to Australia; the US version charges a fee.)
Those assigned to using the website were instructed to record their weight on the website at least once per week and to keep a daily online diary of their eating and exercise for the first 4 weeks of the study. In the second month of the study they were only requested to submit records for two of the weeks, and in the third month, only one week. The participants were also able to interact with the research group through a forum on the website.
After three months the participants' weight, waist circumference, blood pressure and heart rate were measured and compared with their scores from the start of the study. While both groups lost weight, those using the website lost over 50% more weight (4.8kg compared to 3.0kg, on average).
What's especially interesting is that one year after the start of the study, both groups had kept the weight off and had even lost more weight. Those using the website, however, had lost an additional 0.5kg, while those with just the program booklet had only lost an additional 0.1kg.
It seems clear that food and exercise diaries help you lose weight and will help you keep it off for the long term. While several years ago I reported on a study that cast some doubt on the usefulness of technology in keeping a food diary, this more recent study contradicts that rather thoroughly - likely due to people's greater familiarity with technology as well as advances in how easy that technology is to use. If you're looking for a free, easy-to-use food and exercise diary, try The Dr. Gourmet Diet Plan here on the Dr. Gourmet website, or use our Dr. Gourmet iPhone app and take your food diary with you.
First posted: January 12, 2011