By Shawn McKee
What’s this new weight-loss miracle? Is it a drug? A new machine for blasting your abs? A crazy diet where you eat nothing but broccoli?
No. It’s simply your keyboard. Keeping a food diary — recording what you eat throughout the day — can double a person’s weight loss efforts, according to a study conducted by Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research. The study, which was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that keeping a daily record can keep your diet on track.
“The more food records people kept, the more weight they lost,” said Kaiser Permanente lead author Jack Hollis Ph.D. “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.”
The average weight loss over 6 months was roughly 13 pounds, with more than two-thirds of the nearly 1,700 participants losing at least 9 pounds. Those who participated were asked to follow the heart-healthy DASH diet, which is rich in fruits and vegetables, attend weekly support group sessions and exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, as well as tracking what they ate. Participants who used their daily food journals doubled their results.
With more than two-thirds of Americans overweight — and the African American community being particularly susceptible to problems linked to obesity, like heart disease and diabetes — this study was one of the few trials to have a large percentage of African Americans — nearly half of the participants. “If we all just lost 9 pounds, like the majority of people in this study did, our nation would see vast decreases in hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke,” noted study co-author Victor Stevens, Ph.D., who found in a previous study that losing as little as 5 pounds can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure by 20 percent.
If it’s as simple as tracking what you eat to lose weight, then fire up the computer. If you eat it, type it in. Food diaries increase accountability and demonstrate where excess calories are coming from according to study participants.
Keeping a food diary doesn’t have to be a formal thing, noted Dr. Keith Bachman in the press release. Bachman, who heads Kaiser Permanente’s Weight Management Initiative, explained that journaling helps people reflect on what they eat, helping them become aware of their habits and, hopefully, changing their behavior.
“Every day I hear patients say they can’t lose weight,” he said. “This study shows that most people can lose weight if they have the right tools and support. And food journaling in conjunction with a weight management program or class is the ideal combination of tools and support.”
What have you eaten today? Have you tried keeping a food journal? Did it work? Let us know and post a comment below.