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Keep a Food Diary, Lose Twice as Much Weight

Logging intake makes you think about what you eat, study finds,,

TUESDAY, July 8 (HealthDay News) -- Keeping tabs on what you eat with a food diary can double your weight loss, a new study shows.

While the idea of food diaries has been around a long time, this latest research offers more proof they help you shed more poundage, said study co-author Dr. Victor J. Stevens, a senior investigator at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, in Portland, Ore.

"It's not fun to write down what you eat; it just works," he said.

In the study, which is in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, they followed almost 1,700 men and women who were either overweight or obese. The average weight was 212 pounds. The participants attended 20 weekly group meetings and were encouraged to eat about 500 fewer calories a day, to engage in moderate intensity physical activity 30 minutes or more a day, and to follow the low-fat, low-sodium DASH dietary plan, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods.

Participants were asked to record daily food intake and their exercise minutes.

After 20 weeks, the total average loss was about 13 pounds, Stevens said. But the food record habit predicted success.

"The more food records they kept, the more they lost," he said. "Those who kept no food records lost about 9 pounds, and those who kept six or more per week lost about 18 pounds. That's a whopping difference."

What's the magic of a food diary? "It makes you accountable to yourself," Stevens said. "They handed in the food diaries, and we took a quick look." Any chance they were fiction? Stevens doesn't think so. "They also got on the scale every week at the meeting. And you can't fake that."

Writing down your intake yields clues about where the extra calories are coming from, Stevens explained, and participants said it got easier with time: "The more I got into it, the easier it became to keep track of what I ate every day," Frank Bitzer, 64, a retired project manager for the computer industry who lost 26 pounds, told the study leaders.

More information

To learn more about a food diary to analyze eating habits, visit the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Food Diaries Best Done Right After Meals

If you're new to food diaries, here's advice from Dr. Keith Bachman, a weight management specialist at Kaiser Permanente Care Management Institute and its Weight Management and Obesity Initiative, in Portland, Ore.

  • Write down your intake (and calories) using whatever method is easiest -- pen and paper, sticky note, an entry in your computer or PDA, even an e-mail to yourself.
  • Aim to write down your food intake after each eating episode; it's typically more accurate than reconstructing the entire day's intake at once.
  • The task of keeping the diary may help you cut down. "Remembering you have to write it down may make you decide you don't need the food," Bachman said.

SOURCES: Victor J. Stevens, Ph.D., senior investigator, Kaiser Permanente Center for Healthy Research, Portland, Ore.; Keith Bachman, M.D., weight management specialist, Kaiser Permanente Care Management Institute, Portland, Ore.; August 2008, American Journal of Preventive Medicine

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