Write It Down to Lose More Weight: How to keep a food diary

food diaryby Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., C.D.E.

I always ask my weight-loss patients to keep a food diary. It’s not for me. It’s their tool. Sure, it helps me guide my patients’ choices, but it’s for their own accountability and education.

Earlier this month, Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research announced that in their weight loss study, the most successful losers kept the most food diaries and spent the most time exercising. Of course, this didn’t surprise me at all. I’ve read studies like this before, and I see it every week in my office. In the Kaiser Permanente study, those who recorded their intake daily lost twice as much weight as those who never kept records.

So how does a food record help? The act of recording your food intake influences your choices. When I keep a record, I’m much less likely to dig into the cracker box that someone left on the counter, and I’m much less apt to steal three or four chips or fries that arrived with my daughter’s or husband’s sandwich.

There are lots of ways to keep a food record. The important thing is just to keep one.

  • Don’t worry if it’s messy. Use abbreviations. It’s your tool, so make it work for you.
  • Use a notebook, a special food diary, little sticky notes, your PDA, calorie counting websites, send yourself an email or log your food choices into an Excel document.
  • Write in it throughout the day. Let it influence what you’re about to eat rather than merely reflect what you already ate.
  • Be honest. Record every bite, lick and sip.

Images courtesy Open Clip Art Library.

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10 Responses to “Write It Down to Lose More Weight: How to keep a food diary”

  1. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H Says:

    Thanks for the great post.

    A lot of people just don’t count those extra little snacks or sodas during the day, and they add up. A food record forces you to jog your memory.

  2. Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., C.D.E. Says:

    You are so right about a lot of things not being counted. Once I had a patient who would not keep a food record. I practically begged her to each visit. Finally she did and discovered that she was getting a lot of calories from her kids’ leftovers. She was eating the crust of a grilled cheese sandwich – that type of thing. What a lesson for her. She lost 10 pounds that month.

  3. lhubbard Says:

    Wow, that story in your comment, Jill, about the patient who lost 10 pounds that month is interesting.

    I gotta say, I’ve always rebelled against the idea of a food diary. It’s too regimented for me. But your blog entry explains it in a better way than I’ve understood it in the past. I especially like bullet point number three. I can see how this would work now. Thanks.

    Leigh Ann Hubbard
    Managing Editor
    James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor

  4. Mark Salinas Says:

    I know many people that use a food diary. I personally don’t but do understand the benefits. One resource that I have recommended for individuals that are interested in a food diary is http://www.fitday.com/

    Good post!

  5. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H Says:

    Thanks for the great tip, Mark. From reading your blog on boot camp, I don’t think you need a diary for motivation.

  6. UltraRob Says:

    I’ve used DietPower with very good success in the past. Not only does it track your food and weight but tries to calculate your true metabolic rate. If you’re accurate with your logging it seems to be pretty close.

    It took a bit to get used to and add some of my favorite items. Once I got used to it, I could usually log my food for the day in well under 10 minutes. It did help me make good choices. Would I rather have a Coke or an apple, slice of bread and water?

  7. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H Says:

    Thanks UltraRob:

    I’ll bet it does make you put a little more thought into what you eat.

  8. Axodys » Stumbles for July 17, 2008 Says:

    [...] James Hubbard&8217;s My Family Doctor Blog & Blog Archive & Write It Down to Lose More W… My wife has used this technique very successfully to lose weight after her last pregnancy and it’s probably something I should look at doing myself. [...]

  9. dave Says:

    Click on my name for a site that offers free food diary logging and analysis! Its a great tool to help you decide what to eat for dinner, you can look and see where you are lacking in nutrients from what you have already eaten, and then look at the top foods for those categories to see how you can round it all out.

  10. James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor Blog » Blog Archive » Plateau in weight loss? How to overcome it. Tips from a family doctor. Says:

    [...] a food diary. A recent study proved it works. It may help you remember those little snacks that don’t seem like much, but can add up.  In [...]

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