You’ve tried the pills and bought the expensive exercise machines that you rarely use. But could your secret to weight loss lie in just simply keeping a journal? That’s what researchers are saying. Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that women who want to lose weight should faithfully keep a food journal, and avoid skipping meals and eating in restaurants – especially at lunch.
The study was published online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is the first study to look at the impact of a wide range of self-monitoring and diet-related behaviors and meal patterns on weight change among overweight and obese postmenopausal women.
Researchers observed 123 overweight-to-obese, inactive, Seattle-area women, ages 50 to 75. They filled out a series of questionnaires to assess dietary intake, eating-related weight-control strategies, self-monitoring behaviors and meal patterns. They were also asked to complete a 120-item food-frequency questionnaire to assess dietary change from the beginning to the end of the study.
The study’s author, Anne McTiernan, said that the findings show that restricting total calories is more important than diet composition such as low-fat versus low-carbohydrate, but writing it all down is important.
“For individuals who are trying to lose weight, the No. 1 piece of advice based on these study results would be to keep a food journal to help meet daily calorie goals,” said McTiernan. “It is difficult to make changes to your diet when you are not paying close attention to what you are eating.”
According to the researchers, women who kept food journals consistently lost about 6 pounds more than those who did not and those who reported skipping meals lost almost 8 fewer pounds than those who did not. Researchers also noted that women who ate out for lunch at least weekly lost on average 5 fewer pounds than those who ate out less frequently.
“Eating in restaurants usually means less individual control over ingredients and cooking methods, as well as larger portion sizes,” according to researchers.
McTiernan said keeping a journal can be very simple.
“While the study provided a printed booklet for the women to record their food and beverage consumption, a food journal doesn’t have to be anything fancy,” McTiernan said. “Any notebook or pad of paper that is easily carried or an online program that can be accessed any time through a smart phone or tablet should work fine.”
Eating at regular intervals and not skipping meals can be a good strategy to shed those unwanted pounds.
“The mechanism is not completely clear, but we think that skipping meals or fasting might cause you to respond more favorably to high-calorie foods and therefore take in more calories overall,” McTiernan said. “We also think skipping meals might cluster together with other behaviors. For instance, the lack of time and effort spent on planning and preparing meals may lead a person to skip meals and/or eat out more.”
Study participants were given the following tips for keeping a food journal:
Be honest – record everything you eat
Be accurate – measure portions, read labels
Be complete – include details such as how the food was prepared, and the addition of any toppings or condiments
Be consistent – always carry your food diary with you or use a diet-tracking application on your smart phone
“We think our findings are promising because it shows that basic strategies such as maintaining food journals, eating out less often and eating at regular intervals are simple tools that postmenopausal women – a group commonly at greater risk for weight gain – can use to help them lose weight successfully,” McTiernan said.
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