WebMD Health News
Brunilda Nazario, MD
July 13, 2012 -- If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less -- and if you want to eat less, it helps to write it down.
When researchers studied the eating behaviors of female dieters they found that two of the most important tools linked to successful weight loss were a pen and notebook.
Women who kept food journals and consistently wrote down the foods they ate lost more weight than women who didn't.
Skipping meals and eating out frequently, especially at lunch, led to less weight loss.
Researcher Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD, says based on the study results, the number one piece of advice someone should follow if they want to lose weight is, "Keep a food journal."
"It's about accountability, knowing what you're eating and how much, and how that all adds up compared with your calorie goal for losing weight," she tells WebMD.
The study appears in the latest issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The study included 123 previously inactive, overweight, postmenopausal women in Seattle enrolled in a weight loss study.
Over the course of a year, the women followed a restricted-calorie diet with the goal of achieving a 10% reduction in weight in six months. Half the women were put on an exercise program and the other half were not.
All the participants were asked to record the foods they ate daily in seven-day diaries provided weekly by dietician counselors.
During the study, the women also completed a series of questionnaires designed to assess their individual eating-related behaviors and strategies to achieve weight loss.
At the end of the year, both the diet-alone and diet-and-exercise groups had lost an average of 10% of their starting weight.
Among the specific findings:
"Eating out may be a barrier for making healthful dietary changes because it usually means less individual control over ingredients and cooking methods, as well as larger portion sizes," the researchers wrote.
The study is not the first to find that keeping a food journal helps people shed pounds.
A 2008 study found that dieters who kept food diaries at least six days a week lost twice as much weight as those who kept the journals one day a week or less.
Keeping a food diary helps increase awareness of mindless, distracted eating, says nutritionist and diabetes educator Megrette Fletcher, RD, who is also co-founder of The Center for Mindful Eating.
"We know that when people keep food journals they are more aware of what they eat and in what quantities," she tells WebMD. "Whether the goal is to lose weight, keep diabetes under control, or just to avoid eating when you are not hungry, food journals can help."
Most experts recommend writing down the foods you eat as soon as you eat them, rather than waiting until the end of the day.
Some other tips:
SOURCES:Kong, A. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, July 13, 2012.Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD, professor of epidemiology, University of Washington; researcher, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle.Megrette Fletcher, Med, RD, executive director, The Center for Mindful Eating.News release, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.Hollis, J.F. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, August 2008.
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