The Secrets to Weight Loss: Keep a Food Journal, Don’t Skip Meals, Eat In

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A new yearlong study of weight loss in overweight or obese women identified three key strategies for taking off unwanted pounds. The No. 1 tip for success? Writing down everything you eat or drink in a food journal.

Also: don’t skip meals and avoid eating out at restaurants too often. Underlying all three strategies is a sense of mindfulness, the authors say — being acutely aware and accountable for every morsel you eat. “It is difficult to make changes to your diet when you are not paying close attention to what you are eating,” said study author Dr. Anne McTiernan, director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in a statement.

The study of 123 sedentary postmenopausal women aged 50 to 75 randomly assigned participants to one of two weight-loss plans: restricted-calorie diet only, or exercise plus diet. The women filled out a series of questionnaires detailing their dietary intake, any eating-related weight-loss strategies they used, meal patterns and other behaviors like eating out or food journaling. They also filled out a 120-item food frequency questionnaire to track dietary changes from the beginning to the end of the one-year study.

On average, women in both groups lost weight, about 11% of their starting weight, or 19 lbs., which met the study’s goals. But McTiernan and her colleagues noticed that certain strategies the women used were associated with more weight loss.

(MORE: Boot Camp: Do Food Diaries Really Work?)

Women who kept food journals consistently lost about 6 lbs. more than those who did not, for example, likely because they held themselves responsible for everything they ate, the authors said. Food journaling isn’t easy or convenient, but done consistently, it can help steer dieters to more healthful choices since it allows people not only to keep track of calories, but also to gauge the overall quality of their diet. The authors advise dieters to write down absolutely everything in their food journals, including condiments, toppings and sauces, and always to keep track of portions. Women in the study were given printed booklets to use as their food journals, but people can use anything they like, from low-tech notebook and pen to ready-made apps on their iPhone or tablet.

Women who reported skipping meals lost nearly 8 lbs. less than women who ate regularly. The authors think that when people skip meals, they’re more likely to binge eat or eat fattening foods later on, causing them to eat more calories overall. Habitual meal-skipping or fasting could also affect the body’s metabolism, discouraging weight loss. “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,” said McTiernan.

Indeed, women who ate out more lost less weight, especially those who frequently ate out for lunch. Women who had lunch out at least once a week lost about 5 lbs. less than those who didn’t eat out as often. Again, the problem is lack of awareness and control over what you’re eating, the authors said: you can’t control what goes into restaurant dishes or how they’re cooked, and you also have no say over portion size.

(MORE: Calorie vs. Calorie: Study Evaluates Three Diets for Staying Slim)

For anyone thinking of starting a food journal, the authors have some helpful tips:

  • 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 smartphone

“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.

The study was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

MORE: Study: The Best and Worst Food for Healthy Weight

PHOTOS: What Makes You Eat More Food?

19 comments
frontrangeprimarycare
frontrangeprimarycare

Women on diets who try to skip meals will see their body go into starvation mode.  The body willl try and store the food injested, because it does not know when the next time will  be for food.  This can be avoided by eating multiple smaller meals throughout the day to avoid skipping meals.  Keeping a journal is a good idea for multiple reasons.  Creating a sense of discipline and accuraate tracking to see the goals and accomplishments throughout the diet.   Consulting with your family doctor is a good start for your dieting programs  http://frontrangeprimarycare.com/

Phen375
Phen375

"Habitual meal-skipping or fasting could also affect the body’s metabolism, discouraging weight loss."

Lisa Eirene
Lisa Eirene

Counting my calories and recording my food is how I lost 110 pounds and how I've kept it off for 4 years now. It really does make a difference seeing it all written down.  This the program I use and I love it! 

http://www.110pounds.com/?p=28...

Merydith Willoughby
Merydith Willoughby

This would have to be one of the most talked about issues in Western society. The dilemma - how do we stay slim, fit, healthy? In my fourth book, Breathing's good I have included a chapter called Fit, slim, healthy and it identifies what I learned many years ago that has made the difference between me feeling powerless in this quest to taking charge of my life and to having, over the past two decades maintained the weight, shape and size I want, easily. Below is an excerpt from the chapter.

... We seem to be a society obsessed with body image and weight issues and these topics dominate the media. If the statistics are correct then the programs are not working because the Western world has an obesity crisis, which it is not abating.

It is not uncommon for people to struggle their whole life with weight issues; it can make their life miserable and the enjoyment that should come from eating food is lost to guilt and shame with ever-increasing yoyo dieting embarked upon. It is estimated that 90% of those who diet will have regained the lost weight plus more within twelve months. Moreover, the advice is always the same from professionals (and others). If you want to lose weight, you need to restrict calorific intake and increase exercise. The two are inexorably linked. Food is counted in calories, everyone is treated the same, the calories for specific food are identified and then we are taught how much exercise will be required to burn that food off.

It is a scare campaign…

Andrew Voznyak
Andrew Voznyak

I lost weight in the first place because I am mentally prepared for this

Ishpreet Bindra
Ishpreet Bindra

Body mass index is one of the best health indicators. It is a ratio between your weight in kilograms and the square of your height in meters. If the value obtained is less than 18.5, you are underweight. BMI between 18.5 and 25 indicates normal health. If your BMI ranges between 25 and 30, you are overweight. A number above 30 indicates that you are obese.Read on for the top 15 ways of effective weight loss without starving oneself: 

http://www.healthtzars.com/sta... 

Clint Nielsen
Clint Nielsen

"Habitual meal-skipping or fasting could also affect the body’s metabolism, discouraging weight loss."

You lost me as soon as you wrote that.

Shibly Noman
Shibly Noman

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wholefed
wholefed

Our Refrigerator was recently convicted of attempted murder. It was only after “he” tried to kill me that I realized the danger we were in. In fact, it was while in the ICU following my quadruple bypass surgery , that I figured it out.

A great first step to start a nutrition makeover is by mentally taking an inventory of the food in your fridge. Open it up and take a panoramic view of its contents. Does it look like a friend or an enemy? Considering that 67% of us will die of a chronic disease associated with malnutrition, the danger is real.

What you stock your refrigerator with is a choice. A choice made long before the food made it home. It is a choice based on thousands of small decisions that confront you daily. Each decision needs to be approached with an overriding master plan. When you select items at the store ask yourself a question: does this belong in my refrigerator. Extend that same question to ordering at restaurants; is this something I would eat at home?

Full Post here: http://wholefed.org/2012/07/16...

Ian Welch

WholeFed

PaleoIrish
PaleoIrish

I lost weight easily and effortlessly by ditching all grains and sugar, eating healthy meat, fish, veg and healthy fats. It might not suit everyone however it is working very well for me over the last year.

Anita Hamilton
Anita Hamilton

I found the App "My Fitness Pal" to be a great way to track caloric input and exercise output.  It is free and you can easily scan the bar code of the package of food to get the information (including nutrition).  If there is no bar code then you can look it up and match what you are eating with something that someone else has loaded into the system, failing that, you can upload the information yourself to the best of your ability. 

MMA Acupuncture
MMA Acupuncture

This was the method pretty much what I used to lose weight (and still use till this day). I don't think we really understand how many calories we're consuming until we write them down.

http://www.mmaacupuncture.com/...

Shibly Noman
Shibly Noman

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Lori Peters
Lori Peters

I lost 25 lbs just listening to hypnosis relaxation app before I fall asleep.  It talks about not eating all the food on your plate.  I hear, "In the waste or on your waist.

fitinthemiddle
fitinthemiddle

3 simple weight loss keys: track what you eat, track how

much you eat and don’t lie to yourself about it.  The last one may be the most difficult one to

follow.

 

NurseDavid
NurseDavid

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