Food Diary Works for Weight Loss

Use a Food Diary or App to Stick with Your Diet

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What is the most effective tool you can use to lose weight? A study suggests that keeping a food diary leads to more weight loss.

Keep a Food Diary and Lose More Weight

A study of 1,700 dieters found that those who were faithful to tracking their food in a food diary lost twice as much weight as those who weren't. The study included both men and women. Those who kept a food diary lost an average of 18 pounds in six months, compared to 9 pounds for those who were in the same program and didn't keep a diet diary.

All participants received counseling and participated in moderate intensity exercise.

What Is a Food Diary?

A food diary can be as simple as writing down everything you eat.

  • Simple Food Diary: Write down everything you eat. Estimate how much you ate -- a cup of rice, two slices of bread, etc.
  • Food Diary Categorizing Food: As you become more familiar with food groups from the food pyramid, you can categorize foods and track portions of of protein, starches, vegetables and fruits. Our simple printable food diary lets you track your food in this way.
  • Food Diary with Calories and Nutrition Content: You can estimate calories by categorizing food, but that becomes more difficult if you eat combination foods such as casseroles, sandwiches, or when dining out. Online food diaries and food diary apps can allow you to pick from lists of foods and provide both calorie and nutrition content, totaling it for the day. Our free online tools at Calorie Count allow you to keep a personal food and exercise diary online, or to get a calorie estimate for foods you enter onto your paper food diary. Calorie Count also has mobile options to get get calorie counts by text message, mobile web or phone app.
  • Fitness Tracker Food Diary Apps: Several popular fitness trackers have a food diary built into their app, or they connect their app with other popular food diary apps. Fitbit has a food diary built into its app so you can log what you eat, matching calories in and calories burned. So does the Jawbone UP app. Meanwhile, the Garmin vivofit and the Withings activity trackers ink to MyFitnessPal app for food logging. All of these include ways to select from food lists, create custom foods, analyze recipes, scan bar codes, pick from restaurant food lists, and otherwise make it easy to find the calorie and nutrition content of your food. By tracking what you eat as well as the calories you burn, in theory you can ensure you are burning enough calories to lose weight.

    The biggest incentive in using a food diary may be that you decide to make better food choices or eat less so you don't have to record a poor choice or going over your calorie limit. With fitness tracker apps, you have the additional incentive to keep the calories you eat under the total of calories burned and your set target for the day.

    Set your calorie target by knowing your approximate calories burned per day, and aiming to eat 300-500 fewer calories than you will burn each day.

    Jack F. Hollis, PhD, et. al. "Weight Loss During the Intensive Intervention Phase of the Weight-Loss Maintenance Trial" American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Volume 35, Issue 2, Pages 118-126 (August 2008).

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