What can writing down your meals do for weight loss?

Dietary “self-monitoring” is a common strategy that people use to lose weight.

February 25, 2019, 8:16 PM

The more often people log what they eat, the more weight they may lose, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Vermont.

Can it really be that easy?

“Logging your food intake is one of the best predictors of losing weight and keeping it off,” Dr. Jean Harvey, professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and the lead author of the study, told ABC News. “Using an electronic system, for the first time, we were able to see what people were doing,” Harvey said.

Approximately 40 percent, or 93.3 million adults in the U.S. are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity also affects close to 19 percent or 13.7 million children in the US.

Obese people are at increased risk of many serious diseases, including high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Obesity is also associated with a lower quality of life and poor mental health.

Dietary “self-monitoring” is a common strategy that people use to lose weight. It involves recording what food and drinks they consume, and how much. The theory is that when mindful of what you put in your body, you’ll make healthier decisions.

While dietary self-monitoring has been shown to help people lose weight, not much is known about how long this takes or how often it should be done.

Researchers at the University of Vermont studied overweight and obese individuals in otherwise good health who took part in a 24-week weight control program where they recorded their daily dietary intake using an online program. The findings, highlighted in a recently published study in the journal Obesity, demonstrated that people who lost at least 10 percent of their baseline weight recorded their food intake about 3 times a day compared to others who recorded less than 2 times daily, and lost less weight. People who continued to record their food intake daily for 24 weeks lost more weight compared to those who quit noting their intake.

Researchers found people may have greater success with weight loss if they record their dietary intake about three times a day, rather than recording all of their meals in one sitting.

A good principal to follows may be “write when you bite” said Dr. Harvey. Self-monitoring can be performed in many different ways. “It is important to find what works for you,” said Dr. Harvey.

More than 90 percent of the people in the study were generally healthy middle-aged women, so it is difficult to transfer the study’s results to other groups like young or elderly people, men, and those with several health conditions or complications. Also, the self-monitoring was done using an online program and results may be different if self-monitoring is performed manually using a paper and pencil, or using smartphone applications.

Amrit K. Kamboj, MD, is an internal medicine resident and member of the ABC News Medical Unit.