Here at Well+Being we’re big fans of keeping a food diary to keep track of our daily diets. The good news is we’re on the right track, according to new research that says food journaling helps women shed more pounds than those who don’t record their food intake.
A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has pinpointed three key weight-loss strategies for women, after researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center followed 123 overweight-to-obese, sedentary women ages 50 to 75 for an entire year. (They chose to study post-menopausal women, a group that is at greater risk of gaining weight.) The three strategies they noted were as follows:
1) Women who consistently updated their food diaries lost approximately six more pounds than the group that did not keep diaries.
2) Women who skipped meals lost about eight fewer pounds than women who had breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
3) Women who ate out frequently lost less weight than women who had home-cooked meals. In fact, those who ate out for lunch lost five fewer pounds than women who ate in.
The results make sense, says Dr. Anne McTiernan, who led the study. They show that before trying to lose weight, it’s essential to know your current eating habits. “It is difficult to make changes to your diet when you are not paying close attention to what you are eating,” she says. As a plus, a food diary provides a reference for those who may be trying to pinpoint a food allergy, such as allergies to gluten, peanuts, or dairy.
When keeping a food diary, McTiernan’s team recommends noting not only portion size, but also how the meal was prepared. And don’t skimp on the little details; condiments and toppings need to be recorded, too.
Researchers also note that eating every meal will prevent one from craving high-calorie meals, which is what typically happens when one fasts or skips a meal. “We also think skipping meals might cluster together with other behaviors,” McTiernan says. “The lack of time and effort spent on planning and preparing meals may lead a person to skip meals and/or eat out more.”
Consequently, eating out at restaurants takes away a person’s control of his or her meal portions and ingredients. Typically, the portion sizes at restaurants are much larger than that of a home-cooked meal. Researchers found that for whatever reason, eating out at lunch provided the strongest association with less weight loss.
The full study was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.