Weight Loss: Keeping a Food Diary Makes a Difference

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In the battle of the bulge, it turns out that the pen may be mightier than the fork.

I've weighed in with this weight-loss tip before: Keeping close tabs on what you eat by jotting down your food intake (all of it) in a journal, increases the likelihood that you'll shed some pounds -- often a first-line of defense against chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Weight Watchers has advocated food journaling for years.

Now there are stats to back up this nutrition sleight-of-hand. A recently released Kaiser Permanente study found that overweight people who kept daily food logs lost up to twice as many pounds as those who didn't. For six months, nearly 1,700 overweight adults were encouraged to eat a heart-healthy diet, get active -- and keep notes of what they consumed. They also attended weekly support groups where they hit the scales and shared their diaries.

Researchers suggest a food diary is an important first step in helping folks who are overweight figure out where all those extra calories come from.

This homework-accountability-confessional (don't forget those fries with lunch, popcorn at the movies, or cookies for an afternoon snack) reveals that most of us are guilty of mindless eating -- and a diet diary actually makes people stop and think about what they put in their mouths.

Food records are also a good way to get portions under control. You or your loved ones may think you're only eating, say, two slices of bread a day -- when you're actually consuming twice or three times that amount. A meal journal can also help people uncover the hidden calories in familiar foods. Do you have any idea how many calories are packed into a bagel?

If your parents or other family members need to drop some weight, here's how to help convince them it's worth the bother:

  • Choose a tracking method: Some folks prefer old-fashioned pen and paper, others meticulously document everything in a PDA. Some turn to Web sites that offer free food logs, and many health organizations provide their own printed forms. Whatever works for your parents does the job.
  • Write it all down immediately after eating: Every bite of cookie, spoon of honey, and drop of milk counts -- and can add up over the course of a day. It's best to take note of what's been eaten right after a meal or snack when the memory (and guilt) is fresh.
  • Calculate calories: Food packaging can help your parents get a handle on the numbers, and online calorie counters are a handy aid. Measure portions at home to get a handle on serving sizes -- most people underestimate these amounts.
  • Look for patterns: Eating trends can emerge in a matter of days or weeks. Help your parent find ways to cut calories -- or solicit the assistance of a registered dietician or diabetes educator. Then find ways to reduce portion sizes and substitute healthier foods for empty-calorie fare.

(Oh, and by the way, there are about 245 calories in a bagel.)Shane Adams used under the Creative Commons attribution license.

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