The most common New Year’s resolution in Tennessee is dieting to lose weight, according to Vitagene, a health blog. However, a common question is “how do I successfully lose weight?” The answer is pretty simple.
By keeping a record of everything you eat, you are becoming aware of what and how much you eat. Research has shown that the frequency with which people keep track of their calories is one of the strongest predictors of who is going to lose weight and successfully keep it off and who is not. In fact, in one of the longest and largest studies of weight loss, the researchers estimated that keeping track of what you eat doubles your weight loss.
Logging your diet has a bad reputation for being a major burden. Until recently, experts weren’t sure how to quantify the commitment required. How many times per day do you really need to log food intake? How much time does it take? And how many days per month are necessary? New research might have the answers.
A study I conducted with colleagues at the University of Vermont and the University of South Carolina found that those who logged onto a diet and exercise self-monitoring website about three times per day were more likely to have a 5 to 10 percent weight loss over six months than those who did not. This finding is consistent with the typical recommendation from weight-loss programs to record foods as soon as they are consumed, or to “write it when you bite it.”
The intention is that you should record the information when you are best able to remember all of the details of what you ate and how much, rather than wracking your brain at the end of the day to try to remember and entering what was eaten all at one time. This recommendation is also intended to give you a running total of calories consumed throughout the day (like your ATM or checkbook balance), so that you know whether you have calories to “spend” on a glass of wine or a piece of chocolate after dinner. So, my first recommendation for successful weight loss is to set aside time three times per day to record what you eat.
Our study also indicated that keeping track of your food consumption with our website took only about 20 minutes per day in the first month, which decreased to about 15 minutes per day when participants got the hang of it after a few months. So, my second recommendation is to figure out where you can fit 15 to 20 minutes in your day to record consumption. If it still sounds overwhelming, look at it this way: 15 to 20 minutes, broken into 5- to 7-minute chunks three times throughout the day is less than the time most people spend on social media.
Finally, we found that the most successful participants, those who lost 5 to 10 percent of their weight, were keeping track of what they ate 17 to 21 days per month. So, my third recommendation is to aim for recording consumption on more days than you don’t. If you miss a day, don’t throw up your hands and give up on your goal, but resume logging at the next meal or snack.
In 2020, rather than a vague goal of “losing weight,” I recommend that you set the goal of picking a diet-tracking app or a website that fits your style. Popular ones with my study participants are LoseIt! and MyFitnessPal. Then, take these recommendations and find 5 to 7 minutes three times per day to log your diet. Do this on more days than you don’t each month.
With these tips, you will give yourself a good shot at achieving your weight-loss goals in 2020!
Becca Krukowski, PhD, is a behavioral scientist and an associate professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in the Department of Preventive Medicine. If your New Year’s resolution is to manage your weight and stop smoking, the Fit & Quit research study at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center can help you achieve both of your resolutions. Find out more at 901-448-2000, firstname.lastname@example.org or https://fitandquit.org/