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Paige Waehner

Fit Fact: People who keep food diaries lose twice as much weight

By January 16, 2009

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Telling my clients to keep a food diary causes some of the most vicious glares I've ever gotten as a trainer - right behind the looks I get for making them do pushups, lunges and burpees. I realize it's a pain to read labels, measure food, look up calories and try to figure out what and how much you're eating, but the upside is that you think twice about the mindless eating you may do when you're tired, depressed or bored.

If you want to lose weight but avoid keeping a food journal, you may be more motivated when you hear about a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study involved more than 1700 participants, all of whom were following an exercise program and a healthy diet. Some participants kept a food diary and some didn't. After 6 months, most participants lost an average of 9 lbs, but those who kept a food diary dropped up to 20 lbs, more than twice as much as the non-writer-downers.

That's a pretty major difference and proof that a food diary can help you:

  • See where extra calories are coming from

  • Pinpoint when you're eating because your bored or stressed
  • Make you think more about your choices
  • Learn more about the foods you eat on a regular basis and whether they're really healthy

I'd love to hear about your experiences. Do you keep a food diary? If so, how long have you kept it and what do you keep track of? Leave a comment and tell us what you think about keeping a food diary.

More About How to Keep a Food Diary


Hollis, Jack F., et al. Weight Loss During the Intensive Intervention Phase of the Weight-Loss Maintenance Trial. Am J of Prev Med. Vol 35 (2), August 2008.

January 16, 2009 at 1:22 pm
(1) Karin says:

I’ve kept food diaries: I’ve counted WW points and used Calorie King. They both work, but I hate counting. I hate looking up points or calories. I obsess over how many I can or can’t have and I spend way too much time calculating home-cooking calories, unlisted restaurant calories, points conversions…I don’t want to spend my life that way. So I’m trying something new, a food diary with no counting. I write what I eat and why I choose to eat it or how I feel about it. I’m using Julia Cameron’s “The Writing Diet” as a guide. I’ve just started and I’ve been able to make a little progress and leave the counting obsession behind. So far, it’s a food diary I can live with.

January 16, 2009 at 3:05 pm
(2) yogram says:

I agree with Karin.
Measuring & counting calories are to difficult for me to make a habit of.
Since this year started I have been keeping a food diary. It’s the easiest way for me to keep track of what I eat. I have a steno pad which I use to follow my habits. Because I don’t restrict what I eat just how much I eat I find it the best tool for me.

January 17, 2009 at 8:23 am
(3) stacy says:

I agree – counting & measuring are maddening. However, just writing down what you eat, what time you’re hungry & how you’re feeling — may be useful to view @ the end of each week. It might be a way to see what “triggers” your hunger — as well as using just good ol’ common sense while looking @ the food you ate…

January 17, 2009 at 11:51 am
(4) catluver42 says:

I used to keep a food log to see how I was doing food group wise however, I can pretty much tell in my head if I am eating when I’m not really hungry so then I try to chew on a piece of gum instead.

January 17, 2009 at 2:31 pm
(5) Fitness fan says:

I wouldnít have the patience to keep a food diary with calorie counts. I donít know what my exact caloric needs are, although I have a rough idea using a calorie calculator based on weight, height, age, and exercise level (link: http://calorieneedscalculator.com/). I imagine my caloric needs changed as I lost weight and became more fit through exercise, i.e., better metabolism. Over the last 4 years, I have lost 34 lbs. My waist has shrunk from a size 34 to a 30. During this time, I know I was burning off more calories than I took in because of the weight loss.

I did have some bad habits that I have adjusted during this time:
1)Donít load up the plate with food, take smaller portions.

2)Eat slowly so my body can tell me when Iím full, donít wolf down the food.

3)At home, use less salt when cooking. Sodium increases water retention, and is a contributor to high blood pressure.

4)Eat healthy foods for snacks, too.

5)Make sure Iím well hydrated.

Instead of a food diary, I keep an exercise log with supplementary data not recorded with my Polar FT60 heart rate monitor. The data includes my weight and blood pressure. The weight monitoring insures Iím eating enough; at this point, I want to maintain my weight, not lose more.

Iím not that strict with my diet, I enjoy my food but do try to eat more sensibly, and I use my exercise to stay at a high level of fitness.

January 17, 2009 at 6:41 pm
(6) Staci says:

I’ve lost 184 pounds and am down to about 18% bodyfat by journaling everything I eat. I continue to do so because other studies have shown that those that successfully keep weight off continue journaling their food. It just becomes a habit! I used FitDay.com’s software program which makes my life MUCH easier when it comes to keeping track of everything.

Btw, amazing how many people tell me that it is “too hard” when it comes to journaling after they asked how I lost my weight. I did it by not dieting but learning portion control by measuring everything I eat and exercising. I didn’t use surgery or drugs to do this, just learned to measure my food. Buy an electronic kitchen scale, that helps as well.

January 17, 2009 at 8:40 pm
(7) thrivegirl says:

I have kept a food journal off and on for years. I lose weight every time, as long as I keep it up. I am seriously overweight, but I’m down 24 pounds since the end of August and this time I’m going all the way.

Writing it down keeps you honest about how much you are really taking in. It really isn’t all that hard, ten minutes a day will generally do it and the looking-it-up thing gets easier all the time.

nutritiondata.com is a fantastic resource; it analyzes everything you can think of and even will analyze your personal recipes for you with a click of a mouse. Check it out, guys! We can do it, YEAH!

January 18, 2009 at 7:22 pm
(8) Pam says:

Oh my! I keep my food diary on the free site fitday.com. No this is not a commercial. I have lost 7 1/2 pounds in 2 weeks. It gives you graphs on your calories, nutrients, vitamins, and pie graph breakdowns on carbs, fats and proteins AND it tracks your activities, body stats, moods and you can also keep a journal. I’m lovin’ it!!!

January 18, 2009 at 8:10 pm
(9) Happy Girl says:

I only seem to lose weight when I journal. It can be easy to eat an extra 300 to 400 calories, and I’m petite so that’s enough extra calories to prevent weight loss. I follow the http://freshstart.stanford.edu progam. I believe the next session begins in April. They are doing research to see if it works better to learn weight loss first or maintain weight first. I was disappointed to be assigned to maintain first, but now I like it because if I have a vacation or a bad week, I can maintain my weight easily. The program is free to participants who qualify, just check the website for more information. BTW, I’ve lost 18 pounds and counting!

January 20, 2009 at 7:48 am
(10) swmagee says:

Go to livestrong.com the daily plate section eliminates guess work by counting and graphing calories and nutrients for you, and figures out calories burned against calories consumed. It is also a great site for setting and tracking goals. I started a few weeks ago and it is easy and best of all free : )

January 22, 2009 at 10:08 pm
(11) Zoe says:

I have kept a food diary for 4 months and measure out things like cereal and pasta about every 3rd time I eat them to keep my portions in line within reality. If I do not measure out grains and pasta occasionally I fall back into bad habits and portion distortion reigns. I do not obsess over the food diary, but it keeps me real with the calories, lets me plan out my dinner calories and lets me use THAT as an excuse to shut off the food tap at night. I say “Nope Zoe, you said 1400 calories this week, so no more”. It talks me down off the cookie cupboard! I will be keeping it even when I am not dieting. I enjoy it. I am a lister and a numbers gal anyway. PLUS I know the calories of a TON of food. I keep an exercise diary too! (I have lost 52 pounds, have 18 more to go and have brought my heart rate from 110 resting (I know)to 67 – one year solid exercising). The diaries keep me honest and are motivating.

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