March 4, 2004
Food diaries can help you lose weight and keep it off
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—If you bite it, write it.
Rankin County resident Joyce Leverenz lives by that mantra, and her reward has been a 48-pound weight loss.
“Using a food diary keeps me honest,” she says. “You don’t really realize what you eat until you write it down.
Linda Peddicord, a licensed and registered dietitian at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson, says food diaries do help people pinpoint problem areas in their daily diet and she recommends the pastime for anyone who is trying to shed a few pounds.
“It’s really helpful if you’re trying to lose weight and keep it off,” Peddicord says. “Studies have shown that successful dieters often do a lot of self-monitoring, such as weighing regularly and keeping track of what and how much they eat.”
While that might sound laborious, Peddicord said it’s actually easier than ever to itemize your intake. Many Internet-based health or weight-loss sites offer online food diaries, either for free or as a commercial service. The result is you can actually create a spread sheet that tells you why you’re spreading.
Leverenz, admissions coordinator for Quest, Methodist’s brain injury reintegration program, kept track of her food consumption through Weight Watchers’ online subscription service. She says the user-friendly program turned out to be a real eye-opener.
“It helped me see my eating patterns,” Leverenz said. “It made me realize just how many calories were in a lot of things I was eating. And it made me more structured. ”
Electronic food diaries are handy because they do the computing for you and can automatically generate reports and chart your progress.
But Peddicord says dieters don’t have to go high-tech to benefit from keeping a food diary. “A lot of eating behaviors are subconscious, so simply recording what you eat and when on a piece of paper can help you realize where you’re going wrong. For instance, you might notice that mid-afternoon munching is your downfall and come up with a strategy to curb your snacking.”
Bookstores often stock food diaries in their health sections, but Peddicord says it’s easy to create your own.
Here are her suggestions for what information to include:
- Food Quantity and Type: This can be as simple as an entry that says “one cup mashed potatoes with gravy” to as complex as including the food’s fat, fiber, carbohydrate and calorie content. Include what’s important to you i.e. someone with a family history of high blood pressure might want to track sodium intake. And make sure you note proper portion sizes. You may find those biggie-sized fries are actually four servings.
- Time of Day: Charting when you eat can alert you to destructive patterns, such as a tendency to hit the snack cabinet as soon as you walk in the door at night.
- Location: By pinpointing where you eat, you can determine if overeating is linked to certain locations -- like your favorite fast food restaurant.
- Who You Were With: Friends and family can be your downfall when you’re trying to diet. Learning who leads you astray can help you avoid situations where you might be persuaded to overeat.
- Activity: Some pastimes seem to go hand in hand with snacking -- such as going to the movies or watching TV. Being aware of such connections can help you develop healthier alternatives i.e. having a bowl of fruit or other healthy treats on standby.
- Mood: Ask yourself if you’re sad or restless? Identifying emotional triggers for eating can keep you from comforting yourself with food.