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Food diaries help with weight loss

July 8, 2008 |  2:55 pm

Eat a Pop-Tart? Write it down. Eat an orange? Write it down. If you're trying to lose weight, the simple act of keeping a food diary can double the number of pounds you shed, according to a new study that tracked the weight-loss efforts of 1,700 obese or overweight adults.

In the study, which will be published in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, participants were counseled to adopt a variety of strategies: to exercise moderately for 30 minutes a day, follow the so-called DASH diet (rich in fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy) and keep a food diary. They also attended weekly support group sessions. All participants, in addition to being overweight, were on medications to lower their blood pressure and/or cholesterol. And 44% of the participants were African American, a group that has been under-represented in weight-loss studies of this type.

After six months, the average weight loss was about 13 pounds. "The more food records people kept, the more weight they lost," said lead author Jack Hollis of Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore., in a news release about the study.  Those who kept a food diary every day lost twice the amount of weight as those who didn't keep one.

Thirteen pounds isn't a huge number, but it's par for the course in weight-loss studies that are deemed successful -- and losing that amount of weight is enough to help improve cholesterol, lower blood pressure and lower the risk of developing diabetes, the authors note in their research paper.

Why does writing stuff down help? The authors aren't clear on that, but they suspect it helps one reflect on what's going down one's gullet. Also helpful for pound-shedding: The group sessions. And physical exercise.

Next step in the study: Keeping the lost weight off.

--- Rosie Mestel