This Will Help You Get to a Healthy Weight

New research finds that self-monitoring is a successful diet strategy.

Posted Feb 28, 2019

DariuszSankowski/Pixabay, used with permission.
Technology can help you lose weight.
Source: DariuszSankowski/Pixabay, used with permission.

In spite of everything we know about obesity and health, and in spite of easy access to enormous amounts of information about nutrition, exercise and strategies for knocking off excess pounds and preventing weight gain, Americans are just getting bigger and bigger. At last count, more than 18% of children under the age of 18 and almost 40% of adults weighed in as obese.

Losing excess weight has never been easy, but one thing dietitians and other health experts have always known is that it’s not just a matter of what type of diet you follow and how much exercise you get. Those are key predictors of success, but they don’t take into account the benefits of psychological and behavioral strategies that contribute to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, such as mindful eating and positive self-talk

New research from the University of Vermont and University of South Carolina looked at the amount of time participants in an online weight loss program spent recording what they ate, portion sizes, calories and fat with the use of an online tracking tool. Of the 142 participants, the researchers found that those who initially spent about 25 minutes over the course of each day recording their dietary intake—tapering down to less than 15 minutes a day by six months as they became more efficient at using the tool—were the most successful in the group, reportedly losing 10% of their initial body weight.

Keeping a food diary has always been considered an important strategy for weight loss, as well as an educational tool that allows you to keep track of how much you eat and also learn just how many calories, fat and other nutrients are in the foods you choose, so that you can make better choices to facilitate weight loss and enhance your health. But this is the first time a study has shown exactly how long and how often successful dieters practice this particular activity. Success does not come from spending time adding it all up at the end of the day, however, but rather from consistently checking in and recording what you eat and drink at least three times a day. If you wait until the end of the day, you may spend as much time calculating and documenting, but you’re also likely to forget some of what you ate throughout the day so your results may not be accurate.

Just like you know (or can look up) guidelines for how many calories to consume throughout each day in order to lose or maintain weight, and how much exercise you need to do over the course of a week, now you have a guideline for how much time to spend to spend on recording diet and nutrition information, and how often you should do it, in order to effectively self-monitor and keep yourself on a successful path. 

If you think this sounds like a lot of work regardless of the positive results, be grateful for the convenience and speed of technology. Online diet and exercise tracking apps make the practice of self-monitoring a whole lot quicker and easier than it was in the “old days,” just a few decades ago, when dieters and (more often) weight loss counselors would painstakingly look up each and every food, beverage, and ingredient in a huge book that provided nutrition analyses for thousands of foods, beverages and individual ingredients, write the information down, and tally the results by hand. What once took hours now takes minutes, and you can do it yourself.


The University of Vermont. Is the Most Effective Weight-Loss Strategy Really That Hard? February 25, 2019.

Hales CM, Fryar CD, Carroll MD. Trends in Obesity and Severe Obesity Prevalence in US Youth and Adults by Sex and Age, 2007-2008 to 2015-2016. JAMA Research Letter. April 24, 2018.