On the Write Path
By Greg Henry
Special to The Denver Post
Article Last Updated: 10/18/2008 04:28:16 PM MDT
Dear Diary: Today I ran 20 miles but scarfed a bag of M&MsThe best way to lose weight might be to put down your fork and pick up a pen and a piece of paper.
A person who keeps a daily food journal can double his or her weight loss, according to a study by Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research published in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
"It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories," said Jack Hollis, lead author and a researcher at Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore.
Food diaries, from simple to complex, are available at bookstores, on the Internet or through your doctor or local nutrition experts to suit your individual needs.
Mary Lee Chin, a registered dietitian and media consultant on food issues, says to decide what your objectives are first and then figure out how much time you have to keep a diary. "Think it through first," Chin says. "Find a program — (either) a notebook or a simple to complex program online. Lastly, don't expect miracles without effort on your part."
A diary can be as simple as including what, when and the amount you eat or as complex as logs that track your mood, nutritional information, exercise data and more. The important factor is being honest, sometimes brutally truthful.
"I know sometimes when we keep a food journal, we have a tendency to just want to record the days that we perceived as really good, the sort of 'perfect days,' " says Suzanne Farrell, registered dietitian and owner of Cherry Creek Nutrition. "You don't want to go beyond that and get those days when you're off your ideal way of eating."
The simple fact of seeing your daily food intake on paper or a computer screen is critical.
"It's the ultimate wake-up call," Farrell says. "Especially like when you use one for calories. Once you track that and pay attention and learn some of the calories in certain items, like a tuna salad sandwich. You may not realize that can be a high-calorie meal."
Customize your approach
Figure out what kind of food journaling fits your lifestyle.
"For a person who's on the go all the day and is moving around and isn't in front of a computer all the time, perhaps a small notebook in your pocket or pocketbook would be the way to go," Chin says. Office workers who spend all day at their desks might want to use an online program. Many programs calculate how many calories you're eating and give a quick nutritional analysis of the foods, as well.
Also important, Farrell notes, are the times you eat.
"In terms of assessing how you're eating, recording the time that you eat is an important factor because you can start to identify your meal patterns," she says. "For instance, if you have breakfast at 8 and then you're not eating again until 3. That's a very large gap. . . . So that could be contributing to why you overconsume when you get home at night."
More than weight loss
Experts claim a food dairy can be useful for anyone wishing to improve his or her health. Whether you're pre- diabetic, have high blood pressure or have high cholesterol, a food journal can help you track what you eat and help change your eating habits.
"It could help people who must go on clinically oriented diets, such as people with diabetes or heart disease," Chin says. "It can help us identify foods that we may be eating too much of, such as high-saturated-fat foods or high-sodium foods."
A food journal also can reveal the foods and nutrients missing from your diet.
"It's not so much what people are consuming always, but what is being left out of the diet," Farrell says. "You notice trends of very low fruit and vegetable intake or low fiber. So you pick that up from food journals. I want people to focus on what's missing from this diet."