Why is it important to keep a food diary?

Source: “Keeping Food Records Helps Dieters Lose Weight” (Omaha World-Herald; 02/22/99):

Still in search of the ideal exercise for weight loss? One of the best might be putting pen to paper whenever you eat. Keeping regular food records was even more effective than exercise for weight loss, as reported in one study published in the ‘Journal of the American Dietetic Association’. Test subjects who tracked food intake five days a week lost an average of 11.6 pounds. “The explanation is simple”, Omaha dietitian Susan Drew says: “People who keep food records tend to eat less. But I do think keeping food records is difficult to do,” says Drew, program director of nutrition education for the Dairy Council of Central States. “It takes a lot of commitment.”

It’s a worthwhile commitment, says Nadine Freshman, outpatient nutritionist at Bergan Mercy Medical Center. Most of her clients keep records. “I say, ‘You don’t have to go to your grave writing down food records. But you might find patterns and behaviors that can be counterproductive,'” Freshman says. “I’ve always said ninety percent of why we eat is behavior-related. It’s not because we’re hungry. We’re mad. We’re sad. Or it’s just time to eat. Food records are excellent from that standpoint.”

Just as a personal trainer can help you start an exercise program, a dietitian can teach you how to keep food records. Drew says you probably can find a dietitian by calling a local hospital or checking in the Yellow Pages. You need not keep food records every day, but the aforementioned study found that those who tracked food intake five days a week lost twice as much weight as those who kept records once or twice a week. Freshman recommends keeping records for at least six weeks. “It takes 21 days to identify a behavior,” she says, “and probably another 21 days to change it.”