Nearly 17,000 people took part in the study, which was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health. After six months, the average weight loss among those in the study was approximately 13 pounds.
"The more food records people kept, the more weight they lost," says lead author Jack Hollis PhD, a researcher at Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregon "Those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories."
More than two-thirds of the participants lost at least nine pounds, which is considered enough to reduce health risks.
Victor Stevens, Ph.D., co-author of the study and a Kaiser Permanente researcher says, "More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. If we all lost just nine pounds, like the majority of people in this study did, our nation would see vast decreases in hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke."
And even fewer pounds lost can contribute to a decrease in health risks. In an earlier study, Stevens found that losing as little as five pounds can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure by 20 percent.
If you have previously dashed the idea of keeping a food diary because you thought it was too time consuming, think again.
"Keeping a food diary doesn't have to be a formal thing. Just the act of scribbling down what you eat on a Post-It note, sending yourself e-mails tallying each meal, or sending yourself a text message will suffice. It's the process of reflecting on what you eat that helps us become aware of our habits, and hopefully changes our behavior," says Keith Bachman, MD, a Weight Management Initiative member.
Before you think the mere act of writing down the pint of Hagen-Daas, second serving of pasta alfredo, or the four bottles of soda you consumed yesterday is going to miraculously melt off the pounds, take note that participants in the study were also asked to lead a healthy lifestyle.
In addition to keeping food diaries and turning them in at weekly support group meetings, participants were asked to follow a heart-healthy DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low-fat or non-fat dairy, attend weekly group sessions and exercise at moderate intensity levels for at least 30 minutes a day.
According to Bachman, food journaling is only part of the picture. He explains, "Every day I hear patients say they can't lose weight. This study shows that most people can lose weight if they have the right tools and support. And food journaling in conjunction with a weight management program or class is the ideal combination of tools and support."
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