Q & A w/Stephanie Solaris: Logging

Q:  Does logging (keeping a food journal) really lead to weight loss?



  • Eat More Whole Foods
  • Eat Less Processed Foods
  • Eat more often (5-6x per day)
  • Don’t Count Calories
  • Drink ½ your body weight (in water)
  • Log / Journal your Food everyday


  • Calories are the amount of energy in the food you eat.  To lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories than your body uses.

Participants who attended Weight Watchers for 12 weeks lost an average of 5 percent of their body weight, or about nine pounds. However, Steve Ball, assistant professor of exercise physiology in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences, found that a large percentage of the lost weight was lean tissue and not fat.

“Participants’ body fat percentage did not improve at all because they lost a much higher percentage than expected of lean tissue,” said Ball, MU Extension state fitness specialist. “It is advantageous to keep lean tissue because it is correlated with higher metabolism. Losing lean tissue often slows metabolism. What your body is made of is more important than what you weigh.”


  • It’s not how much you eat; it’s how much of WHAT you eat.


The study, published in the August edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, included 1,685 overweight or obese U.S. adults aged 25 and older.

“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.”

“I think the most powerful part is accountability and the next most powerful part is increasing awareness of where those extra calories are coming from,” says Victor Stevens, PhD, senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore.  Showing your food diary to someone else is even better, in terms of accountability; that’s what participants in Stevens’ study did. “You’re accountable to yourself when you’re writing it down and you’re accountable to other people who are looking at your food record,” says Stevens.

Dr. Patrick O’Neil, director of the Weight Management Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, agrees. “Most of us don’t really know how much we eat and drink; we have very charitable memories,” he says.

Use a portion of the log to “ point out problematic cues, triggers and habits that may be contributing to weight gain. The increased awareness and knowledge allows for targeted problem-solving to improve these troublesome situations” as O’Neil says.

Keeping track of your emotions is also an effective way to identify triggers that cause you to overeat or make unhealthy choices. If you ate three pieces of cake, ask yourself why and write it down. How did you feel before? Were you tired, bored or angry? How did you feel after, both physically and emotionally?

  • Write as you go.  Don’t wait until the end of the day to record what you ate and drank.

“We recommend they write it down as soon as they can after they eat,” says Stevens.

Focus on portion size (See our entry on “Portion Size“.) Practice at home with measuring cups, measuring spoons, or food scales. And be aware that people tend to underestimate how much food they’re served.  Use whatever type of food diary works for you. It doesn’t matter whether you use scrap paper, a personal digital assistant (PDA), or a notebook. What matters is that you use it, says Stevens.

    Don’t skip your indulgent days. “We encourage people to keep records especially on days when they’re tempted to eat,” says Stevens. “What gets measured tends to get changed.”

    Cook at home. You’ll have more control over what you consume, and you know what that food contains, and how much of it you’re eating. That makes for a more detailed entry in your food diary.


    American Journal of Preventive Medicine,




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